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Yosemite rock fall risk prompts closures of some lodging sites

June 14, 2012 | 11:25 am

Yosemite sites closed
Some of the more popular lodging areas in Yosemite Valley will be closed because of a high risk of rock falls along the national park’s towering granite walls, federal officials announced Thursday.

Prompted by a new study, 18 sites in historic Curry Village, a tract of canvas and wooden cabins, will be shut down along with a half-dozen spots below the sheer cliffs of El Capitan that are mainly used by rock climbers.

The closures come four years after a huge rock fall hit 17 cabins in Curry Village and sent schoolchildren scrambling for their lives. In the aftermath, park officials fenced off 233 of the village’s 600 cabins below the Glacier Point promontory.

According to the study, dangers exist in nearly every national park, but they are particularly serious in Yosemite because of its unstable geology, which causes weekly rock falls.

Researchers used laser mapping to create the first detailed analysis of Yosemite’s cliffs, a technique that has helped identify formations that are most likely to fail.

The report states the greatest danger is within 180 feet of the base of a cliff, but there is a 10% chance a potentially deadly boulder could crash down outside the zone  every 50 years.

“There are no absolutely safe areas in Yosemite Valley," said Greg Stock, a park geologist who participated in the study.

Since 1857, rock falls throughout the valley have killed 15 people and injured 85, including two deaths and two dozen injuries in and around Curry Village.

A representative of the park's concessionaire said some cabins will be moved to safer areas, and visitors with summer reservations in Curry Village will still get rooms. Yosemite Lodge and the historic Ahwahnee Hotel are not in the danger zone.

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 -- Dan Weikel

Photo: In this 2008 file photo, restriction tape blocks an area at Curry Village in Yosemite National Park, Calif., after a boulder fell during a rock slide. On Thursday, the National Park Service announced that potential danger from the unstable 3,000-foot-tall slab of granite known as Glacier Point will leave uninhabitable large parts of Yosemite Valley's more popular lodging areas. Photo: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

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