Inconvenient rock features are nothing unusual on the Colorado Western Slope. Indeed, billions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure linking tiny towns and navigating the high cliffs and mountain passes of the region. However, the Earth has a way of reminding humans that our geography is still a work in progress.
On May 24, 2019, a small natural disaster befell State Highway 145, north of Dolores, Colorado. Thousands of years of freeze-thaw cycles had widened cracks in the cliffs above the road, and finally caused a section of the cliff to shear off. Over 10 million pounds of rock broke away and hurtled down the slope to the road below. Two cars were nearly hit, but fortunately no one was injured. The biggest piece, weighing in at an estimated 8.5 million pounds, tore an eight-foot gash in the highway and settled on the shoulder.
Another boulder, weighing a mere 2 million pounds, was blasted in order to open up a single lane of the highway. However, the larger rock was still in the way, and deemed too large and heavy for explosives to do the job practically. The state Department of Transportation decided instead of dealing with the boulder, they would rebuild the road to go around it. It was estimated that the state government saved about $200,000 by moving the entire highway rather than blowing up the behemoth.
Looking for an opportunity to make the best of an unfortunate situation, Governor Jared Polis decided that this boulder would become Colorado’s newest tourist attraction. It was named Memorial Rock, since the rockfall occurred just before Memorial Day weekend. These days, Memorial Rock looks quite at home, sitting peacefully on the side of the road. The only hints that remain of its violent past are a couple of signs and a scrap of asphalt still clinging to the rock.
Know Before You Go
While Memorial Rock has been named a point of interest, it is still on private property. Thus, visitors are not permitted to cross the fence between the rock and the highway, nor can they park directly next to it. The nearest pulloff is just before the “point of interest” sign to the south.