Craig resident Karen Lynn Evanoff was killed Wednesday morning when the vehicle she was riding in was struck by a boulder that fell from a cliff along U.S. Highway 40 near Hayden.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Craig resident Karen Lynn Evanoff was killed Wednesday morning when the vehicle she was riding in was struck by a boulder that fell from a cliff along U.S. Highway 40 near Hayden.

Woman killed when boulder hits car near Mount Harris on Wednesday

Craig resident headed to work in Steamboat when rock struck car




The boulder that killed Craig resident Karen Lynn Evanoff tore through the roof of the 2004 Buick in which she was a passenger.

— What began as a typical daily commute for Craig resident Karen Lynn Evanoff ended tragically Wednesday morning on U.S. Highway 40 east of Hayden when a boulder fell on the roof of the car she was riding in, killing her instantly. The unidentified driver of the car was uninjured.

Evanoff was heading to Steam­boat Springs, where she worked as a housekeeper at The Phoenix condominiums near the base of Steamboat Ski Area. The accident occurred at about 7:15 a.m. near Mount Harris, specifically at the cliff band that hugs the north side of U.S. 40 just east of the railroad crossing.

Colorado State Patrol troopers said the basketball-sized boulder struck the 2004 Buick on the passenger side where the windshield meets the vehicle’s roofline. The force of the impact crushed the car’s roof, but the driver was able to pull off onto nearby Routt County Road 52 and bring the vehicle to a controlled stop, troopers said.

As a result, U.S. 40 never closed and the morning commute continued as usual for most Northwest Colorado residents, as well as those motorists using U.S. 40 as a detour for Interstate 70, which remains closed at Glenwood Springs because of a massive rockslide in the Glenwood Canyon that took place early Monday. No one was injured in that incident.

Colorado Department of Trans­portation spokeswoman Min­­dy Crane said a CDOT maintenance crew examined the U.S. 40 accident site Wednesday morning after Evanoff’s death, including climbing up the steep hillside, and determined there was no immediate danger to other motorists. A CDOT geologist traveled to the site from Den­­ver on Wednesday after­noon and spent several hours studying the cliffside. The results of his investigation were not available Wednesday evening, but U.S. 40 remained open.

Crane said CDOT records indicate no serious rock incidents along that stretch of highway since 1998, and she said officials don’t consider it a dangerous area.

“This is a location that’s not common for us to see a lot of rockfall events,” she said. “From what we can tell, it was just a very unusual occurrence. It was just one rock that came down.”

While injuries or death resulting from rockfalls might be rare here, encountering rock debris on Routt County highways is not. That’s particularly true during the late winter and spring months.

Bob Barrett spent more than 30 years as a landslide specialist and the chief geologist for design and construction of I-70 across the Colorado Rockies. Barrett worked for the Wyoming and Colorado departments of transportation and now works in the private sector.

Generally speaking, Barrett said the ongoing weathering process of rocks coupled with specific springtime conditions can result in “catastrophic events” such as a single boulder being freed from its resting spot and propelled down a mountain. Those catastrophic events are most common in spring because of the freeze-thaw cycle, Barrett said. Snowmelt and other forms of water penetrate a rock through fractures and other imperfections or pores. That water freezes overnight, and the pressure of the expansion — sometimes called “frost jacking” — and retraction throughout time decreases the stability of the rock. Those same natural forces can have a tremendous impact on the areas around a rock, including the soil or other geologic structures on which a rock rests.

That hydraulic cycle can cause movement in the rock, sometimes enough to send it tumbling.

Although the force that caused the Mount Harris boulder to fall to U.S. 40 Wednesday morning is unknown — a CDOT engineer told 9News that workers saw a herd of elk on top of the cliffs Wednesday — it’s thought that frost jacking is to blame for the massive rockslide in Glenwood Canyon early Monday that forced the closure of a 17-mile stretch of I-70. One of CDOT’s recommended detours is U.S. 40 through Craig and Steamboat.

