Severe storm strands boaters, drivers at Mineral Bottom, damages other area roads, trails
by Jeff Richards
contributing writer
Aug 26, 2010 | 13378 views | 0 0 comments | 53 53 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sections of the dirt road leading to Mineral Bottom are completely washed away along several switchback areas of the trail, leaving boaters and vehicles stranded last week. Officials say the roadway could take weeks or even months to repair, and the road has been closed indefinitely. Photo by Mike Coronella
Sections of the dirt road leading to Mineral Bottom are completely washed away along several switchback areas of the trail, leaving boaters and vehicles stranded last week. Officials say the roadway could take weeks or even months to repair, and the road has been closed indefinitely. Photo by Mike Coronella
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Flash floods resulting from a short but powerful thunderstorm last Thursday afternoon caused significant damage to the Mineral Bottom road, a popular takeout spot along the Green River for canoes, rafts, and kayaks.

Although there were no injuries reported as a result of the storm, approximately 29 people had to be evacuated from the area over the next several days, including seven people who were taken out by helicopter on Aug. 20, according to a news release from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.

“It was a multi-agency effort to get the people who were in various places along the river, and get them to where they needed to be,” said Bego Gerhart of Grand County Search and Rescue.

Photographs of the damage to Mineral Bottom road show a wide, deep gash cutting completely though at least four of the switchbacks on the steep hillside. Officials say the damage will take at least several weeks and possibly several months to repair.

“As of August 19th, Mineral Bottom Road is completely washed out, inaccessible, and closed until further notice,” reads a notice posted on the main page of Grand County’s website.

Grand County Road Department supervisor Bill Jackson said Tuesday that county engineers and road officials, along with representatives from the federal Bureau of Land Management, had scheduled an on-site meeting for the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 25 to assess the damage.

“We’ll decide where we’ll go from there,” Jackson said.

According to Jennifer Jones of the BLM’s Moab Field Office, boaters on the Green River will have to either take out 16 miles further upstream at Spring Canyon, or plan to extend their trip at least one extra day, traveling through Stillwater Canyon to the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers, and then arrange for a jet boat shuttle up the Colorado River back to Moab. That option would require a permit from the National Park Service, as the Stillwater Canyon area is within the boundaries of Canyonlands National Park, she said.

The Spring Canyon road, although still passable, is steeper and narrower, and requires considerable driving skills to navigate, Jones said, adding that trailers are not recommended and there are no pullouts for vehicles to pass each other along the road.

“The uphill driver always has the right of way,” Jones said, adding that there is no drivable road linking Spring Canyon and Mineral Bottom.

As of Wednesday, Aug. 25, there were still at least four vehicles stranded in the Mineral Bottom area, but NPS officials said those vehicles should be able to be driven out via the White Rim Trail, once that road, including a section that connects it to Mineral Bottom, has been cleared.

“We hope to have the entire White Rim road cleared off and accessible by this weekend,” said NPS spokesman Paul Henderson.

While the Mineral Bottom road and the White Rim trail saw the most significant damage from the storm, several other roads in the area also were affected, including a number of dirt roads within the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Among them was the Elephant Hill four-wheel drive trail, which sustained significant damage and remains closed one mile from its back side, NPS officials said. According to officials, the road now has a large hole measuring roughly 24-27 feet long, 15 feet wide and 3 to 4 feet deep. The hole is filled with water and mud, making it unsafe to bear weight and requiring a front-end loader to repair, officials said.

“The fact that no one was hurt is impressive,” said Jones, who praised the teamwork of the various agencies involved, including NPS, BLM, Green River State Park, and various county personnel, including those from Grand County Search and Rescue and the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.

“It was a great coordinated effort to address the problem and take care of the situation,” Jones said.

She said the BLM has been trying to coordinate information with other agencies as well as private outfitters and concessionaires, and members of the public.

Several local river and tour guide outfitters have already felt the impact, and have been scrambling to make alternate plans in the wake of the Mineral Bottom road closure.

“It’s huge,” said Gerhart. “There are a lot of stakeholders affected by this.”

The road closure could even impact next month’s scheduled “Mother of All Boogies” skydiving event, expected to attract as many as 200 skydivers and their families to the Moab area the week of Sept. 22-26. Many of the jumps had been planned to take place in the Mineral Bottom area.

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best,” said event organizer Eli Bolotin. “As far as Plan B goes, we do have a number of other options that are also incredibly beautiful landing spots. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

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