ROCK SPRINGS — Adventure can be unpredictable.
Wyoming native and National Geographic explorer Mark Jenkins traveled to Namibia to climb its highest mountain and observe historic rock paintings hidden in the boulders.
He returned from the 2015 assignment with a new vision for water preservation.
Jenkins will share his discoveries at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Western Wyoming College, Room 1302, in Rock Springs. The presentation, “A Journey into the Ancient Namib Desert: Rock Paintings, a Vanished People and Water Scarcity,” is part of the fall “World to Wyoming Tour.”
Brandberg, the mountain Jenkins climbed, is home to 45,000 paintings on granite boulders — the greatest collection on earth. Around 2,000 to 4,000 years ago, people climbed Brandberg to escape the scorching heat of the Namib Desert. They would lie under the boulders and paint. Brandberg is a German word meaning “burning mountain.” It depicts the colorful sunrises there but is appropriate in other ways as well. Jenkins endured seven days of temperatures higher than 100 degrees in Namibia.
While exploring the open air art museum, Jenkins’ thoughts turned to water scarcity. Animals depicted in the paintings and the people who created them had disappeared, along with the rains they needed to survive. Namibia has faced drought conditions on and off ever since.
Jenkins admired the intricacy of the extraordinary paintings, and then his thoughts turned to the bigger picture of water scarcity in the past and present.
While in Namibia’s capital city Windhoek, Jenkins found out that all water there is recycled from tap to toilet and has been since 1968.
He asked himself, “What can we do?”
As a headwater state, Wyoming’s water is used extensively by people downstream. According to the Colorado River compact, those states can also request more water. Jenkins said climate change means less water in Wyoming, and therefore less water downriver. Glaciers in Wyoming mountains are vanishing, and snowpack has dropped 50% in the past 30 years. Water preservation is becoming more and more important.
Desalination is currently a popular method to recycle water, but recycling is more efficient, Jenkins said.
“Other cultures have figured out a way to deal with water scarcity,” Jenkins said. Perhaps we can borrow some of their wisdom.
Jenkins was born and raised in Laramie. He has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in geography, both from UW. He travels and writes for National Geographic, but his residency is based in the University of Wyoming’s Center for Global Studies.
Jenkins has written about land mines in Cambodia, the war in Eastern Congo, the loss of koalas in Australia, ethnic cleansing in Burma, climbing Mount Everest in Nepal and the vanishing ski culture of the Tuvan people in the Altai Mountains of Central Asia.
His writing honors include the Overseas Press Club Ross Award in 2013 for “The Healing Fields,” a story about landmines in Cambodia; and a National Magazine Award with colleague Brint Stirton for “Who Murdered the Mountain Gorillas” in 2009. Those projects, as well as his trip to Namibia, provided the basis for statewide presentations at Wyoming’s community colleges as part of the “World to Wyoming” outreach series. The UW Office of Engagement and Outreach sponsors the tour program.