CDOT crews have spent the past several days cleaning and repairing the damaged portion of I-70, as well as breaking up a large boulder on the mountainside above the closed section of interstate. Late Wednesday, CDOT reported that crews used dynamite to shatter the boulder in hopes of re-opening I-70 to one lane of traffic in each direction by this evening.

Thoughtful, hard-working woman

Family, friends and co-workers of Evanoff remembered her Wednesday as a kind-hearted, hard-working woman who never hesitated to offer a helping hand.

Evanoff had four children — three sons and a daughter. Craig residents Sadie and Levi Heythaler, Evanoff’s daughter and youngest son, said via text messages late Wednesday that their mother was a wonderful and honest woman who loved her family dearly. She could always elicit a smile, they said, and she loved being in the company of friends and family. Sadie is 20, and Levi is 23.

Teri Wall, a Steamboat Springs resident who worked with Evanoff at The Phoenix from November 2007 until April 2009, said she gave her job everything she had.

“Karen worked a lot,” Wall said Wednesday. “There were times when she worked weeks at a time without a day off.”

But Evanoff never failed to recognize the needs of others, Wall said. “She was really sweet. She’d do anything for you.”

In Wall’s case, that meant Evanoff would seek her out whenever Wall was having a bad day.

“Karen would say, ‘Come on, let’s have a smoke. What do you want to talk about?’”

Dorothy Vallejos, a Craig resident since 1955, said she had known Evanoff since “she was just a tiny girl,” and had worked with her at The Phoenix.

Vallejos said Evanoff would have celebrated her 56th birthday today.

Evanoff was born and raised in Craig, Vallejos said. She described Evanoff as a “quiet person, a hard-working girl who loved animals.”

“Any time I needed something, she was willing to help me,” she said, “no matter what it was.”

There is not yet any information about a memorial service.

The Craig Daily Press and Associated Press contributed to this report.


freerider 7 years, 1 month ago

This is not a freak accident ...that spot is dangerous....I freking cringe everytime I have to drive by's not the first time this has happened there's dangerous


TEEJAY1309 7 years, 1 month ago

To the Evanoff Children and Family I am so very sorry for your loss. Your Mom was a really nice and kind person and I had the honor of working with her at the Phoenix. She will be missed greatly..... May God comfort you in your sorrow. T.Wall


freerider 7 years, 1 month ago

CDOT needs to fix that spot ....

It's the warm wet weather that brings the rocks tumbling down just like on I-70

Sad for the family and friends of this gal

wonder how many more rock slides and deaths before CDOT fixes it


jake gray 7 years, 1 month ago

Back in the 80's a rock slide happened there that closed the highway for two days, just like Glenwood they had to blow up the rocks. My job has put me around auto accidents in the Yampa Valley for almost 15 years and there have been many accidents in that 2 mile stretch due to rock slides and yes single rocks falling. It will continue there for ever, just a fact of nature. My prayers to the family.


Brian Kotowski 7 years, 1 month ago

Yikes. That's my commute 5 days a week.

How awful. Condolences to her family & friends.


mmjPatient22 7 years, 1 month ago

My question is... Why hasn't, or has there been, some semblance of a ballot measure(or what have you) been proposed that would provide for the mitigation of this issue? I'm no geologist or highway designer/engineer, but it seems to me that, considering the traffic flow, there has to be more that can be done besides having warning signs posted that inform you of the impending danger.


Cat 7 years, 1 month ago

This was not a freak accident. It was gravity and an element of laziness on the part of CDOT. Mr Ryg's comment appeared to be somewhat premature given the fact that the geologist hasn't even arrived. It is a tragedy, and that spot as all have stated, is a disaster just waiting to happen. I speed through there and hold my breath, and I know most people who travel that stretch of road do.

