It was raining the afternoon of Aug. 2 when Reece Hanson, a patrolman for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, pulled out of Silverton in his pop car.
Hanson, 22, had been on the job only a couple of months. Two trains had already left Silverton for the return trip to Durango that day. Two more also were soon headed southbound.
I was looking for rocks and trying to stay about 10 minutes ahead of the train, Hanson said. Just below railroad mile-marker 486, 10 miles south of Silverton, he had to stop. A rockslide was blocking the tracks.
I called it in, Hanson said. Then he realized the slide was not done.
I watched this whole surge of material come down, he said. He put his pop car in reverse and backed up. The slide grew in intensity.
My motor car was running and I had earplugs in, but I could hear it coming, Hanson said. Full trees, big rocks it was really powerful. I saw it go across the river and dam up the river. It created kind of a new still-water area there, then it cut a new channel.
He estimates the slide continued for about 10 minutes as he watched.
It was kind of in surges one big surge, and then it trickled off, he said.
Meanwhile, the train following Hanson was forced to stop by another slide about three-quarters of a mile closer to Silverton.
I had a smaller slide above me and the bigger one below me, so I was pretty much stuck there, Hanson said.
The bigger slide covered about 300 feet of track with rocks, trees and mud up to 15 feet deep.
He said apparently the railroad sustained only minor damage one bent rail.
Tracks reopened Sunday.
Hanson said it was stunning to watch such a rapid geologic process transform a section of the Animas River canyon. And hes thankful he didnt get caught in the huge slide.
It blew out the whole gully, Hanson said. It was wild. If I had been another minute or two ahead of where I was ..., Hanson shook his head. I had good timing.