Big Sur is a 90-mile rugged coastline between Camel and San Simeon on Route 1 in central California. It winds through the Santa Lucia Range with spectacular seascape. Driving across the high flying single arched Bixby Creek Bridge was the first highlight of the trip. Then Route 1 crosses Little Sur River. After that, the road descended into a low land. In the misty distance was the Point Sur Light Station perching on a big volcanic cone. The sight of cows on a cattle ranch by the sea was a change of scenery.
Just one mile south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, there is the secluded Pfeiffer Beach. Getting there was not easy though. There was no sign for Sycamore Canyon Road to the beach. We were told the parking lot was full the first day. The next day, we tried it again at dusk. It was a two-mile one lane bumpy road. Thankfully, there was little traffic at dusk. Surprisingly, a few people live here. The road dipped and was flooded with one foot of water right by the entrance to the beach. There were only 60 parking spots in the park. Luckily, we were able to get in.
Large cypress trees and beautiful flowers grow on the sandy soil on the way to the beach. A short walk took us to the secret Pfeiffer Beach. Huge rocks in the water blocked the view of the Pacific Ocean. But water poured to the beach through arched holes and gaps in the rocks. Seeing several photographers with cameras on tripods, we knew where the Keyhole Arch was. The sunset through the Keyhole Arch is supposed to be a brilliant light show. But we were told that setting sun in line with the keyhole arch only happens in January. Sea water rushed into the arch, bumped inside the arch and built up the height of the wave, then gushed out with roaring sound and crashed to the beach. It was magnificent! Kids ran barefoot on the beach. Areas of purple sand on the beach added more charm to it. The purple sand came from eroded manganese garnet from the hills nearby. Gazing at the ebb and flow of the ocean waves, listening to its roaring sound, I waited for the sunset. The setting sun cast the last light to the side of the Keyhole Rock. And I was happy to get my photos of the Keyhole Arch in the sunset.
Early in the morning, we left Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Campground heading south on Route 1. Fog enveloped the forest and the road. Route 1 threaded through the Santa Lucia Range along the edges of high cliffs. Visibility was low and the ocean below was invisible in the mist and fog. Julia Pfeiffer Burns Park was closed. So we couldn’t see McWay Falls. After two days camping in the wooded Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Campground, the battery of the solar panel of our trailer was drained down to negative 40%. And we were desperately in need of sun to charge up the battery. But we couldn’t drive out of the fog. Sections of Big Sur coastal highway had fallen rocks piled up by the roadside. Road work was underway. Last year, Route 1 was closed due to landslide. Some nettings covered the hillside as a measure of landslide control. Half way through Big Sur, we didn’t stop at the Plaskett Creek Campground which we reserved for the night, and kept going hoping to catch some sun. But the fog followed us all the way to Ragged Point near San Simeon. We have driven through the difficult sections of Big Sur, and now Route 1 stretched lazily on the low land along the coast.
The parking lot at Elephant Seal view point seemed to be crowded. We saw many elephant seals on the beach right from the moving vehicle. Then we stopped at the next vista point and made a reservation at Silver City Resort for the night. Right before we left, I suddenly saw a majestic bald eagle perching on top of a tree on the parking lot! OMG! I quickly grabbed my camera and took a photo. That was the closest encounter with a wild bald eagle I ever had. Close to San Simeon, herds of cattle were grazing among blooming lupines on the lush green rolling hills. Those were the cattle on Hearst Ranch.
We got full hookup at Silver City Resort and charged up the battery of the solar panel for the trailer. The next day we moved to our reserved site at San Simeon State Park Campground. Then we went to see the elephant seals at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. It was an awesome scene! Thousands of elephant seals were lying on the beach cuddling together, sleeping, flipping sand, and sparring. Most of them were molting which is a process to shed old brown colored fur. The peeling furs on the elephant seals looked painful. When the new gray colored fur grows, the elephant seal is ready to return to the sea.
It was a rare opportunity to see these marine mammals on the beach. The elephant seals on the beach were females and juvenile males at this time of the year. Females grow up to 1,800 pounds and 12 feet long. They spend three months at the rookery nursing, breeding and molting, then they spend the rest of the year at the dangerous sea before touching the land again. Males come to the rookery twice a year for mating (Late November through February) and molting (August and September). They are solitary animals in the sea, but they become social on the shore.
They were resting side by side, head to head, head to hind-flippers…They fast on the shore, so most of them were asleep. Except some juvenile males broke the peace sparing and barking. The sleepy elephant seals belched and snorted once in a while. Others were scratching their furs, flipping sand to cover their body, changing their positions, or disputing with their neighbors. A few elephant seals were in the water by the shore learning diving. Some elephant seals emerged from the water clawing on the sandy beach. Although they looked clumsy on the land, they are agile in the sea. They could dive to a record 5,788 feet (1,764 m) over two hours. Their huge eyes can see well in low lighting. A voluntary guide told us that the scars on their bellies were bitten by cookie cutter sharks. The life in the sea is dangerous. One in three male elephant seals is lost every year because they venture to more dangerous areas. It would be nice to see the big boys which grow up to 5,000 pounds and 16 feet long. The population of elephant seals were reduced to 50 because of the demand for the oil from their blubber. Now their population has grown to over 250,000 under protection.
The Hearst Castle sits high up on top of the hills near San Simeon. A 15-minute bus drive took us to this landmark. The majestic castle looked mysterious in the fog. Taking the steps up, we saw the grand Neptune Pool. It was surrounded with pavilions, marble sculptures, and fountains. Roses, azaleas, rhododendrons were in full bloom in the immaculate garden. Marble sculptures of figures were tastefully placed around the estate. The style of the castle was inspired by a church in southern Spain, and with the flavor of Revival and Mediterranean style. Different tours were available. We took the cottages and kitchen tour. The cottages were elaborately decorated and furnished with antiques and arts. I could only imagine the grandure and luxury the rooms are inside Casa Grande. The kitchen has a huge pantry. And the wine cellar was filled with imported vintage wine. Roman Pool had mosaic tiles from floor to ceiling, and was decorated with sculptures of Roman gods and goddesses. The castle was a dream for William Randolph Hearst, a publishing tycoon. And it was a collaborate product between Hearst and his architect Julia Morgan, 28 years in the making.
Big Sur is truly remarkable with beautiful seascape, plenty marine wildlife, and grand landmarks. We made great memories visiting Big Sur.