Posts Tagged ‘Big Sur’

Hiking through Big Sur

Thursday, July 20th, 2006
Rugged Coastline

Rugged Coastline

Route 1 in California may be one of the prettiest drives in the country, and my favorite part is the stretch in Big Sur. This dramatic section of the shoreline is awesome. The Santa Lucia Mountains, which rise to over 5,000 feet in elevation, are perched right over the Pacific Ocean. This craggy coastline is filled with massive cliffs, rustic inlets, hidden canyons, beautiful waterfalls, towering redwoods, and secluded beaches. Although some of the hikes in these National Parks are strenuous, much of Big Sur can be enjoyed by everyone. Every time I visit Big Sur I like it even better.

Big Sur is a collection of National Parks offering considerable diversity. I remember visiting Big Sur a couple of years ago and going to Andrew Molera State Park. Rather than hiking, we explored on horseback. The guide took us through the redwood forest where the trees seemed to reach the clouds. We meandered through a grassy meadow dotted with sycamore trees that ascended to a bluff overlooking the beach. As we were heading down this isolated beach on horseback back, all that I could think was “does it get any better than this”?

We visited Big Sur again this past April, and I wanted to visit different parks. I am happy to report that each hike was quite unique and equally spectacular. The first morning it was raining and we went to Pfeiffer Beach. You drive down a
Arch at Pfeiffer Beach narrow paved road through a forest of Cypress trees.

Arch at Pfeiffer Beach

Arch at Pfeiffer Beach

From the parking lot it is only a hundred yards till you exit the canopy of trees and reach the sand. Just a short distance up the beach you see some beautiful rock formations in the ocean. A huge arch is particular eye catching. These rock formations have been pounded by the waves and eroded by the winds. Walking along the beach, the sand is white and soft, and is filled with small stones that have been naturally polished by the sea. The towering headland cliffs beyond the sand beach makes this a very dramatic landscape.

Later that same afternoon we went to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park about ten miles south, and visited Partington Cove. You park your car on Route 1 and descend into Partington Canyon along an old dirt path. As you reach sea level, you need to walk through a 100 foot long wooden tunnel that has been cut through the cliffs. This leads to an isolated cove that was once used as a shipping dock. Today it is a mix of rocks, water, and seaweed. The good news is that this inlet can be a common refuge for sea otters and seals. Although this hike is only a mile round trip, it is very diverse with dense forest, a creek, an old historic tunnel, the ocean, and hopefully plenty of wildlife.

After visiting Partington Cove we headed back north on Route 1 and California Condor noticed considerable congestion on the road.

California Condor

California Condor

Cars were pulled over and people were running with their cameras. At this point on the road, the cliffs drop dramatically down to the ocean floor, and sailing right over our heads were a dozen Condors. This magnificent bird is massive, in fact it’s the largest bird in the world today. At maturity, their wingspan can reach ten feet. They are being raised in captivity in an effort to bolster the population of this species that was almost extinct. So these birds were very comfortable with humans and would sail right over your head. I ducked many times. It is hard to believe that these birds have a life span of sixty years, and as they fully mature their head turns pink. Obviously the ones I saw with five foot wing spans were still pretty young. Bird lover or not, seeing these birds up close is awesome.

On my last day in Big Sur I enjoyed Point Lobos State Reserve. This is the northern most park in Big Sur. This is the perfect park for the shoppers who want to spend most of their time in Carmel. Point Lobos is only about three miles south of Carmel, and has a series of hikes along the coast that are very easy, but also very rewarding. The one downside is being so accessible also means bigger crowds.

Point Lobos has several hiking trails that run along the coastline overlooking Carmel Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The Cypress Grove trail is a short one mile The Surf near The Pinnacle loop that is packed with scenic beauty.

The Surf near The Pinnacle

The Surf near The Pinnacle

Spectacular trees including a Monterey cypress perch on the top of cliffs, adding color and unique contrast to the granite rocks. Half way around the loop is The Pinnacle which is a peninsula that serves as a great overlook. You can look across Carmel Bay and see Pebble Beach golf course….hey, is that Tiger Woods? Did you ever sit in front of a fireplace and get mesmerized, well that is what happens to me. I can sit for hours and watch the waves crash over the rocks and see the blue water turn into sea foam.

