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Big Sur Isolated
Damaged Road, Big Sur, photo by Vern Fisher, Monterey County Herald

If you live on California's Monterey Peninsula, Big Sur to the south (``Big South'') is like an exotic cousin or friend who is  slightly different than you and me.

That's probably why it has a literary record of attracting the offbeat and different, say Jack Kerouac (``Big Sur'') and Henry Miller (``Tropics of . . . ''), or mainstreamers trying to be exotic and different (``Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice'').

When we first arrived on the Peninsula, oh, many decades ago, Nancy and I and the kids made many trips to Big Sur. Jade Cove was a favorite for obvious reasons – that you could sometimes find pieces of jade on the beach as though they were Easter eggs.

As a journalist I did numerous Big Sur stories, including pieces on loners and runaways, and was once nearly tossed from a cliff for my efforts.

Sometimes I saw Morley Baer or Henry Gilpin – a sheriff's deputy who, inspired by his coast patrolling treks, eventually turned in his revolver for a camera – setting up and taking photographs which often became famous.

But as the years pass, one forgets the beauty and adventure nearby, until one is cut off from it, and that's again the case with Big Sur.

Several days ago  a section of Highway 1 was wiped out by the rain, slid right over the edge. It's fortunate no one was driving on the section when it gave way, just north of Bixby Creek Bridge.

In 2008 fires shut down Big Sur, put a terrible crimp in its economy, and now it has happened again. People can still approach from the south, from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and San Simeon, but from the north the only way in is down 101 to King City then over a mountainous road.

For decades Big Sur was more inaccessible than just about any place you could name in the state. Lillian Bos Ross, in her novel ``The Stranger'' (later the film ``Zandy's Bride''), wrote of how Zandy had to trek up from Big Sur to Monterey along the sides of Big Sur's precipitous mountains, populated with Girzzly bears and mountain lions, to buy supplies and, on one nervous trip, to meet his mail order bride.

But  after 18 years of highway building – a young John Steinbeck worked on one of the highway crews over a summer – Highway 1 opened in 1937. It's one of the most beautiful stretches in the world. It's also dangerous. Beware the driver taken by the view.

Going south won't be a consideration for at least a month. It's going to take engineers of extreme talent to figure out how to put that mountainside back together and repave the road. It's dangerous work, too. Some years back, also during road repair, a man on a bulldozer plunged to his death. I saw him, on that bulldozer, just hours before the accident, a man, the father of two children, doing his job.

I recently read in the Monterey County Herald that the Henry Miller Library is trying to raise funds to build a stage for readings and performances, and I hope this road washout will not hurt that project, which is so in the Big Sur spirit. And of course I'm now wishing I could revisit Big Sur, but of course I can't. Perhaps sometime in April.






4 Comment count
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Hi Steve

Marvellous how a place becomes History!

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Hammoudi, hello.

A woman who has lived in Big Sur all her life once told me it definitely isn't for everyone. That the people who make it home have to be people who don't need a lot of people around them. Many who go there leave pretty quickly, others find it perfect. In any case, beautiful places can be lonely places.

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So if I understand well,Big Sur is a place for meditation.It suits thinkers,artists,writers and so on.
Here is an ad for Big Sur from me:

" If you want to"find yourself",go to Big Sur.

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Well, not quite, Hammoudi

It works for writers and thinkers IF they prefer solitude. Not all do. If I'm not mistaken, even Henry Miller moved on to a more populated part of California in his final years. I do think you'd find out something about yourself if you spent some time in Big Sur.