Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Big Sur

I awoke in the morning refreshed, having slept all but undisturbed through the night. The morning breeze coming in from the ocean was brisk and invigorating. It felt good to have slept so well in such a beautiful place. I packed up my stuff and went for a slow drive along the park’s coastal road. The blue waves smashed against the hardened rock sending spears of white into the air. I reached the southern end of the road where a group of hikers was getting packed up to hit the trails. I too would be hiking again today, but first I had to reach my trailhead, about two hours drive up the coast. 

As I headed north the vegetation around me changed. The rolling hills of short shrubbery was replaced by the ancient trees from the night before, visible in the fog-less morning air. I had reached what seemed to be the biological divide between SoCal and NorCal, where the desert rides right up the the forest. The road led me out of the park and into the a series of small towns before spitting me back out along the coast towards Big Sur. Big Sur is a roughly 90 mile stretch of coastline, where mountain rise directly out of the ocean, offering amazing views that draw tourists from around the world. It is well known as one of the most beautiful drives in the world.
I flew down straight highways flanked by sprawling beaches to my left and rolling farmland to my right. It had been a quick drive, a nearly empty road coupled with little population allowed me to just sit back and enjoy the scenery. I had thought about going to see Heart Castle, the extravagant (understatement) former residence of William Randolph Hearst, but the hefty price tag and warm air persuaded me further north to enjoy the serene beauty of Big Sur. 

I stopped at a pull off where a herd of Elephant Seals were soaking up the sun, the calfs mooing excitedly as they flopped around in the sand. The Elephant Seals are huge some weighing over two tons, and grow as large as 16 feet, which is probably why they earned the name elephant seals. Like most seals, the elephant seals mostly just laid around yawning and periodically swatting a pesky gull away, and after a couple minutes I tired of the lack of stimuli and jumped back on the road. 

Baby Elephant Seal being noisy
Soon the road landscape rose and I found myself driving precariously along a mountain side, steep cliffs rose up to my right, and on my left the earth disappeared, exposing a tumultuous ocean hundreds of feet below. The road hugged the mountains, curving up and down, my hands gripping the steering wheel so tight they began to turn white. I raced along the edge of the cliffs, the stunning vistas laid out in front of me. The road continued to get more daunting as the curves became tighter and tighter. I would not suggest this route for any persons with severe vertigo or a weak heart. Each curve feels like a death defying struggle as one missed que could send you huddling into the deep blue ocean below. 

Soon the road led slightly inland, the endless ocean views replaced by towering trees. I drove through unable to see the tops, massive trunks stood watch over the highway. I pulled over at the trailhead and had lunch. The warm sun felt good as I stared at the mountain I was about to ascend. After packing up my bag I headed into the forest, standing next to the gargantuan trees seemed surreal. It was as if I had shrunk, everything in the forest was massive. the ferns seemed prehistoric covering the forest floor in a marvelous shade of green. The parking lot had been mostly empty when I parked and a more popular trailhead started from the same spot, leaving me once again alone in the temple of nature. 

The red stalks of the trees reached up into the sky, blocking at the sun, leaving the forrest floor deeper in barren, covered in debris the trees had discarded on their climb. These trees can live for 2000 years, and tree just 20 years old can reach 50 feet in height. It is impossible to fathom that kind of lifespan, some of the oldest specimen are as ancient as the Coliseum in Rome or three times as old as the forbidden city in China, or 10 times as old as the country which now claims the land at their feet. If we can manage as a people not to destroy these magical forest, the samplings I walked by today will be standing in the year 4000, can you imagine what the world will look like in another two millennia? I know I can not. 

The trail lead me up from the forest floor, slowly climbing into the canopy and above. The trees looked no less impressive looking down from above, the shadows of the tree cloaking the forest floor below. I climbed a little higher and turning a bend, the world stretched out before me, an amazing landscape of rolling mountains and seemingly placid ocean. I sat and took a break for a moment to enjoy the view, after a quick snack I continued to follow the trail up to the summit. The path led back into the forest on the eastern face of the mountain, a decidedly different forrest than the redwood one I had been in. 

The trees here were short, allowing the sun to permeate to the floor, where a variety of small plants and ferns grew. The trail at this point became steeper and my pace slowed at the new challenge. A storm must have passed through recently as multiple trees laid strewn on the ground, obscuring the trail. I climbed around these obstacles. The forest opened to an amazing view. The western face of the mountain was barren, leaving a distinct forest line across the summit. The dramatic views stretched out in every direction. Miles of coastline carving it’s way down from north to south. The ocean hundreds of feet below seemed unmoving, but the echoing of the crashing waves against the shores stood as testament to the powerful currents at play.

I sat on a bench watching as the world stood still, amazed that the ocean so far away could still make such a ruckus. The sun was getting low in the sky, the hike up had taken longer than I expected, mainly due to my constant stopping to stare up at the towering giants. I walked back down, the trail, which was suppose to be a loop, was under construction so it was back down the same way I had come up. It always amazes me how much I miss when climbing up, as each time on my descent I see amazing sights that somehow I missed the time before, although when you are surrounded by beauty it is difficult, if not impossible to admire it all properly. 

As I descended along the Redwoods, I noticed a batch with scorch marks, evidence of prior forest fires that had infiltrated the forest, their licking flames leaving scares on the majestic trucks on the red giants. Forest fires are common in the area and signs throughout the park warn of the dangers of fire in such a delicate environment. Even though it is so close to water, the air is dry and the landscape parched in many areas, a tinder box just waiting for a spark. 

I returned to the parking lot with still some daylight left and decided to head to the most popular trial, a short half mile stroll to the waterfall overlook. The sun was nearly setting as I reached the overlook, showering the small cove that contained the waterfall, in a perfect golden hue. The waterfall drizzled onto a sand beach hundreds of feet below as waves gently waded ashore before retreating into the light blue water of the cove. It seemed like paradise down there, a small rocky cove, surrounded by palm trees and a realizing waterfall. I watched as the sun gave off it’s last burst of light and sank into the ocean before heading back to the car. The temperature had dropped significantly and the once warm air was now cold. 

I decided to forego camping as I hadn’t showered in two nights and the cost of camping in the park was nearly that of a hotel in nearby Monterey anyways. I drove in darns for the rest of the drive, the dark abyss to my left reminding me I was still on the edge. I crossed over Bixby Bridge, a famous tourists stop, without much of notice, the darkness swallowing up the view. Soon I was in Monterey where i stopped and grabbed some pizza before heading off to my hotel, where I fell asleep nearly instantly, having exhausted my body over the past three days. 
Extra pictures!

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