Don Harlan would be rolling over in his grave – An Editorial

Don Harlan is the original “road warrior.” He was the supervisor of the Willow Springs Station for several decades. He was passionate about the maintenance of this road and getting it open as fast as possible. He was a “balls-to-the-wall” leader, who taught his men to be as passionate as he was. (Sorry ladies, Angie is our first female at Willow Springs.) He wasn’t worried about lawsuits. He worried about the safety and convenience of his men, and the traveling public. Don cared about the road and checked out the work of the “new” Cal-Trans long after he retired in the mid-80’s. He ALWAYS wore his hard-hat. I often wondered if he slept in it. I knew Don, but only after he retired. Rock Knocker was trained by him, and often quotes him. For this slide, Rock Knocker said Don would be stomping up and down on the highway, yelling, and throwing his hardhat down on the Highway, demanding that his men work to get the road open. I (not Rock Knocker) think he would have had this road open in 24 hours. It wasn’t a big slide, or that serious, or that difficult to clear.

Before I get into my “rant” I want to note that I have a great deal of respect for Cal-Trans here on the Big Sur coast. They manage “the road that defies gravity” in unimaginable ways. I was married to Cal-Trans for almost ten years. I’ve been on dawn patrol. (Sshh, don’t tell, we weren’t supposed to do that, even back then!) I care deeply about our local men and women. But some things have to be said. And some things, I can’t be quiet about.

Some say Cal-Trans has lost sight of the passion Don, and those that worked for him, had for this road and its care and maintenance. Maybe so. I don’t think even Don could have gotten the road open any faster with the Alder Creek slide that happened last year. But I have some serious doubts about the “Rockshed” slide, as this one was dubbed.

Even per the CHP, they had one lane open last week “for emergency traffic.” Hmmm … interesting, as “one lane” has been all there was for over a year here. UPS got through late last week, albeit carrying medical supplies. Locals report to me that they went through after dark, as we are prone to do down here.

This morning, as I headed south for supplies, having canceled TWO important medical appointments for today north, I saw over a dozen Cal-Trans vehicles from out of the area proceeding north. I got to ask one of them in San Simeon around 10:30 am what was up. “The road is going to open today.” O-k-a-y then. They knew, and must have known at least an hour earlier, as I suspect most of these guys were coming from San Luis. And to be honest, the way things move with ANY state agency, I suspect they knew last night. We, the local media (as I guess I am now considered) weren’t notified until moments before the actual opening. I actually got the call at 1:28 pm for a 1:30 opening. (I do think Cal-Trans did a great job of keeping us informed and thank them for that.) But I think the PIOs were sharing only the sanitized version of the story deemed sufficient for the public. Cal-Trans insiders clearly had more advanced notice.

Local rumor has it that GBS didn’t want the road to open, as the slide gave them the opportunity to do some drilling on the inside portion of the construction zone while the road was closed. I doubt I can get confirmation for that “insider” information, so I call it rumor. But the fact of the matter is that on Sunday, Rock Knocker checked out the slide with field glasses and saw that the road was clear, and the crane had been moved out of the slide area, yet the road did not open. But for the construction going on, this slide should have been cleared within 24 hours. Even WITH the construction, it was clear much earlier than reported to us.

Cal-Trans has learned the art of media manipulation. I noticed that they finally implemented a strategy I had been doing for a few years – providing photos. Photos tell the real story more than many words. Only for this slide, most of us couldn’t get photos, as we couldn’t get close enough. They sent the media photos showing slide material brought down in the scaling operation, not photos of the original slide before work began.

I can no longer be quiet and simply report what I am told to report. Don Harlan’s memory deserves no less, and I feel an obligation to report not just what I am told, but to question what I am told, when it doesn’t make sense. And this closure for 10 days makes no sense. I, for one, will be questioning those who provide us with the information they want distributed. Don would have told it like it is. I can do no less. Don, we miss you!

So that is my rant. I am saying what many of us down here are thinking, I suspect, but do not know. Maybe I am the only one questioning what happened with this closure, or maybe I am the only one with both a forum and a willingness to air my questions publicly. Remember, this was an editorial, and does not necessarily express the opinions of anyone other than bigsurkate. PS, I notified Cal-Trans of this editorial, and given them the opportunity to respond publicly here, on my blog tomorrow. We shall see if they do.

Highway One remains closed

Per Suzanne Cruz, PIO for Cal-Trans, Highway One remains closed, just north of Limekiln. Cal-Trans anticipates it will be open sometime mid-week. No more specificity. I guess they are allowing some leeway as to whether it will be Weds. or Thurs. I had to cancel two doctors appoints and reschedule. Life behind the slide.

3:00 pm – BTW, winds of 21 mph just blew in some sprinkles. Caught me by surprise, and I had to button things down outside.

Current and Future Road Conditions, 1/29/12

Sorry, I’m a bit behind on reporting on current road conditions as the internet has not been cooperating. No predictions, this time. The GBS crew is now working on getting the wire “drapery” up, using their crane, and will continue to work on it through the weekend. Still no definitive answer about when the road will be open to traffic.

These are a couple photos Cal-Trans sent out to all news media Thursday and Friday. Together, they provide a good perspective of what Cal-Trans has been up against.

