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Stuck on Highway 166

A rainbow appears over the Cuyama Valley as stranded travelers sit for hours in their car waiting for Highway 166 to be cleared of debris after the roadway flooded. (Photo: Traffic411)

A rainbow appears over the Cuyama Valley as stranded travelers sit for hours in their car waiting for Highway 166 to be cleared of debris after the roadway flooded. (Photo: Traffic411)

When I set out for Kern County on Friday morning I was looking forward to taking the 166 from Santa Maria to Taft. My original plan to take the 33 up and over Ojai and into Maricopa was scratched due to the mudslides caused by flash flooding a day earlier. The downpour also triggered mudslides that closed Interstate 5 overnight, the main artery linking Los Angeles to the Central Valley.

From Santa Barbara, taking the 166 instead of the 33 added an hour to the drive, but I headed out before sunrise and made it to Taft in three hours. Coming home was a different story. A flash flood warning was issued for the 166 due to thunderstorms. But, since I5 was just reopening with escorts, I took my chances on the 166.

I didn’t get very far before receiving a text alert from KEYT News saying that a ‘flash flood was reported in Cuyama Valley… with many cars stuck in the mud.” I had planned to stop for dinner at the Cuyama Buckhorn, a newly-reopened vintage roadside saloon/restaurant/motel. So, I pulled in to the restaurant and asked if anyone knew the location of the mudslides.  The bartender said he didn’t but, that firetrucks with sirens blaring had zoomed by about five minutes ago. He said that meant that the emergency workers may soon be shutting down the road.

Also Read: Taft’s Oildorado Days

I skipped my plans for dinner & a beer and hopped back in my car to try to get through on the single lane road before it became impassable. But, I was too late – ten minutes up the road I hit stopped traffic. And, the line of cars and drivers were stranded there for two hours. CHP SUVs and an ambulance or two roared by, what looked like a Sheriff’s helicopter and an airplane (possibly KEYT News getting aerial footage?) but drivers down below were stuck not knowing what was happening.

KNX NewsRadio out of Los Angeles came in sketchy on my radio and I could hear traffic reporter (and my friend) Denise Fondo mentioning the trouble on the 166, but she had the location wrong (the CHP must have shut down the 166 back at the 33 because the road was impassable). I tried for an hour to call the KNX Traffic Line with no luck since my phone had no signal. Then I noticed in my rear view mirror that the driver behind me was talking on his phone. He loaned it to me to call the radio station to report our traffic tie up.

Big kudos to Fondo for taking the time to look into the reason for our standstill – even though the 166 is way outside of the Los Angeles metro area (still, you have lots of KNX listeners in Santa Barbara County, KNX!). Fondo was busy enough reporting on an extra busy Friday afternoon commute – with the newly-opened I5, and an hours-long closure of the 101 in both directions through Studio City because of a suicidal man threatening to jump. So, thank you Denise!

As it turned out, Thankfully, it turned out, no cars were stuck in the mud, which covered the roadway and what appeared to be a bridge near Spanish Ranch. After sitting still for two hours, cars started moving through the muddy area. By this time it was dark, and what a beautiful night in Cuyama. Clear skies, a bright crescent shaped moon and stars.

Highway 101 was jammed with big rigs at 10PM on Friday night, as truckers found an alternate route to the I5 closure. (Photo: Traffic411)

Highway 101 was jammed with big rigs at 10PM on Friday night, as truckers found an alternate route to the I5 closure. (Photo: Traffic411)

An hour later, there was another slowdown merging onto Hwy 101 in Santa Maria. But the real gridlock came getting into the city of Santa Barbara.  The 101 was wall to wall big rigs. It’s amazing what the closure of one major freeway (Interstate 5) can do.  My expected three hour drive home from Kern County turned into a six hour ordeal! Boy, was I happy to (finally) get home to Santa Barbara.

Let’s hope that with the I5 reopened, the truckers will be heading for the Grapevine and leaving the 101 to the cars.

Keep in mind, the CHP & Caltrans says it could be days before the 58 (another popular route for truckers) is cleared of debris and reopens. According to Caltrans QuickMap, Hwy 33 is open at the Wheeler Gorge Campground (as of Saturday morning).

