Big Sur Trip, Part 2

After backpacking to Sykes Hot Springs my sis and I spent several days exploring the Big Sur area.


We were pretty tired and sore from backpacking so we decided to take it easy on Friday. As it turned out we didn’t have much choice about taking it easy because it started pouring down rain Thursday night. It rained so hard that mud was splattered up the sides of the tent.

Fortunately by the time we woke up the rain had mostly abated, but we still ate our breakfast under two sheltering redwoods at our campsite to avoid the mist/drizzle.

Taking advantage of the break from the downpour we headed down to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, about 30 minutes south. We headed to the viewpoint for McWay Falls, a nice waterfall that drops right down onto a beach.

Until 1983 that waterfall dropped straight into the ocean. But an ENORMOUS landslide that year sent so much debris into the ocean that much of it washed up in this cove and created a beach.

Even now, more than 30 years later, you can still see the scar of that landslide just north of the waterfall viewpoint.

Just a short drive north of there is the trail down to Partington Cove, a nice little beach. We sat there for awhile watching the waves.

A side trail crosses Partington Creek and leads to Partington Landing via a tunnel. The hand-split redwood tunnel was built in the 1870s by John Partington, who harvested the bark of the tanbark oak, transported it down the canyon and through the tunnel by mule, then loaded it onto ships in the cove. Legend says that the cove was also used to smuggle booze during Prohibition.

It started raining pretty hard on our hike back up to the road. It wasn’t far to go, but we tried to wait out the rain under some trees. The rain didn’t let up, so we hurried up the trail as fast as we could. We still got soaked.

Rather than return to our soggy campsite we hung out with our expensive tea at the Big Sur Lodge near our campground. For months I’ve been hearing about the drought in California and here it was pouring down rain as if we were back in the Pacific Northwest.

Eventually we returned to our campsite and our sad soggy chairs.

In the late afternoon the rain let up for awhile and we wandered around the park exploring.

Although there was more rain the forecast the skies seemed to be clearing a big around sunset so we headed down to Pfeiffer Beach to check it out. We arrived just in the nick of time before the sun disappeared behind a whole bunch of clouds.

More rain headed our way.

That night it poured again. This is the sound of a tent getting muddy and filthy:


On Saturday we headed up to Andrew Molera State Park. Right away we had to cross the Big Sur River, which has no bridge, but is easy to wade. (Our guidebook said there was a seasonal bridge here, but we saw no evidence to support that. Someone we talked to at the crossing said he had been there several times before and had never seen a bridge. Just one of many errors we found in that book, which was supposedly updated last year.)

The first part of the hike took us through Creamery Meadow, a former pasture for cows that produced Monterey Jack cheese.

Then our route turned south to follow the Bluff Trail above the ocean. The beach at upper right is where the Big Sur River flows into the ocean.

The ocean views were really lovely.

The landscape is so different from the beaches at home. There are almost no trees here.

After 2.8 miles we took a short side trail down to a little secluded beach. An astonishing amount of driftwood has piled up here!

We sat on this oh-so-lovely beach for awhile, enjoying the gorgeous sunshine, crashing waves, and passing pelicans. (The reddish purple areas on the sand, by the way, are from a rare mineral called almandite.)

We continued on our way, starting to climb up higher. We could see down on our little beach.

The higher we hike, the better the views became (and the windier it got!)

A VERY windy spot on the way up.

The sideways hair doesn’t even begin to convey how windy it was.

We were now at the southern border of the park and just beyond was private property were multi-million dollar homes sit high above the ocean.

Now our route turned north again on the Ridge Trail, which is an old fire road. Up here there were some trees.

Then the landscape opened up again and we were treated to views of the mountains due east of us.

Way down in that canyon is the Big Sur River.

To the west was the BLUE BLUE ocean. So beautiful!

Once we were down off the bluffs we took a side trip to Molera Beach. It’s a little hard to tell from this picture, but the placid Big Sur River is flowing into the ocean at far right.

