Massive Mudslide Closes Iconic Highway 1 on California Coast

Credit: Monterey County Sherif's Office

One of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the country is under siege this spring, as moisture from the record-setting winter storms that blanketed much of California wreaks havoc upon the roadway. The latest assault happened on Saturday, when more than 1 million tons of rock, dirt, and mud completely buried a quarter of a mile of the Pacific Coast Highway at Mud Creek in debris over 40 feet deep. The stretch of road where the mudslide occurred is located in the isolated Big Sur region, and had been closed almost continuously since January as highway work crews had struggled to contain a series of smaller slides.

Because the road was closed, no one was harmed when the hillside above released and flowed into the Pacific Ocean just below. Arial footage shows a ragged wound freshly exposed on the mountainside with a large blob of dirt sitting where the road once was. Susana Cruz, a spokesperson for the California Department of Transportation, said it was “by far the worst (slide) we’ve ever seen.”

The slide is hardly the only issue the 655-mile road, which stretches from Los Angeles in the south to Mendocino County in the north, is facing. Currently there are three other closures because of slide-related issues. In March, the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge just south of Big Sur was demolished after officials condemned it on February 21; a landslide under the bridge damaged it beyond repair. The replacement is not expected to be in place until fall at the earliest.

Businesses in the affected areas are open but struggling to attract customers as people cancel reservations, with several saying summer bookings are down as much as 50 percent. With the bridge replacement and the landslide, most of the portion of highway that runs through Big Sur is blocked on both ends, with 32 miles effectively shut down to most direct traffic. That could be a boon to the savvy traveler. You can get to the roadway, it just requires driving secondary roads. So some of the most beautiful stretches of the entire highway could be devoid of most traffic.

Besides the closures, there are numerous other construction projects occurring as work crews struggle to keep the road open as the rivers, streams, and creeks deal with the inevitable onslaught of waters coming from the snow melt in the mountains. Travelers heading to the region to drive the famous roadway are advised to be prepared for numerous delays and should consult the California Department of Transportation website for current road conditions.