Author Jonathan Thompson at Sherbino Monday, August 13th

Jonathan Thompson
River of Lost Souls

Monday, August 13th – Sherbino Theater, Ridgway
Doors at 7:00 pm, presentation at 7:30pm. $5 entry at door.

Join the Mountain Independent and the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership for an evening with JONATHAN THOMPSON on his Ouray County stop for his book tour to present RIVER OF LOST SOULS.

Part elegy, part ode, part investigative science journalism, RIVER OF LOST SOULS tells the gripping story behind the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster that turned the Animas River in southwestern Colorado orange with sludge and toxic metals for over 100 miles downstream, wreaking havoc on cities, farms, and the Navajo Nation along the way.

Jonathan P. Thompson is an award-winning freelance author, journalist and editor. He usually writes about the land, culture and communities of the American West, with an emphasis on energy development, pollution, land-use politics and economics. But he’s fascinated by the complexity of the world around him, and is happy to delve into almost any topic. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster (Torrey House Press, February 2018) and is a contributing editor at High Country News.

Learn More




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“Thompson, a southwestern Colorado native, knowledgeably and sensitively addresses ethical questions at the heart of his inquiry, including what it would mean to restore the water system to its precolonial state. He effortlessly explains the technical elements of this story, such as the complex chemistry of the environmental effects of mining. This is a vivid historical account of the Animas region, and Thompson shines in giving a sense of what it means to love a place that’s been designated a ‘sacrifice zone.'” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“An elegy of sorts for a beloved natural area with a long history of human exploitation.” —FOREWORD REVIEWS
“The reader will revel in the beauty of the Colorado landscape while recoiling from descriptions of cruelty towards the Native Americans and the horrors of acid mine drainage.” — BOOKLIST
“Thompson’s writing meanders through Western history, family stories, and pollution–causing activities to create a vivid and, at times, horrifying time line that shows the aftereffects of human exploitation of nature… Aficionados of Western history, environmentalists, and even general readers will enjoy this cautionary tale that takes an intimate look at the side effects of human industry.” — LIBRARY JOURNAL
“Thompson’s investigative chops are impressive. But the book is most evocative when the author negotiates the strange eddies of his personal connections to this landscape.” —SIERRA MAGAZINE
“Thompson’s debut work tells the tale of the Four Corners, its history, its people and their interaction with the land—all from the perspective of a fourth–generation Durango resident.” —THE DURANGO HERALD
“Thompson weaves his skills of investigative journalism and factual verification with the empowering tools and devices of a novelist to bring the reader directly into his new book.” —THE UTAH REVIEW
“An important book of investigative journalism, especially relevant for those living in the Mountain West.” —ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL
“By turns mournful, optimistic, angry and hilarious, Thompson offers fresh takes on everything from a mountain town’s bare knuckle politics to a young man’s loss of innocence to what it truly means to be a Westerner. Deeply researched, thoroughly unsentimental, this is a moving and rip–roaringly told tale.” —STEVE FRIEDMAN, author of Lost on Treasure Island and Driving Lessons
“A rich historical and personal account of the San Juan Basin, a region blessed and cursed by its geology. From the hard rock mining era of the late 1800s to the recent natural gas drilling boom, some things never change: the extractive industries fight common sense rules to their own—and the public’s—detriment. This book is a must read for every person who loves the West and needs to understand how we got to where we are today.” —GWEN LACHELT, La Plata County Commissioner and founder of the Western Leaders Network ​
“Equal parts The Quiet Crisis and Silent Spring, and 100% scary, timely, and so very important. Every citizen in every western mining community MUST read this book, as should every politician at every level of government.” —ANDY NETTELL, Back of Beyond Books ​
” Thompson, a fifth generation Animas Valley local, and a master craftsman of the written word, makes this book a privilege to read.” —PETER SCHERTZ, Maria’s Bookshop ​

Award–winning investigative environmental journalist Jonathan P. Thompson digs into the science, politics, and greed behind the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster, and unearths a litany of impacts wrought by a century and a half of mining, energy development, and fracking in southwestern Colorado. Amid these harsh realities, Thompson explores how a new generation is setting out to make amends.

As shocking and heartbreaking as the Gold King spill and its aftermath may be, it’s merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The disaster itself was the climax of the long and troubled story of the Gold King mine, staked by a Swedish immigrant back in 1887. And it was only the most visible manifestation of a slow–moving, multi–faceted environmental catastrophe that had been unfolding here long before the events of August 5, 2015.

