Boulder season hits Roaring Fork Valley
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Large rocks have appeared on the highways, marking an annual rite of late winter and spring: boulder season.
Earlier this week, a few of them fell to the highway and bashed through the concrete median divider on Highway 82 just south of Glenwood Springs. Boulder season is starting a little early this year.
“We normally have rocks start falling mostly during the spring,” said Colorado State Patrol Capt. Rich Duran. “I think we’re a little bit ahead right now, but come March or April, I think we’ll see a lot more.”
Duran said boulder season will be worse this year because of extra runoff coming down from larger-than-normal snowpack across most of Colorado’s high country. In previous years, a few people died when they were unlucky enough to have falling boulders smash into their vehicles near Marble, and in South Canyon and Glenwood Canyon, he added.
But it’s more common for drivers to hit a boulder that’s already come to rest on the highway. That’s happened at least five times in the area so far, Duran said, but no one was seriously injured. For the vehicles, it’s a different story ” some of them were rendered undriveable.
“It’s becoming that time of year, and we’ll be (repairing rockfall damage) all the way through April,” said Dave Stanley, service manager at Glenwood Shell. If it starts raining, it really gets bad.”
Stanley said he’s seen about eight or nine vehicles that have suffered an average of $400 to $500 damage after hitting rocks on highways this year. Mostly, the work involves repairing busted wheels, and damaged oil or transmission pans.
“I’ve probably done at least eight or nine so far this year, and it’s just getting started,” Stanley said. “You just never know when you’re going to come in and find two or three cars busted up from hitting rocks.”
Sometimes trying not to hit a rock makes things even worse.
“I know that there’s been a couple that have swerved to miss rocks and got torn up pretty bad,” he said.
Motorists who try a little too hard to dodge a rock sometimes hit the guardrail or another vehicle.
“It created a lot worse damage than just going ahead and running over the rock,” Stanley said. “You never know what (drivers) are going to do when a rock falls in front of them.”
Springtime can create a false sense of comfort for drivers. Warmer temperatures mean snow and ice isn’t as much of a problem on the roads, but water freezing and thawing between rocks breaks them loose and sends them down from canyon walls or hillsides.
“People tend to bring their speeds back up when the road is dry,” Duran said. “Even though the road is dry, the weather is nice, the potential for that rock coming down is a possibility.”
Duran said rocks seem to hit the pavement most in South Canyon and Glenwood Canyon on Interstate 70, and on Highway 82 under the red bluffs near Carbondale and south of Glenwood Springs. McClure Pass and its approaches on Highway 133, south of Carbondale, and Shale Bluffs, outside of Aspen on Highway 82, also get pummeled by a lot of falling rock.
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