© Copyright 2019 by Robert Flournoy
When I left the army in 1973 I headed to Colorado to see if some dreams could come true. I had been in love with the mere thought of the Rocky Mountains since boyhood and could not wait to get there. Colorado Springs was small then, Denver half the size it is today, its yellow dome not yet a significant trade mark. I bought a home in the shadow of Pike's Peak and could access a dozen pristine trout streams in the foothills close to my house that were full of fish. My first foray up into that majestic venue I heard the strange song of love that fly fishermen understand, and although the tune was new to me, I knew the words by heart. The flash of gold that a cut throat advertised as it rose to my fly, the iridescent violets and pinks that signaled a rainbow, the obsidian black spots on German Browns, and the heart wrenching oranges and blues of Brookies in the Fall were as addictive as heroin, and harder to walk away from. I loved the big mountain rivers and the brawnier trout that they held. The deep broad Platte River as it meandered through the meadows of Two Forks, the mighty Colorado rushing through Glenwood Canyon and the headwaters of the Arkansas at 11,000 feet near the town of Leadville. One Autumn day I made the drive over Independence Pass, through the little town of Aspen and on up to Leadville, the mountains a shimmering sea of golden Aspen leaves, never looking in my rear view mirror, surprised by what I saw when I made the drive back down. Pocketed in the little valleys below me were a half dozen shimmering lakes of turquoise and various shades of emerald, their colors being the reflection of the high sun on toxins leached from the mines where silver and gold had been taken over a century ago. In those early days of mining in the Rockies the heavy metal poisons ran freely down the mountains, killing everything in their paths. Sweet trout waters that were sterilized were still dead 50 years ago. Sometime after WW2 the government demanded they be dammed up and that is what I saw. Too late for the damage done downstream, they sat there in their deadly beauty, no one to this very day knowing how to deal with billions of gallons of contaminated water. Who knows what kind of ecological damage they have been doing sitting there for decades as their poisons continue to soak into the soil.
The state of Colorado's population has doubled since then, a yellow haze covering the front range of the mountains from Pueblo north to Denver and beyond. Hard winds out of Wyoming clear the air briefly, sending the pollutants east, but it takes less than a day for the haze to return. The streams I haunted then are gone now, houses littering the foothills, surrounded by beetle infested dying coniferous forests. Nature's cure for beetles, the twice a century fires that once cleared the deadwood and the bugs that feed on it, allowing new growth to spring up, are mostly contained now, so the forests rot, while the beetles spread unabated.
Dying forests, dead waters, yellow air and millions of irresponsible people have killed the west that I loved. Half a century after I walked those hills millions of people have killed the trout that I never had the heart to.
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