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July 25, 2012
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Mudslides close Sweetwater Road

EAGLE COUNTY - A sudden torrent of rain flooded fields, poured mud into ponds and closed Sweetwater Road for much of the night Tuesday.

Robert and Cathie Jarnot live about two miles up the road and may have been the hardest hit by the floods and mudslides. Cathie Jarnot said the ponds on her property are filled with mud, and trees and rocks are now scattered in their hay field. Hay fields can be cut and harvested about three times in a good year, and Jarnot said the field at their place was just ready for the second cutting. It's gone now.

"The whole road is pretty bad," Jarnot said. "And there are places where (Sweetwater Creek) has been re-routed."

Crews from the Eagle County Road and Bridge Department worked through Tuesday night, starting before 8 p.m., to clear both Sweetwater Road and the Colorado River Road.

County crews had already gone home for the evening Tuesday, but were called back soon after because of the floods. That after-hours work stretched to 16 hours before the Colorado River Road was cleared and Sweetwater road was re-opened.

Department director Gordon Adams said the sudden rains poured mud and debris from virtually every tributary creek and dry gully along the river road. While that road was never technically closed, Adams said the slides created a mess that could take up to two months to clean up.

While a good amount of rain fell in the Eagle River Valley - signs along Interstate 70 warned of standing water on the road Tuesday night, and Colorado State Patrol officers were parked on the side of the highway at the west end of Red Canyon between Wolcott and Eagle to warn motorists of mud on the road there - the Sweetwater area was hit much harder.

Brink said she'd talked to someone who was on the 7W road - which winds above Sweetwater road - who had reported he'd seen the clouds and lighting below his vantage point.

Sweetwater Lake Resort is on high ground. With the road closed, several people up there spent the night. Others spent the night downstream, unable to get back home.

Jarnot said county crews faced some big obstacles trying to get the road re-opened. Those crews were on the road near Jarnot's home about 1 a.m., and took roughly an hour to move one car-sized boulder. Another boulder a little farther up the road took a solid half-hour to remove, Jarnot said.

Anderson Camps sits at the confluence of Sweetwater Creek and the Colorado River. Christopher Porter, who runs the camps, said his place lost a couple of foot bridges across the creek and a retaining wall. The camp structures are all fine, Porter said, and this week's campers were quickly moved to higher ground.

It's going to take some time to clean up the mess this slide made, but Jarnot said the result is still better than a wildfire.

And, she said, it's not all that unusual for big rains to follow prolonged stretches of hot and dry - such as the entire month of June, in this case.

"The last time we had something like this, in 2005, we'd had a real hot spell before that, too," she said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jul 26, 2012 01:27PM Published Jul 25, 2012 11:41PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.