A massive landslide dropped a mountainside of dirt and rocks on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 in rural southern Monterey County, California this past weekend. The highway is buried under 40 feet of debris for 1/4 to 1/2 mile and will likely be closed for more than one year for repairs.
Highway 1 had already been out of road trip commission most of 2017 with a collapsed bridge in Big Sur village since February, about 30 miles south of Monterey, California.
One of the legendary road trips in the USA is the 400-mile drive along the California coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The most rural section of Highway 1 on this trip is the Pacific Coast Highway stretch of 115 miles from Morro Bay to Carmel-by-the-sea.
Driving California’s Pacific Edge on Big Sur Coast (April 28, 2012).
Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County is 200 miles north of Santa Monica, the beach city next to Los Angeles. Carmel-by-the-sea is in Monterey County, about 125 miles south of San Francisco.
I live near Highway 1 in Monterey, California about 3 miles from Carmel.
Garrapata State Park, Highway 1 west side, view looking south. Park is 13 miles south of Monterey, California.
California Big Rains 2016-17 made enormous Infrastructure Problems
Highway 1 had already been closed most of 2017 during this past year’s record-breaking rainfall season due to the failed Pfeiffer Canyon bridge in the town of Big Sur and landslides in several sections of the coast highway along the 90-mile rural stretch between Carmel and Cambria. In 1983, similar large slides on this stretch of Highway 1 took 14 months to repair.
Precipitation during this year’s 2016-17 October to September rain season in California topped the 1982-83 California record precipitation for many places. Big Sur was especially hard hit after last year’s large wildfires.
California had been in drought conditions since 2012 with a couple years of record breaking dry weather. Central Coast California gets nearly all its annual rainfall between October and April. This year we had abundant rainfall and most of the state is out of drought emergency water rationing conditions.
Now there is major repair work needed on infrastructure in places like Highway 1 Big Sur and Oroville Dam.
Garrapata State Park, Highway 1 west side, view looking north.
Big Sur or Big Sur?
USA Today article opening sentence: “A massive landslide buried a section of California’s iconic Highway 1 in Big Sur, according to authorities.”
Many of the headlines I read from news sources around the USA say Big Sur slide. There is vagueness in the term ‘Big Sur’.
There is an actual town of Big Sur with fewer than 1,000 residents spread across several miles of hills and valleys on the Monterey County coast, about 30 miles south of Monterey.
There are State Parks, hotels, campgrounds and some rural businesses in Big Sur village, mostly along a stretch of road running across a valley for a few miles in the southernmost redwood forest groves remaining in California. Highway 1 in Big Sur valley is a couple miles inland from the coast.
Highway 1 returns to ocean views after about a five mile stretch through the redwood valley. Two luxury hotels, Post Ranch Inn and Ventana Inn, are located high up on the hillsides where the highway meets the sea views.
Wild Cat Adventure at Ventana Inn, Big Sur (May 24, 2012).
Highway 1 Pfeiffer Canyon bridge collapse happened along the inland valley stretch and split the town businesses between those accessible from Monterey in the north and those almost entirely inaccessible south of the bridge. The new Big Sur Pfeiffer Canyon bridge is currently under construction and expected to be completed around September-October 2017.
The luxury hotels are currently inaccessible. Ventana Inn has closed. Post Ranch Inn is a luxury hotel that has been ranked #1 hotel in the USA by Conde Nast in past years. Post Ranch Inn is only accessible to guests arriving by helicopter.
There is access to a small 10-mile stretch of Highway 1 if you drive a steep mountain road across Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. I made that drive a few years back. Limekilm State Park is accessible, but I don’t think there are any services along the 10 miles of open road between landslide closures.
Highway 1 Big Sur Coast Drive Detour Nacimiento-Fergusson Road Trip (Sep 19, 2013).
Big Sur Highway 1
For travelers from away, confusion in place names results primarily due to the entire stretch of rural Highway 1 coast road referred to as ‘Big Sur’. This is basically an 80-mile stretch of road and coastline south of Carmel Highlands and north of Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo County. Hearst Castle is about 15 miles north of Cambria and 35 miles north of Morro Bay.
Highway 1 is open in San Luis Obispo County from San Luis Obispo to Hearst Castle at San Simeon, California.
Hearst Castle is open and can be reached from the north via Highway 101 to Paso Robles, and from the south via Cambria and Paso Robles.
Loyalty Traveler – Hearst Castle San Simeon, five tours, which one to choose (March 28, 2014).
Highway 1 is open for traffic from Monterey to Big Sur Village and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
Big Sur Parks Open and Closed
Current Conditions for All Big Sur Area Parks
Updated May 18, 2017
ALERT: As of February 15, Highway 1 is impassable in both directions at Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge (about half a mile south of the Big Sur Station). The bridge has been demolished and is being rebuilt. Anticipated re-opening for through-traffic is the end of September, 2017. Currently, northern access to Big Sur is open from Carmel to the Big Sur Station. Businesses are open. South of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, access is still closed on Highway 1 at Ragged Point. Nacimiento-Fergusson Road is open to the public, allowing public access to Highway 1 between Gorda and Limekiln State Park. Check traffic conditions before driving at the Caltrans website.
* GARRAPATA State Park is open on the west side of Highway 1. All park lands east of Highway 1 closed to public entry, due to the 2016 Soberanes Fire.
* POINT SUR LIGHT STATION is open for guided tours, though tours may be cancelled due to weather conditions and road closures. More info: www.pointsur.org or (831) 625-4419
* ANDREW MOLERA State Park is closed until further notice due to flooding and damage from recent storms.
* PFEIFFER BIG SUR State Park is open for limited use as of May 19, 2017. Main Camp campsites 131-189 will be open to the public on a first-come first-served basis with a 7 day maximum. Day use lots 1 & 2, along with the picnic areas and restrooms adjacent to these lots will be open. Trails that are open to the public include: Redwood Deck, Nature Trail, River Trail, Warden’s Cottage Trail, Liewald Flat Trail. GROUP CAMP is closed and not available for reservation until further notice. Follow on Facebook for more up-to-date information. BIG SUR LODGE IS OPEN.
* JULIA PFEIFFER BURNS State Park is inaccessible and closed until further notice.
* LIMEKILN State Park is now open, but Highway 1 is only accessible by vehicle from Nacimiento Fergusson Road. Please use a map to check your route before travelling. Once you get to Highway 1, the only public access is between Gorda (PM 10) to the south, and Limekiln State Park (PM 20) to the north. The remainder of Highway 1 remains closed due to land slides.
For more State Park information and updates on current conditions, please call the California State Parks Big Sur Sector Office at (831) 667-1112 or the Big Sur Station at (831) 667-2315. Check the CalTrans website for up-to-date road conditions on Highway 1.
* PFEIFFER BEACH is closed until further notice due to flooding and road damage. Call the USFS Monterey District office in King City (831) 385-5434 for more information regarding Pfeiffer Beach.
* PINE RIDGE TRAIL, SYKES HOT SPRINGS and much of the Monterey Ranger District within the Los Padres Forest in Big Sur is closed until December 4, 2017. See the Forest Order for more details or call the USFS Monterey District office in King City (831) 385-5434 for more information.