Storm washed out part of Big Sur’s Highway 1. What it’s like living there now

Highway 1, January 28, 2021. Photo by Heath Johnston.

Central California is still reeling from a torrential storm that slammed the region a few weeks ago. It brought heavy rain, mudslides, and nearly a foot of snow in the mountains. One section of Highway 1 collapsed along the Big Sur cliffside. It closed the only artery through one of the most isolated stretches of the California coast — again.

It’s not quite as bad as a few years ago when repairing the highway and replacing a key bridge in town took more than 12 months. 

But part of the road will likely be closed for months now, cutting off access to Monterey to anyone south of the slip out at Rat Creek.

“Now we have to go south on Highway 1, until we get to 46, which is south of Cambria. And then we go across that to Paso Robles,” says longtime Big Sur resident and blogger Kate Novoa. “From Paso Robles, we go up 101 to 68. It adds about 201 miles one way to our trip. ... Instead of two hours to get to Monterey on a bad traffic day, it now takes us five.”


Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, February 5, 2021. Photo by Kate Novoa. 

Over the weekend, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley posited whether or not people need access to remote corners of the world, like Big Sur. Novoa says she agrees with parts of Smiley’s premise.

However, she says, “I'm not sure that it's possible to not have Big Sur accessible to the world. If [people] come to Big Sur and they actually spend time instead of just driving through on the highway, then there becomes a bigger and more deep appreciation of nature and the beauty that can be if we don't interfere or we minimize our interference.”

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