Crews clear I-70 after mud and debris slides in Glenwood Canyon, now open both directions
Fourth of July travelers stuck on the Glenwood Springs side of Glenwood Canyon had to wait until late afternoon Sunday to head back east on Interstate 70, as highway crews worked to clear several feet of mud and debris from a series of slides that occurred Saturday afternoon.
Westbound lanes were cleared overnight Saturday with one lane reopened early Sunday morning, and a second lane opened a few hours later, while the eastbound lanes remained closed until 4 p.m.
The Glenwood Canyon bike path will likely remain closed for several more days as between 10 and 12 feet of mud covered the path in some sections, Kane Schneider, deputy maintenance director for Colorado Department of Transportation District 2, said during a mid-morning press briefing.
Crews had been busy nonstop since about 3:30 p.m. Saturday clearing mud and debris from five different slide locations within the Grizzly Creek burn scar area.
“Speed limits through the impacted areas are reduced to 40 mph in order to keep residual dust down,” CDOT said in a news release announcing the reopening of the eastbound lanes.
“Please take it slow as dust will still be present following the cleanup efforts at these locations,” CDOT advised.
Also, due to the potential for rain in the forecast Monday, the Grizzly Creek and Shoshone rest areas and the recreation path will remain closed for safety reasons.
The slides occurred around 3:15 p.m. Saturday after a flash flood warning was issued by the National Weather Service. The slides are farther to the east of the area where two other debris slides occurred last weekend closer to Grizzly Creek, also closing I-70 through Glenwood Canyon for several hours.
Mike Goolsby, CDOT Region 3 transportation director, said a single storm cell positioned itself over the Flat Tops above the eastern end of Glenwood Canyon, east of Hanging Lake, on an otherwise rain-free afternoon Saturday.
That was enough to trigger the slides within the more-than 30,000-acre burn scar from the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire, he said, adding that there are an estimated 20 different drainages through Glenwood Canyon where a slide could occur.
About a dozen vehicles had already made it into the canyon before the closure happened, and were caught between, but not in the slide areas, Schneider said. The motorists were able to be turned around and escorted out of the canyon safely, he said.
After the slides occurred, crews worked more than 24 hours nonstop, clearing and hauling hundreds of loads of debris to stockpiles on either end of the canyon, said Lisa Schwantes, CDOT communications manager.
“There is a lower chance of precipitation today (Sunday) and anticipated higher temperatures, which will help dry out the road surfaces in the canyon,” she said.
During the closure, travelers were being diverted from I-70 at Rifle and points east of Glenwood Canyon onto the recommended northern detour route, via U.S. 40 and state Highways 13, 131 and 9 back to I-70.
Local traffic headed to Glenwood Springs or the Roaring Fork Valley from western Garfield County was being allowed through, according to CDOT.
The more lengthy closure in Glenwood Canyon may be the recreational path between the interstate and the Colorado River. Schneider said the path has about 10 to 12 feet of debris piled on top of it in places, and it will likely be closed for some time.
Bob Group, program manager for CDOT’s Geohazards Division, said during the Sunday morning briefing that there’s little that can be done to mitigate for slides, which is always a potential following a major wildfire.
“The fire burned over 30,000 acres, so it’s too big an area to do any kinds of treatments to prevent slides from happening,” he said. “It’s also in a tight, narrow canyon, so there’s not a lot of area to work with to do that kind of migitation.”
Schneider said the slides this weekend and last did not impact the popular Hanging Lake area, which is now operated on a permit system. However, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman said Sunday that Sunday permit holders were being refunded because the area could not be accessed.
Schwantes advised that motorists traveling via I-70 through Glenwood Canyon this summer be prepared for potential closures, and to check weather forecasts and CDOT’s CoTrip.org website for any closures or other alerts that could affect their travel.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.