mudslide closes canyon; flood warning issued

This photo from Sunday shows trees, rocks and mud piling onto Highway 89. The slide is running near a site known as Blue Ledges, above Taco Hole on the Snake River. Photo by Ed Smith/WyDOT. Click to enlarge.

A mudslide running in the Snake River Canyon has forced closure of Highway 26/89, the main route into Jackson Hole from the south and a key commuter artery, for at least several days.

The slide had been pouring mud onto the road since Friday, and the Wyoming Department of Transportation closed the highway at 10 p.m. Saturday when crews could not keep up in clearing debris and the site became dangerous.

Lincoln County Homeland Security & Emergency Management posted on Facebook, “Expect closure for at least the coming week.”

The slide is reminiscent of 1997, when during a similarly wet spring the Dog Creek Mudslide closed the highway for three weeks, until the Wyoming National Guard was called in to clear the debris.

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning through 3:30 p.m. Tuesday for the Snake and Hoback canyons. The agency warned of the risk of “mudslides, debris flows and rockslides on steep slopes from highly saturated soils and increased snowmelt with increasing temperatures.”

Mud pours onto the highway near milepost 127, during the early stages of the slide. Photo by David Kaufman/WyDOT.

The slide in the Snake canyon occurred at milepost 127, above the river feature Taco Hole. Ed Smith, WyDOT’s Jackson maintenance foreman, described the scene as “a big, oozing blob” of water, mud and rocks.

The Casper Star-Tribune reported:

… by Saturday night, the slide movement had accelerated to a point where two front-end loaders and six trucks could not keep up.

John Eddins, WYDOT District 3 engineer, estimated the debris was reaching the highway at the rate of a couple of feet an hour, and it was moving across the roadway as fast as crews could load it.

Besides the main route into Jackson from Salt Lake City, Highway 26/89 also is a vital commuter corridor for residents of Alpine and Star Valley. The Star-Tribune reported that an average of 5,740 vehicles per day commute to and from Jackson via the highway, according to a 2008 WyDOT traffic study.

The closure comes just as whitewater rafting companies are beginning to run trips. In 1997, boaters put in at Pritchard Creek and floated around the Dog Creek Mudslide, a 16-mile journey instead of the usual 8.5 miles. Outfitters then had to bus clients back over Pine Creek and Teton passes to Jackson.

START plans to run its second and third commuter buses from Star Valley on this route Monday. The first bus from Etna has been canceled. Commuters should expect to arrive later. Call 307-733-4521 with questions.

Information on road closures and advisories can be found at www.wyoroad.info.

For the latest updates on this story, visit here: http://wp.me/pRE9y-3HP

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Posted under Economy, Environment, Weather, Wyoming

9 Comments so far

  1. greg May 15, 2011 6:32 pm

    thanks a ton for the info!

  2. Mary May 15, 2011 8:26 pm

    Thanks for posting the photo. I’ve been looking for different shots of the slide

  3. Jon H May 15, 2011 9:27 pm

    Thanks, Jim! Just the “up close” view we’ve been looking for. WY Highway Patrol wouldn’t let me down there mid-day Sunday…..

  4. dswift May 16, 2011 7:35 am

    If I located the slide correctly on Google Earth, it’s at

    43.20257693032241
    -110.8631520357452

  5. murph May 16, 2011 2:24 pm

    closure by palisades as well.now how long before glory closes?

  6. Meg May 16, 2011 3:27 pm

    a good reason why we need affordable housing here in teton county…

  7. js May 16, 2011 5:17 pm

    A source who inspected the slide this morning said it was “creeping fast,” and WyDOT is bringing in a geologist from Cheyenne because the unstable area is larger than initially thought.

  8. Jake May 17, 2011 9:44 am

    next questions are:

    -What will be policy regarding travel from Jackson or Alpine for people who would like to use the river or backcountry along the corridor.

    -When will Gov. Mead call in the Wyoming National Guard? Shouldnt be long now.

    -Will a Jackson lodging facility step up and offer special discounted, longterm weekly rentals for Star Valley commuters who can and will stay in Jackson during the week?

    -As Jim has alluded: How will river companies adjust? Can they?

  9. CS May 18, 2011 8:10 pm

    @dswift That looks to be just about right. Nicer pic here:
    http://bradlyjboner.photoshelter.com/image/I0000Cgz00SfZ.cs

    Now just as long as the chunk of 89 just north of the Hoback Market doesn’t fall into the Snake river. Its been patched 3 times in 6 weeks.

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