Jonathan Thompson is a native Westerner with deep roots in southwestern Colorado. He has been an environmental journalist focusing on the American West since he signed on as reporter and photographer at the Silverton Standard & the Miner newspaper in 1996. He has worked and written for High Country News for over a decade, serving as editor-in-chief from 2007 to 2010. He was a Ted Scripps fellow in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and in 2016 he was awarded the Society of Environmental Journalists’ Outstanding Beat Reporting, Small Market. He currently lives in Bulgaria with his wife Wendy and daughters Lydia and Elena.

monsoon observations from Mountain Weather Masters forecaster Joe Ramey

This summer sucks… the energy out of many of us with this prolonged drought and heat. Today, Thursday, may be the warmest day of the year so far. We are expecting 103-105 here in Grand Junction today.
The monsoon oozed in from the south over the last few weeks. It has brought some heavy showers as far north as the San Juans. Most sites to our south have struggled with below normal rainfall too.
The rest of western Colorado keeps waiting for the rains, and there is a chance this weekend. The subtropical High is currently centered over the southern Great Basin but will shift east into the weekend. This will let the better moisture work up across most of Colorado. The High center returns after Monday next week which will again limit moisture to the Four Corners and points further south.
Otherwise no other surprising climate news. CPC’s new monthly and seasonal outlook shows a tilt towards hot and with an active monsoon. El Nino is still favored for the fall and early winter. El Ninos tend to produce above normal precipitation for the fall season and above normal winter snowfall for the San Juans.
Stay cool,

Randy Gregory stars at the Highland Games 50 years ago!

Arisaig Games – 50 years ago

Until 1987, the Arisaig Highland Games had been staged within the village at Mains Park – also known as Arisaig Playing Field. It is hard to believe that 27 years have passed since the venue changed.

Until 1987, the Arisaig Highland Games had been staged within the village at Mains Park – also known as Arisaig Playing Field. However, the lack of parking, lack of space for stalls and poor drainage were major concerns for the Games Committee of the time and with the kind permission and enthusiastic support of the Shaw Stewart family, the venue switched to our current home at Traigh.

Although this move secured the future of the Games, many people have fond memories of the Games being held at Mains Park – which is why we were very intrigued by an email received from Randy Gregory in Colorado asking if we would be interested in a poster and some footage from the 1964 Arisaig Games.

Randy explained that his family had been on a 6 month touring holiday in Europe and just happened to arrive in Arisaig the day before the 1964 Games. They decided to stay over and attend the next day. They recorded some of the day on a cine camera and kept a poster used to advertise the event as mementoes from their trip to the West Highlands.

We are very grateful to Randy for sharing these with us and it provides a valuable glimpse back in time to the event held exactly half a century ago – in a quirk of fate, the 1964 Games were also held on the 30th July, although in 1964 they were held on a Thursday rather than the now traditional Wednesday.

Arisaig Games Poster 1964

The 7 minute video is available below or can be viewed on YouTube via the following link (there is no audio on the film):


Arisaig Highland Games 1964

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Randy Gregory 16, dancing far left.

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Identifying those in the video

In an effort to identify some of the faces in the video, a committee member has shown the film to several people with connections to Arisaig Games from that era, or people who have a knowledge of the likely competitors of that year. Our thanks to those who were able to identify pipers, dancers, games organisers and of course spectators.


A stone garage’s weird story ~ The Durango Herald

A ski area and religious movement once occupied Ironton Park


The concrete foundation of the original 1940s lodge can still be seen at the north edge of Ironton Park. Built as a ski lodge, the building became a retreat for the Saint Germain Foundation and “I AM” religious teachings.


This was the Saint Germain Foundation’s lodge and religious retreat, a former ski lodge, before it burned in January 1952. The group’s religious beliefs were upheld in a major U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1944, two years after the organization had bought the lodge.


The lodge burned in January 1952, and that fall members of the “I AM” religious group built a garage on the site. The garage still stands immediately adjacent to U.S. Highway 550. Leigh Ann Hunt, forest archaeologist for the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest, says, “The Saint Germain group came planning to do big things and then it never materialized. The lake and garage are now landmarks in Ironton and they will be managed to preserve them.”


A water tank and wooden platform still stand from members of the “I AM” religious group whose adherents moved to Ouray in 1942 and brought new perspectives to the old mining town. After their main lodge burned, members continued to camp on the site.


Few structures remain on the 800-acre site, but one extant building is this cellar or storage area. It includes traces of yellow and purple paint on the interior.


