View inland (east) from Route 1
Big Sur is a section of the California coast, typically considered to run from Carmel-by-the-Sea in the north to San Luis Obispo, or more precisely to the Hearst Castle at San Simeon in the south. It is characterized by the collision of coastal mountain ranges, locally named the Santa Lucia Range, with the Pacific Ocean. Throughout much of Big Sur, this produces dramatic sea cliffs and undersea kelp forests. The mountains trap most of the moisture out of the clouds, often in the form of morning fogs, creating a favorable environment for forests, including the southernmost habitat of the famous coast redwood. Farther inland, in the rain shadow, the forests disappear and the vegetation becomes more like the familiar fire-tolerant California chaparral scrub.
History of Big Sur
The now extinct Esselen group of Native Americans lived in Big Sur prior to the Europeans. The first Europeans to see Big Sur were the Spanish conquistadores, who called it el Sur Grande, or the Big South.
The region lay south of the mission at Carmel and north of the rancho at san simeon, part of Mission San Miguel Arcángel. The El Sur grant was made in 1834 by Governor José Figueroa to Juan Bautista Alvardo, but it was managed and then assumed by Alvardo's uncle, Captain J.B.R. Cooper, who ran cattle and bred mules from his herd of horses. Two other large Spanish land grants were never locally settled, and there were no missions between Carmel and San Simeon. Under American rule, a brief spate of lumbering took out most of the coast redwoods, providing temporary timberworkers more jobs ca 1900 than supports the population today. The rugged terrain kept other settlers out, except for a few ranchers. Big Sur remains sparsely populated today, over six decades after the Pacific Coast Highway was put through (1937) with the use of New Deal funds and convict road gangs. Electricity arrived in the early 1950s. The only two towns in Big Sur, excepting the relatively flat southern reaches, are Big Sur and Lucia . Most of the land along the coast is privately owned, but the vast Los Padres National Forest encompasses the inland portions, and there is a number of small state parks. The area is still quite inaccessible compared to many of California's other natural tourist attractions, but it has a low capacity for visitors and becomes very crowded during major vacation periods.
Big Sur has attracted and inspired a number of writers and artists, most notably Henry Miller, Robinson Jeffers, Edward Weston, and Jack Kerouac, who actually wrote a book called "Big Sur". It is also home to the legendary Esalen Institute, a workshop and retreat center devoted to the exploration of what Aldous Huxley called the "human potential".
Tourism and the Big Sur
View southwards along Route 1
California State Route 1 winds along the steep coastal mountain sides within sight of the Pacific Ocean of the Big Sur region, running south from San Francisco towards Los Angeles. The highway has never competed with faster routes further inland, but this largely two lane highway provides an excellent way for tourists and sightseers to visit and view the amazing landscapes of the Big Sur.
List of state parks in Big Sur (north to south)
- Big Sur, Jack Kerouac, Penguin Books, Reprint edition (June 1, 1992), 256 pages, ISBN 0140168125
- Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, Henry Miller, New Directions Publishing Corp (June 1, 1957), 404 pages, ISBN 0811201074