A driver in a Jeep tried – and failed – to cross the Dolores River last weekend during high runoff, prompting an investigation by the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Land Management.
Susan Lilly, spokeswoman for the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office, said a report was received Monday morning that a driver in a Jeep attempted to cross the Dolores River on Saturday near Tree Frog Canyon, a few miles upstream of the Slick Rock river access point.
The Jeep, however, was unable to make it to the other side of the river, which was flowing about 1,400 cubic feet per second. No one was injured in the incident.
“We believe they were crossing at a legitimate crossing, but used poor judgment they could get across,” Lilly said. “The water is deep, and it’s not safe … as the consequences indicate.”
The San Miguel Sheriff’s Office identified the driver of the Jeep as Rodney Thompson, 55, of Dove Creek. Attempts to reach Thompson were unsuccessful.
Tyler Fouss, a law enforcement ranger with the BLM, said Thompson indicated he would remove the vehicle from the river this weekend when the water level goes down. If he fails to do so, Fouss said the BLM will remove it at the owner’s expense.
“Our main concern is to get the vehicle out of there,” he said.
Fouss said BLM rangers intend to visit the area this week, in part, to look for any damage to public lands. The route Thompson took is an established backcountry road that crosses the Dolores River, which is passable at low water.
Lilly said because no one is in imminent danger, the Sheriff’s Office is not responding to the area.
“It is a safety hazard, but there’s a lot of safety hazards in the river,” she said. “We’re advising the public to be aware of it … but it’s not something we are going to remove at this time. If the situation changes, we’ll reevaluate.”
According to Aaron Edwards, a boater who caught the incident on camera, a group of people driving Jeeps arrived on the opposite bank of Tree Frog Canyon around 5 p.m. Saturday.
The first Jeep crossed the river while attached to a winch line of another Jeep on the shore. He said the line in the river posed a risk to a group of inflatable kayakers, who were forced to pull out of the river and wait for the people in the Jeep group to disconnect it.
When the Thompson in the second Jeep tried to cross back over the river, the vehicle was not attached to the winch line, Edwards said. The Jeep made it about halfway when it started to lose traction and float downstream.
The driver climbed out of the window and sat on top of the roof until the vehicle came to a stop about 100 yards downstream. Edwards said the other Jeep in the group and two four-wheelers then drove off trail, destroying vegetation.
Once the Jeep in the river came to rest, the kayakers who had pulled over, went to assist the driver, bringing him to shore.