California Authors

Photo: Pacific Coast Highway at Mugu Rock in Ventura County, copyright 1945 California Department of Transportation


by Carina Monica Montoya, Arcadia Publishing

Book Review by Craig MacDonald

California's longest North-South Highway runs more than 650 miles from Leggett in Mendocino County to San Juan Capistrano in Orange County.

The amazing Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), known worldwide for its scenic beauty and 33 bridges, has survived numerous landslides, floods, earthquakes, fires and other catastrophes since the first construction began in 1913.

PCH was built in segments over decades with state and federal funds. It took many years to construct because of legal challenges, the shortage of labor, deep canyons, steep mountains, solid rock, unstable earth and financing issues.

The famed road's incredible creation, due to the dedicated efforts of many people, is wonderfully documented in rare, historic photos and thoughtful text by Carina Monica Montoya. Her painstaking research with the California Department of Transportation & others is seen in this fascinating story about how PCH became a worldwide destination for exploring & enjoying.

My wife and I have driven the entire highway & experienced its sensational beauty; been in awe of its gigantic, silent redwoods; tasted sea salt in the air; ventured carefully along sheer cliffs, through dense fog; seen its horrific fires, landslides and floods; traveled across its unbelievably-constructed bridges; stopped & enjoyed its majestic vistas and marveled at the engineering & maintenance.

Much of what we experienced is illustrated by the author in this superb book. PCH really is one of the world's greatest engineering feats. The challenges that had to be overcome were immense & keeping its splendor remains a continuing task.

Before it was a paved highway, there were portions of rugged & dangerous dirt roads, which frequently washed out or were closed by mudslides.

"In 1915, a state law allowed for convict labor to help build the highway. It filled a need for labor, relieved overcrowding in prisons and was a means of constructive rehabilitation," the author writes. (According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, convicts were paid 35-cents a day and their prison sentences were reduced in return for hard work.)

Photos show a camp at Salmon Creek that housed 120 convicts & 20 other men, who delegated and supervised the prisoners' work. Also, construction contracts were awarded to companies for road construction in certain areas.

Along PCH (or Highway 1), you'll marvel at the Bixby Creek Bridge on the Big Sur Coast & the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco—two of the most photographed structures in the world.

Among some of the other breathtaking spots:

AVENUE OF THE GIANTS, shadowed by coastal redwoods, follows alongside the Eel River in Northern California.

POINT PINOS LIGHTHOUSE, built in 1855 on the Monterey Coast, is the oldest operating lighthouse on the California Coast.

HARMONY (pop. 18) in San Luis Obispo County was established in the 19th Century by dairy farmers, who were rivals. A truce was made & they decided to memorialize it with the peaceful town name. Today, you'll not only find cows on the hillsides but artists in the tiny village.

Thanks to the Caltrans Transportation Library & History Center, there are countless "cool" photos showing just how PCH was built & maintained—from horse drawn wagon days to today.

An aerial picture from Vandenberg Air Force Base (near Lompoc) shows the only military facility where unmanned government & commercial satellites are launched into orbit. Another great photo shows a caravan of cars celebrating the completion of the San Simeon to Carmel Highway in 1937. Then there's an amazing illustration of a 1933 landslide that covered nearly all of the Point Mugu Gas Station.

The author offers fascinating tidbits on things like the planting of ice plants along the route because of their ability to tolerate harsh winters, dry winds, salt and scorching summers.

Thanks to this book, no matter where you live, you can go on a nostalgic trip along the fantastic PCH. It will prompt many of you to get in your cars and go explore some of the sensational beauty found along its route. Thanks also to Caltrans, whose dedicated employees often risk their lives maintaining one of the most beautiful roads on the globe.

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