An unattended Landcruiser rolled off a cliff at Mesa Verde National Park Thursday afternoon.
No one was injured in the incident, said Chief Ranger Jesse Farias, which occurred about 4 p.m. at the Fire Temple Ruin overlook on the Mesa Top driving loop.
“When he got out to view the ruin, he failed to put the vehicle in park,” Farias said.
The 2001 Landcruiser began to roll, and would have just hit the vehicle in front of it, but a lip in the asphalt caused the steering wheel to turn enough that it rolled off the edge. It plummeted down a 60-to-80-foot cliff then rolled 150 feet down a canyon.
“Fortunately, no one was hurt. It was just property damage,” Farias said. “I’ve seen some pretty weird stuff in 30 years at parks, but never this.”
The vehicle’s owner, 41-year-old Greg Geiger, is vacationing from North Carolina. A citation was not issued for the accident.
“He had some choice words, as you might imagine,” Farias said.
Geiger said Friday he was glad the damage was only to his car.
“What was first going through my head was I might have done damage to a national treasure,” he said. “I’m glad that didn’t happen.”
Geiger said he was on a cross-country trip, and most of his possessions were in the car when it rolled off the cliff.
Geiger considered trying to enter the SUV to stop it, Farias said, but decided not to because it “was past the point of no return.” There were several witnesses.
On Friday, Bo Dean’s Towing arrived at the scene to extract the totaled vehicle, which was sitting upside down. Tow operators used a 50-ton wrecker with a large boom that is essentially a small crane.
“It is not a run-of-the-mill tow, and will be tricky,” Farias said.
Park spokeswoman Cristy Brown said the view point was being recovered.
The accident did not damage the ruin, officials said, and an archaeologist will monitor the towing scene. A mitigation plan will be developed to handle any possible fuel leak.
Mesa Verde Ranger Operations Supervisor Steve Krisko said a similar crash occurred about 15 years ago, when an employee’s unoccupied car tumbled down a hill. Two or three years ago, a visitor intentionally drove a car off a cliff in the park, but was uninjured, he said.
As far as lessons learned, Farias advised people to slow down when visiting the park.
“People get excited about seeing the ruins, but they need to take their time and be patient and safe,” he said.
Reporter Jacob Klopfenstein contributed to this story.