Seatbelt saves Vail man from rockslide disaster in Glenwood Canyon
Bob Dorf escapes with a broken fingernail and cut finger
February 5, 2019
DOTSERO — Bob Dorf was never happier about a broken fingernail.
Dorf was driving west through Glenwood Canyon at 6:15 p.m. Monday and plowed into a rock that had fallen from the canyon wall and onto I-70. It turned out to be a preview of the early morning rockslide that closed Interstate 70 in both directions through Glenwood Canyon, hitting the westbound lane of I-70 around 1 a.m. Tuesday, and scattering fragments into the eastbound lane.
The Colorado State Patrol responded to that 1 a.m. rockslide along with the Colorado Department of Transportation. Officials took one look at the size of the rocks and immediately decided two things: They were closing I-70 through Glenwood Canyon. It would stay closed for an undetermined about of time, citing safety concerns.
Some of those boulders were about half again the size of Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jake Best's Dodge patrol Charger, which was conveniently on the scene for a size comparison.
Bob's excellent adventure
"For a split second the one I hit looked that big," said Dorf, who has lived in Vail for decades.
Dorf was traveling alone in his 2018 Chevy Equinox after a Monday meeting in Vail, headed west to Grand Junction, a drive he makes regularly.
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"It's always iffy headed through the canyon, so I wasn't going very fast," Dorf said.
He motored around a corner and there his boulder was. Perspective is everything and all rocks look massive when you're about to hit them, he said. The rock he hit was bigger than the hood of his car.
"It was actually two rocks, one big one in my lane and a smaller one in the other lane. When I hit the big one I turned it into lots of small ones," Dorf said.
Before he hit it, he had a split second to jerk the car to the left. Then he piled into it and the car rolled over.
"I was sliding along and there was a brief instant when the car stopped. I thought maybe the car had gone over the edge," Dorf said.
He hadn't, thankfully.
He cut his finger on a piece of glass and broke a fingernail.
"That's unbelievable when you look at that car. Airbags and seatbelts, you gotta swear by those," Dorf said.
Shaun Baldwin works with Scott Turnipseed's architecture firm in Eagle, and was first on the scene. Baldwin was driving west on I-70 on his way to Glenwood and spotted other motorists braking in a spot where it's usually not necessary. As rocks and debris showered the road, Baldwin spotted Dorf's wrecked Chevy and pulled onto the shoulder, trying to figure out if the wreck was new. It was. Dorf had barely stopped sliding.
Dorf was unhurt, moving and talking and making jokes, Baldwin said. At one point Dorf smiled at Baldwin and asked, "Hey, is there a scratch on my car?"
It was one of those oddball spots in Glenwood Canyon that enjoys cell service, so Baldwin called 911. Dorf was being held in by his side airbag as Baldwin and some others started working to free him.
"You don't really need to send an ambulance, but if one is on the way have them bring a Band-aid," Dorf told him.
As for Dorf's Chevy Equinox, he's entertaining offers.
"What a great car. If you want one, I have one for sale cheap … well, parts of one," he said smiling.
CDOT crews hammering away
CDOT crews went hard at the rockslide before sunup Tuesday, sending some boulders over the side and into the valley below where they could cause no more trouble. The rest were being handled with cranes by midday Tuesday.
Those CDOT crews were also taking down other rocks that looked like they might fall onto the road below, Best said.
That will close the highway for several hours in both directions, CDOT's Tracy Trulove.
Non-plussed by the public
For one intrepid late-morning motorist, seeing was apparently not believing. The motorist was unconvinced that the rocks were real and drove past dozens of red signs, Xs and warnings to turn around — signs meant to drive home the reality that the highway was, in fact, closed. That motorist finally made it most of the way through a long tunnel and was stopped by an aghast CDOT staffer waving a large STOP sign.
The CDOT staffer was non-plussed by the motorist's heartfelt request for a better view of the canyon carnage and called Trooper Best. Best might have set new outdoor records for eye rolling.
It appeared that lots and lots of motorists shared that sense of disbelief or possibly detachment from reality.
Best was stationed at the Dotsero exit and patiently repeated a few informative phrases for disbelieving throughout the morning and afternoon:
- "Yes, the highway is closed. It's a rockslide in Glenwood Canyon."
- "No, we don't know when it will open."
- "The detour is four-and-a-half hours."
- "Yes, I'm serious. Four-and-a-half hours."
Up to 250 cubic yards of rock fell onto the westbound lane of the I-70. Some of the boulders crashed through the guardrail. The damage to the road itself wasn't that bad, Trulove said.
It'll take about 30 dump truck loads to remove it all, Trulove said.
About that detour
Travelers who believe in forward progress embarked on a scenic four-and-a-half hour detour through northwest Colorado. The rest relaxed and enjoyed a leisurely lunch, or dinner — or both — and waited for CDOT crews to reopen the road.
Westbound traffic was sent to the Wolcott exit. From there it was north on Highway 131 toward Steamboat Springs, west on U.S. Highway 40 to Craig, south on Highway 13 to Rifle and back to I-70 well past the west end of Glenwood Canyon.
Despite what the GPS on your phone or in your car might tell you, Independence Pass and Cottonwood Pass are both closed for the winter. Because of the storms blowing through the region, there was a chain advisory on Highway 133 over McClure Pass. More snow is in the forecast.