Coastal Highways

It's Route 1, Either East or West

Looking north at sunset along California Rt 1

Martin Banks
February 1st, 2021

Big Sur is to California like Acadia is to Maine, or the Keys are to Florida. All three are on a lot of people's bucket lists, and all three are amazingly beautiful. Oddly, all three have Route 1 as a scenic drive. On the east coast, it is US Route 1, and on the west coast, it is California Route 1. Still, that is a lot of Route 1s on the edges of the United States.

Route 1 in California was in the news again this week. As winter storms moved through the west, Big Sur got dumped on. It rained so hard that the highway was closed to traffic for fear of mudslides and washouts. I can't call the closure prophetic, cuz, after all, the burn scars from wildfires last fall are wide and deep. We can credit the highway department for foresight and planning, though. There were mudslides, and there is a washout. A massive section of the roadway washed down the side of the cliff and is now in the ocean.

I have made several road trips through Big Sur on Route 1. The last time I was there was this past fall, just after the worst of the wildfires burned through the area. Not only were there wildfires, but there was covid too. Oh, the forces of nature at work. The trip through Big Sur wasn't what I expected it to be. The double whammy of the fires and the virus caused overlapping closures and concerns. The campgrounds, where I had hoped to stay, were all closed. The firefighter teams were being housed and fed at some of the campgrounds. Other parks were being used to stage the heavy equipment used to fight the fires. The roads and trails used for beach access were closed to prevent gatherings and reduce the coronavirus spread. I drove back to a motel at Moro Bay.

In my news feed this morning, I read an interview with a Caltrans worker about the road washing out. He summed it up nicely by saying something along the lines of "This is a beautiful part of California. If we build a road on a bluff right next to the ocean, we have to expect problems. It's part of the territory. It's okay though; we'll fix it." I hope they do fix it - again. It's a fun road to drive with all its twists and turns. On the southern end of Route 1 is a coastal desert rolling gently to the Pacific ocean. Seals and sea lions are on the beaches at almost every stop. The drive's northern end is Big Sur proper, where the dense forests fall off quickly to cliffs over the ocean.

I like California Route 1 and enjoy making trips there. It is on my mind today, and that is why I wanted to share it with you. Most of the photos I made on that trip last fall required following unmarked trails used mostly by deer and rabbits. To make the photo above, I parked on the shoulder and hiked back to a place where I could follow an almost nonexistent trail to the edge of the cliffs. In the photo, the Route 1 road is there, cutting through the lower part of the mountain.

I can imagine that US Route 1 in Florida has had more than its share of issues over the years, what with hurricanes and all. And aside from being snowed in for periods in the winter, US Route 1 in Maine gets little notice or attention. When travel restrictions end, and we can be fully out and about, I plan to visit the Florida Keys, and maybe Maine too. While I write this essay, there is a nagging in the back of my mind. As a species, we are very adept at pushing things to the edge, literally to the edge of the continent in this case. Both east and west Routes 1 run along the coast and through some geographically dicey areas. Metaphorically, the east and west Route 1s represent how close to the edge we are environmentally.

For now, the roads are closed from time to time as fires, mudslides, hurricanes, and other maladies make themselves known. It seems like a warning shot across our bow from the forces of nature. My trip last fall was a bust because of the fires. It's going to be months, if not a year or more, for the washed-out section of California 1 to be repaired. It may sound like I'm lamenting not being able to drive up the coast anytime I want. Sure, it's partly that, but it's more about the little hints that mother nature is giving us about her health. She may feel like she is falling off the side of a cliff. Maybe it's time we do more to help her heal.

Oh, one last thing. I went to a friend's wedding in Florida at the end of 2019. My wife and I planned to drive through the Keys, except we couldn't. There was a massive hurricane blowing in from the Atlantic ocean.

Thanks for reading!

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