Pictures of the Animas River Flood
May 23, 2005
The area to the north of Durango is a classic “flood
plain”. During the most recent ice age, glaciers scoured out a
lake several miles long just north of the city. Several “terminal
moraines” were left across the north edge of town. When the
glacier melted, the former lake was filled in with sand and gravel,
leaving a broad nearly flat surface. The flat valley bottom has become
a prime ranching/farming area, but it remains only slightly above
normal river levels. When high water comes down the Animas River, it is
free to spread significant distances across this flood plain.
The winter of 2004/2005 produced a much above normal
snow-pack in the Animas River headwaters in the San Juan Mountains.
Early spring weather was cool, and then, above normal temperatures
resulted in sudden melting of the snow-pack. Over a period of 10 days
the Animas River in Durango rose to near flood stage.
The pictures below were taken about noon on May 23, 2005. River flow
was about 8,400 cubic feet per second (revised upward from the original
report of 8,000 cfs)) with a river gauge height at about 7.37 feet. The
extreme crest came on 5/25/05 at 7.4 feet and 8,500 cubic feet per
second. Flood stage is defined at 7.5 feet. Data is from USGS River
Station # 09361500. http://waterdata.usgs.gov/co/nwis/uv?09361500
The first picture shows
construction for the pumping station for the
Animas – La Plata Water Storage Project. The lowest barrier next
to the river is completely submerged, and the construction workers and
pickup truck are on the main temporary dam. The main dam itself had
been built up over a foot in the preceding 24 hours. The right hand
portion of the picture shows plywood, sandbags, and tarps that have
been thrown in place on short notice just to keep the river out.
The above picture shows part of the lower parking lot at
Santa Rita Park,
which is just south of the main part of Durango. The park is very
popular in the summertime, but during the May flood, parking spaces
were somewhat limited.
On the north end of town, the Main Ave. bridge (U.S. Route 550) across
the Animas River has been lengthened so that pedestrians using the
Animas River Trail can cross under the traffic instead of trying to
dodge traffic. A new tunnel has been constructed for the Animas River
Trail. The trail hadn’t been finished yet as of May 23, 2005, but
even so, it could only have been used by kayakers instead of hikers.
There are two center supports where the Main Ave. bridge crosses the
Animas. There was enough current in the river to form impressive bow
waves where they intercepted the current. There is also a large log
wedged against the distant support that adds to the turbulence in the
The next set of pictures gives a left to right panorama
(view to the east-northeast through south) as seen from U. S.
Highway 550 just north of Durango. Most of the time, this area is dry
fields and meadows. Also, a land developer had been gung ho about
putting in a large development here. (The plan was shot down – or
maybe I should say “torpedoed”.)
The picture below is a view from north of Durango toward
the south-southwest with Smelter Mountain in the distance. Normally
this is ranchland that is populated by horses. On this day in May 2005,
the horses might find the meadows to be “a little damp”.
One of the enjoyable features of Durango is its Animas River Trail.
The trail winds along the river where you can walk, rest under the
Cottonwood trees, or just relax. Today parts of the trail are closed.
Here we can see where the trail normally continues under westbound U.
S. Highway 160.
One of Durango’s finer hotels is the Doubletree. You can sit in
the dining room and look out over the river. The hotel is high enough
so that it will stay above this flood, but it’s getting a little
close. . The Animas River Trail is just above river level in front of
Aerial photographs of the Animas Valley to the
north of Durango courtesy of Jim McCann. The left photo is a view
looking north while the right photo shows the same area but looking
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