A crew Sunday night blasted one of two boulders that shut down Colorado Highway 145 north of Dolores since Friday, and built a temporary road to allow traffic through.
Trucks hauled way the rubble beginning Sunday, and the bypass road opened Monday afternoon.
The boulders closed both lanes of traffic at mile marker 21, about 10 miles north of Dolores , about 4 p.m. Friday.
Ray Seeley and Dawn Whaley, of Clifton, were driving southbound when struck by the rock slide.
“We came around the curve and saw dirt and rocks flowing across the highway,” Whaley said. “My boyfriend slammed on the brakes, and we were hit by debris. He threw it into reverse, and we backed up 20 feet until blocked by a downed powerline behind us.”
When the dust settled, they had stayed on the road and were about 20 feet from a house-size boulder that landed in the middle of the roadway.
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. When I saw the size of the boulder, my knees went weak,” Whaley said. “We were very fortunate. Our guardian angels were watching over us.”
People behind the truck stopped on the other side of the downed power pole and rushed to check on them. The couple were uninjured, but the truck had been pummeled by rocks, including two cave-ins on the windshield.
The couple were traveling to the Ute Mountain casino for some gambling. The luck of the draw was not lost on them.
“We went to gamble, and hit the jackpot, coming out with our lives,” Whaley said. “Next time, I don’t think we will go that way.”
A brief stop at a relatives’ house on the way to Towaoc delayed their trip just enough to be missed by main force of the slide.
When they came home, a fist-size rock was lodged behind the license plate.
“It is now our lucky rock, and we will take it everywhere with us,” she said.
The rock slide prompted three days of work to try to reopen the highway, a key route between Dolores and Telluride, and an alternate route to the Iron Horse bicycle race from Durango to Silverton.
On Saturday, officials assessed the ridgeline above the highway for additional threats. CDOT had two priorities: to “patch the damaged road” and to ensure the stability of the rock ridge formation.
“A geo-technical crew conducted a ground and aerial investigation of the steep terrain earlier today and determined rock scaling is needed,” CDOT spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes said Saturday. A team was airlifted to the ‘brow’ of the ridgeline to clean and clear loose rock on the ridge and slope.
By Sunday, a crew had finished scaling the top of the ridge to ensure it was stable and began drilling blasting holes on top of one of the boulders.
An earthen ramp was built to the top of the boulder so crews could drill.
The geo-technical crew calculated that 15 to 20 holes, each 15 feet deep, were needed to be drilled vertically into the rock. The holes were then filled with explosive charges to pop the rock into chunks that could be hauled away.
Crews also built a temporary bypass road so the highway could be reopened to alternating, one-lane northbound and southbound traffic. The bypass originally was projected to open Tuesday or Wednesday.
The boulder on the highway was estimated to be 48 feet long, 18 feet wide and 18 feet high. It weighed about 2.3 million pounds, according to Schwantes. The other boulder crossed the highway and “blew out an eight-foot trench.” It was estimated to be 50 feet long, 50 feet wide and 26 feet high and weigh 8.5 million pounds.
CDOT feared rain Monday would delay efforts to remove the boulders.
“There are a lot of unknowns right now,” Schwantes said Sunday.
The closure made travel tricky during the holiday weekend in Southwest Colorado. Colorado 145 was identified as an alternative route for drivers traveling between Durango and Ouray on Saturday morning, when U.S. Highway 550 was closed from Purgatory Resort to Silverton for the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.
Sheriff’s Office Detective Rick Shadden on Friday estimated the boulders to be the size of a “two-story house.” He said the slide was largely due to recent precipitation.
No injuries were reported, and one vehicle was damaged. A boulder knocked down a power line and caused an outage north to Rico.
One family stopped by the slide had been transporting horses from Arizona via Colorado 145. Space at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds was provided for the animals, Shadden said.
The Dolores Fire Department, Cortez Fire Protection District, Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado State Patrol and Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office responded to the incident.
Patrick Armijo contributed to this article.