This cliffhanger is a real blast!

This cliffhanger is a real blast!

By Laurie Merrill / ADOT Communications
August 26, 2021

Keams Canyon Boulder Removal (July 2021)

It’s rare to come across a real-life cliffhanger.

It’s also not often that the word “blast” actually means explosion.

But today’s blog gives you the true meaning of both words.

The scene: State Route 264 in Second Mesa at milepost 378

The time: Early July, 2021

Key players: The Keams Canyon Maintenance Unit and a contractor

What’s at stake: A large boulder is on a ledge hanging over the highway below.

Here’s where our blog begins:

Tucked in the northeastern corner of Arizona, Second Mesa is known for finely woven Hopi clothing, brightly colored yucca baskets and the three villages that comprise it, Shongopovi, Sipaulovi and Mishongnovi.

It sits more than 5,700 feet high alongside steep cliff walls on SR 264 just east of State Route 87, an area where strong storms can push large boulders onto the highway.

Removing boulders on the road is old hat for the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Keams Maintenance Unit, which typically makes short work of such work using jackhammers and loaders. 

It was in June that crews spotted the unstable boulder. They were removing another rock on the same area of SR 264 at the time.

“This rock boulder was sitting on the ledge and potentially was going to come down at some point,” said Elliott Koinva, Keams Canyon highway operations supervisor.

It needed extra incentive to budge, which is why ADOT hired a contractor to blast this boulder into smaller pieces.

The work was captured by our photographers and you can see the results in the FlickR album above.

This is what happened:

  • Keams maintenance provided traffic control and lay down a two-foot layer of dirt below the unstable rock.  
  • Crews shut down the road.
  • Adams Contracting drilled three vertically aligned holes and used explosives to blast the boulder (watch a quick video of the blast) into pieces. 
  • Keams crews removed them safely from the highway.

“Kudos to the Keams Canyon Maintenance unit for a successful and safe boulder removal operation,” said Northeast District Engineer Ed Wilson.

SR 264 is not alone in needing boulder maintenance. Here's information about a project beginning on State Route 80 near Bisbee

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