We can't decide which was more impressive -- the massive slab of forested hillside that kerthumped onto Highway 101 several miles north of Garberville on the morning of March 30, or the hop-to-it public-service response of the locals as soon as they saw that their main access to and from anything town-like had been demolished.

The slide, which came in the third-wettest March on record, measured 600 feet wide, 1,500 feet long and a dozen feet deep. It looked like a hairy, squashed caterpillar of monster proportions, fluffy tufts of full-grown trees on its nose and edges and ripples of green grass and gooey mud in its center. It buckled the road, blocked all four lanes and stopped just short of flowing into the Eel River.

Caltrans crews got busy and the usual official news releases went out: The road would be closed possibly two weeks; three schools were closed; nobody was hurt. Then the local newsies took off: KMUD and KHUM broadcast interviews and frequent updates. Lost Coast Communications' newly launched blog Lost Coast Outpost (run by former NCJ editor Hank Sims), Kym Kemp's Redheaded Blackbelt blog and Bobbi Wisby's SoHum Awareness Facebook page became hubs of information on all the best side routes to get around the big slide -- and the routes to avoid that had also been wrecked by slides or were covered in snow. Local photogs posted amazing aerials and on-scene landslide porn. And some folks taking those wild rides home, or to work, ended up rescuing travelers who'd plunged into the hills willy nilly. Sooner than predicted, Caltrans had paved a one-way, controlled-traffic path over the slide by April 4. By November, it had restored the highway to four lanes and installed drainage and a retaining structure on the slide. It planned to commence striping in December. The price to put everything back together again? About $8 million said Scott Burger, a Caltrans public information officer.

And it all could happen again, he said -- on any of the rural highways that wind through our slip-slidey mountains. But the locals know that.

-- Heidi Walters


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