Back through Creamery Meadow towards the car.

We took a moment to check out the walk-in campground here. It’s pretty nice, if you don’t mind the 0.3mi walk from your car.

We chowed down on dinner….

….then rushed down to Pfeiffer Beach for the sunset. Lovely!


On our last full day in Big Sur we returned to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to hike the Ewoldsen Trail. The first part of the hike follows McWay Creek (which splashes down onto the beach in a waterfall just a short ways downstream). It’s absolutely lovely here with the redwood canopy above!

When we got to the loop junction we were surprised to discover that half of the loop was closed. There had been no signs about this at the trailhead.

So we crossed a new-looking footbridge and did the other half of the loop.

Looking out onto that stunningly blue ocean.

We hiked right over the top of the 1983 landslide that we had seen two days earlier from a different vantage point.

The day wasn’t as clear as Saturday and we found ourselves hiking up into the clouds.

We passed through open areas and forests of oak and redwood.


Of course the park ranger had to count the tree rings. About 300 of them!

Whatever California State Parks is spending day use fee money on, it sure ain’t trail maintenance. I lost count of how many trees we climbed over/under.

The acorn woodpeckers have been busy stashing acorns in the trees here.

The other end of the trail closure.

Up on top at the end of the trail was a lovely viewpoint that we had all to ourselves. Unfortunately we were totally in the clouds at this point and there wasn’t much of a view.

BUT, that was okay because we got to see a condor! California condors are a threatened species due to habitat loss, lead poisoning (from eating animals that have been shot with lead bullets), and poaching. It doesn’t help that they only lay one egg a year. Various organizations raise condors in captivity and then release them. Big Sur is one of three release sites in California and condors are spotted frequently on this trail. It was exciting that we actually got to see one! (In November 2012 Oregon Field Guide did a segment on condors, which I highly recommend.

We hiked back down and started back towards the campground. But since the campground is in a dark forested canyon and we wanted to enjoy the sunshine a big longer, we stopped at Big Sur Coast Gallery Cafe, got lemonade and chips, and enjoyed the view.


Time to start driving home today, but before we did we stopped at Point Lobos State Reserve, just south of Carmel.

Sea lions like to hang out on the rocks offshore. We could hear their barking loud and clear, even over the crashing waves.

In one of the little coves we were treated to a view of two sets of harbor seal pup and parents bobbing in the waves!

There were park docents with tripod-mounted scopes and one of them was focused on some sea otters floating in the kelp beds offshore. It was the first time I had ever seen an otter in the wild. I couldn’t photograph, though the scope, obviously, but trust me when I say that it was very cool.

We checked out the cypress grove.

And got a nice view of Monterey Bay.

Then it was time to head home. I’m glad we visited this gorgeous part of California, and we had a great time!

Little Badger Creek

Yesterday Greg and I drove around to the east side of the mountains for some sun and wildflowers. We hiked the Little Badger Creek trail, which turned out to be a very pleasant hike.

Greg remembered his boots, but not his socks, so he hiked in his Tevas. Good thing this wasn’t a steep or rocky hike!

The forest is quite nice here and the undergrowth is still lush and green.

Funny little mushrooms.

Fairy slippers!

The trail goes right along the creek in spots, and what a delightful creek it is! I wished I had brought my tripod for some slow shutter creek shots.

At one point we were visited by a hummingbird who kept flitting about. Man those little guys move fast! I managed to get two halfway decent shots. These were zoomed in all the way on my camera, then cropped further on the computer.

Here is the shot Greg got; his lens zooms twice as far as mine.

More views of this lovely creek. This is the kind of creek that I could sit by and just go zen for a long time.

We encountered a fair amount of blowdown. This was one of the more tricky ones to get over. I don’t think this trail seems much use or maintenance. (And we only saw one other couple the entire hike, a rare thing in the Mt. Hood Forest.)

