Off of the road and into the Fryingpan
July 29, 2009
BASALT – An El Jebel couple considered themselves “very lucky” to escape injury Wednesday when a massive boulder tumbled down a gully and knocked their vehicle into the Fryingpan River.
Alyson and Ryan Flemming were headed up the valley and were about 1.3 miles from the Basalt Barber Shop shortly after a gully washer rushed through the midvalley at 1:30 p.m. The SUV-sized boulder bashed the front left quarter panel of their Land Rover Discovery and forced the vehicle off a steep embankment on the right side of the road. The Land Rover managed to stay upright during a wild ride about 30 feet down to the water.
The Flemmings said the incident happened so fast they didn’t really have time to consider what was happening. Ryan, who was driving, said the boulder was on them so fast he didn’t have time to react. It left a huge gouge in the right lane of the road.
Alyson said she didn’t remember screaming or shouting while they were tumbling down to the river. “I just think I started breathing heavily and Ryan said, ‘We’re OK, we’re OK, we’re OK.'”
While dealing with the shock of getting hit, they also had to assess if the river water posed a threat. “That was the scariest part of it,” Alyson said. She called 911 while Ryan forced the back door open against some tree limbs. They climbed out the back with their dog, Millie. They escaped with scrapes and bruises.
The Flemmings were headed past Ruedi Reservoir to see if weather conditions would allow them to hike somewhere like Savage Lakes. Millie took the unexpected adventure in stride.
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“I think she looked at us like ‘what happened?'” Alyson said.
While the couple were composed and able to recount the incident, they also knew they were fortunate it didn’t turn out worse. It was, as the saying goes, just a matter of inches.
“We were so lucky,” Alyson said. “A little higher and it would have come through the windshield.”
The boulder came to rest a few feet away from the Land Rover in the river.
The Flemmings weren’t the only fortunate ones in the incident. Other vehicles crossed the gully path split seconds before the boulder came across the road.
John Livingston, director of fishing at the Roaring Fork Club, was headed up the valley with two clients, right in front of the Flemmings. He witnessed the collision in his rear view mirror and told his passengers, “A boulder just took out a vehicle.” It was like watching a movie, he said.
He parked his vehicle a short distance away at a safe, wide bend in the road and ran back to the scene with his wader boots. “I expected to find them upside down in the river,” Livingston said. He was relieved to find them upright.
Alyson was already climbing up the embankment with the dog when he arrived, and Ryan followed soon after. Livingston said he didn’t do anything heroic, but the Flemmings were grateful that he was on the scene so quickly to check on their welfare.
Livingston said the lower valley looked like a “war zone.” It was littered with small hailstones, and water and mud shot across the road from what are usually dry gullies. Mud and small rocks covered several small patches of the road. The Fryingpan River looked like Nestle Quick. He and his clients decided not to fish.
The weather raised hell throughout the midvalley and western Colorado Wednesday, with very spotty conditions. Sopris Village subdivision behind the City Market was bone dry at about 1:15 p.m. at the same time River Oaks subdivision 1.5 miles away was getting pummeled with marble-sized hail. A homeowner in the hills across Highway 82 from Willits General Store called the fire department after lightning struck a tree in her yard and caused it to smolder. Firefighters were also keeping their eyes on the slopes of Basalt Mountain after seeing smoke following lightning strikes. The fire posed no danger.