Waves crashing against the craggy coast, mist drifting up mountains that rise abruptly from the sea, bridges impossibly clinging to cliffs -- we'd seen the iconic photos of the California shore along the Pacific Coast Highway. The images look unbelievable, but they are real and they are spectacular. This is Big Sur.
The name Big Sur dates back to the Spanish explorers who dubbed this area el sur grande meaning the big south.
This region has no official borders but is loosely considered the column of coast flanked by mountaintop and ocean meandering between Carmel and San Simeon. Running about ninety miles, it seems custom made for a great day's drive when including stops for sightseeing and sustenance.
For most of the trip we were within sight of the ocean and often looking straight down on
It's slow going and imperative to keep the old eyeballs glued to the blacktop -- hard to do considering the other viewing opportunities. More than once Veronica gave me a gentle reminder that certain death may be impending if I didn't focus... OK, some not so gentle, depending on how many wheels were hanging over the edge of the cliff.
Construction of the road through Big Sur was completed in 1937 after eighteen years of work. Prior to that this was one
|The surprising lack of development is due not only to the difficult terrain but also the incessant efforts of the inhabitants fighting to preserve this pristine place. Monterey County has banned billboards along Highway 1 and has adopted some of the strictest land use policies in America -- disallowing any new construction within view of the highway. Believe me,|
|These policies have kept Big Sur remarkably rustic. There are no high-rise hotels, no fast food franchises, no supermarkets -- or even towns to speak of -- and only three gas stations along the way. Most of the few lodging and dining options available are in Big Sur River Valley, where the road leaves the coast and enters a redwood forest for a bit.|
When we stopped for a bite and a break we discovered that Big Sur is partially inhabited by a species I hadn't encountered since my days in the Colorado Rockies back in the seventies. Back woods, off the grid -- part Grizzly Adams, part hippy, completely fascinating. Very friendly, very groovy and unafraid to train a wolf or half-wolf as a pet. Back in the day we called them mountain goats, not sure what they're called in these parts, perhaps Big Sirs. Whatever they go by, it was wonderful to make the reacquaintance.
|About halfway down is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. We parked next to McWay Creek and took the short hike to McWay Cove where the creek drops eighty feet over the edge into the ocean as McWay Falls. We quickly learned why the trail to the falls was called Overlook Trail -- the untouched little cove is wisely protected from large, clumsy tourist feet and we had to be satisified with looking over at it. Nevertheless, this is a must-see spot along the McWay.|
As we wound our way south, the scenery became slightly less spectacular and more and more surfer dude in search of the gnarly wave.
did we know, we were in for a BIG surprise.
We rounded a corner and out of the blue were saw hundreds -- if not thousands -- of ginormous elephant seals lazily lounging in the afternoon sun. Piles upon piles of blubbered bodies basking on the beach by Piedras Blancas. We slammed on the brakes and wheeled off the highway into
elephant seal had all but disappeared by the early 1900s due
to excessive hunting. Then, all of the sudden, in November
of 1990 about twenty of the giants unexpectedly showed up
in this small cove. We're ba-ack!
The population dramatically grew and by 1996 this beach became the birthing place, or rookery, for over a thousand new pups. Through the efforts of The Friends of the Seals Central Coast, parking and viewing areas were constructed for the safety of both the
|Different seasons bring different activities for the seals. In the winter the females birth the pups, wean them and prepare themselves for breeding. Meanwhile, the males stake out territory for their harems, defending or invading with extraordinary jousting battles. It's quite a spectacle, with a dose of gross. Proboscises and slobber fly as the giant bulls bash their calloused necks against each other in an|
arrives, the adults skedaddle and the pups are left to fend for
themselves. No boomerang pups in elephant seal land. The pups
seem quite adept at learning to swim on their own when the time
comes to go off into the big wide world.
Over the summer everybody returns to molt before heading back out to sea to stuff their faces and make more blubber. The fall brings the juveniles, too young to breed, in for a rest before they have to clear the beach for the next round of birthing, battling and baby-making.
were lucky enough on our visit (seems to keep happening to
us) to see the first pup of the season -- just a few hours
Veronica's mommy instinct kicked into high gear and proclaimed him "tiny and cute." I suppose he was tiny compared to his blubbery beach mates, but he already weighed in at about seventy pounds. Cute, I'll give him -- all babies are cute. It's a
As daylight waned, we completed our journey through Big Sur by making our way to Morro Bay, the nearest town of any size, in search of accommodations. The city is dominated by a 581 foot ginormous volcanic plug perched out in the bay... ladies and gentlemen, let's hear it for the Gibraltar of the Pacific... Morro Rock! Named and charted by the Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, stories vary on whether he meant morro, a crown shaped rock or moro, a Moor's head when he dubbed the protrusion.
Noggin or knob, it still made a bodacious backdrop for the sunset of an exhilarating day through Big Sur.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com