Salt River Canyon Rock Slides

In Arizona there are very few roads running north and south through the state (or east and west, for that matter), so travel options can be limited. To go north to Show Low, we have three possible routes, only one of which is very direct. This route takes us through Salt River Canyon, a winding road full of switchbacks that descends 2,000 feet to the bottom of the canyon and ascends another 2000 feet to the top. Salt River Canyon is beautiful, scenic, awesome, and can also be treacherous, as we discovered Friday.

Travelling north on US 60 from Globe, we could see dark clouds on the horizon. As we got closer to the canyon, jagged bolts of lightning lit up the sky. We experienced some light rain, but from the darkness and lightning ahead, it was evident that the canyon area was getting a very violent rain storm.

July 2012 – Fire on the north side of the canyon, started by a lightning strike.

Our first indication of trouble occurred as we began our descent into the canyon. We came upon the flashing lights of a trooper car parked along the right side of the road, blocking our right lane (US 60 is sometimes a four-lane highway through the canyon, sometimes a three-lane highway, with a passing lane in some areas, but not a divided highway). As we slowed and made our way around in the left lane, we saw the trooper, clad in a yellow rain slicker, using a large scoop shovel to shove small rocks from the driving lane to the shoulder of the road. Suddenly those yellow caution signs that say “Watch for Falling Rocks” took on a whole new meaning!

July 2012 – Rocks in the driving lane!

July 2012 – This trucker is in for a surprise!

July 2012 – Boulders!

We continued to see rocks in the road all the way down to the bottom of the canyon and then again back up the other side. We also saw several vehicles (eight to ten) parked along the side of the road with flat tires and other damage that might have been caused by running over rocks or having rocks fly up from the road and hit the vehicle after someone else ran over the rocks. Luckily, we made it through in one piece!

By the time we made it mostly back up the north side, the skies were clearing and I was able to get one nice shot of the valley below. We didn’t linger long at the overlook, though, as we were nervous about more rain and more rock slides.

July 2012 – Salt River Canyon, after the storm

Below are some pictures I took from our 2010 trek through the canyon.

July 2010, you can see part of the road winding down the mountain side.

July 2010, on the north side of the canyon, looking back to the south side and the winding US 60.

July 2010, looking down from the north side of the canyon.

July 2010

As we were coming into the town of Show Low, we met a very large dump truck with a very large snow plow attached to the front. Bill was pretty certain they were going to need more than that snow plow to move those boulders!

We learned Saturday evening that the canyon road had been closed down shortly after we drove through it and did not open back up until late Saturday. We had planned to go home through the canyon, as it is the shortest route, but Bill was concerned about the possibility of more storms, more rock slides, so we took the longer route home, going west to Payson and then south through Phoenix. No rock slides that way, but we did have to pull off at the rest area south of Phoenix and wait out a nasty monsoon storm around the Casa Grande area. Dust storms (haboobs) roll through that area regularly, causing havoc with the traffic on I-10 and we didn’t wish to be part of the havoc.

Massive Dust Storm July 18, 2011

We called David from the rest area and asked him to check the weather/radar. We had a nice chat as we waited for the storm to mostly clear and then headed on home. Driving through Casa Grande, I was glad we had waited, as there were massive ponds of water in the desert along the side of the highway.

Driving in Arizona can be quite exciting!


  1. Cee Gee

    Hmmm, I was always told “Falling Rocks” was an Indian/Native American. 😉
    I hope that trucker saw you before he tried to miss those rocks. I guess you lived to tell.

  2. Missus Wookie

    Those signs have a new solemn meaning here too – a sunbather got buried under 20 tons falling from a cliff 🙁 Scary seeing them fall around you whilst driving too.

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