A highway in the rugged peaks of the Rockies has been closed in both directions because of a long-lasting rock slide. The Colorado Department of Transportation says rocks began tumbling onto U.S. 550 south of Ouray (yoo-RAY') Sunday evening January 12th and the rock fall was described as continuous. Rocks up to 6 inches in diameter are covering the highway and a pile 8 feet deep formed at one spot. The blocked area is about the size of a football field. Crews are dropping netting to bring down larger boulders. 

Technical climbers from Ouray’s Rigging for Rescue completed a 1,500-foot ropes path yesterday on the north side of the talus slope (or debris field), as well as a 300-plus foot safety line across the top of the talus slope.

Today crews from CDOT and rockfall contractor Yenter Companies will work to get 40,000 square feet of wire cable netting transported by helicopter to the talus slope. There are 47 mesh panels, each 12-ft. by 72-ft. (see photo, below), to be transported and anchored and/or laid on the site.

After the cable netting is installed, the next step will be to look at the areas outside the net—particularly to the right of the talus slope where rocks run down towards the roadway—and determine a course to safely scale those areas.

There is no estimated date for a reopening of the highway at this time.


Crews prepare a 12-foot by 72-foot rockfall mesh panel, one of 47

to be transported by helicopter to the rockfall site above US 550;

arrows denote the location of the crews today, securing anchors above

the debris field (or talus slope) from which to hang the top row of wire mesh.


ALTERNATE ROUTE: From Ouray to Durango (a distance of 70 miles using US 550) motorists will instead use SH 62 from Ridgway over Dallas Divide, SH 145 over Lizard Head Pass, then US 160, for a trip of about 154 miles. For information on other CDOT projects, the public may call 511 or log onto CDOT’s traveler information web site at www.cotrip.org. Better yet, sign up to receive email and/or text messages by going to CDOT’s web site at www.coloradodot.info and choosing the green phone icon in the upper right corner.

Photos, courtesy of Dan Bender, assisting from neighboring La Plata County Sheriff’s Office