• Original Reporting
  • Sources Cited
Original Reporting This article contains new, firsthand information uncovered by its reporter(s). This includes directly interviewing sources and research / analysis of primary source documents.
Sources Cited As a news piece, this article cites verifiable, third-party sources which have all been thoroughly fact-checked and deemed credible by the Newsroom in accordance with the Civil Constitution.
Mudslides from the Grizzly Creek burn scar closed I-70 in Glenwood Canyon on June 26 and 27, 2021 (CDOT)

The Colorado Department of Transportation finished removing debris from Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon on Monday, reopening a critical highway that shut down after two mudslides spilled from the Grizzly Creek burn scar onto the highway over the weekend.

Crews used water and sweeping trucks to finish the clean up of the eastbound lanes, which was delayed because of a clogged drain, CDOT maintenance supervisor Fred Cummings said during a news conference Monday. 

Crews then moved on to the westbound lanes, which CDOT opened Monday evening. 

“The most difficult part of this is it is a debris flow,” Cummings said. “It is just soup. It is difficult to contain and hard to clean up.”

The highway had been closed between West Rifle and Dotsero on and off since Saturday afternoon. A total of 24 CDOT employees worked to clear the debris off the highway and manage the closures.

Rain, which is forecast for the area in the coming days, could cause additional closures, a CDOT spokeswoman said. The impact of mudslides depends on the duration of the rainfall, how intense the rain is and where it falls.

Last year, fire managers warned that the burn scar, about 32,000 acres in and above Glenwood Canyon, was a threat to the highway in some areas.

The U.S. Geological Survey created this landslide hazard map following the Grizzly Creek Fire. The map notes several areas above Interstate 70 near the Grizzly Creek and No Name exits where the likelihood of debris flow following a big rain was 60% to 80%.

Mike Goolsby, CDOT’s regional transportation director, said the department has been planning with the forest service for possible mudslides since the fires.

“I think the biggest thing is fortunately, or unfortunately, we haven’t had a lot of weather so far this spring and early summer,” Goolsby said. “If we had a normal wet spring … we probably would have already experienced some of this.

“It’s a double-edged sword right now, with not having rain or having rain. We need the moisture but we just don’t need it concentrated in Glenwood Canyon,” he said. “We just ask for everybody’s patience.”

CDOT encouraged drivers to take alternate routes as the crews continue to clear the highway. Motorists coming from the Denver metro area or Interstate 25 can travel westbound on I-70 to Silverthorne, turn north onto Colorado 9, then in Kremmling, turn onto westbound U.S. 40 toward Steamboat Springs. After reaching Craig, motorists can return south via Colorado 13 toward Rifle and access I-70 there.

Eastbound motorists can reach the Denver metro area by taking the alternate route in reverse, CDOT said, warning drivers that the detour may take up to 2.5 additional hours. 

The transportation department cautioned motorists against using navigational apps to determine alternative routes, which may send people on roads that are impassible in passenger vehicles and traverse areas where there is no cell phone service.

Drivers also are asked not to attempt to bypass the closure by driving Cottonwood Pass between Gypsum and Colorado 82 near El Jebel. The Colorado State Patrol on Monday afternoon reported a rollover crash that closed the pass, a winding two-lane road that is only partly paved.

Olivia Prentzel is a general assignment writer based in Colorado Springs for The Colorado Sun, covering breaking news, wildfires and all things interesting impacting Coloradans. Before joining The Sun, Olivia covered criminal justice for The Colorado Springs Gazette. She’s also worked at newspapers in New Orleans and New Jersey, where she grew up. After graduating college, she lived in a tiny, rural town in southern Madagascar for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer. When not writing, Olivia enjoys backpacking and climbing Colorado’s tallest peaks.