While the roadway appears finished, there is active construction above and below. Claudia Ferrer | Mustang News

The road to the popular student weekend destination, Big Sur, is now officially re-opened as of July 18 after a landslide covered Highway 1 about 9 miles north of the Monterey-San Luis Obispo county line.

The May 2017 Mud Creek landslide restricted access to the California Coastline from both the north and the south, with as much as 65 feet of dirt covering the road in some areas. Initially expected to reopen in mid-September of 2018, the project was completed ahead of schedule. Now, visitors can drive the 655-mile stretch of coastline uninterrupted.

With fall quarter approaching, biology junior Maddie Alexander said she is relieved the highway reopened. She said the trip from Cal Poly to Big Sur offers an ideal weekend escape from school stress.

“Having it so much more accessible makes it way more convenient for a weekend getaway,” Alexander said.

Visitors from all over the globe come to drive Highway 1 and see the quintessential stretch of the California coast. At a scenic outlook, a couple honeymooning from Scotland said how even their coastline does not compare. They were not just referring to the sunny 65-degree weather, but also to the gold of the hills and rocky sand — what they describe as the magic that makes Big Sur so special.

That magic has returned to the air in the little town of Gorda, where only two miles away, 6 million tons of rocks and mud fell. People are once again starting to fill the small restaurant patio and crowd the general store for ice pops to cool off from the warm summer heat.

“[Big Sur] is an escape so far from reality, like traveling to a different place in time,” University of San Francisco student Jayda Rayphand said.

Just as the fog hangs over the highway at Big Sur, the memory of May 2017 looms in the minds of business owners. While access to Big Sur from the north remained after the slide, the trip from the South was made nearly impossible.

Twelve miles north of the landslide sits Lucia Lodge Restaurant and Lodging. While the resort sustained no damage from the slide, manager Jessie McKnight said they still suffered from its impact.  

“[We were] entirely closed for seven months because of road closures both north and south of us,” McKnight said.

Even after the road from the north reopened in October 2017, troubles for the lodge did not diminish.

“When we reopened, we were definitely only at 30 percent of our normal business,” McKnight said.

Now, the Lucia Lodge sign proudly states “no vacancy,” as do most of the campsites along the 89-mile stretch. Park rangers smile as they welcome cars and tourists who once again fill the trails.

Time-lapse view of Highway 1 reconstruction. Courtesy | USGS

According to the California Department of Transportation, the construction cost the state of California $54 million. Part of the stretch remains reduced to one lane, but with a newly installed traffic light and a view of the ocean, the detour is cause of little complaint. 

The well-known Pacific Coast Highway has long been a part of the idealized American dream of roof-down road trips. Now, just before the end of summer, the dream of an uninterrupted road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway can once again become a reality.

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