Boulders from Shale Bluffs injure motorist
February 26, 2002
An Avon man sustained minor injuries after three boulders from the cliffs of Shale Bluffs crashed into his car Monday morning.
Walter Houghton, 30, was struck by the boulders but suffered only scrapes and bruises during the rush-hour incident. He was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital and released yesterday afternoon.
Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy George Kremer estimated that the boulders were each “basketball size” and weighed between 50 and 70 pounds. Houghton was driving upvalley on Highway 82 when the rocks tumbled down a hill in the Shale Bluffs area around 7 a.m.
“One boulder went right out the back window of the truck,” Kremer said. “The other one hit his hands, face and chest, and the third boulder hit his shoulder and went out the driver’s-side door.”
Kremer said Houghton was knocked unconscious, and his passenger in the truck steered the truck to the side of the road safely. Houghton had regained consciousness by the time Kremer arrived.
“He was bleeding from his face and hands and complaining of pain in his shoulders and his chest,” Kremer said, adding that Houghton was missing a substantial amount of flesh from his fingers.
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The rockfall also scattered debris across the upvalley lanes of Highway 82. Small pieces of shale punctured the tires on two other vehicles.
The last time a substantial rock slide happened in the Shale Bluffs area was during an incident that Colorado Department of Transportation officials refer to as “The 9-9-99 Event.” An enormous slab of rock broke free from the hillside, threatening to collapse onto Highway 82 on Sept. 9, 1999.
Only a small amount of shale actually slid onto the upvalley section of the highway. But since the slab was large enough to cover all four lanes of the highway if it had been released, traffic in both directions was diverted for six hours.
That section of Highway 82 was being converted from two lanes to four at the time. Highway construction officials feared that had traffic not been diverted, vibrations caused by passing vehicles might have triggered a more substantial slide.