Let’s talk about sinkholes, Denver

An Uber driver drove straight into a sinkhole at 13th Avenue and Tennyson Street early Friday morning, reminding us all to be terrified of sinkholes.


In one of those moments that turns what you tell yourself is an irrational fear into a very rational fear, an Uber driver drove straight into a sinkhole at 13th Avenue and Tennyson Street early Friday morning.

My mental file for this sort of news is titled Reasons to Never Go Outside, and it includes boulders falling on roads, people catching the plague from prairie dogs, cars driving up on sidewalks and a truly unreasonable number of sinkholes.

Friday’s incident happened less than 10 days after a water main break caused a sinkhole to open up at South Dahlia Street and East Dartmouth Avenue.

Sinkholes really had a moment in 2015. In August of that year, a woman in Boulder drove into a sinkhole also caused by a water main break. In January, an SUV nearly went into a sinkhole in Lafayette. And in June, a police SUV was completely swallowed up by a sinkhole in Sheridan.

The city of Sheridan is only about 2 miles across so I assume half the town went down, too.

Now, they say learning about the things you’re afraid of can help alleviate that fear, but I would strongly disagree with that in the case of sinkholes. Here’s what the Colorado Department of Transportation website has to say on the subject:

Sinkholes are depressions in the ground surface. They are caused when voids in the subsurface get large enough that the overlying material can no longer support its own weight and collapses into the void. The void can be caused by groundwater dissolving and removing material, erosion around drainage features, and (most frequently in Colorado) mining operations. The Geohazard Program performs emergency investigations when sinkholes begin to develop to determine the size and extent of the sinkhole.

“Collapses into the void.”

I know “void” is the technically accurate term here, but it also sounds approximately 12 times more terrifying than “hole” or “empty space.”

Anyway, the point is that it doesn’t matter whether or not you understand how sinkholes work. They’re still going to open up with little to no warning and possibly take you on a journey to the center of the Earth.

Luckily for us here in Denver, that’s an exaggeration. But in other parts of Colorado, sinkholes can get terrifyingly deep. Here’s an explanation from the Colorado Geological Survey (emphasis mine):

In Colorado, most of our sinkholes, also called dolines, are related to the dissolution of evaporite rocks. Evaporite karst hazards have been recognized in several areas of the state, including high growth areas of the Roaring Fork River and the Eagle River valleys. Both of these areas lie in regional collapse centers where subsidence of hundreds to thousands of vertical feet has occurred by the dissolution and deformation of evaporite rocks.

So, to summarize: Just stay home.

(Just kidding, nowhere is safe. Do whatever you want.)