Another short hike from the same parking lot is a loop around Sea Lion Point. As you might guess from the name, this group of rocks is home to plenty of

Harbor Seals

Harbor Seals

animals. As you begin the hike you can hear the sea lions barking in the distance. Also found amongst these rocks are sea otters and harbor seals. The paths and steps make it easy to traverse the cliffs to many different vantage points of the coast. You also have access to an isolated crescent shaped beach. It is so cute to see the harbors seals bronzing on the rocks like the sun worshipers of Miami Beach.

One last hike worth taking within the Point Lobos Reserve is around

Wildflowers at Pelican Point

Wildflowers at Pelican Point

China Grove to Pelican Point. This hike is also an easy one mile loop. Towering pine trees line the trail providing a lushness to the scenery. This trail has beautiful vistas with rock arches, sea caves, and inlets with swimming seals tending to their babies. As you approach Pelican Point there is a stunning green meadow filled with wildflowers, the green plants with yellow and orange flowers are so vibrant against a background of blue water and gray rocks. On the other side of the meadow is a perfect view of Bird Island, a massive rock that is the nesting place for cormorants and brown pelicans. There were so many birds that you could barely see the rock. Wow, every turn is just jaw dropping.

What happens if it rains and you don’t feel like hiking? Well Carmel has been known to entertain people for many days. It is a really charming town filled with upscale boutiques, oodles of art galleries, creative craft stores, the best pet store I ever saw (Diggidy Dog), a super cheese shop, and many fine restaurants.

Although Carmel is expensive, Big Sur is accessible on any budget. On the high end, you can stay at Post Ranch Inn or Ventana which are right in the middle of the park, or the Highlands Inn which is just a bit further north and closer to Carmel. Big Sur Lodge and the Ripplewood Resort are two more moderately priced places to stay. And if you want to sleep in a yurt, check out the Treebones Resort. Camping sites are numerous and will certainly provide the most cost effective choice.

The summer through early fall is the period with the most sunshine, but I find this area fabulous even when it rains. Hopefully the next time you are traveling on Route 1 through California you will spend a few days in Big Sur, you will be well rewarded. The condors, harbor seals, and otters are looking forward to seeing you.

Big Sur and The Post Ranch Inn

Thursday, August 19th, 2004

Big Sur Coastline

Big Sur Coastline

I am constantly amazed by the ocean. This massive body of water harnesses incredible amounts of energy. I find it fascinating to watch waves form seemingly out of nowhere, at times reaching heights of over ten feet. They then unleash their power and come crashing onto shore, sounding almost like thunder. Although the ocean may appear violent, as waves break onto the sand, it is rather tame compared to those that explode onto rocky coasts. Black jagged rocks rise 20 feet out of the sand, and the waves crack up against these spires spraying seawater in every direction. The gnarly rock cliffs provide an awe-inspiring backdrop to the fearsome ocean, and it happens to be one of the most beautiful scenes in nature…welcome to Big Sur.

Along the California coast, just south of the Monterey peninsula, is the area best known as Big Sur. It’s a combination of beaches, mountains, and hundreds of acres of National Park that encompasses some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The shoreline is extremely rough, a real contrast to those flat, wide open beaches of southern California. In Big Sur, the mountains seem to rise right from the sea. These craggy cliffs form a dramatic segue to the Pacific Ocean. Along this coastline are a few inlets with spectacular small beaches. These tiny enclaves are never crowded because they can only be reached on foot – yet this remoteness only adds to their beauty. Big Sur is a nature lover’s paradise; a magnificent collection of mountains, canyons, beaches, waterfalls, and all types of wildlife and plants.

Experiencing Big Sur can be achieved on anyone’s budget. There are many campgrounds and RV parks for those wanting to get closest to nature. Quaint bed & breakfasts are available for those that prefer charming accommodations. And for a true mind-blowing experience, I recommend the Post Ranch Inn – perhaps my favorite resort in the entire world.

The Post Ranch Inn is understated elegance that cohabitates with the environment. It is a luxury resort with about 30 rooms, which were built with wood exteriors to blend into the surrounding redwoods and evergreens. Several rooms are built as tree houses, but I assure you they are a little more elegant than the tree houses we played in as children. Inside, the rooms are constructed of natural woods, stone floors, and large glass windows and doors. The rooms that face the ocean are designed so that you see no other rooms on the property – it is just you, a few deer, the cliffs, and the ocean. There is also a small stone terrace outside with a couple of Adirondack chairs. The furnishings in the room are simple, sleek, and of top quality. The marble bathroom is luxurious and warm with a huge slate tub. Each room has a large stone fireplace that roars on those chilly nights. Although there is a full spa at the resort, you may want to take full advantage of the fireplace and have a nightly massage in your room.

