by Dalton Carver
Inspired by the reemergence of history at Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County, the Plaindealer was interested to know what may sleep beneath the pool of our local water reserve, Ridgway Reservoir. This story, focusing on the archaeological survey conducted in the area in 1979-1981, is the first of three that will revisit the reservoir’s impact and history on Ouray County.
Most know Ridgway Reservoir’s importance to the upper and lower Uncompahgre Valley, especially its impact on water supply and distribution to the area. However, the Bureau of Reclamation project that was originally scheduled to wipe Ridgway off the map didn’t come without cost, both financially and culturally. When the reservoir was filled in 1990, more than antiquated foundations, ranchlands and arrowheads were drowned there – the stories and livelihoods of the area’s residents were also pushed to the depths.
The region’s severe drought conditions in 2018 have had profound impacts on the area, most of them negative. However, dropping water levels this past summer revealed something somewhat positive in the form of a re-emerging historic town beneath another reservoir—Blue Mesa. After draining to 39 percent of its capacity, the reservoir revealed Iola, one of three towns that had been swallowed by the dam project in Gunnison County. Iola has been underwater since 1960, but 2018 saw the resurgence of several town foundations, including the town's general store and the cement base of the school's flagpole, sporting the signatures of students and local cattle brands.
Thanks to the thoroughness of the archaeological survey and excavation that occurred prior to construction of Ridgway Reservoir, one won’t find much of historical significance in its depths. Although some recent finds raised questions, none of them will likely be...