Big Sur 2009

The time has come once again for Eric and I to celebrate another year of our marriage. This anniversary marks 18 years, which is starting to seem like an absurdly long time. To put things in some perspective, we recalled together writing our wedding ceremony in PaperClip on a Commodore64, and printing it on a dot-matrix printer. Our marriage is now practically an antique. We are within spotting distance of our silver anniversary. So, this is definitely a cause for celebration, and as we have traditionally done, rather than giving each other presents, we took a romantic little trip together.

We have lived in coastal California for 16 years, and during that time have explored the coast extensively. From SD to LA to SB to SCruz to SF to Humboldt, we have hiked, driven, swum, surfed, camped and dived the California coast. We spent our 14th anniversary exploring Eureka Bay by canoe, and our 15th anniversary surfing the beaches of San Diego. For our seventh anniversary, we went down to San Simeon to see Hearst Castle, and then drove up Route 1 past Big Sur back to Santa Cruz. We spent another anniversary, perhaps our sixth (I have lost track), hiking the Mendocino Coast from a geodesic dome bed and breakfast with llamas, goats and sheep. These trips alone encompass miles and miles of coastline, but we have also spent the time between anniversaries climbing over rocks and down steep slopes to get to the beach, looking for geocaches perched at scenic points along the coast, and playing in the waves. We have explored the coast by foot, by car, by bicycle and by boat. We have hiked through redwoods, douglas fir, eucalyptus and poison oak. And yet... and yet... we keep finding new things! There's more, and more, and more! Another park, another beach, another cache, another precipitous view... it's unbelievable. We could spend a lifetime just trotting up and down, and still not see all the beauty there was to see on this magnificent coast.

Deetjen's Big Sur Inn

This year's choice of Big Sur was, ironically enough, driven by economic circumstances. We had a much more grandiose plan (that I still hope to write about someday). When that plan had to be abandoned, I was miraculously able to find quite reasonable accommodations in normally expensive Big Sur. I imagine this was due to the postage-stamp size of our room.

It was called the "Little Room," so I suppose we can't complain that it was falsely advertised. But other than the diminutive room itself, Deetjen's Big Sur Inn is quite wonderful (another suggestion from Lucy Policek's Offbeat Overnights in California). It's a historic inn dating from the World War II era, and made almost if not entirely out of redwood. It nearly burned in last year's fires, but was saved by the courageous efforts of fire crews.

Many of the other rooms are much larger than ours was, so don't reject this lovely inn on the basis of our room. Just note that the larger ones are more than twice the price. Breakfast at the restaurant is also absolutely excellent. Their specialty is eggs benedict, which I do not like, but the French toast stuffed with raspberry cream cheese topped with strawberries and whipped cream is highly recommended by both Eric and myself. A lot of famous people apparently stay at Deetjen's; someone at another table pointed out to us that an action movie star was in the parking lot. He couldn't remember the actor's name, though, and we didn't get a good look at the guy because we were too busy looking at an antique MGB.

The inn is next to lovely Castro Canyon.

The canyon has a waterfall.

There were signs everywhere, including this rather circular one.

The landscaping was beautiful.

And while some people, for reasons we can't quite comprehend, seem to come to Big Sur to shop for art, geocaching and hiking are relatively inexpensive activities (at least once you've already bought a GPS). So, Big Sur it was for us. We spent the weekend continually astonished and astounded by the raw beauty of the world around us.

Highway 1 South of Inn, Including Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

We spent most of the day driving up and down the coast, finding geocaches and enjoying the breathtaking scenery.

I suffered some confusion about the Big Sur area due to the State Parks Department's nomenclature. Apparently they wanted to name not one but two (proximitous) parks after Julia Pfeiffer Burns. So there is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. I had explored Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park with my mother and found it relatively underwhelming -- it was a lot like further north Big Basin in that it had redwood trees and waterfalls. I felt that for your redwood-tree-and-waterfall dollar, Big Basin was quite a bit better, and that relatively unknown Andrew Molera was the most fascinating state park in the Big Sur area. Since I thought that Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park was part of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, on several trips to Big Sur with Mom, I had never bothered to explore it. But geocaching led us south, and we discovered this incredible park.

The best cache we looked for all day was one we didn't find, Partington Glances. This is the most fun we've ever had looking for a cache without finding it. Our GPS led us down this steep path.

We had lunch on a ridge looking down at the waves splashing against the rocks. In this picture, the wave almost looks like a ghost coming out of a crevasse in the rocks.

We went through a tunnel and found ourselves in this incredible cove.

