Scenes from the Slide on Highway 101
The Highway 101 slide just north of the Dean Creek exit overlays scenes of incredible beauty with varying degrees of destruction. In the above photo, in the distance the lovely Eel River Valley stretches on either side of both the river and road while in the foreground uprooted trees sprawl across spring grass.
Looking up or off into the distance, there is nothing but unspoiled natural vistas. But, this photo of Will Hurlbutt, the local rancher who owns the property sliding onto the road, and a Caltrans employee shows, the incredible destruction of the slide compels attention. In spite of the beauty around them, they gaze down. For on the other side of this towering madrone….
wave after wave of thrusting raw earth flows down the mountain. Bright spring grasses foam on the crest of each wave of soil.
Giant firs lay down exhausted in their efforts to keep roots clenched tight on land which oozes slowly towards the river. Massive pepperwoods crack open, exposing roots which might hide arrowheads and Native American pestles. The Hurlbutts have passed this ranch down for generations. They know that the pepperwoods grow over water and where there is water, the Native peoples used to camp, so they pause as they walk through hoping to find a bit of history tossed up by moving earth.
Shown in the above photo, Jared Hurlbutt tells stories about landmarks changing. “When my dad was a kid,” he says, “Split Rock was two parts of a rock so close together that if a pebble was tossed in, it would rattle between the two all the way to the bottom.” Now though, because of the slides that constantly move the land, “Split Rock is so far apart you could build a house in between the two sides.” This shifting landscape is nothing new. Will Hurlbutt points out, in the course of the day, areas where slides reshaped the land hundreds of years ago.
The Hurlbutts are working with Caltrans and Shea Construction to minimize the damage to the highway below and the land above. Here, they consult as they walk beside cracks that could swallow a tall man.
Reshaping the landscape is big—so big it is almost hard to understand the immense power that the slides produce. Here, the force of the slide has snapped utility lines and pulled a pole over.
Here, construction workers attempt to channel the water towards areas where it can be held long enough for the silt to be settled out.
Whole swaths of vegetation are tossed aside or simply erased in the over 20 acre slide. Looking across it, the destruction seems endless.
Looking beyond it, the destruction, minor, and the beauty—endless.