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California State Route 1 in Big Sur; the Mud Creek Slide reopens

During the rainy season of 2017 the Big Sur Area received more than 60 inches of rain which led to various notable landslide closures such as the condemning of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge and Paul's Slide.  The largest landslide ever along California State Route 1 in the Big Sur Region occurred on May 20th of 2017 near Mud Creek.  The Mud Creek Slide blocked an approximately quarter mile section of CA 1 as it dumped eight million tons of dirt onto the highway and ocean below.  CA 1 was buried up to 80 feet in places drawing into question the viability of even reopening the highway through Big Sur.

Caltrans eventually decided to reopen CA 1 over the Mud Creek Slide rather than clearing it.  Originally the Mud Creek Slide was supposed to be reopened in October of 2018 but work progressed ahead of schedule.  The Mud Creek Slide was reopened to CA 1 traffic as of July 18th.  Given that I had tracking the progress of all the slide reopenings along CA 1 since Spring of 2017 I made my way out to Big Sur to see the new section of roadway over Mud Creek.  My journey on CA 1 would be southbound from Signed County Route G16 to CA 46 near Cambria.


My previous blogs to the 2017 landslides which can be found here:

California State Route 1; exploring Point Lobos and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Challenger Coast Range Adventures; CA 1 south from Signed County Route G16 to the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road

California State Route 1; Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge Reopens

California State Route 1; prelude to Pfeiffer Canyon reopening

California State Route 1; Mud Creek Slide closure at Ragged Point to US 101 in San Luis Obispo

Challenger Coast Range Adventures; Challenging the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road

Reaching isolated CA 1 between Mud Creek and Paul's Slide via the Nacimiento Fergusson Road

The backstory of the coastal route occupied by CA 1 in Big Sur is surprisingly old.   A wagon route from Monterey southward to El Rancho Sur between the Little Sur and Big Sur River existed as early 1855. 

In 1894 Dr. John Roberts traveled out of Monterey to Point Sur to respond to a wrecked ship on the existing wagon road.  The trip ultimately spurred Dr. Roberts to petition the state legislature to build a roadway between Carmel and San Simeon.  The crux of the argument for a coastal roadway was argued that it help national defense during World War I.  All the above is detailed on a historic marker just south of the Big Creek Bridge at the Big Creek Vista located at Postmile MON 27.325.






In 1919 the State Legislature approved $1,500,000 dollar bond to build Legislative Route 56 from Carmel south to San Simeon.  Full details on the legislative history of LRN 56 can be found on CAhighways.org.

CAhighways.org on LRN 56

LRN 56 between Carmel and San Simeon first appears on the 1920 State Highway Map as an unbuilt highway.





In 1921 the Legislature extended LRN 56 to Cambria which is reflected on the 1922 State Highway Map.  The Division of Highways assumed control of the existing road between Cambria and San Simeon while a section of LRN 56 near Ragged Point north to the Monterey County line appears under construction.  Incidentally 1922 was the last time Tulare Lake appeared on a State Highway Map.


In 1924 a section of LRN 56 south of Big Sur appears under construction.





By 1928 work on LRN 56 north from Ragged Point continued into Monterey County approaching Gorda.





In 1931 LRN 56 was extended south to San Luis Obispo which is reflective on the 1932 State Highway Map.  A third construction segment south out of Carmel to Point Sur also appears on the 1932 State Highway Map.





By 1934 CA 1 was applied to LRN 56.  LRN 56 appears completed on the State Highway Map aside from a segment in the middle which crossed by Lopez Point.


On June 27th, 1937 CA 1 opened entirely through Big Sur and was known as the Roosevelt Highway.  The surface of CA 1 in Big Sur when it opened was oiled earth aside from the segment north of the community of Big Sur.  This is all reflective on the 1936-37 State Highway Map.





By 1938 CA 1 and the rest of the State Routes appears on the State Highway Map.  It likely took several years to get all the Signed State Routes actually signed in-field after they were approved in 1934.  Incidentally the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road first appears on the State Highway Map in 1938.




So that all in mind I started my trip southbound on CA 1 early in the morning.  The Big Sur Area of CA 1 starts at the Carmel River just south of Signed County Route G16.  The guide sign showed Ragged Point open 75 miles to the south.





Immediately south of the Carmel River is  Monastery Beach which is part of Carmel River State Beach.  Monastery Beach overlooks Carmel Bay, the City of Carmel, and the southern end of the Monterey Peninsula.






One mile south of the Carmel River southbound traffic on CA 1 is warned there is 74 miles of curves ahead.





A short distance to the south CA 1 passes by Point Lobos State Reserve at Post Mile MON 70.294.





South of Point Lobos the alignment of CA 1 enters Carmel Highlands and crosses the 1933 Wildcat Creek Bridge at Post Mile MON 69.057.






