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Pfeiffer Big Sur

Started: 2018-08-02 20:21:02

Submitted: 2018-08-02 23:50:09

Visibility: World-readable

18th June 2018: In which the intrepid narrator explores the redwoods of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Monday, the 18th of June began at the Big Sur Lodge, nestled in the redwood trees of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

We met up with our former au pair Echo, who had driven up from Southern California to meet us (and had stayed the night in Monterey), and drove further into the state park. The large paved parking lots were not being used to their full potential on a Monday morning in the middle of June, but I could see how the park would draw more traffic on a weekend afternoon during the height of the summer.

We walked around the valley floor, over and around the Big Sur River, and partway up a trail leading up the side of the valley, before turning around to descend to the Ernst Ewoldsen Nature Center. The small nature center opened up as we stood around outside, and we stepped inside to look at the exhibits, targeting our children and trying to expose them to the wildlife in Big Sur. (One of the exhibits was supposed to be an interactive where one flies like a condor, using a Kinect camera system as its input; but the nature center staff were not able to get it to work.) I looked through a photo album showing the reconstruction of the park after wildfires in 2008, which explained why all of the park's facilities looked new. (The photo albums did not discuss the floods and mudslides in 2016, which the park was still recovering from.)

Redwood tree in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Redwood tree in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

We resumed our circuit of the valley floor and walked through the redwood grove, enjoying the towering trees in our own ways.

Kiesa and Julian hug a tree
Kiesa and Julian hug a tree

We drove to the other end of the valley and looked at the Colonial Tree, the largest redwood tree in the park (which proved too big for me to photograph at once).

Base of the Colonial Tree in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Base of the Colonial Tree in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Colonial Tree in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Colonial Tree in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

We walked to a cabin where one of the Pfeiffers lived, in a grove of oak trees over tall dry grass that looked just like inland California, then looped around to the valley floor, past lizards darting under rocks and behind the scrub as we walked past. Every time I heard noise I'd look and catch a fleeting glimpse of a lizard as it hid. Julian was interested in seeing the lizards but had trouble seeing them in time.

Oak-lined trail in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Oak-lined trail in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Calvin, Julian, and Echo played hide-and-seek on the valley floor, then we ate lunch on a picnic table shaded by towering oak trees.

Calvin, Echo, Kiesa, and Julian walk in Big Sur
Calvin, Echo, Kiesa, and Julian walk in Big Sur

Echo left to drive back home to Southern California. We headed to Pfeiffer Beach because it had been almost twenty-four hours since we had last visited a beach. We drove south on California state highway 1, over the rebuilt Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge (which had been destroyed in floods two years ago, then rebuilt and reopened, in an impressive feat of civil engineering by pushing the precast concrete span across the void, then lowering it into place on its support piers), and onto the road leading south along the coast. Here the narrow highway clung to the hillside, hundreds of feet above the waves crashing on the rocks. I tried not to think about how far down the water was.

After driving for fifteen minutes I began to wonder whether I had missed the turn to the beach. I stopped at the next overlook and consulted my maps (hampered somewhat by the fact that I had no cell coverage and I had neglected to download offline maps before departing; though I did have paper maps to tell me where I ought to go) and discovered that I had in fact missed the turn, shortly before the bridge. I turned around, and found the turn, which was entirely unmarked (except for being in the right place).

I drove down the narrow, winding road towards the beach (and couldn't help but notice that the pullouts seemed to be on the wrong side of the road: I ought to be yielding to uphill traffic on the one-lane sections of the road, but the pullouts were set up so the uphill traffic could use them). At the bottom of the road I found a modest parking lot with enough space to park (plus an entrance fee). We walked the last hundred meters down the trail to the beach.

Julian with the Pfeiffer Beach sign
Julian with the Pfeiffer Beach sign

The beach was perfect: a hundred meters of soft sand nestled between cliffs, in front of a gentle hillside approaching the water, with cobalt blue water breaking on perfectly-positioned rocks into white waves, all under perfectly clear skies.

Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer Beach

Calvin and Julian started playing in the conveniently-placed lagoon, under Kiesa's watchful eye. I kept walking on the beach, turning a corner to find more beach, strewn with kelp from the offshore forests. The entire experience was a perfect central California coast beach experience, and I tried to absorb as much as I could so I could take it with me wherever I went.

Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer Beach

I returned to the lagoon and found Calvin and Julian swimming in the calm water, fed by a creek and protected from the ocean. I dug a series of canals in the sand next to the lagoon, then turned my attention to the small creek that drained the lagoon. I dug a new canal to drain the lagoon, then diverted all of the water leaving the lagoon into the new canal, and began filling in the waterlogged land behind the dam.

(After Calvin had been in the water for an hour we discovered that his iPod had been in his pocket the entire time. It did not survive the experience, which we hoped might become an object lesson in checking one's pockets before getting into the water. Though it didn't help that we had neglected to bring swimwear to the beach on the theory that the ocean on central California beaches was not appropriate for swimming.)

Julian and Calvin swim in the lagoon at Pfeiffer Beach
Julian and Calvin swim in the lagoon at Pfeiffer Beach

We finished our time at the beach by mid-afternoon, leaving the rest of the day unscheduled. We drove north along the coast to Monterey, where Kiesa bought clothing for our children that we'd forgotten in our packing for the trip, distracted by our looming move. I took Calvin and got a snack at Starbucks (and downloaded offline maps on my phone so I had a better chance of navigating while away from the cell network). We returned to cell coverage and civilization to see that the political news cycle had unleashed some fresh new hell (though I confess that, at the time I sit down to write this post, I've forgotten precisely what led me to believe that our handbasket to hell had accelerated).

We ate supper at El Cantaro, a vegan Mexican restaurant, in Monterey, which turned out to be quite good (though our children did not seem enthralled by their burritos) before driving back to Big Sur for one more night.

For more photos from our day at Big Sur, see Photos on 2018-06-18.

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