From looking at exactly where this slide happened – the rock shed they are building would not have prevented this closure, as it was south of the rock shed. Cal-Trans may want to consider extending the shed southward, which would require another bid, and another year or more of construction and one-lane passage. Probably not a bad idea, frankly, given the instability of this particular area. We have had to deal with Rain Rocks for decades, and were glad to see the rock-shed proposal move forward, despite the two years of construction.

A visual with field glasses from Plaskett by Rock Knocker reveals that all the material has been removed from the road, the crane has been moved, so maybe it WILL be open for tomorrow. The CHP website confirms this “possibility” with the following:


Photo courtesy Cal-Trans

Photo courtesy of Cal-Trans

Current & Immediate Future of Highway One, 1/26/12

Ben Grasmuck, resident CHP officer sent me this, this morning:

“Good morning. I’m at the GSB trailer and just talked to John Matteuchi. They are going to work all weekend and if everything works “perfectly” the road will be open on Monday. They have to build a dirt platform in the roadway and park the crane on it to rehang the netting. We can’t even get an emergency vehicle through without an hour delay.
Yesterday, the scalers were rolling boulders down the hill and said they cannot declare the road safe until the netting is rehung.


I got this from Cal-Trans yesterday:

“We made some progress on the hillside today but there is still a lot of
loose material on top that could fall onto the roadway. We should have an
estimate of opening by tomorrow or Friday. I would characterize this slide
as a medium scale event, not short-term but not long-term either.

Thanks for your support and outreach efforts, we really appreciate it.

Colin Jones
Public Affairs Manager
Caltrans District 5
(805) 549-3189

So, I am outta the prediction business, at least when it comes to mother nature and the road!

Highway One Closure Update #2, 1/24/12

Spoke with Collins Jones, PIO for Cal-Trans sometime between 4 and 4:30, but I was on the road, and this is the first opportunity I have had to post this update.

Resident geologist, John Duffy, and his climbing team went up today and did some “scaling.” Scaling is taking the loose stuff down from the top. That operation revealed that the top is still geologically unstable, so they will be going back tomorrow for more scaling. After that operation, Cal-Trans believes they will be able to give a definitive answer about when the road can be re-opened.

Based on my 23 years of experience dealing with rock, dirt, and mud slides here on the South Coast (I’m guessing probably over 100), my view of the photo Cal-Trans provided, my conversations over the years with old-time Cal-Trans workers, as well as more current ones, I suspect the highway may be open on Friday.

Closure Update, 1/24/12

8:00 am – I have not received any information yet this morning, but was informed by Colin Jones, PIO for Cal-Trans, District 5, last night that the geologists and climbing crew would be on-site today, climbing to the top to check out the conditions up there and making an assessment re: safety and clean-up. Considering what that entails, I do not anticipate any significant up-date until that is completed, sometime late this afternoon. As soon as I get word, I will post here, and to FB, for those who prefer social media. Also note that on the links to the right, under La Niña, 2011-2012, I have added the District 5 FB page, so you can follow them, if you choose, also.

For those of you needing to get through or to the area, and not familiar with the detours, I suggest 101 to 68 and across to Highway One, where you can either go north to Santa Cruz, or south to Big Sur. Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd. is a narrow, winding road, not recommended for those in RVs or for the faint-of-heart.

Closure Update, 1/23/12, #2

Rain Rocks Slide by Cal-Trans

I was having internet goblins playing games with my connections Monday afternoon, so didn’t get to post this update from Cal-Trans:

Today’s Date: Monday, January 23, 2012 @ 3 pm
District: 5 – Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz
and San
Benito Counties
Contact: Jim Shivers or Colin Jones
Phone: (805) 549-3237 or (805) 549-3189



Highway 1 (Post Mile 22), 25 miles south of Big Sur remains closed
indefinitely in both directions due to a large rock slide near Limekiln Creek. Caltrans crews are on site monitoring and assessing the damage. Weather conditions are expected to improve tomorrow.

There is no estimated time when the highway will re-open.
All Big Sur and coastal businesses remain OPEN with detours available for motorists.

For more information on Monterey County projects, call the toll-free hotline at (888) 836-0866 or visit The public may also call the statewide

CHIN at (800) 427-7623 for

updates on current traffic conditions.

Jim Shivers
District 5 Public Information Officer
(805) 549-3237

Also, note that I have added a link to the right for winter conditions (La Nina 2011-2012)to our local district Cal-Trans FB page.

Road Closure Update, 1/23/12

Noon – From Cal-Trans:

Cal-Trans official press release says there is no anticipated date of re-opening of the road.

9:30 am – semi-official report: there is no equipment buried under the slide, none of the rock shed is affected, the slide didn’t take out the light, only the wires going to the light, and it is expected that the road will be open in 3-4 days, but still waiting for the geologist’s analysis.

8:30 am – reported by local in comment section below: “Just went for a look, was told by the flagger that the slide has buried part of the rock shed, with much of their equipment, and will probably be closed for at least a couple of days. Also unofficial, but that was at 8:20 this morning.” If all that equipment is buried, it will be more than a couple days!

7:30 am – Per one of my “unofficial” but very reliable sources, the slide occurred just south of the new Rock Shed at Rain Rocks, and took out the light on the southern end of the construction. I have no word from Cal-Trans “official” sources, yet, about how long the closure will last. I suspect I will not get any official word until mid-day or later, as the resident geologist will have to evaluate the situation, then get the word to the PR guys/gals. Will update as soon as I have additional information. BTW, the CHP website no longer shows this closure, but that does not mean it is open.