GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. — Both directions of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon reopened Sunday at reduced speeds after mudslides covered both directions of the interstate in multiple locations Saturday.
The westbound lanes reopened around 5 a.m. Sunday. The eastbound lanes reopened around 4 p.m. Speed limits through the impacted areas are reduced to 40 mph in order to keep residual dust down.
Trucks have been carrying hundreds of loads of debris away from the mudslide sites. But removal has been a challenge for crews because the wet material is difficult to contain, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Removal of the mud and debris required extensive work throughout the evening and night.
The canyon was being cleared of traffic due to a flash flood warning when debris flows in four locations began coming down the sides of the canyon around 3:20 p.m. About a dozen vehicles were caught between slides, but crews were able to clear a path and turn them around.
"We backed up, did a U-turn on I 70. We all drove through another mudslide as it was happening and we got stopped at one more. That blocked the road," said Zack Beins, a driver who got caught in the canyon for about three hours Saturday. "The only thing I could liken it to it was like a disaster film."
Beins shared the video below of him traversing the mud and debris on I-70 in Glenwood Canyon.
Beins said rocks, dirt and logs were being pushed across the road. He said at least one vehicle was damaged when a rock shattered a windshield. CDOT said some slide areas were nine feet deep and covered hundreds of feet of roadway. No injuries were reported.
The highway was shut down twice last weekend after two separate mudslides from the Grizzly Creek burn scar washed over the road. It was closed a third time Tuesday for a flash flood warning, but a mudslide did not occur during Tuesday's closure.
CDOT said Sunday there is no easy solution to the problem. The source of the mudslides is the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar. The human-caused fire started August 10, 2020 in Glenwood Canyon and burned more than 32,000 acres in the White River National Forest. CDOT said due to the size of the burn scar and terrain of the canyon, mitigation is nearly impossible.
"The fire burned over 30,000 acres. So it's really just too, too big of an area to to treat in terms of preventing the types of soil conditions that that generate these sorts of flows," said Bob Group, a geohazard program manager with CDOT.
If a flash flood warning is issued for the area, CDOT will close I-70 in both directions in the canyon. These closures may last a few minutes or several hours, depending on the incident. If the closure lasts longer than an hour, traffic will be diverted to the northern alternate route.
The northern alternate route includes at least a two-hour-long detour. Westbound traffic can exit at Silverthorne and travel north on Colorado 9 to U.S. 40, then west to Craig. From Craig, take Colorado 13 south to Rifle and back on I-70. Eastbound traffic will need to exit at Rifle and take the same route in the other direction.
Drivers planning to use I-70 or other high-country roads should bring supplies with them in case they need to spend extended time in the car, CDOT said. At the minimum, this can include water, snacks, flashlight, and a blanket.
The Glenwood Canyon recreation path is closed and will remain closed for a long period of time as several feet of mud and debris covers the path, CDOT said.