Yosemite's Ahwahnee closed after rockfall
John Coté, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, August 27, 2009
(08-26) 21:07 PDT YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIF. -- Falling rocks forced the evacuation of about 300 guests from the landmark Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park Wednesday, and the storied lodge is to remain closed at least until Friday to assess further risk, a park official said.
No one was injured in the series of "relatively small" rock falls that started at about 5 a.m. Wednesday and were followed by several more around 1:30 p.m., park officials said. At least three cars in the hotel parking lot were damaged, some with smashed windows, Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb said.
None of the rocks, some the size of a microwave oven, struck the fully booked hotel, which was then closed as a precaution, Cobb said. Guests were allowed to return in small groups late Wednesday to retrieve their luggage before being transferred to other lodging in and around the park, officials said.
The rocks fell from the Royal Arches formation that towers 1,600 feet high behind the hotel, which was built at the site in 1927 because the spot offers commanding views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point.
Rangers have not been able to determine the total amount of rocks that fell, considering the first ones came down in the dark and most of the rocks remained at the base of the cliff.
"Rock falls are a common occurrence here in Yosemite; it's a common occurrence anywhere you have cliffs like ours," Cobb said, pointing to the Royal Arches.
"That's how those things were formed millions of year ago," she said.
A geologist will monitor the cliff through Friday morning for any more rock falls. Typically, if a small a rock release is a prequel to a larger fall, that larger fall will happen within 24 hours, Cobb said. If there is no more activity, the hotel will likely reopen Friday afternoon, she said
"That's what we hope," Cobb said. "It's hard to say what rocks will do. They can to do their own things these days."
Rockfall is a potential danger in the park, formed when retreating glaciers cut dramatic formations from solid granite.
In October park officials permanently closed one-third of Curry Village under Glacier Point after the equivalent of 570 dump trucks of rock hit 17 cabins and forced the evacuation of more than 150 youngsters on a field trip. No one was seriously injured.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. E-mail John Coté at jcote at sfchronicle dot com.
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