Jun 192017
 

Manitou Springs occupies a narrow valley where Fountain Creek emerges from the foothills northeast of Pikes Peak and west of Colorado Springs. The valley slopes are composed of interbedded resistant sandstone and conglomerates (i.e., gravelly sandstone), and weaker mudstones and shale. The outcropping sandstone is most prevalent on the steeper slopes on the north side of the valley.

During the wet spring of 1995, rockfall and landslides incidents increased throughout Colorado, some resulting in fatalities. In Manitou Springs, a fortunate set of circumstances occurred before the Memorial Day holiday weekend when local residents observed the movements of a large, dangerous block of rock before it actually could fall. The observation set into motion an emergency declaration by the town, resulting in a compulsory evacuation of homes located below the rocky slope, the closing of the road in the area, and an immediate rock stabilization project. During this emergency situation, the Colorado Geological Survey was asked to provide expert assistance to help stabilize the rock. The emergency evacuation decree remained in effect until the rock was stabilized and the area subsequently declared safe.

The ledge of jointed sandstone along with several large displaced blocks is seen at the center of the image. Photo credit Jon White.

The ledge of jointed sandstone along with several large displaced blocks is seen at the center of the image. Photo credit Jon White.

A prominent 12-foot-thick ledge of strongly-jointed sandstone forms the rim of this slope. Two essentially vertical and intersecting joint sets produce large orthogonal sandstone blocks that are being undermined by the more easily weathered mudstone beds below the ledge. The blocks begin to topple as the underlying rock that supports them erodes, creating dangerous overhangs. At the time of discovery, this particular block had moved 5.5 feet from the back face of the sandstone ledge and tilted precariously over the next sandstone ledge below. Had the 70-ton block fallen, it would have certainly crushed a home below.

A precarious rock above Manitou Springs started to move in 1995 after a period of wet weather. As an emergency measure, high-strength steel cables were wrapped around the rock and anchored to the surrounding ledge to arrest the movement. Photo credit Jon White.

A precarious rock above Manitou Springs started to move in 1995 after a period of wet weather. As an emergency measure, high-strength steel cables were wrapped around the rock and anchored to the surrounding ledge to arrest the movement. Photo credit Jon White.

The extremely unstable, tilted, rock could not be removed due to the proximity of homes directly below, so high-strength steel cables were wrapped around the rock and anchored to the surrounding ledge. Once the block was safely restrained, additional cables were physically attached to the top of the block at anchor points that were cemented into drill holes to provide an additional level of support for the block and safety for the homes below.

After the rock was stabilized, additional cables were physically attached to the top of the rock block and secured to surrounding stable rock. Photo credit Jon White.

After the rock was stabilized, additional cables were physically attached to the top of the rock block and secured to surrounding stable rock. Photo credit Jon White.

Jan 122017
 

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century, some of the first settlers of the plateau region of western Colorado along the Colorado River, and the Uncompahgre and Paonia river basins, looked to fruit crops for their livelihood. The semi-arid but moderate climate was well suited for fruit orchards once irrigation canal systems could be constructed.

But serious problems occurred when certain lands were first broken out for agriculture and wetted by irrigation. They sank, so much in places (up to four feet!) that irrigation-canal flow directions were reversed, ponding occurred, and whole orchards, newly planted with fruit trees imported by rail and wagon at considerable expense, were lost. While not understood, fruit growers and agriculturists began to recognize the hazards of sinking ground. Horticulturists with the Colorado Agricultural College and Experimental Station (the predecessor of Colorado State University) made one of the first references to collapsible soil in their 1910 publication, Fruit-Growing in Arid Regions: An Account of Approved Fruit-Growing Practices in the Inter-Mountain Country of Western United States (pdf download). They warned about sinking ground and in their chapter, Preparation of Land for Planting, made one of the first recommendations for mitigation of the hazard. They stated that when breaking out new land for fruit orchards, the fields should be flood irrigated for a suitable time to induce soil collapse, before final grading of the orchard field, irrigation channels excavation, and planting the fruit tree seedlings. Continue reading »