The Causes and Effects of Rockfall in The Mountains

Mar. 11, 22

Ever driven down a winding road late at night, only to have to slam on the brakes to avoid rocks in the road to get around a curve? If so, then you are not alone. Falling rocks happen all the time in Colorado, and the debris they throw onto roads and other structures is dangerous.

The Causes and Effects of Rockfall in The Mountains

Fortunately, Colorado has some of the nation's top experts to track these geologic hazards, including teams from the Department of Transportation, the Geological Survey and their partners. In fact, the most widely used modeling software for characterizing rockfalls was developed in Colorado. To prevent future falls, agencies are building precautionary berms, moisture-conducting sluices, rock catchers, fences and walls on seemingly innocuous hillsides in the park.

Known problems can be repaired with a bank of bolts, supports, cables, anchors, nets and related equipment. Sometimes, crack-filled exposures are even injected with large amounts of resin - similar to Mountain Power Glue.

Rockfall Netting is an efficient net that combines ease of use and flexibility with unparalleled cost effectiveness. Often used as a "source control" measure, Maccaferri Rockfall Netting is used around the world and has proven to provide strong, long-lasting and cost-effective rockfall protection.

The Causes and Effects of Rockfall in The Mountains

Causes of rockfalls

Rockfall comes from three main sources, all of which are abundant on mountain slopes and in the mountains. The first source is fractured bedrock, such as material exposed in Gunnison Black Canyon, Clear Creek Canyon in Golden, and Pike's Peak. These rocks, cooled by magma or bonded together during burial and mountain building, are filled with cracks and fissures. The rocks eventually disintegrate like a glacier.

Alternating layers of sedimentary rocks are the second most important cause of rockfall. In exposures such as Castle Rock, Durango, Grand Chapter Keshen and Maniton Springs, these rocks form massive cliff beds that often spall off of terraces, hills and cliffs.

Residual soil and sediment left by ancient landslides and bulldozers from snow mastodon-age glaciers were the last source of rockfall. These crazy-looking mounds of dirt and rock are a geologic mix of giant boulders suspended in sand and gravel. As water from snowmelt or rainfall soaks through the sediments that hold the boulders in place, rocks can slip or fall from these piles into caves like the Canon City or East Vail geological bullseyes.

The Causes and Effects of Rockfall in The Mountains

Direct Impacts

Falling rocks from these sources directly affect homes, vehicles, infrastructure and people. They have indirect impacts as a traffic hazard because they catalyze landslides. To add to the natural triggers, rockfall is more likely whenever we weaken, over-steepen or disturb hillsides and slopes. This is also true when we build roads and houses at the foot or top of old rockfalls and landslides.

Given that freeze-thaw cycles and rainfall in Colorado are three-season events, it is not surprising that rockfall associated with fractures is a year-round phenomenon. Witness the epic example of traffic jams on the Interstate 70 corridor. In contrast, rockfalls associated with erosion and sliding tend to occur after long periods or heavy rain intervals, especially during high winds.

Falling rocks have been shaping the surface of our state for a billion years, and will continue to do so. They show that our planet has always been in motion, and they mark the risks of living and playing in mountainous and hilly areas. Understanding what triggers them and how they behave helps us predict and minimize our risks.

Contact us to purchase Rockfall Netting and reduce the risk of falling rocks. We also have Rockfall Netting and other products for sale, so please feel free to visit us.

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