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
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 river.
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
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 the hotel.
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
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