Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hidden Monterey ~ Big Sur

When you say the words Big Sur people already know exactly what you mean. Instantly images of the stereotypical California Coastline spring into their heads. But even if you have traveled down the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway, or Highway 1) there are still some wonderful hidden gems to find along the way. My post today is really just the tip of the iceberg.

I was going to start out this post by telling you about Henry's BBQ. It was our hidden gem in Monterey for great BBQ. Sadly, it's not there anymore. The owner just moved up North and we are in deep mourning. I'll have to search for a new place and share when I find it. For now we'll just hit the coast.
 One of the first pull outs you will come to is after you pass the Carmel turn offs.  It's a lovely overlook with a really big pull out so it's very popular.
Sometimes the kelp forests in this cove are enormous! Sea otters will wind themselves up in this kelp which, like a tree, extends all the way down to the sea bed, and use it like an anchor and a blanket and drift off to sleep knowing that they won't drift off to sea as well.
You will see many pull offs on your way down the coast. Don't just pull off on the "popular" ones. Instead aim for the ones that there isn't anyone parked there yet. Lovely views await!
 You may want to click on the small photo above to see the larger image. This is the famous Bixby Bridge. You have probably seen the photos of it on nearly every piece of advertising that depicts Big Sur. But the view from this vantage, taken from a pull out about a mile from the traditional "popular" pull out includes the grassland, including cows, and a sea arch as well as the famous bridge!
It was very cool to make this discovery...the baby cows were just a bonus!
 Of course we did stop at the popular pull out and see the gorgeous view. And the bridge, constructed in the 1930's, is gorgeous due to it's design and the overlook. Before it's construction residents were often totally cut off from the city in the winter when Bixby Creek rises and made the two lane road impassible.  
A word about photographing the gorgeous scenery along this, or any, coastal highway. There are cliff edges and you will often see people too close to that edge trying to get a good look. And it can get very crowded. Please stay 6 feet back from the edge. Do not go any closer than you are tall. The edges of these cliff faces have been known to crumble. The photos are not worth it and every so often we hear news stories about those who have fallen to their deaths from these cliffs. And the views are just as lovely from the safer vantage.
BUT...don't forget to turn around and look behind you! This sea arch is at the very same lookout as Bixby Bridge but I was the only photographer I saw who actually photographed it! Everyone gets so focused on what is in front of them that they forget to look back.
And speaking of looking back. About a mile past Bixby Bridge is another lookout. This one is designed to allow you to look back on the bridge as well as the gorgeous coastline to the North.
And now we get to the really fun part of today's blog. Our hidden treasure! Pfeiffer Beach, not to be confused with Pfeiffer State Beach, is definitely a hidden treasure...and about as hard to find as hidden treasure too! Drive through the little pull off of Big Sur (there's a couple of general stores and a restaurant) and past the sign for Pfeiffer State Beach and start looking for mile marker 45. Take the first right after that at 45.6. There is NO SIGN. No indicator at all that there is beach access there. It's a very sharp right that takes you down a narrow road and you won't come to a sign for a couple of "blocks" or so. Just keep following it. Yes, it looks like you are lost. Yes, you will feel lost. Keep going.
 But eventually you will come to a Ranger's hut. It does cost $10 to park but it's SO worth it. There are only about 60 parking spaces here so the beach is never crowded. Go early in the day for the best light or late on a weekday to catch the sunset. If you try to go later in the day Friday to Sunday you will find that there are no parking spaces. 

 There are very nice chemical toilets in the parking lot with very large rooms. Plenty of space to change clothing if needed but it IS a toilet so the smell isn't all that great. After changing you will take a very short little stroll right out onto the beach. The sand is soft so I wouldn't call it "accessible" but for those who are not able to climb dunes but  are able to walk the beach then this is an easy access.
There are 3 sea arches there! We did go in the middle of the day when the sun was particularly brutal so I wasn't thrilled by the vantage I got but it really is beautiful there. A note of caution. We saw many kids playing in and out of the sea arches at low tide. This is very dangerous. It is very easy to get swept out to sea. Have your kids in life jackets and be aware of your own safety if you don't swim well. And by swim well I mean competitively.
The real treasure here is purple sand. Yes, that's PURPLE SAND!  The reason it's purple (and you can see some green too) is the manganese garnet and tourmaline that rinse down from the hills with the rain and that creates the colored sand. 

In many of the areas you will just see beige sand but if you look as you step you will see the purple in your footprint. Down near the water line, where the hard pack sand is, you will see the tree like rivulets of purple.
The purple color even leeches into the coral along the shoreline. Normally these mussels would have white coral growing from them but due to the manganese garnet the color ends up purple.
The beach is really lovely. Perfect for a picnic, building sand castles and flying kites. There are actually two crescents, one as you enter the area and one to the right of the last sea arch. Your $10 parking fee helps keep these beaches clean and lovely.

But it's the sand that will keep you riveted. I explored the entire area and marveled over the fact that I could see so much purple when we are in our 3rd year of drought. I can just imagine how gorgeous it is when we are having a rainy season! With the promise of an El Nino year this winter I am hopeful that we will have lots of rain and next Spring I will be able to visit this beach again and see what the rains have washed down!

Next week we'll go off the "beaten" track so you can see some of the better known, and lesser known, views of the Monterey Bay area. This will include Pebble Beach so I hope you can join us! As always, you can find me every day on Instagram. Either find me online by going to Shutterbug Traveler or follow shutterbugtraveler on the Instagram app on your phone!


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