Mudslide buries road waist-deep
BASALT A massive slide of rocks and mud tore an old bridge loose from its moorings and buried Frying Pan Road as much as waist-deep early Monday morning.The torrent in a small creek that feeds the Fryingpan River awakened some residents of the Seven Castles neighborhood with the sound and fury of nature gone wild, which some local boys told a photographer at the scene “sounded like a freight train, or a hurricane.”There were no reports of property damage from the slide, other than the displacing the bridge and damaging a length of guardrail along the road.Jerry Thomas, who lives near Seven Castles Creek and whose home is accessible by an old railroad flatcar that spans the creek’s width, called the flood “a massive wall of water” that came roaring down the creek bed about 4 a.m. Monday.Calls to the Pitkin and Eagle County sheriff’s departments on Monday ran into momentary jurisdictional confusion. The two counties meet at a line that follows the meandering river eastward from Basalt, and dispatchers from the two counties were unsure for a while which department was dispensing information to the public.But James Jessel said he and another Eagle County sheriff’s deputy were at the scene by 6:30 a.m. Monday, directing traffic and assessing the situation. He said the mud and rock that overran the road at around mile marker 4 was “between knee- and waist-high,” and that it covered the road for about a hundred yards.
The slide sent Eagle County Road and Bridge crews scurrying to clear a path before residents began trying to drive down to jobs, on grocery runs or other errands.
“We got out earlier this morning for a breakfast meeting in Aspen,” said Seven Castles resident Lou Krueger-Anderson, recalling that her Volkswagen Jetta took the slick road with no trouble around 6:45 a.m. and that the road and bridge crew already had been hard at work.Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting said he and Basalt’s public works director, John Wenzel, went up to check on the slide zone to determine “if there’d be any side effects for Basalt,” and to see if the residents needed the town’s assistance.Road crews got the area cleared up and were gone by late afternoon, according to Jessel, but he said they are likely to be back for more work once the area dries up a bit. And at least one observer expressed concern that another storm could send even more mud into the river.”Muddy and unfishable,” was how Taylor Creek Fly Shop employee Dan McMahon described the river, noting that while the water was a deep red below mile marker 4, it was running clear and clean above the confluence.
“It was a bad one,” he said. “It might be a couple of days [before fishing is possible below the confluence with Seven Castles Creek]. … Another storm might put it back even farther.”The impact of the mud was felt below the confluence of the Fryingpan and the Roaring Fork, as well.”The Roaring Fork is just blood red,” declared Brian Pettet, director of the Pitkin County Public Works Department, who was downvalley on county business unrelated to the mudslide.
Thomas, who with his wife and four kids, has lived at his house for only seven months, said neighbors warned him that the nearby creek has been known to flood in the past.”But this was worse than anyone could remember … a real downpour, a big thunderstorm with lots of lightning and so forth,” he said. The cloudburst followed a night of intermittent light rain, he added.Thomas said a natural amphitheater, a short distance up and into the rocks that form the base of the Seven Castles formation, “just collects a tremendous amount of water … funnels a tremendous amount of water down into a little, bitty creek.”As the flood roared down, he said, “you could hear the boulders that were rumbling along, bouncing into each other at the bottom of the creek.”
Afterward, he said, the path of the boulders was evident in a 4-foot-deep gouge along the bottom of the creek bed. He also said the creek jumped its banks where it turned, and that one house “narrowly avoided the flow.” The bridge, which he said is a railroad car with its wheels and box removed, was pushed downstream nearly to Frying Pan Road.Because the bridge is the only way to get to his and several other houses, he said, a county road crew had cut a temporary road across a meadow that allows the families to bypass the creek crossing.”It’ll probably take a month or more to the get bridge back in place,” he predicted.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org