Getting Out: Hike’s ocean views, human tale inspire

Getting Out

Years ago, when I was a young boy growing up in the Bay Area, the rain always came each winter. As sure as the arrival of winter rain, one story would eventually appear on the evening news: a rock slide at Devil’s Slide had closed Highway 1 between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay. It was as if this event, like the rain, was an integral part of the changing seasons.
There will be no more highway closures due to landslides along Devil’s Slide. The opening of the Devil’s Slide tunnel in March of 2013 ended an epic 43-year battle between an alliance of local residents and Caltrans determined to bypass the area with a 7.5-mile highway from Pacifica to the Half Moon Bay Airport. The road would have cut through McNee Ranch State Park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area lands, areas rife with great biodiversity and sensitive serpentine habitat. The proposal had the support of development interests dead set on opening the region to sprawling housing projects à la Daly City.
With the opening of the tunnel, the old Devil’s Slide road was preserved as a paved footpath managed by San Mateo County Parks. Last week, I walked the Devil’s Slide Trail along with Lennie Roberts, one of the central figures who fought Caltrans, which was determined to build the massive highway bypass in the surrounding hills. Both the ocean views and the human story were inspiring.
The trail is accessible from either end, but we began on the south side that we accessed by turning off of Highway 1 at a signal just before the south entrance to the new tunnel. The deep road cuts in the hillside make the first quarter mile of the trail feel like a slot canyon, but beyond, we popped into a high and wide seaside landscape, the ocean hundreds of feet below and the historically troublesome cliffs rising behind us.
The 1.3-mile path has a number of wide overlooks with benches, each a spectacular vertigo-inducing perch above the Pacific. From these spots, Lennie and our docent told us the war story. In 1995, a major slide closed the road for six months, and the Devil’s Slide issue came to a head. Caltrans dismissed any option to their intrusive bypass road over Montara Mountain, so tunnel supporters took action. “Think Tunnel” was the call of citizens going door to door in support of Measure T, a ballot initiative that would mandate the building of the tunnel. Measure T passed with 74 percent of the vote. Despite Caltrans strident opposition, the tunnel would be built.
A road that used to hum with traffic is now a quiet and spectacular trail for us to walk and for wildlife to thrive. A peregrine falcon nests nearby. We saw a lovely column of Douglas irises that decorated a rill on the cliff above. In the exposed rocks of the road cut, our docent pointed to granite blocks that have ridden the San Andreas Fault from southern California sitting next to crumpled and twisted ocean sediments.
Along the Devil’s Slide Trail, we now have time to linger over sights and discover natural history that we would have never seen on a quick drive-by. And, of course, it is an opportunity to learn a small and inspiring chapter of human history. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Amen.

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