Denver & Rio Grande Railway Follows Yellow River

Beautiful Animas Gorge Polluted

When I travelled on the Denver & Rio Grande back in 1981, it followed the Animas River through spectacular scenery.

The river is used for Kayaking and rafting and is a perfect location or this famous Railroad. It was the 4th of July 1981, and I couldn’t believe I was on the train!

I was on business in the US when I arrived in Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon and with a weekend to kill, I thought of riding a steam train before getting down to work. The only issue was that I didn’t know where they ran.

In my pre internet musings, I had heard of the famous Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, which I knew was in Colorado. That sounded like a good place to go. I still had no idea exactly where it was.

I looked at the departure board and the hundreds of flights heading all over the USA and a flight to Durango caught my eye. I seemed to remember this name. Could this be where the Railway ran from?

I purchased a return ticket and headed off into the unknown.

Double 2-8-2s arrive at Silverton on July 4, 1981

As it turns out, I went to the right place and reached this lovely western town and a very nice steam depot full of narrow gage beauties. I was told that they shot guns before the plains arrived to scare the deer off the runway. Truly the wild west.

I had a great day out on the train and would recommend it to anyone in the area. Unfortunately right now, the river is yellow with pollution from an old Gold Mine. Apparently the EPA was doing some work and accidentally released toxic waste into the River causing untold damage.

The story below explains what happened.

Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald

People kayak in the Animas River near Durango, Colo., Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in water colored from a mine waste spill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that a cleanup team was working with heavy equipment Wednesday to secure an entrance to the Gold King Mine. Workers instead released an estimated 1 million gallons of mine waste into Cement Creek, which flows into the Animas River.

By KRISTEN WYATT

Associated Press

Published: 07 August 2015 09:23 AM

Updated: 07 August 2015 03:03 PM

DENVER — A plume of mustard-colored muck that spilled from a Colorado mine was inching downstream Friday as frustrated state and local officials awaited word from federal agencies on the kind of pollutants staining the water.

An estimated 1 million gallons of contaminated wastewater is flowing through the Animas River, and it is acidic and contains heavy metals, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said. But the agency still was running tests to see exactly what the sludge contained as it creeps toward communities in northern New Mexico.

“We’re having a real problem getting EPA to tell us what’s in this stuff,” said Don Cooper, emergency manager for San Juan County, New Mexico. “We’re just kind of shooting in the dark and telling people to stay away from it.”

After the polluted water gushed from the shuttered Gold King Mine on Wednesday, the EPA warned people to stay out of the river popular with boaters and anglers and to keep domestic animals from drinking from it.

There have been no reports of drinking-water contamination because water utilities shut down their intake valves ahead of the plume to keep it out of their systems. Farmers also closed the gates on their irrigation ditches to protect their crops, and Colorado officials were testing the effects on fish.

New Mexico officials were angry they were not told of the spill until Thursday, nearly a day after it occurred.

“New Mexico deserves better,” state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said.

The EPA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the criticism.

Few details have been released about the spill, except that a cleanup crew accidentally breached a containment structure. The crew was trying to enter the mine as part of a project to pump and treat the water, EPA spokeswoman Lisa McClain-Vanderpool said.

The waste spilled into Cement Creek, which flows into the Animas River north of the historic mining town of Silverton in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

The river is a recreational destination and even served as the backdrop for parts of the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Passengers on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad snap thousands of photos of the waterway as the steam-powered trains chug up the narrow canyon beside it.

“It’s such a shame, it’s such a beautiful river,” said Jeff McCoy, who was watching from the riverbank in Durango, where he was on a fishing trip with his son.

“We usually come out here in the beautiful weather to fish, but no fishing today,” said McCoy, who lives in Phoenix.

It’s expected to reach the northern New Mexico cities of Aztec and Farmington by Friday evening. The heavy metals were making the plume travel more slowly than expected, and it was unclear how far it would reach or when it would dissipate, officials said.

The river had begun to clear up in Silverton, McClain-Vanderpool said. Officials were releasing extra water from at least one reservoir to help dilute the pollution.

The Animas River flows into New Mexico’s San Juan River, which is home to some endangered fish and joins the Colorado River in Utah.

Utah’s director of water quality, Walt Baker, said residents were advised to avoid the affected rivers.

“Until we know what we’re up against and what the effects will be, we’re saying, ‘Be cautious,”‘ Baker said.

Let’s hope they can clean this mess up.

In the meantime, here is a video of happier times on the Railroad.

 

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