Hiking & Backpacking Big Sur

By Analise Elliot
  |  Gorp.com

Excerpted from Hiking & Backpacking Big Sur by Analise Elliot

Big Sur
. The name evokes images of a wild and rugged coast. Today, most visitors recount the drama of twisting two-lane Highway 1 darting in and out of blankets of fog as it winds hundreds of feet above cliffs plunging to the sea. Even today, with the completion of this precarious paved highway, clearly only a certain kind of adventurous spirit is drawn to experience its primal forces of nature and raw beauty.

But just where Big Sur begins and ends has long been a matter of debate. In 1769, early Spanish explorers claimed the vague unexplored wilderness south of Monterey El Pais Grande del Sur ("The Big Country to the South"), but few were able to traverse its bold inhospitable topography. Although Native Americans inhabited the coastal lands while harvesting from the continent's edge rich plant and animal life, most tribes lived in the broad fertile Salinas Valley and Monterey Bay and rarely traversed the high mountain passes and sheer ravines of the Santa Lucia Mountains into the heart of Big Sur. Today, the region known as "Big Sur" encompasses a 90-mile coastal stretch between Carmel to the north and San Simeon to the south, flanked on one side by the high peaks of the Santa Lucia Range and on the other by the jagged coast and vast Pacific Ocean.

During the mid 1800s, as settlers continued to move west, a handful of independent and adventurous homesteaders, fur traders, ranchers, and entrepreneurs settled the area. The coastline was always considered treacherous and the trails and wagon roads were often steep, narrow, and prone to washouts. It was not until 1937 when Highway 1 was finally completed did Big Sur become well known, enabling anyone willing to take a scenic drive to experience the grandeur of Big Sur. As William Randolph Hearst constructed his fanciful castle, settlers found tourism profitable and built rustic lodges to open their doors to visitors.

Gradually the area developed, but it was not until the 1960s that Big Sur gained its reputation as a world-class tourist destination. The small enclaves of writers, artists, musicians, and self-sufficient independent spirits searching for an alternative lifestyle and spiritual growth found their way to Big Sur.

While Big Sur is widely renowned for its exceptional beauty, few people venture beyond Highway 1. In addition, few roads cross the Santa Lucia Range, making it one of the largest roadless wilderness areas along the continental U.S. coast. The result? A vast, remote wilderness waits to be explored.

Article © Analise Elliot. All rights reserved.

Published: 22 Feb 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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