There’s nothing more patriotic than a July 4th roadtrip up Rt. 1 along the literal edge of America to put all the miniscule bullshit of your life into immediate perspective.
One thing is certain: in Big Sur, California, you won’t be the only one having an epiphany through your windshield. Everyone looking over those jagged cliffs and into the epic Pacific, or hiking a meticulously maintained trail like the have in Pfeiffer national park, is being similarly awed by mother nature.
RT 1 is a daunting feat of human ambition in itself. Before it existed, Big Sur was a wilderness nearly impossible to access. So who laid down so much asphalt, along the most precarious seaside real estate in the nation, to make such a breathtaking adventure possible? The answer is as American as fat-free, frozen apple pie: Prison labor via San Quentin.
Three separate camps were established to house the convicts who worked sunrise to sunset for our vacationing pleasure. There was littel concern about escape since there was only one direction to go… east. It took those repenting murders and thieves about 18 years, and millions of dollars graciously provided by FDR’s New Deal to finish the job. I personally believe each and everyone of those felons righted their karma by leaving us all with so many memory making vistas. And they were the first see them, without paying camp ground fees!
Those two lanes of United States highway began blowing minds in 1937 when they were officially opened to the public. It’s that very tribute to American ambition, and the criminal justice system, along with the muscle of thousands of wrongdoers, that stands in stark contrast to the nearby Heart Castle. The 240,000 acre abode is another awesome feat of human accomplishment, and only a few acres bigger than the actual man’s Olympian sized ego.
“I get tired of going up there and camping.” Said Hearst between sips of human blood, “I’d like something a little more comfortable.”
But you weren’t staying over in one of his 56 bedrooms, or taking a dip in the 350,00 gallon Neptune pool, with spring water piped from the Santa Lucia Mountains, unless you were Winston Churchill or Marion Davies. The public be damned, until 1957, when it became a landmark… and a visit is was well worth the wait.
Across the street, on slightly less acreage, sits the home of another set of Sam Simeon mammoths: The North American Elephant Seals. Never have such corpulent, belching, barking slabs of blubber been so damn adorable. It just makes you want to hunt them to extinction, which nearly happened at the end of the 19th century.
Now the coast is a federally protected sanctuary and a pit stop for families from around the globe. If there were a more pragmatic way to domesticate these peaceful, cuddly marine sloths, there’s no doubt they’d have been exploited en masse throughout the country as must-have pets. Fortunately, there’s no real place to attach a leash, and the jiggling creatures remain undisturbed.
Nature’s true real show stoppers, however, are north and just inland. The Los Padres National Forest is home to some of the most pristine hikes you can take on the continent. The Sequoias looming above were mere saplings when were were fighting for our Independence, and somehow, we’ve managed not to destroy them in favor of plaster walled condos with ocean views.
It’s an unfortunate chapter in our heritage that these lands were ripped from the hearts of people that kept them so sacred. Three tribes— the Esselen, the Ohlone, and Salinan— hunted and gathered in these woods for thousands of years. The Spanish were the first to exploit them and claim the lands as as their own, but they did offer some excellent European diseases to which the Natives had no immunities in return. God bless their endeavor.
Walking through the parks today, you can’t help but smile at one simple truth: Nature always triumphs. And it will continue to do so, long after the human race has managed to obliterate itself in a Zombie Apocalypse.
Condors will nest in the high branches of the central coast’s mighty, middle-aged Redwoods. And entropy will continue it’s relentless death/life cycle just inches from the dramatic crashing waves, along the rugged cliffs of the left coast.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it before California itself tumbles into the sea, which could be any day now. And whatever you do, make sure to leave time for an epiphany or two.