Just to the south of where the Pfeiffer Big Sur bridge used to stand, a helicopter sits parked on Highway 1 in front of the Big Sur Deli.   A sign of the times in this now isolated part of Big Sur.


It’s been more than a month since the bridge was condemned and an ongoing mudslide blocked the highway to the south.  Both disasters have virtually separated the south side of the community from the rest of the world.

But inside the deli, life feels almost normal.  Music plays over the sound system and the shelves look freshly stocked.  It’s the only place that’s stayed open just south of the bridge.

“We’ve been doing supply runs around the south through Nacimiento,” says Stephen Mayer, who works at the Deli, his family’s store.


That’s Nacimiento Fergusson Road.  It’s rugged and remote four hour drive to normally nearby Monterey where Mayer lives.  Going home is not part of his daily routine. “Yeah, I sleep on the floor.  I have an air mattress, ” says Mayer.   

With a replacement bridge not expected to be complete for six months,  he’s eager for a new trail around the bridge to open.  “Oh it’s going to be very important.  I’m going to be hiking in and out every day if I can, just to get back home.”

Mayer and other locals have cars on either side of the downed bridge meaning the trail will bring life, kind of, back to normal.   

A sign at the new trailhead just up the road reads “Trail Closed Under Construction”.   Waiting for it to open is a test of patience for locals who willingly found ways to hike through the steep and rugged terrain before approaching State Parks about building a formal trail.

“It’s critical.  It’s not like we can wait another month or two months or even a week,” says Carissa Chappellet.  She’s been organizing locals to help State Parks and the California Conservation Corps build the trail.  “I don’t know how to stress this.  I mean it’s really personal.”

Everyone on the south side of the bridge has a story of hardship from being isolated for more than a month.   “I have actually have a very dear friend, my ex-husband from years ago  who has stage 4 cancer who I am his primary care person for.  So for a month I’ve been cut off from being able to help him.   Luckily I have friends who help him.  This is one story,” she says.


There’s also the story of the roughly 40 kids who can’t get to school.  For now teachers are being flown in by helicopter.  Others who have been able to hang on to their jobs, can’t get to work.


But the trail, while nearly done, is still a construction site.  I walked it Monday with John De Luca of California State Parks. We make our way back and forth through switchbacks and several flights of stairs.  He says the steep hillside required the trail to be this elaborate.


“There’s really not much footing.  You’d be on all fours grabbing on trees and branches to pull yourself up,” says De Luca.

There’s still one retaining wall still needs to be built, and the trail will need some rehab after the recent rains.   Once complete, it will be for Big Sur locals only.  Expanding access is an ongoing debate.

“It’s still being developed, the trail plan itself.  But the intended use is for the immediate needs of the community.   Depending on weather and other environmental issues, it may be scheduled during daylight hours only, during best weather conditions,” says De Luca.


An official open date has not been set.  


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For more than a century a cement plant defined the small, coastal community of Davenport. In fact, the town just north of Santa Cruz was built to house its workers. Now seven years after the plant shutdown, residents are again looking to the plant to define their town.  

The CEMEX cement plant has always loomed large over Davenport. Today, the shuttered factory is still the first thing you see when you drive in along Highway 1 – beige silos with a maze of rusting ladders and towering pipes. A chain link fence blocks off the entrance. It looks like its own city.

Alverda Orlando, 87, lived in Davenport during the plant’s heyday.

“It got kind of a bad reputation for being dusty, but it also was a wonderful little town to live in,” says Orlando.

It was so dusty that – “When the children went to school there was dust on the sidewalks so therefore they left their footprints,” Orlando says.

She and her longtime friend Bob Piwarzyk co-authored a book about the Davenport cement plant — celebrating its centennial.

Standing together on a rural dirt road that has a clear view of the factory, they reminisce about the plant’s early days.

“It’s a very significant part of our coastal history,” Piwarzyk says.

It opened in 1906 to help rebuild San Francisco after the earthquake. Cement from the plant was also used to construct dry docks at Pearl Harbor and the Panama Canal, and it helped build Davenport.

“The cement made here was used to build the Davenport Jail and the church and the Crocker Hospital and it is kind of a unifying thing. The people who are living in town are working in the cement plant and the product is being used to build buildings here,” says Piwarzyk.

Overtime, the plant modernized and needed fewer workers. Then the economy tanked and the plant closed in 2010.

With the noise and dust gone, Davenport started to change in other ways. Tourists started rolling in to places like Whale City Bakery — a funky cafe located on the edge of Davenport. Stephanie Raugust is co-owner.

“I see it, it has changed. Even these last four or five years… the increase of this traffic,” says Raugust.

Sipping coffee out of a big, blue mug, Rachael Spencer sees it too. She’s lived in the Davenport area for 24 years.

“I can honestly say that when that plant shut down, suddenly Davenport was no longer a funky cement town, it became fashionable,” says Spencer.

As Davenport has taken on this new identity of a tourist town, Spencer wonders –

“How do we maintain Davenport as a charming, wonderful community that serves visitors also, or do we become a visitor town that has a few leftover community people?”

For the answer, Davenport is again looking to the cement plant.  

