Engineers work to figure out how to repair iconic Calif. highway

BIG SUR, Calif. -- The dramatic stretch of California coast known as Big Sur is particularly scenic from the air -- and right now, almost the only way to get there is by air, reports CBS News' John Blackstone. The single road into Big Sur's coast-hugging Highway 1 is blocked to the north by a collapsed bridge and to the south an enormous landslide.

Building Highway 1 was a remarkable feat of 20th-century engineering. Now, 21st-century engineers are trying to figure out how to repair a section wiped out last month by the landslide.

c2-blackstone-hw1-slide-alfrod-weicher-pkg-tag-1-27-transfer3.jpg

A massive landslide is blocking California's Highway 1.

CBS News

"What were you thinking when you came out and saw this for the first time?" Blackstone asked Doug Cook, an engineer with the state highway agency Caltrans.

c2-blackstone-hw1-slide-alfrod-weicher-pkg-tag-1-27-transfer4.jpg

Doug Cook

CBS News

"'Oh my God.' Plain and simple," Cook said.

"So when you're standing here trying to figure out how you connect this part of the road to that part of the road," Blackstone said.

"That's the easy part," Cook replied. "We have to stabilize the mountainside before we can address the road issue."

A USGS animation shows a gash in the hillside a third of a mile across and more than 1,000 feet high.

c2-blackstone-hw1-slide-alfrod-weicher-pkg-tag-1-27-transfer.jpg
USGS

Highway 1 supports hundreds of tourist businesses, like the restaurant Nepenthe with spectacular views. But it's now almost empty, dropping from 1,000 customers a day to just a couple of dozen.

c2-blackstone-hw1-slide-alfrod-weicher-pkg-tag-1-27-transfer2.jpg

Kirk Gafill

CBS News

"Have you ever had the thought to turn off the lights, lock the door, and go home for the summer?" Blackstone asked the general manager, Kirk Gafill.

"No, everything we are doing is fighting to stay open. That is our number one mission," Gafill said.

Tourists can still use parts of Highway 1 both north and south of Big Sur, but some of the most striking scenery along the coast will remain out of reach at least for the next year.