Randy Wyrick
The Vail Daily
Aspen CO Colorado

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January 29, 2013
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Glenwood Canyon rockslide narrowly misses motorist

GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Charmaine Jones is a good driver, but she says sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

Jones owns 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 at 4 a.m. to pick up passengers in Snowmass Village and drive them to the Eagle County Regional Airport. She was headed west back through Glenwood Canyon at about 50 mph and eased past a snowplow going much slower.

When she cleared the Hanging Lake tunnel and rounded a few 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 snowplow she'd passed earlier 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 thing left her shaken but undeterred.

"I almost got off at Grizzly Creek and sat there," Jones said. "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. After that, she headed to Aspen to pick up some other passengers for a trip to Denver International Airport.

"I'd call my boss and tell her I'm quitting, but my boss is me," Jones said.

The boulder that crashed onto Interstate 70 near Hanging Lake early Monday closed three of the four lanes, but left only a 1-foot pothole, said Nancy Shanks, Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman for the region.

"It looked like it rolled off from a low point below the rockfall fence," Shanks said.

Crews spent Monday using air hammers to break the boulder into smaller pieces and then hauling those pieces away with front-end loaders, Shanks said.

The rock gave way after several days of frigid weather followed by a warming trend the past few days.

Recurring freeze-and-thaw cycles along with wet snows, like the ones that hit Sunday night and Monday morning, make the mountainous areas more susceptible to rockfall, CDOT's Tony Devito said.

On May 9, 2003, an early-morning rockfall closed both eastbound and westbound lanes of I-70 in Glenwood Canyon. Those rocks were about the size of passenger cars. When they fell, they 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 expected Monday in several areas around the region, with more snow expected all week, according to the National Weather Service forecast. Multiple accidents in Glenwood Canyon, including two involving semi trucks, ended up forcing the closure of eastbound lanes of I-70 on Monday night, according to the Colorado State Patrol.

The temperature swings and moisture will continue through the next several days, according to 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 warm-up 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.

rwyrick@vaildaily.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jan 29, 2013 06:33AM Published Jan 29, 2013 01:55AM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.