GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A rock slide in a deep and narrow Colorado canyon has closed a major east-west highway, forcing drivers on a 140-mile detour until at least Thursday afternoon, according to state transportation officials.
A tractor-trailer rig was damaged, but no one was injured Monday night when the rocks tumbled onto Interstate 70 about 125 miles east of the Utah border. The Colorado Department of Transportation shut down traffic in both directions along 24 miles of highway, from Glenwood Springs in the west to Gypsum in the east.
"This is as big as I've seen," said CDOT spokeswoman Tracy Trulove, who has been in her role for about two and half years.
Crews are expected to have the interstate clear by Thursday afternoon. But traffic could move slowly because pilot vehicles will lead drivers through the most damaged areas, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported.
A boulder the size of a small car crashed into the truck's trailer, said Ron Milhorn, news director of KMTS radio in Glenwood Springs, who came upon the scene after the slide.
The truck driver, Ray Hatch of Las Vegas, told Milhorn he saw the car in front of him disappear into a cloud of dust before his truck hit a boulder head-on. Hatch was calm and in good spirits after the crash, Milhorn told The Associated Press.
Milhorn and his wife were returning to their home west of Glenwood Springs after a weekend in Denver when traffic came to a stop because of the slide. He said his vehicle was behind 10 or 12 others about 100 yards from the debris.
Vehicles that could turn around were escorted back out of the canyon, Milhorn said.
Average daily traffic through the canyon is about 300 vehicles per hour, according to CDOT.
The shortest detour adds nearly 140 miles to the trip, taking traffic north to U.S. 40 and then back south to I-70.
A helicopter took CDOT inspectors on a flight Tuesday afternoon to assess the risk of additional rock fall from the canyon walls.
The Colorado River carved the scenic canyon, which is popular with anglers and rafters. The chasm is so narrow that one 12-mile section of the interstate runs through three tunnels and across 40 viaducts and bridges. It took 12 years to complete.