After being battered by above-average rain this winter, California’s coastal Highway 1 remains temporarily closed in several places roughly between Ragged Point and Carmel.
That’s bad news for anyone considering a road trip this spring because one trouble spot may keep the highway shut in both directions for months.
Heavy rains caused the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur to crack and start sinking into the shifting mountainside, officials said. Caltrans closed the bridge to vehicles and pedestrians on Feb. 15 and has since said it’s beyond repair.
Replacing the bridge may take as long as a year, which leaves travelers temporarily having to choose which part of Highway 1 they want to visit.
But that’s not the only problem on the iconic route.
As of late Thursday, rock and mud slides had shut down traffic in both directions south of the town of Gorda, at the Ragged Point Inn and on a stretch of the road between Salmon and Mud creeks.
A little farther north, debris buried a lane of traffic and closed an eight-mile section of road near Lucia.
With more rain forecast for the weekend, crews are trying to clear the slides long enough to allow local residents to get in and out, buy supplies, etc. Travelers, however, won’t be allowed to drive through access areas that open temporarily Friday.
“This is so difficult because it is one of the world’s most iconic roadways, and now it’s bifurcated,” said Rob O’Keefe, chief marketing officer at Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Right now, he said, he’s most concerned about locals who live and work in the Big Sur area and travelers who may need to revise their plans quickly.
“If you’re here right now, we’re here to help you,” he said.
Instead of welcoming guests to the pricey Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Chief Executive Gordon Wheeler spent Thursday crafting an evacuation plan for the 120 students and staff members at the 27-acre spiritual retreat who’ve been cut off from roads since Feb. 12.
“We’re going out by helicopter starting at 7 a.m. Friday,” Wheeler said from the site. Some may be able to drive out, depending on the size of their vehicles plus road and weather conditions, and a skeleton staff will remain at Esalen, he said.
Wheeler said meditation and yoga classes carried on during the ordeal. There was never a shortage of food, but guest rooms went unheated and lights were turned off at 10 p.m. to save on propane needed to power the site.
“In crises, you see the inner fabric of the place and people coming out, and there's so much generosity of spirit, so much thanking going on,” he said. The institute has canceled classes through March 19.
Not far away, the posh Post Ranch Inn, a few miles south of the bridge closure, is closed until April, in part to accommodate emergency service providers.
“As the Big Sur Fire Brigade and local ambulance service are located on the Post Ranch property, Big Sur needs a place to safely land a helicopter, not just for emergency services, but also to bring supplies into Big Sur,” a hotel statement sent by email said.
Depending on what happens with Highway 1, the 25-year-old inn may bring guests to its hillside location by helicopter from Monterey.
Once the immediate danger passes and many of the slides are shored up, Highway 1 fans will be able to drive north from Los Angeles as far as the bridge closure. But there are no roads through the steep Santa Lucia Mountains to drive around the closure.
To connect with the other half of the route, you must leave the coast and drive inland. You can take Highway 101 north, cut over to Monterey and head south on Highway 1.