Most of the classic CA 1 Arc Deco styled arch concrete bridges are located on the northern extent of Big Sur.  The first such bridge is located Malpaso Creek at Postmile 66.301.  The Malpaso Creek Bridge was constructed in 1935.



South of Malpaso Creek the alignment of CA 1 opens up to a scenic coastal road riding the ridges of the Santa Lucia Range above the Pacific Ocean.





The next historic bridge on southbound CA 1 is the 1935 Granite Canyon Bridge at Postmile MON 64.386.





The 1931 Garrapata Creek Bridge is located immediately south of Granite Canyon at Postmile MON 63.00.





South of the Garrapata Creek Bridge CA 1 opens up onto a vista from which Hurricane Point and Point Sur can be seen off in the distance.


The 1932 Rocky Creek bridge is located at Postmile 60.95.  I generally find the Rocky Creek Bridge to be the second most scenic on CA 1 after the Bixby Creek Bridge.  Usually I walk down the cliffs a good distance to get a better view of the Rocky Creek Bridge but there was all sorts of "Private Propety, No Trespassing" signs on my most recent visit.






CA 1 climbs a large coastal bluff to the Bixby Creek Bridge and Coast Road.  As stated in previous blogs Coast Road was the previous right-of-way prior to CA 1 being built through Big Sur.






The Bixby Creek Bridge is located on Postmile MON 59.412 and was built in 1931.  The Bixby Creek Bridge is largely considered to be the signature bridge of Big Sur region with a maximum height of 280 feet towering over Bixby Creek.  The Bixby Creek Bridge is 714 feet in length.








South of the Bixby Creek Bridge CA 1 meets the opposite end Coast Road and ascends to Hurricane Point located at Postmile MON 58.321.  Hurricane Point is named for the high winds that are common at the slightly higher than normal elevation.  To the north Hurricane Point overlooks Bixby Creek, to the south it overlooks Point Sur.






From Hurricane Point CA 1 southbound descends rapidly to the Little Sur River.








At Postmile MON 54.1 CA 1 reaches the access road for the Point Sur Lighthouse.  Oddly the Point Sur Lighthouse has a concrete Postmile at the access road.






The terrain of CA 1 flattens out near Point Sur and begins to head inland.





At Postmile MON 52.159 CA 1 enters Andrew Molara State Park and dips away from the coast.


At Postmile MON 48.678 CA 1 enters the small community of Big Sur where some of the few gas pumps in the Big Sur area are located.


South of Big Sur CA 1 enters a small grove of Coastal Redwoods and the boundary of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.  CA 1 crosses over the Big Sur River in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, I featured the park heavily in one of the blog posts above.






At Postmile MON 45.564 CA 1 crosses the new Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge.  Personally I find the design of the new Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge to be somewhat bland but it does match some of the new designs located to the south on CA 1 near San Simeon.  I covered the opening of the new Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge heavily in one of the above blog entries.


From the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge the community of Lucia is signed as 22 miles to the south.


South of Pfeiffer Canyon CA 1 continues southward on coastal cliffs largely 400-500 feet above the Pacific Ocean below.  There isn't much for awhile in terms of State Parks for quite a ways but the road along with the views are highly enjoyable.

















At Postmile MON 36.309 CA 1 enters Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.  Incidentally I had planned on hiking but I couldn't find very many lengthy trails open in any of the State Parks.  I found it odd that most of the State Park trails had been open earlier in the year and closer to the heavy 2017 rains but were shut down during peak tourist season after the Mud Creek Slide had reopened.


CA 1 south of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park loses elevation and begins to flatten out.  CA 1 drops to the coast line approaching the Big Creek Bridge.












The Big Creek Bridge was the last arch concrete bridge built on CA 1 in the Big Sur Area and is 589 feet long and apparently was completed in 1938 after the highway had opened.  The Big Creek Vista I mentioned above is located at Postmile MON 27.325.  In total there was 31 bridges built along LRN 56/CA 1 between 1919 and 1938, most have been replaced.



South of Big Creek CA 1 snakes up and down the coast line before entering Lucia at Postmile MON 23.023.










South of Lucia CA 1 encounters Paul's Slide at Postmile MON 21.893.  Paul's Slide is still in rough shape with traffic reduced down to one-lane controlled by a traffic light.  The first repaved lane through Paul's Slide recently has been built.








South of Paul's Slide CA 1 crosses the Pickens Curve Bridge and enters the Pickens Curve Rock Tunnel, both were completed in 2014.







Immediately south of Pickens Curve CA 1 crosses over a bridge through Limekiln State Park.




CA 1 once again rides the coast line south of Limekiln State Park.





