A large boulder—larger than the excavator pictured next to it—on the road.
[Courtesy of Maddie Logowitz]

Early in the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 4, several large boulders dislodged from a steep roadside slope and landed in both driving lanes of State Route 279, also called Potash Road. No injuries were reported, though the road was busy with recreation traffic. Officials from the local Utah Department of Transportation station responded, and received help with traffic control from Utah Highway Patrol. Traffic was initially able to route around the rockfall on a gravel pullout. 

Several of the boulders were small enough that they could be moved with UDOT equipment, but at least one, which UDOT Senior Communications Manager Kevin Kitchen described as “the size of a compact car, but taller,” had to be blasted before it could be removed. During blasting operations, State Route 279 was closed from its junction with Highway 191 and just west of the rockfall. UDOT crews working from mid-afternoon until about 9 p.m. were able to clear the road in about 8.5 hours. 

Kitchen said experts are in the initial stages of assessing the stability of the slope the boulders fell from. Officials must determine whether the slope is owned by UDOT or the Bureau of Land Management, or another entity; depending on ownership, agencies will likely coordinate on mitigation strategies, if they’re deemed necessary. Kitchen noted that regardless of who oversees the hillside, there’s no question about what agency is responsible for clearing the road. 

“Once it’s on the highway, it’s our rock,” he said.