MINTURN — Some thought it was an explosion, others heard the blades of a helicopter and others thought someone was setting off fireworks.
As everyone found out later, a 30-foot boulder had broken off of Lionshead Rock outside of Minturn, careening down the steep hillside and landing on the railroad tracks on the outskirts of town, narrowly missing the river and not far from some homes.
Needless to say, the face of the rock that sits high above Minturn, named for its resemblance to a lion head, isn’t quite looking like itself. No one was hurt, and the only property damaged was the railroad tracks. From the trail already carved out to the scene since the rock broke earlier this week, the rock wreckage already seems well explored, and some local climbers have already been bouldering on the rock.
Nearby residents reported hearing the rock fall around 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
“We heard it, and it sounded like a helicopter flying really low. I didn’t think anything of it until I heard later that the rock had fallen,” said Judy Trujillo, a Minturn resident.
She said she had take pictures a while back of the rock, which she and her husband often hike to, and had noticed a large crack in the face.
“My husband and I were talking about when we thought it would break, and I said, ‘Probably not in our lifetime.’ Now, I can still see another big crack up there,” she said, adding that she has new respect for the dangers of the cliff side. “I’m surprised nobody got hurt. I look at where it landed and I think, ‘That’s my backdoor!’”
Alexa Love, who lives on the river side of town of Main Street, said the place the rock landed was not far from her home. She said it sounded like machinery blowing up, and didn’t find out about the rock until her roommate told her later.
Springtime in the Rockies
While local residents were shocked, Bill Kight of the White River National said that breaking and falling rocks — although usually not off a well-known landmark — are a common spring occurrence.
“What makes this time of year so dangerous in Colorado is what we call the ‘freeze-thaw cycle.’ It’s really pretty simple but powerful. Water (melting snow, rail) between the slightest cracks in both small rocks and large boulders freezes, then thaws and that cycle widens cracks over and over until those boulders ready to move do so, often with spectacular and deadly consequences,” Kight said.
If you look around the entire hillside where the rock fell, you’ll see that the cliff is already littered with hundreds and hundreds of other boulders, said Eagle/Holy Cross District Ranger Dave Neely.
They point out that people need to be extremely careful when walking around that area, because rocks could fall at any time. The Forest Service currently doesn’t have any plans to move the giant boulder.
“(We have) no plans to mess with Mother Nature,” said Kight. “She wanted the rock there, and that’s where it’s going to stay, from our point of view.”
In the meantime, some locals are mourning the change in what has become a town landmark.
“It’s sad,” said Trujillo. “When we hike around here, we usually go to the water tower or to Lionshead Rock. You used to be able to stand right up on it. It was an icon of Minturn.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.