By Mabel Plaskett
There has been some controversy as to just where the Big Sur Country begins and ends. Henry Miller, noted author, living on Partington Ridge defines the boundary as all coast lands between Carmel and San Dimeon. In a recent issue of Pictorial Living, a supplement of the San Francisco Examiner, the author decided that Big Sur ended at Lucia Lodge. Since the mailing address of all residents as far south as Salmon Creek is Big Sur, I think we may call the area between Palo Colorado Canyon and Salmon Creek legitimately Big Sur Country.
Since San Simeon is an ideal starting point I will start there and take you for a drive of three or four or more hours and promise you will not be bored for a moment.
First a brief history of the Coast Road, known as Highway 1, for a few years known as Roosevelt Highway and at present the Cabrillo Highway. For many years the road ended San Corpojo on the south and Palo Colorado or Notleys Landing on the north. Between these points all traveling was done by horse back, supplies were either packed in over the mountain trail or brought in ships or launches by sea.
In 1919 work was started on the road, which before it was finished in 1937 cost dearly in both money and lives. The cost of building this road less than 90 miles in length was 10 million dollars.
A few years ago, due to the efforts of the California Historical Society the name of this part of the Coast Highway was changed to Cabrillo Highway to conform with the name used from San Diego to the Oregon line and in honor of the discoverer of Alta California, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a native of Portugal who was sent north from Natividad on the Mexican mainland by Antonio de Mendoza, who had succeeded Cortez as ruler of Mexico.
Cabrillo entered San Diego bay on September 28, 1542. He spent six days here then started northward stopping at Santa Barbara and Monterey Bay, missed the great harbor of San Francisco, went as far north as Point Reyes in Mendocino County then turned back to San Miguel Island where Cabrillo died January 3, 1543. It was due to this voyage, as his chief pilot Bartolome Ferrelo continued with the expedition back to Mexico, (in accordance with Cabrillo’s instructions) that Spain could claim all of the Californias.
So we are now at the little town of San Simeon (St. Simon) on the Cabrillo Highway. To our right rises, in all its splendor, the famous Hearst Castle, now open to the public, a gift to the state from the Hearst Estate. Here may be seen some of the finest architectural marvels of Europe and one of the most exotic art collections the world has to offer. The only private property in San Simeon is Pete Sebastian’s store and gas station. Here one may buy anything from a pair of Levis to jade jewelry.
We start north, pass over the bridge at Oak Knowel Creek and soon come to Piedias Blancas (White Rocks) light house, a few miles on we cross Arroyo de la Cruz (Creek of the Cross) and proceed to San Corpojo Creek where one glimpses a wide strip of beach, where the creek dams up and seems to disappear, and nearly always a few heard of cattle are grazing along the stream.
At Salmon Creek, where we make a deep horse shoe curve we look back to see a lovely water fall. Here Los Padre National Forest maintains a guard station, where the present guard Ralph Haskins, lives with his wife, Carol, and two little girls. The road has run high above the sea since we left San Corpojo and we drive carefully on the curves. All the time we have a marvelous view of the sea and can hear the breakers below.
In quick succession we pass Villa Creek Alder Creek and Mud Creek and round a turn to see Gorda Village. Here is a lunch room, gas station and cabins. Below the road is a little church, where the residents from miles around meet on Sunday although there is no resident pastor. Sunday school is maintained and the Gorda Ladies Aid meets regularly to sew and back boxes to send wherever needed.
Farther on is Pacific Valley, where a school has been maintained since 1880. Here one sees the signs pointing the way to the famous Jade Cove and recently the forest service opened the Plaskett Creek camp and built steps down the cliff to the sand beach, which is the nicest beach along the coast. Before we leave Pacific Valley we cross Prewitt Creek, named for an early settler. Wild Cattle Creek and then Mill Creek named for saw mills operated on the stream in early days. Here is another nice little camp ground below the bridge and right on the ocean’s edge. Around the bend is Kirk Creek also named for an early settler. At this point the road from King City, via Jolon and the Nacimiento river, meets the Cabrillo Highway. The sign says King City 49 miles.
Our next bridge is Lime Kiln Creek, where lime was shipped out in the 1880’s. An interesting little beach under the bridge offers jasper and rhodonite among other minerals to the rock hound, and if one has the time the most beautiful scenic walk in the world up the creek.
We soon come to a sign “Camoldoli Hermitage” near an open gateway that leads to the Hermitage a few miles up a ridge. Here the brothers are trying to achieve a self-sustaining existence on a 600 acre place recently acquired. Across the road on the point a man named Kipp lives and is engaged in the making of pottery.
Lucia Lodge is a few miles on with a gas station and lunch room and cabins for the tourist. The lunch room extends onto an open veranda where one may eat literally over the ocean. Lucia Lodge is 50 miles from Monterey.
Vicente Creek was named for Vicente Avila whose family lived here long ago. A short way on past Gamboa Point is a drinking fountain and a memorial plaque to Senator Elmer Rigdon, one of the men responsible for the building of the road. Big Creek bridge is a beautiful structure and often a subject for the artist’s brush.
Dolan Creek was named for a man of that name and the remains of his house may be seen near the road.
A short way on. Hot Springs Lodge nestles on a shelf down close to the ocean. This well-known resort is famous for the hot mineral baths to which people come from all over the world. We cross Hot Springs Creek and then Buck Creek and Burns Creek where a family named Burns once lived.