This ordeal has me making sure I have some warm clothes, sturdy shoes, extra water and some kind fo food (nuts, power bars) in the trunk, to be prepared for an emergency.

 

NOTE: There could be more flooding on Hwy 166 Saturday – A flash flood watch is in effect through tonight for  the Cuyama Valley as well as the Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo & Ventura County mountain areas.

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Building Santa Barbara’s Solstice Parade

Highway 101 through Santa Barbara will be busy this weekend, as tens of thousands of people stream into town for the annual Summer Solstice Celebration. The festival in Alameda Park begins Friday afternoon and runs through Sunday, but the biggest draw of the weekend will be the Solstice Parade, which begins on State Street on Saturday at noon.

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“Sci Fi” is the theme for this year’s Santa Barbara Solstice Parade (photo Lisa Osborn)

This year’s theme is “Sci Fi” so there will no doubt be plenty of ‘close encounters’ with all things Alien. No commercial or motorized floats are allowed. This parade uses 100% human power, so there will be plenty of pure creativity on display. Artists, float builders and volunteers have been working for weeks on their Solstice creations, making sure they’ll be ready for their ‘close up’ this weekend.

I got a sneak peek of the entries being built at Santa Barbara’s new Community Arts Workshop. While the Solstice crew has worked here before, thanks to generous community donations, “The CAW” is now the permanent home for Solstice float building.  The Solstice Parade’s artistic director, Riccardo Morrison, explains what is so great about having a permanent home base at The CAW.

Artist in residence Geoffrey Barber has participated in plenty of Solstice Parades. This year he’s creating a time machine.  Barber tells me what he likes best about Solstice, and how he’s had to improvise in past years, enlisting parade spectators to help power his float along the parade route. Click on the SoundCloud below to listen to Geoffrey’s entertaining stories!

Artist Geoffrey Barber (left) gets help from master builder to finish off his time machine in time for Solstice (Photo Lisa Osborn)

Artist Geoffrey Barber (left) gets help from a master builder to finish off his time machine in time for Solstice (Photo Lisa Osborn)

Santa Barbara teenager Will Hahn tells me he’s been participating in the Solstice Parade for most of his life. His father brought him here for the first time when he was three years old. Will describes what he’s building this year, and offers a tip for getting the most out of your Solstice experience.

Solstice web_cloud 1Artist in residence John Sinclair has been participating in Solstice since he was a student in Santa Barbara. Now living on the east coast, Sinclair returned to town to build his creation, “The Cloud.” And, this isn’t just a cloud in the sky, “it’s THE Cloud, as in the one where all of your personal information is stored.”

Sinclair explains, “Science fiction this year is the theme, and so, I thought, what is more science fiction than we’ll all day just be part of the cloud and not human entities anymore?” Click the Soundcloud to hear John explain how he crafted his Cloud.

To my delight, Sinclair invited me to be in the parade as part of the cloud!  I’m very excited so, if you are at the Solstice Parade, look for me, in the cloud!

The parade starts at noon on Saturday, June 20th, at Cota & State Street. A Solstice Celebration in Alameda Park runs from Friday Afternoon through Sunday, for details go to SolsticeParade.com

Traffic411 Insider Tip: If you want to see the parade, plan to arrive at least two hours early. Park near Alameda Park so you can enjoy the festival after the parade.

Distance from LAX: 97 Miles

Volunteers show off their creativity in between Solstice float building (Photo Traffic411)

Volunteers show off their creativity in between Solstice float building (Photo Traffic411)

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Find out more about Santa Barbara’s CAW in this video

Solstice web_CAW sign

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Farewell Firestone: Rare freeway off ramp closes

The now-closed Firestone Boulevard off ramp was one of only a few 'left side' freeway off ramps in California.

If  you drive on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway between Orange C0unty and Los Angeles, you’ve probably noticed the Firestone Exit – it’s one of the few left exit ramps in California. Drivers exit on the left side of the freeway instead of the usual right side of the freeway.

The Firestone Boulevard exit shut down forever in March, as part of a freeway rennovation project. So, here’s to the memories – a few pics of the Firestone Boulevard off ramp from the 5 (Santa Ana freeway) in Norwalk.

A now-extinct relic off LA's Santa Ana (5) Freeway, the left-exiting Firestone Boulevard off ramp.

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