The Saturday evening sky above Zion National Park was bright blue and cloudless when Dixie State geography adjunct professor Kathleen Kavarra Corr said she heard a crack like thunder.
Moments later, the shuttle bus she was riding was filled with sand — the result of a 2,000 square-foot sheet of rock sloughing off the face of Cable Mountain and careening 3,000 feet to the valley floor below.
“The billowing sand was taller than the shuttle,” she said. “It was huge clouds that just came through and you couldn’t stop it.”
The rock slide took place just above the Weeping Rock Shuttle Stop and brought down enough rocks, branches and sediment that the Hidden Canyon and Weeping Rock trails are now buried in 3 to 6 feet of debris. The popular trails will be closed throughout the upcoming holiday weekend and into the foreseeable future. Three people were injured during the slide, one of whom was hospitalized
The slide was caused by erosion that occurs as water freezes and thaws in the canyon walls, according to the park’s public information officer Eugenne Moisa. It’s the park’s third slide in the past 18 months.
A thunderstorm last summer set off a mudslide that has closed the Kayenta Trail to Lower Emerald Pools, another popular park destination.
A separate slide this winter closed East Rim Trail, where much of the debris from Saturday’s slide landed. Moisa said the closure was fortunate because fatalities would have been likely had the trail been open.
The park is still conducting a preliminary study of the site, which includes surveying the extent of the damage and safety risks posed to repair crews. Until their analysis is complete, Moisa says it’s impossible to give a timeline for when the trails will reopen.
“We want to make sure everyone is safe — our employees and our visitors,” he said. “So we’re going to take the time to do it right.”
David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George.