is difficult for today's visitor to imagine the Big Sur area without
State Highway Number One. The Cabrillo Highway, once called the
Carmel-San Simeon Highway, allows armchair access to rugged regions
once only reached by seasonal wagon roads, trails and boats.
You can principally
thank Dr. John L.D. Roberts for this incredible piece of the State
Highway system. A country doctor in Monterey, Dr. Roberts was
understandably tired of the poor conditions preventing him from
reaching his patients on the south coast--he campaigned for years
for a road that would open the region to the public.
in 1922 with a 1.5 million dollar budget. Supplies had to be brought
in by pack mule or unloaded on the beach from launches. Funds
ran low several times as the initial budget proved to be woefully
inadequate. Dr Roberts had a friend who was a prison warden--he
persuaded him to supply convict labor to work on the road at significant
savings to the state.
Canyon represented a major challenge for engineers. The single-arch
design they decided upon was revolutionary for its time. At over
900 feet long and 260 feet above the creek, the Bixby Bridge or
Rainbow Bridge as it used to be called, is still on the list of
the ten tallest single arch bridges in the world. It ranks high
on the list of most photographed spans too!
and ten million dollars later, the highway opened to great fanfare.
Dr. Roberts cut the ribbon himself--with a snip of the scissors,
the end of an era had been declared.
Some of the
early inhabitants hoped the tourist trade would make them rich--others
bemoaned the loss of quiet and privacy. As it turned out, however,
Highway One channeled almost all traffic away from the canyons
and valleys where most residents lived--leaving the old coast
and crest roads eerily quiet with hardly a car to disturb the
Very few signs
of our modern commercial culture are visible along Highway One,
and this is no accident. The Wall family of Rainbow Lodge, among
others, heavily lobbied Monterey County supervisors to prevent
billboards and other eyesores from detracting from the scenic
any project this extensive will have an environmental impact.
Road cuts increased both erosion and the presence of non-native
invasive plant species, such as Pampas grass. Landslides frequently
close the road. During the El Nino winter of 1998-1999, it was
closed for long periods at a stretch.
It is always
wise to keep alert for fallen rocks in the roadway, particularly
in the cliffside lane. Highway One is exceptionally well-maintained,
but small earthquakes, rain and ground seeps continually bring
down debris onto the blacktop.
southbound on Highway One is generally preferred, as access to
ocean-view overlooks is more convenient, and fewer rocks are encountered
in the west lane. And if your passenger calls out, "There
be whales", please pull over at a safe pull-out before looking
in the crown of the world's highways deserves your most careful
attention to navigate its challenges safely.