Rolling through the rocks
GLENWOOD CANYON, Colo. – Charmaine Jones is a good driver, but she says sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Jones owns the transportation company Charm Chauffeurs and was rolling through Glenwood Canyon early Monday morning when rocks and boulders began raining down around her.
The rockslide closed part of Interstate 70 near Hanging Lake. There were no injuries, but Jones is as close as it comes.
Jones said she left her house in Glenwood Springs at 4 a.m. to pick up passengers in Snowmass and drive them to the Eagle County Regional Airport. She was headed west back through Glenwood Canyon at about 50 mph to and eased past a snowplow going much slower.
When she cleared the Hanging Lake tunnel and rounded a couple more curves, a boulder the size of a Volkswagen was coming to rest in the left lane, teetering back and forth as other rocks rolled down.
“I had to hit my brakes so hard that everything in the car went flying,” Jones said. “That boulder fell right in front of me and the rocks were rolling through the right lane.”
She said she saw the boulder hit and had an instant decision to make.
“I had to either stop and hope nothing else would hit me, or gun it and try to get through it,” Jones said.
She hit the gas and shot through the right lane as more rocks rolled down. When she cleared the danger zone, she looked in her rearview mirror and saw the CDOT snowplow screech to a stop.
Lots of stars had to align to keep Jones from getting bashed by boulders.
After she dropped her passengers at the Eagle County airport, she stopped for gas in Gypsum before heading toward Glenwood Springs. She had to walk inside because the storm knocked out the pay-at-the-pump function.
“If that had not slowed me down I would have been that much closer to that thing landing on me,” Jones said.
Then there was passing the snowplow. The slush and muck were pounding her windshield, so she passed it.
The whole experience left her shaken but undeterred from driving.
“I almost got off at Grizzly Creek and sat there. But then I thought, ‘Well, what good will that do?'”
Like all good transportation companies, she kept on trucking. She collected herself and drove to the Rifle airport to pick up some passengers arriving on a private jet. Then she headed to Aspen to pick up other passengers for a trip to the Denver International Airport.
“I’d call my boss and tell her I’m quitting, but my boss is me,” Jones said.
The boulder crashed onto Interstate 70 near Hanging Lake early Monday morning, closing three of the four lanes. It left only a one-foot-deep pothole, said Nancy Shanks, CDOT spokesperson for this region.
“It looked like it rolled off from a low point below the rockfall fence,” Shanks said.
CDOT’s control team in the Hanging Lake Tunnel command center closed the westbound lanes at the Hanging Lake Tunnel at 6:15 a.m., assessed the situation, and then reopened the westbound right lane only.
They then closed the westbound lanes again and used heavy equipment to push the rock across the road and onto the right shoulder. Traffic was allowed through in the left lane.
By midday, CDOT crews has blasted the rock into pieces and had hauled them away by 1:45 p.m., closing both westbound lanes intermittently. After making a pass with the snowplow, CDOT reopened both lanes to travel shortly after 2 p.m.
The rock gave way after several days of frigid weather, followed by a warming trend the last few days.
When temperatures swing, snow isn’t the only thing that falls.
Recurring freeze and thaw cycles, along with wet snows like the storm that hit Sunday night and Monday morning, make the mountainous areas more susceptible to rockfall, said CDOT’s Tony Devito.
On May 9, 2003, an early-morning rockfall closed both east and westbound lanes I-70 in Glenwood Canyon. Those rocks were about the size of passenger car. One bounced across the eastbound lane and landed in the channel of the Colorado River below.
No injuries were reported in that rockfall.
On March 8, 2010, boulders the size of tractor-trailers careened down and crashed onto the road just west of Hanging Lake. That one closed the highway for days. No injuries were reported that time either.
Six inches of snow was forecast Monday in the region, with more snow expected all week, according to the National Weather Service forecast.
The temperature swings and moisture will continue through the next several days, said Accuweather.
Temperatures have swung 40 degrees through January as waves of warm and cold air rolled through the Rockies.
“When you compare temperatures during the height of the warmup with the core of the arctic air that follows, some locations may have a difference of 40 degrees more,” said Paul Pastelok, Accuweather long range weather expert.
The National Weather Service said those temperature swings and snow will continue through the end of the week. Snow is forecast to continue through at least Wednesday night. Temperatures are forecast to fall back into the single digits by Thursday before warming over the weekend.
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