Nucla, Colorado, was founded by socialists before becoming a mining town. Now, as wealthy liberals with different values encroach, the town is fighting for its economic survival
Theres an empty stretch of field off highway 141 in Colorado that used to be the perfect American town. Small houses with white picket fences boasted big flower gardens. Kids played kick the can in the streets, rode their bikes, splashed in swimming pools. On Sundays, they might have watched an Elvis movie on TV. The rent was cheap, the fathers all worked, the mothers stayed at home.
Uravan was placid, friendly and, in most of the ways people usually measure it, safe. For many years, a former resident recalled, there was no law enforcement in the mining company town. Nobody needed it. The kids were good kids, because if they werent, the company bosses would kick their whole families out.
The town, named after the minerals extracted and processed there, had secretly supplied uranium to the Manhattan Project during the war. Afterward, the cold war uranium boom made the town prosper.
Things changed in 1986 when Uravan was declared a Superfund site contaminated by hazardous waste. The mine closed, residents moved out. The entire town the trees, the houses, the post office, the Coke glasses from the drug store was shredded and buried in a concrete-lined hole. The only thing left behind was the towns metal flagpole, which was moved to the abandoned baseball field.
When they bury your whole town, they bury your history. Theres a little bit of shame to that, said Jane Thompson, who grew up in Uravan. Her parents were the second to last family to move out.
Thompson drove me through Uravan early one Sunday morning, pointing to the dip in the ground where the gas station had been, the block of houses where she had grown up. There was nothing left except scrub, battered earth and fences with signs warning, Caution Radioactive Materials.