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Can you take the ‘City’ from the ‘Mountain’?

The official Action Line correction at the top of the trailhead sign. Don’t tell anyone that you know how it got there. Note that the relief map on the “Animas Mountain” sign says “Animas City Mountain.” (Action Line)

Dear Action Line: Please settle a longstanding argument between my boyfriend and I. I insist that “Animas City Mountain” (and corresponding trail) is named as such. He is certain it must be named just “Animas Mountain.” I have seen ACM on most maps, apps and in reference articles, yet unfortunately the sign at the trailhead does (I'll begrudgingly admit) display “Animas Mountain.” We are hoping you can clear things up as only Action Line can. Thank you for your help. – Durango Hiker

Dear Durango Hiker: First off (and Action Line will confess to looking this up to make absolutely certain), there is incorrect grammar in that there first sentence. Go ahead, see if you can find it. We’ll wait.

See it? Yep, it should be “my boyfriend and me.” “I,” the way you used it, is not the subject, but an object of the preposition “between.” If it makes you feel better, Shakespeare used “between you and I” in “The Merchant of Venice.” But maybe if you’re an artist – playwright, poet, etc. – you can pull out your artist’s license if accused of improper grammar, and simply retort, “Ha! Take that!”

But you didn’t ask for an unwelcome grammar lesson, you asked about Animas City Mountain. And that is coincidentally a favorite topic of Action Line’s. Really. … No, really really. You’ll see.

Long ago, before Durango and the train came along, there was Animas City. From the 1870s to 1940s, Animas City was located in the vicinity of the mountain in question, to the south and east of it, basically. A look at any federally sanctioned map from the 19th century until now always shows that big hill with the near-vertical drop on the north as “Animas City Mountain.”

“I suppose both names work,” said Andrew Gulliford, professor of history at Fort Lewis College. “But in the late 19th century, pretentious little burgs like Animas in Colorado and Bluff in Utah thought they could grow instantly big by adding the word ‘city’ to their name, hence Animas City and Bluff City. Chicago never bothered to do that.”

Robert McDaniel grew up in Durango, then became director of the Animas Museum for three decades, and now lives where Animas City used to be. He acknowledged that old maps called it “Animas City Mountain.”

“We always called it Animas Mountain, however.”

Sigh. ... Action Line so wanted to provide a cut-and-dry answer, to unequivocally state that it’s Animas City Mountain. Because it is. Here’s the case for leaving the “city” in the mountain:

First off, the maps. The mountain is on federal land (Bureau of Land Management), and, whether we appreciate the feds or not, they own it and probably should get to name it. As a side note, Action Line discovered that 300 acres of the mountain was private land proposed for development until 1979, when Jerry Dalla (same family who sold the city the land for Dalla Mountain Park), sold those 300 acres to Nature Conservancy, which passed it on to BLM. In other words, there could have been homes atop the mountain right now, and you would refer to it as “Animas City Estates,” or maybe just “Animas Estates.”

Second off, the peerless guidebook “Hiking Trails of Southwestern Colorado” calls it Animas City Mountain. Action Line happens to know the author, and considers him a very erudite and thorough person.

Third off, consider that there is an Animas Mountain near the head of Ruby Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness. At 13,786 feet, it is the 112th-highest peak in Colorado. There should not be two Animas Mountains within 25 miles.

Fourth off, even the city of Durango’s Master Plan for Parks, Open Space, Trails & Recreation, updated in 2020, refers to it as “Animas City Mountain.” Six times, with nary an Animas Mountain. Yes, you can find plenty of sources that call it “Animas Mountain,” particularly online. Durango Trails, for example, calls it “Animas Mountain.” And as history shows, sometimes common usage wins out.

As Gulliford said, “Brevity usually happens to geographic nomenclature.”

But Action Line will fight the good fight, and continue to use traffic signals, not hog the whole aisle with his grocery shopping cart, and insist on calling that 8,161-foot-high uplift in north Durango “Animas City Mountain.”

Gulliford concluded his emailed answer by adding, “I’m glad you are dealing with important topics of such magnitude!”

Yes, of course. That is exactly what Action Line does. Sometimes, for a whole column.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. On a serious note, Action Line believes Durango can stand firm in the battle against the type of graffiti that has appeared recently around town and at popular climbing areas including X-rock and Dalla Mountain Park. Please, help to fight that good fight any way you can.