Shale Bluffs area no stranger to rockfall | AspenTimes.com

Shale Bluffs area no stranger to rockfall

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Natural rockfall may continue to occur in the Shale Bluffs area along Highway 82, said a Colorado Department of Transportation official after three small boulders injured a motorist Monday.

CDOT construction crews finished widening Highway 82 alongside the Shale Bluffs cliffs in the summer of 2000, and resident engineer Joe Elsen said the design is based on safe engineering standards with the help of geotechnical recommendations. Even so, he said any steep rock face naturally experiences rockfall.

“The geotechs said there was never any guarantee that no rockfall would touch the road,” Elsen said. “But the idea was to design the road so that [the rockfall] did not go into the driving lanes, and they instead stayed to the pavement on the shoulder.”

After Monday’s incident, Elsen said he spoke with a rockfall maintenance worker from CDOT who said he has seen rockfall decrease significantly since the widening project was completed.

“Compared to before the Shale Bluffs construction project, he said the rockfall clean-up assignments reduced by 75 percent,” Elsen said. “He also said none of the rocks that came down on Monday were larger than basketball size, so it was a pretty small-sized rockfall.”

The debris scattered across the road didn’t hold up traffic Monday morning, but some of the small pieces of shale were sharp enough to puncture car tires. The Avon man struck by the rocks wasn’t seriously hurt.

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“It’s Mother Nature – Newton’s gravitational laws. Things want to be at their natural angle or lower, and if they’re steeper, something is going to happen,” Elsen said. He added that the cause of the fall was probably water that froze in the cliff’s cracks, breaking apart the rocks high above the highway.

In January, a 7-year-old boy was killed and several were injured when sandstone boulders broke off a cliff outside Glenwood Springs and hurtled down onto westbound vehicles on Interstate 70.