Expectations run low for a river-paddling diary named after a popular (though decidedly watery) Mexican cerveza, which accounts in part for the pleasure of discovering The Tecate Journals: Seventy Days on the Rio Grande, in which Laredo journalist and writing professor Keith Bowden documents his grueling voyage along 1,260 miles of the border from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a simple and candid adventure story (the rapids are dangerous, and yes, beer is a staple) made complex by twenty-first-century geopolitics. Even along its most desolate and beautiful stretches, Bowden finds this no-man’s-land suffering the unwanted attentions of drug cartels, smuggling rings, corporate polluters, and increasingly shrill politicians on both sides. Generations removed from John Graves’s revered Goodbye to a River, about a journey down the disappearing Brazos, The Tecate Journals forms a worthy—if less elegiac—companion volume. Mountaineers Books, $16.95