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It’s been an ugly season for transportation across Colorado as monsoon rains have returned this past month. Mud and debris slides have repeatedly closed major transportation routes and local roads in areas scarred by the wildfires of the past two summers. But this week, things got worse.

Mudslides on I-70 from the Grizzly Creek burn scar began fairly small. but with each passing week, the size and scope of the transportation disaster is growing. Photo CBS News.

Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon has been closed since another slide last Thursday, causing traffic to route around the closure in hours-long detours.  Motorists caught in the latest slide spent the night in the Hanging Lake tunnel area to avoid being swept into the debris flow.

At the moment, the efforts to clear the roadway of several feet of mud and boulders have been halted by unstable slopes above the tiered roadway, affecting both eastbound and westbound lanes. The extreme debris flows actually dammed the Colorado River for a time until the blockage could be cleared.

See this recent Ark Valley Voice story for detour information for northerly and southerly detour routes:

Colorado Dept. of Transportation (CDOT) officials have warned of “extreme damage” to the interstate below the Grizzly Creek burn scar. Governor Jared Polis will address the situation in the canyon in a press conference this afternoon, which will be streamed at 3:30 p.m. today on his Facebook page

This section of the interstate in Glenwood Canyon has been closed repeatedly, and the news of major road damage is not good news for this major east-west federal corridor. To even begin repairs, CDOT has to stabilize the grade above the roadway. The extensive damage may mean a lengthy detour timeframe.

It isn’t just road traffic being affected. Over this past month, the California Zephyr train through the Colorado Rockies has been closed off and on as well.  The massive mudslides in Glenwood Canyon have temporarily halted train service on Amtrak’s California Zephyr between Denver and Grand Junction. The train travels through the entire length of the canyon, right alongside the Colorado River.

The Amtrak service advisory Twitter message this morning continued the alert. “Service Advisory: Due to an ongoing weather-related track closure east of Grand Junction (GJT), California Zephyr Service between Denver (DEN) and GJT may be affected on 8/2. For reservation assistance, please text or call 800-USA-RAIL.”

In De Beque, a small Mesa County nestled along the Colorado River just off Interstate-70, between Palisade and Parachute, a massive mudslide dam created an instant mud debris lake.


U.S. 285 over Poncha Pass was closed again for a time late Saturday, due to another mud and debris flow on Poncha Pass, but is open at this time. Poncha Pass has seen mudslides throughout the month. Smaller roads weren’t spared in Saturday’s torrential rainfall in the Arkansas River Valley. There was significant flooding on Bonanza Road, LL56  just east of the Soda Springs Trailhead, before the turnoff for Villa Grove.

News Update at 3:00 p.m. Aug. 2: Governor Polis, together with the Colorado OFfice of Emergency Management, Colorado State Patrol, and the Colorado Dept. of Transportation just finished a press conference at CDOT headquarters in Golden, in which they announced that the road damage from the mudslides that have brought down multi-ton boulders on the roadway is extreme.

The combination of the burn scar and an unprecedented rain event created a natural disaster of epic proportions. The canyon normally received 2.4 inches of rain for the entire month of July: it got more than four inches in only five days. The unknown is the course of the Colorado River. It not only filled with debris from the slide but it has actually begun to flow in new areas, which is undermining the interstate road viaduct, as well as the Amtrak rail tracks along the canyon wall.

It is likely, they say, that I-70 in Glenwood Canyon may well be closed for days, or perhaps a few weeks, to clear debris that is 10 ft. deep in many places, and to complete temporary repairs. This, they say, can allow one lane to be opened in each direction. But until the snow flies, CDOT won’t be able to do any extensive stabilization of the steep canyon slopes or permanent repairs to the roadbed and interstate bridges.

Nature is nature, and it can be hard to predict.  The fire risk across our state is also still not known. Polis ended the conference saying, “We hope the extent of the damage will be known in the next few days. Expect the closure will be days to weeks, we’ll have a better sense in a few days and we wnt to open with some model for the flow of traffic. Hopefully, we’ll be able to restore full functionality to the route for ski season.”

Featured image: I-70 through Glenwood Canyon. Photo courtesy of Colorado Dept. of Transportation