A Deer Grazing

A Deer Grazing

Besides a top-notch spa, Post Ranch has a few other enriching activities: morning yoga, guided nature walks with extensive discussions on the local plant life, and stargazing with the resident astronomer. The grounds are stunning; sculpture and reflecting ponds dot the landscape. There is also an infinity pool perched on the edge of a cliff with an unobstructed view of this awesome coastline. Hot tubs are also available, a nice amenity to soothe your aching muscles.

The Post Ranch Inn is a superb resort, and their restaurant, Sierra Mar, will delight any culinary aficionado. Their chef Craig von Foerster has been with Sierra Mar since 1994, and in 2003 the restaurant received the highest rating from Zagat for cuisine in California. The restaurant serves a 4-course prix fixed meal of organic/seasonal fare. A sample meal might include California red abalone with tomato-basil brown butter sauce to start; followed by a wild mushroom soup with nutmeg crème fraise; an entrée of pan roasted pheasant breast with potato puree and foie gras gravy; and for dessert a chocolate napoleon with espresso sauce.

Yucca Plant

Yucca Plant

The wine list is every bit as impressive as the food. The cellar has 22, 000 bottles with over 4, 000 selections. Wine connoisseurs will be in heaven. Everything is so good, it is hard not to over-imbibe. But the good news is that you don’t need to feel guilty, just get out and enjoy the outdoors in the morning.

The Ventana Wilderness of Big Sur straddles the Santa Lucia Mountains providing hundreds of miles of marked hiking trails for every level hiker. Sharp-crested ridges separate V-shaped valleys providing miles of spectacular scenery. These hikes vary greatly, from strenuous mountaintop treks to a leisurely stroll trough the redwoods just enjoying the fresh air. Vertical walled canyons and streams provide beautiful points of interest along the hikes. And if you have interest in the flora, you will see everything from cactus to wildflowers. Big Sur is also home to abundant wildlife. Bald eagles and condors are two truly majestic birds that call these mountains home.

The short hike to Pfiffer Falls is particularly rewarding, and it is easy enough for all to enjoy. It is only 1.4 miles round-trip over rather flat terrain. The trail meanders through a redwood grove and ends at a 60 foot waterfall. My favorite trek in Big Sur however, was on horseback. A guide takes you through a redwood forest, in which trees soar 50 feet into the air. The light is filtered by these skyscrapers providing a very serene ambiance. It was interesting to see evidence of several forest fires on our journey, and learn how this can actually help the forest by clearing out the existing brush and providing fertile soil for new plants. After a couple of miles the landscape changes, we exit the redwoods and enter a mix of sage brush and wild grasses, none reaching a height of over 4 feet. The sun is now blaring, you can smell the sea air, and hear the circling seagulls. Finally we reach the crest of a hill, and see a long sand beach 20 feet below us. Wow! The horses follow a path down to the beach and then prance along the water’s edge. The ride was so unbelievable because it encompassed so much diversity: the redwoods, diverse foliage, wildlife, and the ocean.

The Sun Sets on Big Sur

The Sun Sets on Big Sur

Although the hiking and horseback riding are tremendous, a must adventure is driving your car north on Highway One. It is a two lane road with hairpin turns that winds along the coastline offering dramatic views around every bend. Twenty six miles north of Big Sur Valley is the city of Carmel, which is just a few miles from Pebble Beach and the famous “17 mile drive”. Pebble Beach may be the most spectacular golf course in the country, and is a must for anyone that enjoys playing a round. 17 mile drive is breathtaking, with my favorite site being the famed Lone Cypress, perhaps the most popular tree ever painted. The scenery along this route is beautiful, and the wildlife on the rocks in the ocean is abundant: pelicans, sea otters, seals, and sea lions. After this drive, Carmel offers a nice change of pace. It is a picturesque town filled with boutiques, craft shops, many exquisite art galleries, and a wide selection of fine restaurants.

Big Sur is a sensational vacation destination because it offers a bit of something for everyone. It will offer you endless hours of the most intoxicating landscape imaginable. I have tried to capture the beauty of Big Sur in pictures, but the only way to fully appreciate all it has to offer is to visit in person. Perhaps it will become your favorite place too!