If you had plans to drive end-to-end along California's iconic coastal Highway 1 this summer, you're going to want to table them ... indefinitely.
At about 9:30 p.m. on May 20, an estimated 1 million tons of rock and debris slipped 250 feet down a hillside in Big Sur, burying a quarter-mile stretch of Highway 1 before crashing into the Pacific. Fortunately, no injuries or missing persons were reported.
Some Big Sur residents were left stranded, as Highway 1 is the only way in and out of town. But they're now starting to get some relief, as an emergency hiking trail was dug through the mess. Residents and tourists alike are using it to buy groceries, get to school and boost the local economy.
A shuttle bus is available to bring residents to the emergency trail. But trying to book it is a challenge in itself due to limited phone reception in the remote area. Still, local business owners hope the trail will help them recover a little from months of lost business.
Nepenthe, a cliffside restaurant known for its bohemian scene and two-hour waits, went from serving 1,000 people a day to 30 when it was totally isolated. It sees 250 a day now that the trail is open. “It really is a unique and special time to see Big Sur in all its beautiful glory,” said third-generation owner Kirk Gafill. “If you want a once-in-a-lifetime experience, take advantage now.”
The road to recovery
According to Susana Cruz, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Transportation, the landslide was likely the largest in California state history. And picking up the pieces from it will be difficult. As you can see in the drone footage shot above, the highway is buried under an estimated 40 feet of debris.
Not surprisingly, the uptick in damage to roads in California over the last 12 months is largely due to the record-breaking storms that have impacted the region. According to federal scientists, the state is in the midst of its wettest year in over 122 years of record keeping.
“There was so much saturation and so much weight,” Cruz said of the slide.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in May 2017.