By a 2 to 1 vote, the La Paz County Supervisors have decided to keep the northern end of Riverside Drive closed. This came after they heard an engineering report on the dangers of rock slides on the road at their Oct. 7 meeting.
District 1 Supervisor D.L. Wilson and District 3 Supervisor Holly Irwin voted to keep the road closed. A motion from District 2 Supervisor Duce Minor to keep the road open except during rain storms and post signage about rock slides died for lack of a second.
The section that will be kept closed stretches from Sundance Saloon on the south to the entrance to Buckskin Mountain State Park on the north. The roadway hugs the Colorado River with large cliffs on both sides. It has been closed off and since 2005 due to rocks falling on the roadway. It was used during the Parker Tube Float June 8 to shuttle floaters from the parking area at La Paz County Park to the float starting point at Buckskin Mountain State Park.
The Supervisors voted to close the road on June 17, 2019. They asked their insurance pool to have an engineering firm examine the rock formations next to the roadway and present a report on what could be done.
That report was presented by Steve Nowaczyk of the firm of Ninyo & Moore. He said they divided the formations into three units. The southern unit was the most stable, but the other two were not so stable.
Nowaczky said the formations consisted of sandstone that couldn’t be eroded on top of sandstone that could be eroded, which explained the instability. He said there were some very large cracks on the tops of the formations, but, after being questioned by Minor, he said he couldn’t be sure how long those cracks had been there.
Nowaczky said the formations could be stabilized, but the efforts could initiate large rock falls, could destroy the road, and affect the flow of the river. In any event, he said the stabilization effort would require very specialized contractors and would be very expensive.
Minor said he appreciated the work the engineers did. He added he lives here and residents told him they want the road open. He said he’d spoken with an Arizona Department of Transportation engineer who told him they could keep the road closed during rain storms, the most likely time for rock slides to occur.
“Folks here want that road open,” he said. “I don’t want to see one of the prettiest stretches of the river closed.”
Chief Deputy County Civil Attorney said that, if the county was aware of the dangers, they could post public notices and let people decide for themselves if they wanted to drive on the road or not.
Irwin said she wanted to keep the road closed.
“Those cracks are huge,” she said. “I don’t want to see someone get killed or hurt.”
Wilson said he also wanted to keep the road closed.
“Someone’s going to get hit and they’ll sue the County,” he said. “The County doesn’t have the resources to fight lawsuits.”
After Minor’s motion to reopen the road except during rain storms died, Irwin moved to have the road remain closed. This motion passed, 2 to 1, with Minor dissenting.
The road was originally part of State Route 95 before the bypass was built in the early 1990s. The section from Sundance Saloon to Buckskin Mountain State Park was closed from 2005 to 2010 due to large rocks falling on the roadway. It was closed again in September 2014 and then reopened in May 2017.
The road is popular as it’s considered one of the most scenic sections of the Colorado River.