The concrete foundation of the original 1940s lodge can still be seen at the north edge of Ironton Park. Built as a ski lodge, the building became a retreat for the Saint Germain Foundation and “I AM” religious teachings.

Atlas of A Lost World ~ Craig Childs ~ Book Reviews

I helped Craig review/edit this work before he submitted to his publisher. The NYT review below seems a little cranky and the other reviews were solid.  I surely enjoyed Craig’s writing & working with him.  rŌbear


Craig Childs

Seeing America as Our Ice Age Ancestors Did Image ~ NYT

By Brian Fagan

Travels in Ice Age America
By Craig Childs
269 pp. Pantheon. $28.95.

Traveling in ice age America, now almost a vanished landscape, strikes me as a strange topic. After all, the first Americans of 15,000 years ago belong in the realm of archaeology, not travel. Undeterred, the adventure travel writer Craig Childs journeys to experience ice age America, beginning his exploration on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Strait, the highest point of what was once the Bering Land Bridge between Siberia and Alaska. He sees wolves and gazes out over the water, imagining a plain teeming with big game. Next we join him on a canoe trip down the Yukon River, a formidable journey, and venture to the Harding Icefield to experience what it would have been like to trek over the great North American ice sheets during the late ice age — if anyone ever did. Childs does indeed get ice and snow blowing in his face, but there’s little about first settlement in these passages, except for a brief discussion of the Bluefish Caves in the Yukon, where some humans camped briefly some 23,000 years ago. Almost certainly they were summer visitors, perhaps from the warmer refuge area of the Land Bridge.

Fresh from his glacier experiences, Childs turns to the once-exposed plains of the Pacific coastal route. He and his family kayak at first, then take a coastal ferry south, hardly an effective way of puzzling out a series of ancient population movements. He talks of computer models that estimate it took 2,267 years to paddle from Seattle to Monte Verde in Chile, the earliest known archaeological site in the far south. The prose here oozes drama. Childs writes of people who couldn’t stop paddling, of small numbers of adventurers who ended up at Monte Verde because it was like their homeland.

Inevitably, the journey moves on to large ice age beasts, starting with the highly controversial 130,000-year-old Cerutti mastodon site near San Diego. Clearly Childs favors first human settlement tens of thousands of years earlier than the conventional estimate of around 15,000 years ago, sweeping aside scientific concerns over Cerutti as seemingly irrelevant. He prefers a “march of bone smashers from the north,” who arrived in a predator-rich land teeming with saber-toothed tigers and other creatures. This is, to put it mildly, an imaginative scenario. He visits Paisley Cave in Oregon, with its fossilized human feces from 14,000 years ago. Next we jump to “a Dangerous Eden,” in Florida, with its sink holes and swamps, occupied at least 14,500 years ago. We learn that an ice age hunt would have involved “musky gore,” with “projectiles sailing.”


Childs’s account of his journey is fueled by his misleading vision of a hazardous ice age America teeming with large, ferocious predators. But his own travels are routine, and on the whole experiences any fit traveler can replicate. His writing style is overly dramatic, smacking of today’s restless television programming, and remarkable only for rare moments of vivid description. “Atlas of a Lost World” is neither a successful travel book nor, with its promiscuous use of good and bad science, does it represent scientific reality.



Scenarios of glacial and postglacial environments in the Americas.

Toward the end of the last glaciation, when there was still a land bridge between what was to become Siberia and Alaska, humanoids started to migrate from northeast Asia across the bridge and into the Americas—right? Not so fast. As Childs (Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth, 2012, etc.) points out in this useful and transporting tour d’horizon of the prehistoric Americas, that theory has lost its authority despite its continued usage. In chapters that hopscotch around in time—45,000 years ago, 13,000, 20,000, etc.—and geography (the Bering Sea to Florida), the author brings readers to prehistoric sites, pointing out where artifacts have been found. He presents each site like a diorama, describing what it would have looked like eons ago, what animals would have roamed the land, and what flora would have been available to eat or to fashion as clothing or a boat. “First people,” he writes, “wildly outnumbered by animals, would have found themselves tossed and trampled by tusks and hooves or torn to pieces by the scissoring teeth of scimitar cats.” Throughout the text, Childs projects a high degree of infectious fascination, pulling readers into his prehistoric scenes. Readers will be impressed by his hardiness as he attempts to experience what an ancient traveler may have experienced. Some of the boats and other conveyances are still used today by far northerners, including the “umiaq, the traditional skin boat…made out of walrus skins stitched together around a wooden frame, eyelets cut through the inch-thick hide and secured with rope.” The author backs up his theses with the latest in archaeological research, and he is clearly thrilled when he hits on some new nugget of information.

