Rockin the Rockies

Rockin the Rockies
Stowe Mtn

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mud flows in Ute Pass

Not a rock hounding story, but an interesting day nevertheless due to rock hounding.

While rock hounding at Lake George a storm was building up and I was in the middle of removing crystals from a pocket (more on that in another post). I tried to call my digging partner Bob to let him know of my find but he wasn't answering. Soon I started hearing his truck horn, thinking he wanted to leave because of the approaching storm I gathered up my crystals and met him at the truck. He said his radio was only receiving, so he heard my calls but couldn't answer them and he didn't know where I was. The thunder was getting louder but we decided to go back to the pocket I was digging and check it out a little further. Finally the lightning was just too close for comfort although there was no rain. I packed up a couple more crystals and we headed for the truck. While lightning and rain were clearly visible within a mile or two, we remained dry while we loaded up the truck. On the way out of the digging area we got hit with rain and small hail. We left a little early fearing we could get stuck on the forest roads if the rain got too heavy. As we traveled home towards Colorado Springs, Bob talked about the local meteorologists predicting potential flood issues with the Waldo Canyon burn area if we got heavy rain. Waldo Canyon empties out along side US24, the route we take home.

The first sign of trouble along US24 was near Chapita Park. Last week engineers built about a 4 foot high retaining wall to hold back flood debris from spilling onto US24. The wall is about 50 feet up the hill. As we passed this area, mud, rock and other debris were spilling over this wall and flooding a nearby frontage road. More trouble ahead we surmised. We got passed Waldo Canyon but then came to a stop (3:20). We were stopped for almost 3 hours due to a mud flow about 1/2 mile and 100 cars ahead of us. Maybe it was a good thing we took a second look at the pocket delaying our departure time from Lake George by a few minutes.
This van isn't going anywhere, spattered in mud

After sitting in the vehicle for about 30 minutes in the traffic jam curiosity got the best of me, I got out of the truck and walked along the highway shoulder to see what was going on. Most of the folks in line were just patiently waiting with their engines turned off. After rounding a couple of curves in the road I came up on the mud flow. There were cars scattered everywhere in the mud. Didn't have my camera, wish I had borrowed Bob's. Some of the cars were up to their windows in debris. One car was hung up on the 4ft raised concrete median. There was one front end loader trying to hold back the mountain of debris flowing into the roadway but nobody else. As I walked back to our vehicle many asked me what was going on. I told them it was a mud flow and nobody is going anywhere for at least an hour. I went back to the truck ate skittles and drank a bottle of water that a kind lady was handing out.

After sitting in the truck for awhile longer ambulances started showing up traveling eastbound in the westbound lanes. Since nobody could travel westbound due to the road blockage, emergency vehicles and heavy equipment were using the westbound side of the highway to go eastward towards the mud flow. Next a convoy of county dump trucks went by. Minutes later a military medevac helicopter flew over. I decided to walk back down to the mudflow and this time I took Bob's camera with me. I got stopped before I could see anything by a state trooper who told me "you can't go any further, nobody is going to get killed on my watch." So I went back to wait in the truck. I now have a new saying ... "nobody's going to get killed on my watch!" Folks were playing catch along the roadway, talking to strangers carrying on in an almost picnic/festive atmosphere. To pass the time Bob and I decided to clean some of the crystals I found in the pocket, right there along the roadway. Next to show up on the scene were tow trucks. Shortly after the tow trucks went by a number of badly beaten up muddy cars started traveling past us westbound. Many of the cars were damaged and covered with mud... the cars were making very odd noises. As the cars went by the people waived and there was a considerable amount of horn tooting by both the folks leaving the scene and those of us stuck in the traffic jam. Next a convoy of front end loaders showed up and soon dump trucks loaded with debris were commuting back and forth to dump their loads and return for more. At least there was some progress being made.

Cleanup crew taking a break. Mud flowed over concrete highway divider

Hmmm more cleanup crews taking a break... or discussing cleanup strategy... that's it. This is where the mud came from

Staging area for cars that could not drive away

Snow plows putting the finishing touches on the road cleanup

About 6:10 the traffic began to move. I took a few pictures with Bob's camera on the way out. So even though I found a pocket of crystals this day, the trip home was more exciting. Most folks took the whole delay in stride a couple did not. One guy was shouting at the top of his lungs and kicking the guardrail for about 20 minutes. I think he lots of issues. I almost forgot the best part. As the traffic was finally moving in our lane the lane next to us wasn't moving. We soon passed an older lady trying to get on her hog, her hubby was asking her if she needed a boost up to get back on.
The race is on, down the mountain through the dried mud.


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