Winter Arrives & Rocks Roll

Winter wasted no time in arriving in the Sierra and gave us very little warning as well. One moment I was lounging on my desk in shorts basking in the sun and reading Richard Dawkins’ new work, the next I was bundled up inside watching the trees sway from wind gusts and listening to the footsteps of rain on the roof.

Of course the real reason the first rain is so significant this year is our fear over what water will do to the rockslide. And sure enough, when I drove across the bridge this morning, large clouds of dust rose across the river while boulders bounced down the slope. Although the small release put us in no danger, it served as a reminder that the rockslide still has a few more acts to go.

The Bridges of Mariposa County, II

Highway 140 is now open 24 hours, with only a fifteen-minute delay at the lights routing one-lane traffic across the bridges. Although no vehicles over 28 feet can use the detour, the completion of this temporary solution will allow some semblance of normalcy to return to our lives. For those of you who have not seen the rockslide, I highly recommend coming to Yosemite via 140. You’ll have an excellent view of geology in action from across the river!

The Bridges of Mariposa County, II

Today the second bridge opened for traffic on the 140 detour, and there was much rejoicing. Instead of driving six miles on a dirt road on the riverbank opposite the rockslide, we will now only have a half-mile to navigate, which has been nicely paved. A convoy still leads us, but once the traffic lights and sensors are in place we’ll be on our own.

The Road Opens!

I awoke at 4:30 am to ensure I did not miss the first caravan for the detour around the rockslide. I waited in line in the semi-darkness and almost started crying with relief as we drove over the bridge. The rockslide, which I had not seen since the end of May, has moved quite considerably since then. I gazed at its massive size with a combination of respect and annoyance. If it had not tossed my life into chaos this summer, I would be more excited at witnessing such a significant geologic event. I can now retire my air mattress and stop living out of the suitcase in my car!

My New Home

I have been sleeping at the YA office, watching movies on my laptop at night and working in the early mornings in my pajamas. I was always taught that geology is an excruciatingly slow process—but I wish I could bribe Mother Nature into letting the whole ridge fall down quickly so we can get on with our lives.

Rockslide Panic

Woke up to lights flashing and sirens wailing at 3:00 am. In my half-asleep state, I thought the last portion of the slide had finally fallen, but it turned out the safety lights in the YA office had gone on after a late night power failure. Back to sleep. I would really like to go home!

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

CalTrans announced at a community meeting that they had contracted with Teichert Construction to erect two Bailey bridges to make a detour around the slide. The anticipated timeframe is 90 days. AND THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING!

Better than TV

Rockslide.jpgKnow thy enemy. Tonight I ran down to the slide for a glance at our nemesis. A small crowd had a gathered on the banks of the river and we all stood mesmerized. The slide had assumed mythic proportions in our community and the reality did nothing to dispel the legend. It was like staring at a dragon emerging from a cave, nostrils smoking. Plumes of dust rose from the constant motion of the rock. None of us were in a hurry to leave, as we did not want to miss any of the action.

Nadir

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse! At our community meeting, CalTrans announced it would be six months or more before the road would open. Also, an electric tower that supplies most of El Portal and the park’s electricity is located right next to the slide and could fall at any moment; a rerouting of the lines is a priority of PG&E. Last, but to use the cliché phrase, certainly not least, the higher than normal water levels in the Merced pose a danger since if the remaining millions of cubic yards fall it would dam the river. What else could happen? The slide could fall and reveal a menacing prehistoric monster that had been trapped for eons that would wreak terror on the populace. Not likely, but at this point I would not be surprised at any new development.

Last Car Through

What a relief, I thought as I packed up my things, to be able to drive directly home. Five-hour commutes certainly take a toll. I contemplated stopping at Sal’s, the taco truck that journeys to El Portal every other week, but the long line at the truck deterred me and I decided to just go home. After all, I had been sleeping in the office for five days. I loaded my air mattress into the trunk and drove down 140, thinking life could now return to normal. At the site of the slide, I waited in line until it was my turn to go through the one lane detour. I could see clouds of dust coming from the slide, but wasn’t overly worried as small pieces had been falling regularly. The flagman waved me through, and I thought he looked a bit nervous. Once I arrived on the other side, I passed our bookkeeper waiting to pass on her return to El Portal and I gave her a wave. Home, here I come!

Four hours later I received a call from our poor bookkeeper, telling me she had just arrived home. The rocks had fallen once again blocking the road. I had missed the slide by minutes.

Good Try

CalTrans had the road cleared and was starting to let traffic through when rocks began falling again. A runaway boulder smashed a small truck, but luckily no one was hurt. Back to square one.

Geology Happens

Springtime in Yosemite—wildflowers, waterfalls and rockslides. Every regular commuter on highway 140 knows that spring brings rogue boulders in the road. But the slide that occurred last night was more than just a few boulders. In 1999, when I began my job at the association, this portion of the road was closed for a few weeks due to a rockslide. Let’s hope the road gets cleared in a few days this time.