A tight weave of professional findings, anecdotes, site visits, and explanations behind ancient artifacts make this book both engaging and indispensable for those with an interest in prehistory.


Atlas of a Lost World: Travels in Ice Age America

Travels in Ice Age America
by Craig Childs illustrated by Sarah Gilman
In this captivating travelogue, Childs (Apocalyptic Planet) treads the late Ice Age with the first migrants to the Americas—adventurous and canny explorers who traveled amid disappearing glaciers and “a cycle of animals of all sizes from voles and falcons to some of the largest mammals seen in human evolution.” The first human inhabitants of North America likely crossed a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska some 30,000 years ago, and Childs follows their path down the coast of California, across to Texas and Colorado, and as far as Florida. The migrants not only left their tools and weapons of survival behind, but mysteries, too: “How [the first people] got to Florida no one knows,” whether they came down the Atlantic coast or “somehow across the Pacific,” he writes. Childs’s walk-in-their-shoes account takes on pinpointing “the world’s most contentious prehistoric problems”—how and where humans came to the Americas. The evidence suggests, however, they “came along multiple routes and at different times, before, during, and after the height of the Ice Age,” he writes. With simple, beautiful sketches by fellow traveler Gilman, Childs’s account will fire the imagination of ordinary readers as well as anthropologists and prehistorians. (May)
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About halfway between Georgetown and Killeen, near the banks of Buttermilk Creek, lies a place where people once lived, worked and did their best to dodge sabertooth cats. If you’d been there more than 13,000 years ago, near the end of the last Ice Age, you might have been knapping stone tools from the chunks of gray chert that litter the ground, or butchering a mammoth for dinner. Either way, you would have had a lot of company.

This place, known today as the Gault site, was a popular gathering spot for some of the first Americans. Archaeologists have unearthed traces of those lives — stone flakes, bits of charcoal, the remains of campsites — stretching back as much as 15,500 years ago. It is one of the most significant places from Ice Age North America.

An image from 2011 shows some of the items researchers discovered at the Buttermilk Creek site in Texas.(Image courtesy Michael R. Waters/DMN file)
An image from 2011 shows some of the items researchers discovered at the Buttermilk Creek site in Texas.
(Image courtesy Michael R. Waters/DMN file)

Which naturally makes it appealing for Craig Childs, a writer and explorer who has followed the steps of some of these earliest Americans. In Atlas of a Lost World he aims for nothing less than a history of this continent, captured in an epochal shift as humans migrated into it.

It’s remarkable that Homo sapiens didn’t make it into the Americas until relatively late in human history. From our ancestral birth in Africa some 200,000 years ago, our species spread across Europe, Asia and Australia. Only the Americas remained without humans, isolated by oceans and thick northern ice sheets. When temperatures finally began to moderate, the ice sheets retreated and exposed the way forward: across a land bridge that spanned what is now the Bering Strait, between Siberia and Alaska.

Many archaeologists and writers have documented what happened next, as people walked or boated their way along Alaska and down into the North American interior. Childs stands apart by exploring not only how humans got here, but why they did. He pushes to bring a personal perspective to what might otherwise read like a musty museum diorama.

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Booklist Review

Childs (Apocalyptic Planet, 2012) takes readers on a scintillating dual journey through the geography of modern and Ice Age America in this survey of some of the lands reached by the first voyagers across the Bering Sea Ice Bridge. With fully half the book set in Alaska, Childs provides a fascinating mash-up of scientific history and present-day travelogue as he journeys across the state’s various regions, surveying the land; visiting with scientists and Native scholars; and seeking out the place where anthropology, archaeology, and cultural history meet. While exploring the American West and ultimately embarking on a trip in a north Florida swamp, Childs maintains a self-deprecating humor and a boundless enthusiasm for his subject that makes this narrative an unexpected page-turner. His curiosity is infectious, and the lessons he learns about how Ice Age people lived, what we can learn from them, and who they became resonate with serious staying power. “These first people,” Tlingit writer Ernestine Hayes tells him, “were not becoming Americans, but becoming Tlingit, becoming Navajo, becoming Lakota.” Childs has found history deeper than politics, and in rich, evocative prose, he makes it startlingly relevant to readers. A science title with broad and enduring appeal.— Colleen Mondor