At one point the trail used to stay along the creek the whole way, which it crossed a bunch of times (topo maps still reflect this). But around the two-mile mark it’s been re-routed up the hill. The trail climbs up through the trees and passes through several meadowy areas.

We got glimpses of the surrounding hills, including a burn area. Anyone know what fire that was and when it happened?

The balsamroot and lupine were definitely past their peak, but there weren’t totally bedraggled yet. Things bloomed early this year.

We saw other wildflowers too, including silvercrown, currant, and some purple flower I don’t know.

This stretch was really pretty.

The trail descended back down to creek level and the old miner’s cabin. The cabin was built in the 1920s by Tom Kinzel, a prospector and trapper. Here is what the Kinzel cabin looked like in the 1970s:

Today it is just a jumble of logs.

We sat by the creek for awhile, eating snacks and enjoying the surroundings. Before we headed back we went down the trail a short ways to check out the old mining tunnel. Looks creepy and unstable so we didn’t go in.

Headed back, with a little bit of a view of dry Central Oregon.

Great hike for a partly cloudy day where views up higher would have been blocked. The only downside to this trail is that it’s a pretty long haul to the trailhead from Portland. In the spring, though, it’s actually a very pretty drive because the fields between The Dalles and Dufur are still very green and beautiful.

Big Sur Trip, Part 1

My sis and I recently took a 10-day trip down to Big Sur, a very scenic stretch of coastline south of Monterey, CA. We left town on April 20 after Easter dinner and drove as far as Ashland, then drove the rest of the way to Monterey on Monday. After an unexpected detour to Modesto Subaru because the Check Engine light came on, we set up camp at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Monterey Monday evening.

Monterey campsite

On Tuesday we visited the fabulous Monterey Bay Aquarium. When I visited a year and a half ago the otter exhibit was closed for renovations, so I was delighted to see the otters this time!

Sea otter

The jellyfish are utterly mesmerizing.

Jelly fish

Jelly fish

After visiting Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf we headed south on Highway 1. We stopped at one of the many pullouts to check out the VERY windy view north along the coastline. That’s Bixby Bridge in the distance.

Bixby Bridge

We set up camp at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which has a huge campground along the Big Sur River.


On Wednesday morning we broke came and prepared for our backpacking excursion into the Ventana Wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest. A little bit of history: The Los Padres National Forest gets its name from the Catholic priests who proselytized in the area during the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s one of those forests that comprises two unconnected areas. There is the smaller northern section in Big Sur and then the much larger section down by Santa Barbara. Our destination was Sykes Camp in the 234,000-acre Ventana Wilderness, which was established in 1969. Ventana is Spanish for “window” which refers to a unique notch on a ridge near Ventana Double Cone. Legend says that an arch once existed over the top of the notch creating a true window, but geologists have found no evidence to support that. (You can see a picture on the Wikipedia page.)

We set out from Big Sur Station along Highway 1 at 10:30am under sunny skies.

For the first few miles we could see across the river canyon to Manuel Peak and the trail that climbs it.

The Pine Ridge Trail does a lot of climbing in the first few miles. Along the whole length it continually passes in and out of different little zones, everything from cool redwood groves to open chaparral with sweeping views.

We saw lots and lots of lizards.

View into the Ventana Wilderness:

After an hour and 45 minutes and 2.3 miles we reached the wilderness boundary.

We saw and heard many acorn woodpeckers and saw their “granaries” in the trees. From Wikipedia: “The woodpeckers create granaries or “acorn trees” by drilling holes in dead trees, dead branches, telephone poles, and wooden buildings. The woodpeckers then collect acorns and find a hole that is just the right size for the acorn. As acorns dry out, they are moved to smaller holes and granary maintenance requires a significant amount of the bird’s time.” Fascinating!

At 2pm after hiking 5.3 miles we reached Terrace Creek Camp, an absolutely lovely spot with lots of big redwoods and a delightful gurgling creek (the first water we had seen thus far). It was so interesting to me to see these lush green forest groves (very reminiscent of what I see when I hike in the Cascades), and then to be hiking through drier open areas just minutes later.