The inside of Partington Cove.

I caught another splash inside the cove.

We didn't get much of a sunset, but we did enjoy this late afternoon view.

For the last cache of the day, we climbed down a flight of stairs into a campground to find an albino redwood.

According to the cache listing, this is a very rare species of redwood tree. It cannot photosynthesize, as it has no chlorophyll. Instead, it is a saprophyte, which means it takes its nutrients from a dead host. Here, Eric holds out a sprig of the more common photosynthesizing redwood tree for the color contrast.

I admired this orange flower.

Andrew Molera State Park

Sunday began with some frustration. Mom and I had had such a great time floating down the river in innertubes two weeks before, I had decided to try to see if the campsite would rent us innertubes even though we were not guests. I figured there was a better chance of their saying yes if we didn't show up with a car that needed to be parked somewhere. So, we parked the car a little ways away at a larger resort, and hiked along a rather nebulous and sketchy trail along the Big Sur River back to the campsite. In the end, rather unsurprisingly, they refused to rent us the tubes. That was disappointing enough in itself, but somehow we managed to spend an entire hour hiking out along the "path" and then back along the road to Pearl. We had enough other things to see that we certainly didn't have that much time to waste.

We pressed on to nearby Andrew Molera State Park. I had been to this amazing park with my mother, and had been wanting for some time to get a chance to show it to Eric. At last I had my chance. We spent most of the day hiking through the park, finding three caches along our way. I insisted that we first take the Headlands Trail to see the view from there.

This is the point where the Big Sur River runs into the Pacific Ocean.

From the promontory, Eric spotted a sea otter!

We walked along the Bluffs Trail and then doubled back to the steep Ridge Trail. From there, we had a good view of these Franciscan rocks. Franciscan rocks are very old and come from an ancient subterranean trench, dating from the early Cretaceous time, about 130 million years ago. These rocks do not follow ordinary geologic patterns and present puzzles not yet solved by geologists. David Alt and David W. Hyndman's Roadside Geology of Northern and Central California has this amusing description of the difficulties of understanding Franciscan rocks:

The whole point of geology is to make sense of the rocks. Geologists normally begin by making geologic maps, carefully plotting the outcrops to see what patterns emerge. In most areas, a coherent pattern does emerge, and geologists can understand the main events that brought the rocks to their present location and condition. That approach does not work well in the Coast Range, where too many of the rocks do not make sense in the traditional way. If all rocks resembled the Franciscan complex, no science of bedrock geology could have emerged. Most of the early geologists who worked with Franciscan rocks concluded that their creator could have used some advice in the art of assembling a proper package of rocks.

So, the rocks pictured here are a geologic mystery.

Although less spectacular than the views of the ocean to the west, the views of the hills to the east were also fascinating.

Our route led us down the Hidden Trail, which was narrow and rutted with channels where running water had eroded the path. This was a difficult trail, and poison oak grew everywhere. I had been wearing shorts, because we had needed to ford the Big Sur River to get from the Headlands Trail to the beach. Eric had carried his pants while wearing his bathing suit across the river, and then put the pants back on, so his legs were now covered. Both of us, however, had sandals on, so the poison oak was a constant danger. Neither of us developed a rash, so either we are not allergic to it or our extreme carefulness paid off. In any case, we had to pick our way very slowly down this .75-mile trail.

On our way back to Pearl, Eric spotted a wild rabbit on the trail.

Garrapata State Park

By the time we found all three caches in Andre Molera State Park and returned to Pearl, it was getting late. But we decided that we wanted to take the time to find one more cache, as it provide an opportunity to see the other state park in the area, Garrapata. This turned out to be entirely worth the time -- a short hike, but packed with incredible beauty, and about as romantic as you could get. Well, I suppose a real sunset would have made it even more romantic, but the sun was shrouded in fog.

But what made Garrapata unusual and more special than other beaches were the wildflowers covering the ridges on the approach to the beach.

I took a closeup of this red flower.

I love Indian Paintbrushes, and I have never seen so many of them together in one place! They were growing right out of the poison oak!

All in all, we had a truly wonderful time, and a particularly excellent celebration of our anniversary. Now that we've found out how much there was so see in this area, we know we must return to cover a lot more ground! Remember, though, that, although the State of California has come to a budget agreement that will keep the Parks Department in operation, the budget is smaller than it has been in the past, and several state parks will close after Labor Day weekend. If you would like to help keep these beautiful places open so that you can go visit them yourself, please support the California State Parks Foundation.

Last updated: 07/27/2009 by Eric and Beth Zuckerman