PCH: Pacific Coast Highway. For anyone who has had the opportunity to take this road as impressive as it is legendary to reach San Francisco in Los Angeles necessarily keeps an unforgettable memory. It has been listed on the “American Scenic Byways” register since 1998 and on the “All American Road” register since 2002 . On the hillside, wedged between the rock and the Pacific Ocean, it offers 1000 kilometers of natural beauty, breathtaking views, scenery with changing colors depending on the day or the climate. No wonder, therefore, that the cinema has immortalized it, that all the riders of the earth have dreamed of descending it (peaceful side of course!), That it is part of the essential tourist attraction or that every American takes every opportunity to breathe in the air of the Californian dream. There are so many wonders to see and experiences to live along this strip of land before arriving in Los Angeles: Monterey and its huge aquarium, Carmel by the sea and its timeless quality of life, Big Sur and its wild sites, the famous Santa Barbara and Malibu, and many more. A row of water with multiple reflections, magnificent beaches, bends bordered by steep rocks and a disturbing mountain where each visitor begins to dream of freedom, feels overwhelmed with emotions that transports him out of time, and almost feels on him the gaze of a Hollywood camera to become, for a moment, the actor of a captivating scene.
But the dream could well turn into a nightmare. The furious assaults of nature are dangerously damaging the myth and there is a good chance that future generations will not know this road, at least not in its current form.
A few days ago, a new block of road has just fallen into the ocean. Which makes geological experts fear that the days of California State Route 1 are numbered. Of course, the road suffers frequent damage but this time, the segment that stalled was particularly large and the damage caused more and more severe.
It is difficult to attribute this phenomenon alone to climate change. Indeed, the road is a real geological nightmare. Its situation, even, makes it vulnerable and exposes it to all kinds of natural phenomena, especially in a region of the world subject to frequent seismic activity due to two tectonic plates that meet there. However, it is obvious that the frequent and increasingly violent natural disasters that California has been experiencing in recent years, and which are certainly induced by climate change, are the cause of the destruction of this road. According to a geological expert appointed by the government, these phenomena will accelerate. The cause ? Rising temperatures.
California has been the scene, in recent times, of gigantic and deadly fires that have devastated millions of hectares of forests, as well as torrential rains. The year 2020 broke the record for the most fires in California history. These fires leave devastated soil revealing gaping scars in which the waves of water from ever more violent storms are engulfed. There are no more trees or vegetation to solidify the soil. All of this is the perfect combination to promote soil erosion and trigger deadly and destructive landslides. Daniel Swain, climate expert at UCLA, insists that all atmospheric conditions are present to witness the intensification of these phenomena:
“There's a lot of evidence that atmospheric rivers will become more intense as the climate warms,” declares Swain. “While we may not see more atmospheric rivers overall, the ones that cause problems will become stronger, and there will be more major storms. Made visible by clouds, the ribbons of water vapor known as atmospheric rivers extend thousands of miles from the tropics to the western US They provide the fuel for the massive rain, snowstorms and subsequent floods along the US West Coast. ”
If we are to believe Mr Swain: “Climate change will certainly worsen and inevitably accelerate the frequency of heavy rains and fires outside the norm. Which will add a layer of concern for an already very vulnerable road. "
So what to do? What future for Highway 1? Shall we witness her slow death throes and watch her take with her, piece by piece, dreams and magic to the bottom of the Pacific?
Not right away it would seem.
There are solutions. Some have already been put in place, such as south of San Francisco where a tunnel has been built over a section of road to protect it from frequent landslides.
The California Coastal Commission is working on other ways to preserve the PCH and keep it workable. Engineers will have to show a lot of creativity and innovation to develop solutions adapted to the site. And no need to say that the costs are going to be exorbitant. But it will certainly be possible. For a time. So the PCH will continue to exist. More in its current form of course.
Hopefully the engineers will ensure that those who take this mythical road in the future will be able to rediscover the sensations of the past because, even with tunnels and protections, even if other roads exist to go from north to south of the California, we will always prefer to taste the myth and steal a piece of our dream.
Until the day when the dream will remain a dream because all the money in the world and all the successive repairs will not prevent the inevitable.