Santa Cruz County is currently developing a restoration and reuse plan. This includes rezoning the 100-plus acre property, which CEMEX still owns. Rezoning will determine how the plant can be repurposed.  

Supervisor Ryan Coonerty represents Davenport. “There are many, many ideas out there for what the future use could be. One of the most important things that we know will be a use is public access,” Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty says. He represents Davenport.

Plans include public access to the new expansion of the California Coastal National Monument in Davenport’s backyard.  Beyond that it will depend on who buys the property. Coonerty says residents’ ideas range from a research and development facility to an emergency services hub and space for education and art.

He says the end goal is a good tax base, jobs, and something that works for the community.   

“That plant was a large taxpayer; it was a huge employer for good blue collar jobs. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to replicate exactly what was there, but I think that there’s an exciting future,” Coonerty says.

Even after the county settles on a plan, CEMEX still has to clean-up the site and sell it. Leaving this town in flux, but forever tied to the cement plant.

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Boston-based author Nathalia Holt spent years tracking down and interviewing many of the women who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, performing the mathematical computations that helped send rockets to the moon, Mars and beyond.

Holt talked about her book, “Rise of the Rocket Girls — The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to Mars.”

Holt will speak at the Tucson Festival of Books on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Gallagher Theater in the Student Union. She will be on a panel, “Women Writing about Women in Science,” Sunday at 1 p.m. on the Science City main stage.

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The Navajo Nation is arid and vast — nearly 30,000 square miles. Hydrologists struggle to collect much-needed measurements of rainfall there. But now they have help from NASA satellites.

Navajo hydrologists and NASA scientists teamed up to create a the Drought Severity Assessment Tool. It generates maps that compare recent rainfall with historical data, to see if a particular region is unusually dry.

“With that, you’re able to look at drought regimes specific to the Navajo Nation, which previously was not available,” said Vickie Ly, research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in California. 

The tool can focus on ecological regions or government boundaries called chapters. Carlee McClellan, Navajo Nation hydrologist, said the nation has “a wide range of desert land to high plateaus, grasslands to mountains. With such a wide diversity, we need a tool that’s able to focus on all areas of the Navajo Nation, so we can hone in on areas that are most affected.”  

The new software tool could be used to assess which areas need emergency aid. Currently emergency drought dollars are allocated equally to the nation’s 110 chapters.

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The Carnitas Burrito at El Tapatio in Guadalupe. Fr. Ian’s very first wet burrito!
Credit Fr Ian M Delinger

Fr. Ian explores the origins of and the innovations with everybody’s favorite foodstuff – The Burrito! From a college town to a farm town, Fr. Ian travels the length of the Central Coast to get to the bottom of the burrito…in more way than one.

Looking inside the Carnitas Burrito at El Tapatio
Credit Fr Ian M Delinger

The making of the California Burrito at Super Cuca’s #3 in Isla Vista
Credit Fr Ian M Delinger

Fr. Ian dives into his very first California Burrito at Super Cuca’s.
Credit Fr Ian M Delinger
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Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz has become the epicenter for the treatment of mushroom poisoning in North America.  A doctor there began working on a cure a decade ago after a family of six become deathly ill from eating wild mushrooms.


To find out how easily that could happen I set out with mushroom forager Phil Carpenter.  He’s been mushrooming since he was a kid.  


Carpenter steps off his front porch and looks around. “There is one right there, there some up there. So let’s go ahead and do some walking,” he says as he points to mushrooms scattered across his yard. When he bought this home in Aptos, he specifically looked for a place where he could forage for mushrooms just outside his door.   


He shows me up a steep hill into his backyard forest. “You really do need to be careful. I mean, in California, in Santa Cruz county we figure we have about 3,000 different species of fungi, or mushrooms.” he says. Of those 3,000 mushrooms, only a handful in this area are poisonous.


Carpenter kneels down next to a round, white mushroom. “Ok, so let’s go ahead and dig this thing up,” he says as he digs the sail with a trawl. “You have to get down quite a ways underneath the mushroom.”


He digs up two mushrooms: one edible, one dangerous.  And to me, they look identical.


“See this big membrane that the mushroom stem is sitting in? That is the universal veil of the genus Amanita.”


All Amanita mushrooms have these distinct membranes and look the same to the amateur eye. Most are edible. But two are deadly: the Death Cap and the Destroying Angel. What makes them so dangerous is they contain a poison called amatoxin.  Even one bite can cause liver failure, requiring a liver transplant or ending in death.


At Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, Doctor Todd Mitchell has treated dozens of patients with this type poisoning.


“Many patients have told us that the mushroom themselves are among, if not the most delicious mushrooms they’ve ever eaten in their entire lives,” he says. “We call this the famous last words of amatoxin mushroom poisoning.”


A decade ago Mitchell began working on a cure for amatoxin mushroom poisoning.  He developed what’s called the Santa Cruz Protocol.  It outlines step-by-step how to treat patients using an intravenous drug made from milk thistle. Mitchell is now leading a study of the drug, which he says is the first to track the treatment’s success.