Across Anderson Creek on the right is the home and art gallery of Emil White, whose paintings have been bought by people near and far.
We pass Free Camp or Krenkel’s Corners and approach Partington Canyon. This is a deep canyon where a dirt road leads down to a deep tunnel through the rock. At the end of the tunnel is a sheltered cover where steamers once landed. From this area tan bark was once shipping in quantity. Part of the hoisting equipment may still be seen at the landing. Where the side road leaves the highway up Partington Ridge, the names on the row of mail boxes tells the tourist that artists, authors, sculptors and other well known persons live there.
Torre Canyon is truly beautiful as we cross the bridge we can see tall redwoods and lovely shrubs and ferns in the shady depths of the canyon. Between here and Castro Canyon is Saddle Rock Ranch where you can see along the shore dark, oddly shaped rocks closely resembling a saddle.
We now come to Deetjen’s where the Big Sur Restaurant offers meals while a fine record concert is softly playing.
Soon we behold on our left the famous “Nepenthe” restaurant and we think of Poe’s lines, “Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget the lost Lenore.”
On the very top of Big Sur hill is Rancho Sierra Mar run by the Post family. Here again are cabins, gas and meals. The Posts are early pioneers and the old Post home nearby has recently been renovated after being vacant and in need of repair for many years. The basic structure being solid, it is now a wonderful and interesting example of early coast architecture. The Trotter brothers, able carpenters, were responsible for most of the early building in Big Sur.
On our left we soon come to a stop to admire the gorgeous begonia at Loma Vista In. They are at their loveliest now and we add several to our collection.
Sycamore Canyon road on our left leads to the famous Pfeiffer Beach, where one may collect shells of all sorts. Mrs. Alvin Dani was born and lived there until recent years, has the most amazing collection of sea shells I have ever seen.
On our right we now see the building of the Highway Maintenance Station and the U.S. Forest Headquarters. Far off we see the Ventana Mountains, so called because a drop in the Coast Range makes a window here. The Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park along the Big Sur River has camping facilities and hiking, swimming and horseback riding may be indulged. This park was donated by the Pfeiffer family who settled here in 1869. They and other old timers like the Post family were the backbone of Big Sur country. Big Sur Lodge, Redwood Lodge, Ripplewood Lodge, Walker’s Camp, River Inn, follow closely, the Big Sur Post Office is a River Inn.
Now we drive along Big Sur River. One sees people fishing any day during the season. The river is lined with shady trees and the drive is a lovely one. We pass tall redwoods and ferns.
On our left the Molera ranch buildings are nearly hidden below the road. This ranch dates back to 1834 when it was part of the 9,000 acre Rancho El Sur.
We leave the shady redwoods and come to a wide open beach and there a short distance on we see the Big Sur Lighthouse perched on top of the rocky mesa. It is 350 feet above the ocean. Build in 1899 and ever since its powerful million candle power light has been flashing its beam every 15 seconds nightly.
We round Hurricane Point and cross the little Sur river. We look eastward toward Pico Blanco (White Peak) 3,710 feet above us. The Little Sur, like San Corpojo, wells up behind a great rock and sinks in the sand. This is a lovely wide beach, but I’ve never seen anyone on it. Here also cattle graze along the river.
Now you will see Bixby Creek bridge, the highest single span concrete arch bridge in the world. An airplane has been known to fly under it. It was from this bridge the sea otter, thought to be extinct, was discovered in 1938. (Robinson Jeffers, in his poem about Big Sur, called this stream Mill Creek.)
We soon reach Palo Colorado Canyon. This canyon extends inland several miles where summer cabins are built. Here also is the Boy Scout Headquarters of which Paul Harlan is in charge.
Near the highway stands the old Swetna house, a three story log house home of Mrs. Electa Grimes. In his poem “The Women of Point Sur” Jeffers refers to this house with these lines.
“He came to the gaunt farm house that stood
High above gab-roofed barns and broken wagons;
They had told him he might be given lodging at Morheads,
High cube shaped house redwood logs squared and jointed,
Blackened with ancient weathers, chinked with white plaster,
Striped like a zebra with white plaster and the porch
Rotting under its rose-vine.”
That was many years ago. The log house will no doubt stand many more.
At the mouth of the Polo Colorado Creek is Notleys Landing where tan bark was shipped in early days. The country is less mountainous from here on and Rocky Point Lodge is on the edge of a cliff below the road.
We come to Garipata Creek (Tick Creek) where Weston Trout Farm is located on past Granite Canyon bridge where the ocean surf pounds underneath and on to Mal Paso Creek, named because of the bad crossing before the bridge was built.
We pass Yankee Point called the Carmel Riviera and cross Wildcat Creek bridge. The next point of interest is Highlands Inn overlooking Point Lobos (wolves) and China Cove. At Point Lobos State park can be seen the gnarled windblown cypress often seen on post cards. Here are facilities for picnicking.
We drive on to San Jose Creek.
Mabel Sans Plaskett was born in Coralitas near Ben Lomond in the Santa Cruz Mountain area of California. Her father Edward Robert Sans ran a saw mill near Pacific Valley, along the Nacimiento – Ferguson road to the coast at Highway One. It was there she met Edward Abbott Plaskett, her husband. Mabel wrote about the coast and the pioneers of the 19th and 20th Centuries.