I am taking time out from my "Around the World" trip and writing from Luxor, Egypt where I visited King Tut's tomb today. Many friends, colleagues and one very special wife have written to me to share news of a giant slump that has closed State Highway 89 between Flagstaff and Page, Arizona. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is calling this a "geologic event", one that occurred on the morning of February 20 (local Arizona time). You can read the AP story and see pictures of the failed road bed here. See also Arizona State Geologist Lee Allison's blog and descriptions by Jon Spencer here. Additionally, ADOT has already produced an informative and image-rich video describing in engineering terms what happened to the road and what it might take to fix it (thanks to John P. for providing this link to me).
I can give an informal geological assessment of the rock failure as I travel that road often and am familiar with the geologic setting of that portion of the highway. It is one of the most scenic roads in all the state of Arizona.
A 'Halfway Around The World' Assessment - As I can believe, ADOT geo-engineers are on site evaluating options. Some rumors suggest that the highway may closed up to one year. The bed failure of the highway necessitates a tedious detour around the slump to State Highway 98, making a trip from Flagstaff to Page some 50 miles farther. Some brave travelers may try the unpaved Coppermine Road but likely just once if they do (the road is quite bumpy). I am sure that one viable option is to quickly pave the Coppermine Road. Some have also said that maybe the "slump route" may be abandoned. Not likely.The road is too scenic and too direct for that and engineers rarely say, "We give up" these days. Look for a massive stabilization project on this slope, very similar to that undertaken on the Mesa Verde approach road in southwestern Colorado. (There huge portions of the Cretaceous Mancos Shale have often slipped, yet the National Park Service has completed very expensive and a well-engineered solution there (see here). ADOT will do the same here, hopefully that will be landscape interpretive friendly, and we will be able to one day travel this great road again. However, this slope will also one day again slide downhill as it has for at least the last several hundred thousand years.