Friday, 11 May 2007

Week 14 Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP To Bixby Bridge

“Amy and I walked along the poor haunted canyon, under the bridge and came to where those heartless breakers burst in on the sand. The gusts of wind tore the leaves from the trees and plunged them into the surf where they were belted and melted and taken off to sea”.

If that sounds like Jack Kerouac, it’s meant to. Amy and I are walking up the Big Sur coast in California, past the spot where Kerouac came to escape the city and his demons. This is also the coast of drifters and dreamers, artists, craftsmen and the occasional Hollywood star searching for peace and tranquillity.

Our week started at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (JPBSP). You could put forward a reasonable case for renaming this bit of the Californian Coast Pfeiffer County as the Pfeiffer family were early pioneers and are well represented in local place names. As well as the JPBSP there is the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Pfeiffer Beach, the Pfeiffer Resort and no doubt a brace of Pfeiffer creeks. The original Pfeiffer Resort – the term “resort” was given a fairly liberal interpretation by the Pfeiffers was established in 1902 by John and Florence Pfeiffer. John was an untrained naturalist with am interest in the study of local plants, coastal weather patterns and the habits of birds and animals. The family supported themselves by a combination of subsistence farming, beekeeping, ranching, logging and providing hospitality to visitors. The State Park where we started out from this week was named in memory of their daughter Julia, who maintained the family tradition of being passionately interested in the local flora and fauna.

Just north of the JPBSP we found Castro Canyon – how the name must annoy some righteous Americans – and there we found the wonderful
Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn. The website has a whole section on the history of the Inn – which dates back all the way to the 1930s (Americans do so well at making so much out of so little history, and that is not meant as a criticism) – and the Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was founded by Helmuth Deetjen and his wife Helen and quickly benefited from the opening of the then new Highway 1. Over the years “Grandpa Deetjen” as he is now known, added rooms and wooden lodges built in the style of his native Norway. The Inn, which is now run by the non-profit making Deetjens Big Sur Inn Preservation Society, is dedicated to maintaining an enclave of peace and quiet in the busy modern world of California. They boast with pride that mobile phones won’t work in the area, there are no phones or televisions in the rooms, and room doors lock only from the inside. Our stay at the Inn was complicated by the fact that pets are not welcome (this is despite the fact that the Inn proudly displays several photographs of Grandpa Deetjen with his favourite dogs). Amy claimed that this was crass hypocrisy. As I sneaked her into my room hidden beneath my anorak, I told her to shut up.

This whole stretch of coast is dotted with inns, hotels and restaurants of a similar antiquity and in equally attractive surroundings as the Big Sur Inn. A little further up the coast is the Nepenthe Restaurant which has its own
webcam so you can get a feel of the atmosphere. At the adjacent Café Kevah, Amy and I enjoyed one of their famous sticky buns ( you can download the recipe from their website) as we took in the view of the coast and the mountains.

Just before stopping for our sticky bun, we had paid a call on the Henry
Miller Memorial Library. Miller lived on the Big Sur coast from 1944 until 1962 and wrote some of his most famous books here. At the Memorial Library you can see the usual memorabilia, but the Library also makes a good stab at being more than just a mausoleum to a long-dead writer. They have an active programme of events featuring a wide range of artists and musicians. As we walked north I explained to Amy that, according to Miller, when we reach for a book we are hoping to meet “a man of our own heart, to experience tragedies and delights which we ourselves lack the courage to invite, to dream dreams which will render life more hallucinating, perhaps also to discover a philosophy of life which will make us more adequate in meeting the trials and ordeals which beset us”. She didn’t sound very impressed and said hat she liked a good story herself.

The Big Sur is the name of the region, the name of the coastline, and the name of a clutch of local garages, bakeries, and galleries. Many mistakenly think that the Big Sur is the large volcanic rock outcrop on top of which the Point Sur Lightstation sits. This is not the case. The name comes from the Spanish name for the region “el país grande del sur” which described what was then a largely unexplored region to the south of Monterey. You can get a good taste of what the Big Sur has to offer by looking at the excellent
Big Sur Guide which is published by the Big Sur Chamber Of Commerce.

The Lightstation is a noble building which forms the focal point of
Point Sur State Historic Park. Sitting 361 feet above the surf on a large volcanic rock, Point Sur is the only complete turn-of-the century Lightstation open to the public in California, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. First lit on August 1, 1889, the lighthouse has remained in continuous operation. Lighthouse keepers and their families lived at the site from 1889 to 1974 when the lighthouse was automated. The only way to visit the Lightstation, and indeed the rock itself, is to go on one of the official tours. But like too many things in this part of the world, dogs are not allowed. They do run moonlight tours and for a while Amy and I did consider the old dog hidden under the anorak approach, but decided against it. A quick look at the Wikipedia entry for the Lightstation told us all we could reasonably want to know (the light gives a white flash every 15 seconds whilst the fog signal is a group of two blasts every 60 seconds - blast two seconds, silent one second, blast three seconds, silent fifty-four seconds) so we sat and ate the last of our sticky buns instead.

We followed the road to the north of Point Sur, heading for the point which would mark the end of our wanderings for this week – Bixby Bridge. There is an admirable academic paper on the building of Bixby Bridge available on the
Pelican Network website. I got quite enthusiastic about the mechanics of it all and explained to Amy that the bridge was constructed to withstand a stress (f) at the mid-point where f = H = 1530666.5 = 472.4 psi A 3240*. Once again, Amy was less than impressed and simply looked over the side of the bridge and picked the remaining bits of sticky bun from between her teeth.

1 comment: said...

Lovely. I wish I'd known you were passing by our place. You probably didn't notice the house we built in the 70's on a ridge at 1000', up a mile long road a couple of creeks south of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I knew Hans and Esther Pfeiffer Ewoldsen. She was the daughter of the original settlers at the park farther north, grew up there and raised her family at this one. My husband helped Hans refurbish the Pelton wheel there that he'd engineered in the creek above the waterfall to suppy them with the first electric light in Big Sur.

As you point out and as an Englishwoman who lived in Big Sur when we started a historical society laughingly said, our idea of history is a little limited. We do not picnic on Roman ruins and I am older than our 'historical' bridges, there having been no highway until the 30's. Indeed, it is still so fragile you could not make your walk now, as it is closed in several places and you would have to make your way over the steep, gorgeous, thrilling Nacimiento-Fergusson Road that you passed up.

You have gotten the flavor of the areas I know, so I'll be following along as you continue your vicarious walk across the country on the assumption it will all be just as authentic as the places I am somewhat familiar with.

Now, in April 2011, I just found you in Oregon, having come upon your blogspot after 'googling' a line of poetry that led me to the site of a fellow countryman of yours at The Solitary Walker. A few years ago he had used a line by Wallace Stevens about 'three or four hills and a cloud' that is the label of a file of my digital imaging efforts. That also led to A Year with Rilke which I'll follow as well. My sporadic blogspot is called dappledazzle.