Friday, August 24, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Big Sur, California

I grew up in the suburbs of northern Virginia, not far from Washington D.C.  It's a manicured land of planned communities and carefully tended lawns and sedate bike paths - about as far from wilderness as you can get.   More, my parents weren't at all interested in venturing away from the comforts of air conditioning and iced drinks.  (This is somewhat understandable.  Virginia in the summer is muggy, hot, and crawling with gnats, chiggers, ticks, mosquitoes, etc.)  I didn't see my first real mountain until my senior year of high school, when I first set my eyes on the San Gabriels looming over Los Angeles.  (At which point I silently vowed I'd never live in the east again, if I could help it - a vow I've kept, from the day I started college at Caltech.)

But we did spend many a family vacation at the beach.  And oh, how I loved the ocean!  It was the tame, gentle Atlantic of the southeastern seaboard, the water more grey than blue, the waves small enough for the youngest of kids to enjoy.  But it doesn't matter how many sunbathers are crowded on the sand, you can't look at the expanse of the sea and not feel it as an alien, wild realm. A place we can visit and explore, but never fully know, or belong in.

One week a year, that's all I got to see the ocean as a kid - but that was enough to plant in me a lifelong love of the world's wild places.  I spent my childhood certain I would be a marine biologist, or perhaps an oceanographer...and of *course* I would live near the sea.  Yet here I am, in landlocked Colorado - an outcome I don't regret, because my goals changed once I saw real mountains. Yet even so, I still miss the sea. My Australian husband misses it too - so every now and then, we make a pilgrimage to the ocean.  Preferably to the gloriously beautiful beaches of Australia, but sometimes to spots closer to home.  Like Big Sur in California, where waves pound a craggy coastline that holds countless coves begging to be explored.  (Just watch out for the poison oak growing all over the top of the cliffs.)  So for today's adventure post, here's a few pics from a trip my husband and I did to Big Sur a few years back:

Big Sur coastline near Carmel, California.  Beautiful views, and lots of fun rock scrambling!
Waterfall in McWay Cove, in Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park.  Visitors aren't allowed to go down on the beach, more's the pity, but there are many lovely overlooks.
Kelp swirling in the current. When I lived in California, scuba diving in kelp forests was one of my favorite activities.  Underwater, the massive kelp stalks are like redwood trees, and navigating through them you really feel the freedom of 3-dimensional movement; it's the closest I've come to flying.  

Hiking on a rocky beach. The nice part is, most tourists stick to the road high above, and don't bother scrambling along the coastline.  So despite the popularity of the area, you often get plenty of solitude with a little effort.


  1. Hi Courtney,

    I only got one chance to see that portion of the California Coastline, driving along PCH. This was long before my photographic days, much to my chagrin--for social and personal reasons even more than the loss of pictures of scenery.

    Thank you for the pictures.

    1. Hope you get to see it again, Paul, in happier times! And with a lovely new camera firmly in hand.