Sunday, November 9, 2014

#646 Big Sur, California, USA

Number one on roads to see before you die, I can agree that it is a spectacular drive! This "most adored" of California's highways, took 18 years to build (as part of the Depression Era's New Deal), and most of its residents didn't get electricity until the 1950s. The Spanish bypassed it for being too rugged (they called it "el pais grande del sur" or the big country of the south, and until the road was built in the 1930s, it was one of the most remote parts of California. Aside for the famed 85km stretch of winding Highway 1 - which is NOT a freeway so take time -- there's a castle, sea lions, birds, redwood forests and many beautiful beaches and trails to see and walk.
From the Monterey Peninsula and Carmel in the north to San Simeon in San Luis Obispo County in the south, the road follows the Santa Lucia Mountains as they rise sharply from the sea (Big Sur's Cone Peak is the largest coastal mountain in the contiguous United States at 1571m).
Hearst Castle
The history of the area starts with the Native American Ohlone, Esselen and Salinan tribes, who left few artifacts aside from obsidian and flint arrowheads. The Spaniards sailed past in 1542, but chose to settle further inland where several Catholic Missions can be found. It was part of Mexico after their independence from Spain in 1821, but was ceded to the United States after the Mexican-American War in 1848. The 1862 Homestead Act brought hardy settlers who were granted plots of 160 acres, and many of the region's names date from this era and these families. The Gold Rush era saw the cutting down of many redwoods and the establishment of various landings and camps (as there were no reliable roads), but most of these have disappeared today. In 1894 the SS Los Angeles ran aground near Point Sur light station, but its inaccessibility encouraged politicians to propose a road.
The road was approved in 1919 and construction began with convict labor from San Quentin Prison. The route included 33 bridges (Bixby Bridge is the largest) which became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Originally Route 56 when it was finished in 1937, it was re-designated Highway 1 in 1939.It was the first State Scenic Highway (in 1965) and also holds the title of All American Road. 
Relative isolation in the mid 20th Century brought artists and hippies, from Jack Kerouac to Henry Miller and Hunter S Thompson. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton also filmed The Sandpiper in the area, and bands from the Beach Boys to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers have eulogized the area in songs.
Los Padres National Forest is a unique ecosystem in the middle of the otherwise quite barren area.

The road is sometimes closed due to landslides and the seasonal California fog is a frequent visitor.

The most famous view of Big Sur is this view of Bixby Bridge, built in 1932.

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