Rio de las Animas - River of Lost Souls

The Animas River

Brought forth in a ghost town above tree line, the Animas River comes streaming down through a spirited mountain range called the San Juans. On a recent Sunday during the dead of winter, the river was running shallow and slow while sparkling blue in the morning light.

Flowing solemnly through the vibrant community of Durango, el Rio de las Animas is a River of Lost Souls. The virtuous waterway is an innocent victim scarred by the legacy of Colorado's relentless mining activity.

Almost two years ago the EPA was mitigating pollutants from the closed Gold King Mine near Silverton. The workers accidentally destroyed a retainment plug, unleashing 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into Cement Creek and the Animas River.

The waterway changed color almost instantly as a mustard yellow swell made its way to New Mexico and the San Juan River. The contaminants became more diluted as they moved farther downstream where some of the poison settled in the sludge at the bottom of Lake Powell.

Most of the heavy metals such as iron, arsenic and lead became stuck in the thick sediment of the riverbed. After a couple of weeks, the results from water quality tests indicated that everything seemed to be back to normal.

As for the animals, farm crops and drinking water, it's still uncertain as to exactly what damage was done. The disaster was a frightening wake up call concerning the complicated, environmental cleanup involving hundreds of acid-leaking mines in southwest Colorado.

As I walked along the water's edge during a remarkable evening, the Animas River couldn't have been more beautiful or serene. No one knows for sure what the long-lasting effects of the catastrophe may be so we can only hope that nature will find a way to heal itself from our history of destructive behavior.

Sparkling blue in the morning light

Flowing through Durango

River of Lost Souls

An innocent victim

Heavy metals are stuck in the riverbed

Everything seems back to normal

A remarkable evening

Beautiful and serene

Hopefully nature will find a way


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