CA 1 enters Los Padres National Forest south of Limekiln State Park.  Shortly after enters Los Padres National Forest CA 1 crosses by the Kirk Creek Camp Ground and junctions the Nacimiento-Fegusson Road at Postmile 19.00.  The Nacimiento-Fergusson Road is the only roadway in Big Sur which crosses east over the Santa Lucia Range to Signed County Route G14.  While the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road is paved it is largely one-lane, has grades in excess of 10%, and often has military closures from Fort Hunter Liggett.






I stopped at Mill Creek to get a look at the massive grade of the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road from below.




South of Mill Creek CA 1 enters Pacific Valley approximately near Postmile MON 15.00.  CA 1 crosses through a small community known as Plaskett in Pacific Valley which mostly houses Los Padres National Forest workers.





At Postmile MON 11.712 CA 1 crosses Willow Creek which as a National Forest Campground.







At Postmile 10.172 CA 1 enters the community of Gorda.  Gorda is one of the few places where gas is available on CA 1 in Big Sur, the community has roots dating back to 1878.  When the Mud Creek Slide occurred Gorda was isolated to the previous Paul's Slide to the north and a small slide on the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.  Once the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road reopned travel to/from Gorda had to be taken over the Santa Lucia Range until the new Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge opened.


South of Gorda a large button-copy BGS displays Ragged Point 12 miles to the south on CA 1.





At Postmile MON 9.015 CA 1 enters the Mud Creek Slide zone.  The new roadway is complete but is surrounded by Jersey Barriers on both sides.  It doesn't appear that slide mitigation is completed and there is a large amount of heavy equipment still on site.









Looking northward the scar of the Mud Creek Slide is obvious on the edge of the Santa Lucias.


Looking north from higher ground the new road alignment over the Mud Creek Slide is more apparent.




CA 1 begins to ascend the cliffs above the ocean again approaching the San Luis Obispo County Line.
















The San Luis Obispo County Line sign has been stolen but oddly the scenic placard and SLO 74.32 Postmile marker are still present.





CA 1 begins to descend in elevation upon entering San Luis Obispo County and passes by Ragged Point at Postmile SLO 72.926.




CA 1 makes on final drop south of Ragged Point and exits the Big Sur Region over San Carpoforo Creek at Postmile SLO 71.357.




As CA 1 emerges into San Carpoforo Valley the terrain flattens to a gentle coastal plain.




6 miles north of San Simeon CA 1 has been shifted to a new alignment away from the previous coastal route.  A tiny stub of the original route still runs in front of the Piedras Blancas Hotel.  The old alignment of CA 1 was eroding into the ocean and during high tides the water would lap the roadway.  The new alignment of CA 1 opened this year and is pretty close to two-lane expressway grade.









At Postmile SLO 63.875 CA 1 crosses by the Piedras Blancas Light Station which is out on Point Piedras Blancas.  The Piedras Blancas Light Station was completed in 1875 and was automated in 1975.





At Postmile 62.458 CA 1 southbound crosses the Elephant Seal Vista Point.






At Postmile 58.5 CA 1 southbound enters San Simeon.





The original alignment of CA 1 was through San Simeon on SLO-San Simeon Road.  CA 1 was moved off of SLO-San Simeon Road to the modern alignment running past Hearst Castle Road between 1943 and 1960 according to topographical maps on historicaerials.com.





San Simeon was founded in Alta California 1836 on San Simeon Point as a sub-mission of Mission San Miguel Arcangel.   Over the following decades San Simeon grew as a whaling town and had a significant cattle grazing industry.  Part of the lands around San Simeon were sold to George Hearst in 1865.  Hearst in turn built a new wharf in 1878 which replaced the heavily eroded former wharf.  The 1878 Hearst Wharf is where the present community of San Simeon is located. 

San Simeon still has several historic structures dating back to the 1878 Hearst Wharf.  Sebastian's Store was part of the original San Simeon community but the structure was moved to the present site in 1878.








San Simeon today is mostly known for Hearst Castle which was built for Media Tycoon William Randolph Hearst the son of George Hearst.  Hearst Castle sits high above San Simeon to the east in the Santa Lucia Range.





The Arroyo del Puerto Bridge on SLO-San Simeon Road dates back to 1916 and was part of the original LRN 56/CA 1 alignment.




Cambria is located 6 miles south of San Simeon on CA 1.





Between San Simeon and Cambira CA 1 passes by San Simeon State Park.


South of San Simeon State Park CA 1 southbound enters Cambria.





CA 1 originally ran through San Simeon on Main Street.  CA 1 would have met CA 41 at Santa Rosa Creek Road until the highway was renumbered to the south in 1964 and replaced by CA 46. 


Both CA 1 and CA 46 were moved to the modern alignments some time between 1970 and 1975.

1970 State Highway Map

1975 State Highway Map

At Postmile SLO 46.000 south of Cambria meets the modern junction of CA 46.  There is a surprisingly well preserved button-copy BGS about a half mile north of the actual junction.



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