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Cover photo by Jonathan P. Thompson


by Jonathan P. Thompson

What was really behind the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster in southwestern Colorado?


When the river that his ancestors had settled next to in the 1870s turned orange with mining-related pollution in 2015, Jonathan P. Thompson knew he would write a book about it. Thompson, an award-winning investigative environmental journalist, 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.

March 2018 | Nonfiction | 978-1-937226-83-1 | 312 pp | $18.95



"Part elegy (the Animas River watershed is still compromised by the spill), part ode (Thompson grew up playing in the Animas while staying at his grandparents’ farm in the fertile valley), and part investigative journalism (he examines unsparingly how extractive industries past and present befoul rivers by setting up practice near precious water sources)."


“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.”


“Thompson documents the sacrifice of the entire area with unusual detail, vibrancy, and no small amount of passion, and with a keen eye for the effects on people and other living things. Highly recommended.”


"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.”


“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.”


“An important book of investigative journalism, especially relevant for those living in the Mountain West.”


“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 pre-colonial state. He also 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.’”


“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.” 


“An elegy of sorts for a beloved natural area with a long history of human exploitation.”



“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.”



“Jonathan Thompson’s River of Lost Souls is 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.”

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, proprietor of Back of Beyond Books

“To know the west, Jonathan Thompson’s River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster is a must read. On par with Lavendar’s One Man’s West, Thompson describes the history of settlement in the beautiful Animas River valley nestled in the rugged San Juan Mountains of SW Colorado. Thompson, a 5th generation Animas Valley local, and a master craftsman of the written word, makes this book a privilege to read.”

—PETER SCHERTZ, co-owner of Maria’s Bookshop


“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.”
author of Lost on Treasure Island and Driving Lessons



JONATHAN P. THOMPSON 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. He currently lives in Bulgaria with his wife Wendy and daughters Lydia and Elena.  

Author Website

Reader's Guide

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