It’s the longest day of the year, which can also be viewed as the shortest night of the year. Some sort of celebration is in order so here I sit, at midnight by the campfire, reliving my full and strenuous day exploring Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
I am an early riser and I got out of the tent while the campground was still asleep. Taking the same walk I took yesterday to the beach was a superb way to greet the day. Although I didn’t make it all the way this time. I was getting close and I saw what I thought was an unaccompanied dog, which seemed strange, since dogs are not allowed at the campground. It turned around and it became apparent that what I thought was a dog was actually some wild type of feline. And it was holding something in its mouth, presumably one of the squirrels who was living large in the meadow. Not knowing what it was, but not caring to get any closer, I headed back toward the tent.
In a bit, Brendan got up, a bit on the grumpy side (he’s not an early riser) and informed me that since I forgot to zip up the tent, he got woken up by two squirrels pitter pattering their cold feet on his body. It freaked him out to open his eyes and have four beady eyes staring intently at him. He yelped and they ran out, but not before one of them grabbed a chocolate bar and drug it across the lawn (maybe he was going to share with his friends and have a little chocolate festival). OK, lesson learned, I will close up the tent from now on. Three’s a crowd.
Breakfast was gourmet. We refried some beans with veggies from last night and had eggs over easy with avocado slices. The morning ended up being a bit inefficient, so by the time the official adventuring began, it was early afternoon. We drove south to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, to see the renowned McWay Falls. Definitely the stuff Hollywood films are made of. The surrounding coves have turquoise water that make it look Caribbean style. The rugged coastline jutted in and out and gave the scenery texture. The brilliant blue skies with just the perfect smattering of clouds accented and perfected the picture. The remains of Lathrop and Helen Hooper Brown’s old home was there with an explanation of the history. The blue collar Pfeiffer family and the white collar Brown family converged on this land in the late 1800’s. When Helen Brown donated the property to California to be used as a state park, she stipulated that it needed to be named after Julia Pfeiffer, a true pioneer. Interesting to note, in the 1980’s, there was a landslide that took down a nice chunk of the mountain. So much dirt washed into the ocean and was redistributed south toward the coves that it created a beach where McWay Falls drains, where there had not been one before. The before picture showed the falls draining into the ocean, the after picture showed the falls draining right onto the sand with some distance to the oceans’ edge.
Overlook Trail was beautiful but as you could guess, had a lot of people. We drove a couple miles north to a pull off and explored the less touristy part of Julia Pfeiffer State Park. Partington Cove Trail was about half a mile and led to our own rocky beach in a secluded little cove. A stream of cold, clear freshwater rushed from the mountains and gurgled until it joined the ocean. Big rocks, composed of granite served as lounge chairs for us. We situated our bodies in such a fashion that we could see the stream one way, the ocean on the other, all while having the afternoon sun beat down on us – like a perfect symphony, orchestrated to the fullest. We could have passed the rest of the day there, but both of us were itching to get some serious exercise in, so up we went.
Back at Highway 1, we crossed over the east side and headed up Tan Bark Trail. It was 3.2 miles up to the top and the idea of switchbacking up through coastal redwoods was very appealing to us. The ascent was slow and steady and not for the faint of heart. Both of our hearts were pumping. The redwoods here were not as huge as those further north in Humboldt and Mendocino counties – yet they were still showstoppers in their own right. We wove in and out of the shade. When we got out of the tall trees, we would be in brush that was often dominated by ceanothus, which gives off a very distinctive smell. It’s a mélange of sweet and woodsy and resiny – it’s very recognizable once you know it, but it’s difficult to describe. I believe the dry climate of the region makes the plants more likely to produce resin. At one point, we crossed over a redwood that had fallen over the path, and now it made a bridge of sorts. When you are head to head with these trees, you really come to appreciate what they are made of and, more importantly, how long they took to get that big.
Getting eaten alive by flies was probably the only downside of the day. We smacked ourselves in hopes of diminishing the population, even if only infinitesimally, while cursing repeatedly, with a slim hope that flies understood English. Brendan and I had ridden on elephants that spoke Loatian, so we hadn’t ruled out the possibility.
For the most part, I like to walk quietly through the woods, since I feel like I am a visitor and I want to be more aware of the world that is happening around me. Well, it paid off, as I caught vision of an owl flying down below us. It then perched itself up in a redwood and Brendan got out his camera and took some photos.
Toward the end of the trail, we watched for signs that directed us to the Tin House, as it wasn’t totally clear where it was. Well, we did finally get there (2.5 hours for 3.2 miles) and we laughed that our hike ended at this anticlimactic burnt down, ramshackle, hunk of junk, metal building. We had seen signs of a fire coming through the redwoods throughout our hike and figured this Tin House was not nearly as resilient as the forest. Well, at least we had seen some magnificent scenery on the way up!
Brendan did some wandering and noticed in the back of the hunk of junk we could step out onto a vista that overlooked the ocean (we had climbed over 1800 feet in elevation). Now this was a view that justified the effort it took to get up there. We relished the fact that we hadn’t seen a soul on the trail and we were sharing this breathtaking spot on the planet together and yet had it all to ourselves.
Getting down only took 1.5 hours and while it was still light outside, the sun had already set in the horizon, casting the sky in pink hues. We wanted to make it back to camp sooner rather than later because the curvy roads are less fun to drive at night and also, we were both starving. A quick stop at a convenience store en route to get some ice showed us that California style reigns. Even the cans of soup and beans were an organic brand and the soda case was stocked with kombucha and cold extracted coffee.
We hustled when we got back to camp and made our Solstice Celebration dinner. A pescado veracruz of sorts (with cod and sautéed veggies), braised chard greens, a purple carrot purple cabbage tarragon slaw and some rice pasta. Cherry lambic to drink. And our plates dappled with some saffron finishing salt and tangerine flavored oil I got in Provence. Super fulfilling.
I got on dishwashing and Brendan started a campfire. I had another devilishly delicious idea in mind for dessert. In a small cast iron pan, we roasted almonds, then melted some 85% chocolate (that the squirrels were nice enough to save for us) and once it was all melted, I threw in some pitted, luscious dark cherries. PRETTY decadent for camping. We decided we were glamping (glamour camping).
All of this, while watching the full moon rise in the eastern sky on the longest day of the year.