“Our results demonstrate that when our protocol is followed to the letter, from the time of presentation, that we are able recover almost every single patient,” he says adding that in the last ten years, the drug has saved nearly 100 patients nationwide. “The outcome of complete recovery is extremely gratifying. Its fantastic. You are basically giving people a brand new lease on life.”


Mitchell works with other doctors across the country to administer the drug using the Santa Cruz Protocol. His is working to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which he says is not far off.  


Back at his home in Aptos, mushroom forager Phil Carpenter removes a tray of cookies from the hot oven.


“We’ll leave those set for a while until they cool of for a bit,” he says, “Then we will give them a try.”


Jars of of dry mushrooms fill his kitchen cabinets. He says he eats 50 different kinds. These sugar cookies are baked with candy cap mushrooms. He offers me a cookie, and I take a bite. The cookie tastes sweet with hints of maple.


“Did you ever think you would be eating mushrooms in cookies,” Carpenter asks.  “No, but I trusted you all along,” I reply.


Most of the mushrooms Carpenter eats he finds within a short walk from his home.  It’s the benefit of living here and knowing what to look for.   

Teresa L. Carey is a graduate student in the Science Communication Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. @teresa_carey


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Fifty-year-old Teresa Gomez moved to the United States as a young woman with one goal: to support her aging mother in Mexico.

For decades, Gomez has sent her mother a third of every paycheck. She organizes merchandise and attends customers at a Barrio Logan grocery store. Her mother has heart problems, and uses the money to survive in the southern Mexican state of Jalisco.

“I send her $400 every two weeks,” said Gomez, who has dual U.S.-Mexico citizenship. “I provide for my mother.”

But that money – known as remittances – may soon be in jeopardy. President Donald Trump has threatened to target remittances as a way of forcing Mexico to pay for his planned border wall, which will cost anywhere between $5-25 billion.

Gomez doesn’t think that would be fair. She’s a U.S. citizen as well as a Mexican one.

“How are you going to punish so many citizens who come as workers, with good thoughts and acts in this country?” Gomez asked.

Remittances to Mexico reached a record $27 billion last year, representing the largest source of foreign income for the country after auto exports. Immigrants in California sent the largest chunk, $8 billion.

Gomez, a single woman, said she wouldn’t be able to afford a tax on remittances. She rents a small room in a Barrio Logan apartment, where she lives with her talkative conure parrot, Kiko.

“We came here with the American dream, not to be millionaires, but simply to live decently and help our families,” she said.

Gomez is one of millions of Mexicans in the U.S. who send money to relatives south of the border. She sends the money through a small money-transfer shop, El Frijolito, which charges a fee of five or ten dollars, depending on the desired exchange rate. Others use larger transfer organizations such as Western Union.

The recent surge in remittances was due in part to fears about Trump’s threats. The owner of El Frijolito, Mariceli Castro, said money transfers surged the day after Trump became president.

“The lines were all the way to the door, people were sending large quantities of money, a lot of people were selling everything they had in the bank,” Castro said.

She said if Trump targets remittances, it would be devastating for her business and her clients.

“Most of (my customers) have an honest job, earning money with the sweat of their foreheads just so they can send it home,” Castro said.

Targeting remittances may be trickier than Trump has outlined in his campaign memos. Policy experts have said that a tax on remittances would unnecessarily hurt all money transfers to Mexico, including those by Americans.

“It would have to be broadly applied – it would be, basically, a tax on electronic transfers,” said Gordon Hanson, dean of UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy. “The thing is, what’s the difference between an electronic transfer that is a remittance versus a transfer between two business entities? On paper, they look identical.”

Hanson said a tax or ban on remittances would be devastating for Mexican-Americans and the San Diego economy in general, not just people who are in the U.S. illegally.

“You look at our construction industry, you look at bars and restaurants and hotels so the San Diego tourist industry, go into any San Diego neighborhood, who is caring for yards, who is cleaning houses and providing child care?” he said.

Gomez said she will find a way to send her mother the money she needs for medicines and food – no matter what.

“As a human being, or rather, as a Mexican, nothing is impossible,” she said.

If need be, Gomez could cross the border to transfer the money in Tijuana. She would have to contend with three- to four-hour wait times at the ports of entry, but she said it would be worth it.

For immigrants who live far from the border, or who lack legal immigration status in the U.S., it’s more complicated.

Marina is a 37-year-old immigrant who asked us to keep her identity secret for fear of deportation. She cleans houses and takes care of a two-year-old girl, sending about $500 a month to her mother in Mexico City. She is also single.

“I never go out – it’s rare for me to go watch a movie or eat with a friend because I’m always working,” she said.

She said she moved to the U.S. when she was 21 years old, in 1999, to support her mother, and that Trump’s threats scare her because her mother depends on her. She said she is afraid of going back to Mexico, where homicides rose by 22 percent last year.

“When I talk to my family, they tell me every day it’s worse. They’re even afraid to go out into the street because they killed someone here, they killed someone there,” she said.

She said if Trump wants to build a wall, he should build one – but she hopes he finds another way to pay for it, because she can’t afford it.

“I respect the new president because this is simply not my country,” she said. “But I’m not robbing money as some people say. I work.”

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