Yes, rocks will come loose, but shouldn't there be at least some attempt at maintenence? The stretch at Georgetown that has proven so deadly is always being repaired. Perhaps it's time CDOT got of their asses and did more than kick around a few loose rocks and call it good.

This didn't have to happen. There should be a routine check of that road by CDOT frequently, especially during these months as freezing and thawing occur.


Fred Duckels 7 years, 1 month ago

At least there should be an inspection every fall on this section, I wonder if that happened?


weststmbtres 7 years, 1 month ago

First my condolences to the family, A terrible tragedy that nobody should have to endure.

My second comment is to Cat. How does speeding through that section of road make it any safer? It's certainly not any safer for the other drivers on the road if you are speeding. Lets ponder ideas from physics and statistics. Basic laws of physics tell us that more energy is exchanged in a high speed collision vs. a low speed one. If you are speeding and you hit a boulder it's going to do more damage. Statistically speaking speeding does nothing to help you in this scenario. It's a 50/50 shot. Speeding may allow a boulder falling from the hill to land just after you have passed. However, Speeding may cause you to collide with a falling boulder that would have landed in front of your car had you not been speeding. That being the case you could possibly steer around it. Please don't endanger the lives of others by speeding when driving slower through that section of highway is actually the prudent and responsible thing to do.


MsRed 7 years, 1 month ago

I was in complete shock to come in to work this morning, expecting to see Karen, then to hear this tragic news. Karen's hard work and loyalty will be very missed at the Phoenix, we enjoyed working with her.

Our deepest sympathies to Karen's children, family, and friends. May you find some sense of comfort in the memories you made with her.


brian ferguson 7 years, 1 month ago

I had four or five baseball size boulders fall in front of me in that location on sunday the 7th. A scary area indeed.


James Earley, MCSE 7 years, 1 month ago

How about erecting a barrier at the top of that cliff? It wouldn't be to cost intensive to design a tensioned cable/spring arresting device.


housepoor 7 years, 1 month ago

i've seen wire netting draped over larger areas then this, is that an option george


Kathy7676 7 years, 1 month ago

I've wondered why they couldn't hang the chainlink "drapes" like you see on cliffs along side of other major highways with falling rock issues. What a terrible accident...


bandmama 7 years, 1 month ago

I hate to disagree, but anyone who drives HWY 40 west of Steamboat can tell you that there are rocks falling much more frequently than stated above. I drive between town and my home at least twice daily. There are rocks on the road at least once every couple of weeks. Not large ones, but a big reminder that things do tumble down the hill. I have been driving and have had to slow down as rocks were sliding. Mostly between town and the campgrounds. Just look next time you drive that way at the side of the road. This was a horrible tragedy and my heart goes out to the family.


freerider 7 years, 1 month ago


Bandmama is right , I see rocks there every spring and it's dangerous's creepy

That photo of the falling rock sign is supposed to do what ???

Watch out for falling rocks as they come through your windshield ???

And your concerned about the Aesthetics and Environment ??

Come on George get real

I know this isn't the time or place for this but please just get the message

that this is a dangerous spot and don't sweep in under the rug


Fred Duckels 7 years, 1 month ago

Every year CDOT should have scalers give the area an inspection, if this is not done all CYA is mute. I would like to see a plan from CDOT on proposed prevention measures. Did they have one in this instance?


oldskoolstmbt 7 years, 1 month ago

this is a terrible tragedy....and if cdot 'scaled' the area 4 months/6 months/ 8 months ago...would it have really mattered? one really knows the answers...anything can happen at any given time...i think the drapes are a better solution..anyone know the cost?...the bottom of floyd hill/boulder exit on I-70 (west bound lane) is also a good candidate....


Fred Duckels 7 years, 1 month ago

Political pressure is probably the only solution here as CDOT is a cumbersome outfit and is not legally liable for these matters.


oldskoolstmbt 7 years, 1 month ago

i didn't realize we were trying to find someone/entity legally liable....just a true safety measure that works....


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