After a long rest here we donned our packs and kept moving.

After a lot more up and down (this trail is the epitome of a roller coaster trail), we descended almost (but not quite) all the way to the Big Sur River where Barlow Flat Camp is located at the 6.7 mile mark. Then the trail climbed up, up, up out of the river canyon, topping out at 8.2 miles before descending all the way back down to the river and Sykes Camp. Sheesh, what were the trail surveyors thinking?

The last two miles downhill to Sykes Camp were tough. I was hurting by this point, being a little out of shape this early in the hiking season and feeling worn out from all the up and down we had done. To top it off there were many stretches of overgrown trail here. I cringed as I passed through these vegetation tunnels, thinking that I would be crawling with ticks by the time I finally got to camp (fortunately that proved not to be true; no ticks whatsoever).

Finally at 5:30pm we reached Sykes Camp. One last hurdle: cross the river. Fortunately we were able to rock-hop across.

We had deliberately timed our visit here to be midweek when we would encounter the least amount of people. Everything we read said that this place was super popular, with as many as 200 people camped there on busy weekends! ­čś» There were a few other tents there but we easily found a nice spot. Here’s a photo from the next morning:

After we put up the tent we quickly set about making dinner. We were HUNGRY!

After dinner we set out to find the hot springs. Unfortunately they are a half-mile hike away, downriver. We knew we had to cross the river several times so I wore my Crocs. The “trail” to the springs turned out to be a half-hour obstacle course of fallen trees, rocks, huge boulders, and river crossings, made all the more difficult by my flimsy footwear and the need to avoid the ubiquitous poison oak. Finally we started smelling sulfur. We made it! In the picture below you can see a teeny-tiny pool (no adult could submerge in that) and up ahead a rock-lined pool in the river, which was only lukewarm.

Above that river pool is a pool with much warmer water, but that one was full so we settled in at the upper pool, which we had all to ourselves for the 45 minutes we stayed. Here is a dark and grainy picture of that pool, which is about six or seven feet wide.

I didn’t get a picture of the lower pool because there were people, but there is a picture on this website.

The hot water felt good after the long hard hike, and we both could have stayed longer. But because of the three river crossings and the difficult trail back to camp we wanted to get that out of the way before it was completely dark. Even with our headlamps the way back was challenging since it was well past dusk.

In the morning before hiking out Deb wanted to go back to the hot springs. With a long hard 10-mile hike out that day, I wasn’t up for the hour round-trip hike to the hot springs and back. So while she was soaking I filtered water near a lovely deep green swimming hole…

Enjoyed watching a newt…

And relaxed by the river, enjoying the serene and idyllic setting.

When Deb got back we dawdled a bit, but eventually had to pack up and head out. This is looking down the canyon of the Big Sur River on our hike out.

One big bonus on this hike is that we saw all sorts of wildflowers, including LOTS of paintbrush and iris:

Another thing we saw a whole bunch of: poison oak. I saw more poison oak on this trip than I’ve seen in all my life combined up to this point. It was EVERYWHERE. After a few days it became evident that neither of us seemed to come in contact with it, but we felt like absolutely everything we brought with us on the trek must be contaminated (probably not true, but after you look at millions of poison oak leaves over two days you just feel like it must have touched all your stuff at some point). Despite the warnings about the proliferation of ticks, we never saw a single one.

This hike ended up being a lot harder than I expected, and the constant up-and-down was tiring. Here is the elevation profile from the sign at the trailhead.

The last mile of trail before the car was flat and easy but I was so sore and tired that I wasn’t hiking, I was shuffling. I’m sure I looked rather pitiful. If I had to do it over again I would schedule a layover day to enjoy the hot springs, hang out by the river, and just laze around enjoying the beautiful setting. Hiking 20 miles in about 36 hours was pretty tough this early in the season when I’m not in peak physical condition. That said, I’m glad we went and saw this lovely place!