Green River Hot Stuff

Boom times in Utah swelled the population of Green River. Even before the arms race prospectors came to Southeast Utah digging up vanadium then radium. By the 1940’s the real rush was on, uranium was needed for nuclear weapons.

In 1977 outside Moab on Hwy 128 everyone camped along the Colorado River. You’d try to roll your rig into the salt cedar for privacy. I traveled through unaware the Atlas Uranium Mill was in full operation just downwind of where I was camping. By 1984 the processing facility closed.

Water from the Colorado River is diverted below Moab for use in California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Since 1952 the radioactive uranium mills tailings have been spilling into the river. Nothing about digging out uranium from the Morrison Formation of the Jurassic age has ever made any kind of sense.

Walking along Broadway in Green River, passing by the now closed saloons, new buildings erected next to the crumbling ruins from the old days. You can see the intertwining, you have to wonder who had come here and where did these boomtown miners go?

Modern times the river rafting companies put in here. Summertime the cottonwoods spread optimism and shade. Green River watermelons are feast and treasure. About 900 citizens have stuck it out here since the boom times, back when uranium mining was in full swing it was more like 3000.

Back during uranium’s heyday, when a man could still earn a fair wage for his toil, that’s when Green River was a frontier destination, Town was swelled with hard rock miners packing fat wallets, resisting the Mormon tyranny of faith and sobriety, Friday nights on Broadway this is where love came to be lost and found.

At the foot of Broadway is the Green River train station where the California Zephyr travels through. You can get on and go east to Chicago or west to Emeryville, California. Might as well by a ticket to the moon, nothing seems more improbable than thinking you can escape the life you’ve found here.

Green River today is most of all a gas stop. One-hundred and ten miles west in Salina is the next chance. That would be somewhere beyond the San Rafael Swell and Spotted Wolf Canyon. Motoring east you’ll go another 100 miles to Grand Junction. No fool goes off half cocked out here in this desert. You’ll pay with misery and your life.

Geologists, paleontologists, and archeologists are scattered across the remote hinterlands returning to file reports of nowhere else in the world discoveries. Rockhounding and dinosaur bone finds are frequent.

America’s first people, the Anasazi arrived here 12,000 years before present. Rugged doesn’t describe the countryside and how a soul managed to move from one region to another is unimaginable.

Walking with your fresh polished best pair of boots along Broadway in Green River, that’s where the real riot of humanity was found. Long ago they’d ride up by horseback, then Model T’s, Model A’s, Willy’s and then Jeeps.

I was backstage with a pack of musicians, one was Chris Ledoux. Lot of storytelling was going on. An act out of Wyoming had taken up where his grandfather had left off, traveling between towns playing country music. The player had mentioned his grandfather having played Green River back in the 1930’s. Money for a gig in a boomtown was better than what you make in Cheyenne or Casper. Rodeo champion and country music star Chris Ledoux couldn’t put this touring by Model A out of his mind. All of us had a pickup truck out in a parking lot ready for another 400-mile drive.

Environmental Protection Agency studied the radioactive mine tailings problem left behind by the uranium boom days. The more it rained the more material washed into the Colorado. Closed since 1984 it wasn’t until about 10 years back, they finally acted. Custom trailers had been fabricated so that once loaded would not leak one speck of dust. For years now trailers have been hauling tailings 30 miles north burying the contaminated dirt into a pit. The burial site was lined and will be capped when the work is completed. Projects official price tag is about one billion dollars, but that doesn’t include the radioactive damage inflicted on the human populations both near and far.

The craziest part of me would have given anything to have four wheeled off the desert back into Green River after a long day out prospecting for uranium. Take a shower, put on my saloon dancing duds, hop into my Willy’s and head on down to Broadway chase a few of those cute Mormon girls that have come into town looking to strike it up with one of those hot shot hard rock strike-it-rich types they’ve all heard so much about. There’s no way to account for how good the music was or how proud a daring man might feel holding that night’s love of his life in his arms for the first and last first time.

One thing for sure the half-life of this whole being amorous thing has got to have made Friday nights in Green River the one sure place that a good and not so good girl might go missing in search of eternal bliss until she miraculously reappears at sun up the next morning her heart full and with stories she will never be able to tell.


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