Cairns at Sand Dollar


Big Sur Month 11, part 2: The rock stacks


One of the surprising things from my beach and Big Sur adventures were the number of rock stacks we came upon. So many of the beaches I went to were rocky and so many of them had cairns. Even when Steve and I were the only ones in sight, the only ones on the trail, the only ones upon the beach, we’d still often come across a cairn or three (or twenty).

Sand Dollar was no exception.


I especially loved the echo of the sea stacks in the rock stacks. Sentinels on shore, sentinels at sea.





Sand Dollar in January


January 25, 2014. Big Sur Month 11.

Sand Dollar beach is at the south end of Big Sur, “across the street” from Plaskett Creek (my favorite camp ground). It’s one of those beaches that changes dramatically with the tide and the seasons. Sometimes a wide expanse of sandy beach. Sometimes only rocks and bank.


I added quotation marks to its proximity to Plaskett, because it’s really the parking lot that is across the street. The beach requires a meander of a walk and steep stairs that take you down to the beach itself.


We caught it on a subdued day. Everything muted, quiet; muffled by the cloud cover. There was a sense of aloneness, even with others around you. The ocean and the clouds loomed large, creating a sense of smallness to everything else.



Steve and I took different beach routes. He perched on this rock, taking photos and making movies of the ocean and the waves. I walked south, underneath the cliff wall.

The south side of the beach — precariously rocky — was underdevelopment. A subdivision of cairns erected everywhere you looked, echoing the sea stacks in the ocean.





Tanbark Trail

Steve walking the tanbark trail
Week 24. Wednesday, August 28, 2013. The Tanbark Trail is a canyon hike, starting squarely in a redwood forest. It begins along a river (creek, really) and coaxes you up a hillside via redwood bordered switchbacks.

the forest at the tanbark trail
The forest is thick and the trees are tall here, keeping it cool. Also, everything smells delicious — fresh and clean.

beautiful forest of coast redwoods
While we know Big Sur is populated with many different animals and birds, this may have been Woodpecker Wednesday. They were everywhere: in the trees, in the sky, making calls, and hammering on tree trunks. A woodpecker’s paradise.

what the trail was like
The first half of the hike is dominated by the redwoods, but the trail itself is named after the tanbark oak tree. Not “really” an oak, at the turn of the 19th century the bark was used to tan animal hides and this canyon was harvested for it.

These days the tanbark oaks are ailing. A disease called Sudden Oak Death has ravaged this canyon (and long stretches of California). While the trail is (mostly) well maintained, downed oak after downed oak create an obstacle course of sorts.

Downed tanbark oak
We went under fallen oaks and we went over them. Most of the time I tried to not think of the very real problem facing the trees and forest. Here’s hoping the scientists find a cure soon.

tanbark oak covering the trail, steve ducking and going under
We stopped many times along the trail, both to catch our breath and take in the environment, which requires looking up as much as looking out.

beautiful hike

looking up to the tree canopy

Blackened trees, blackened tree bears and the blackened Tin House
blackened tree

burned trees and left stump

the view from the tan bark trail (near the tin house)
The hike was long and rich. I found myself with a ton of photos. I knew I couldn’t fit everything into one blog post so I created a few special blog posts (which I call “asides and besides”):

The walk down
Where most of the walk up is under a lush canopy of redwoods, the walk down is along an exposed dusty fire road. When you read that word dusty I want you to read it as DUSTY because I have never been so filthy dirty after a hike in my life and it was mostly due to this part of the road. While the remnants of the 2008 fire are easy to see in the forest, they are harder to determine on this part of the trail, but it’s all there in the form of ash. The ash is part of the soil, part of the path and the path is thick with dust.

coast view on the walk down
The positive side is that it also offers rich views of the pacific coast, including the McWay Falls cove.

steve walking down with the view of the McWays fall beach in the distance
The ocean here spans many shades of blue. Luscious, gorgeous, beautiful.

The beautiful coves along the coast
A fantasy scene. We also could see the whales way off in the distance: water spouts and at times a fluke. All worth the hot blazing sun and deep, penetrating dust.

Walking back to the car on Highway 1
The last mile of the hike is on Highway 1 itself. This is dangerous. Here is my advice: walk against traffic and stay off the road as much as possible. Common sense I know, but at times there is barely a shoulder — there’s barely a neck. It’s better to walk in the weeds than on the road, so just get yourself over and make it quick. You will experience at least one blind curve. Be careful.

On Highway 1, walking back to our car
And talk to strangers. We met David on the side of the road where he had been painting all day.

Spiritual, singing, painting David
He reminded me of Greg Junell, an old friend who passed away from lymphoma just a year before. David greeted us with a big smile and showed us his paintings and gave us each an orange for our walk back to the car.

me, road sign, and the orange (note the very dirty blue jeans; that hike was DUSTY!)
When we finally did make it back to the car we were glad for some provisions on hand. We knew we might meet poison oak, so we wore pants for the hike but brought shorts to change into afterwards (and this is where we saw, despite wearing heavy jeans, we had dust and dirt up past our knees). We had soap and water to wash away the dirt, lotion to make us feel fresh, and snacks and a gallon of water to refuel and replenish. Bonus points: I brought an extra hat and a pair of sandals. It’s the little things.

So far the Tanbark Trail is my favorite hike of the year. I would do it again in a heart beat. What would I do differently? It would be nice to avoid hiking Highway 1, but I can’t really see a way around that. Other than that, the hike was perfect.

Peak a Week - Week #24

The Tin House

tin house on the hill
The Tin House was built by the same couple that lived at McWay Falls, the Brown family. Rumor has it that Mr. Brown built this house for his best friend and best man at his wedding, Teddy Roosevelt. Brown’s daughter refutes this rumor, robbing us of a fun story to tell. No matter, I’m sure there are other stories. I just don’t know them.

from the inside
Unfortunately, the 2008 Great Basin Fire roared through here, demolishing the whole house, leaving it in ruins and rubble. The roof has caved in and all that really remains are its metal walls, broken cement, and a front porch.

view of the fireplace

dante graffiti
It has also become a canvas for decent hiker graffiti.


I do know one story about it. My friend Tom proposed to his wife Cami here. I have it on excellent authority (Tom told me) that this is true. Yea!

ocean view

Burned-bark trees

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
In 2009 the Basin Complex fire ravaged Big Sur. At over 244,000 acres burned, it is the third-largest fire in recorded California history and the second costliest for the United States (disclaimer: I don’t know the figures for the 2013 fire in Yosemite.)

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
The fire was fueled by dying/dead Tanbark Oaks (killed by Sudden Oak Death, aka SOD). The fire was especially hot here and it burned houses and outbuildings. And trees. And trees. And trees.

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
But Coast Redwoods (the tallest trees on the planet) can both survive and (maybe) benefit from terrible wild fires. The outside of the bark will burn, but the important inner layers (often) will not. The burned ground of the forest floor (temporarily free of leaves and needles and other plants) may allow shoots to take root and sprout and grow.

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
I can’t tell you why being surrounded by all of these burned trees made me feel emotional, but I did. I do, just thinking about it.

The picture below gives you a little reference in the size and height of these trees. Steve (on the trail) is 5’10”. Note how enormous the big, blackened tree to his left is. Now note all of those bright green saplings growing next to him. Look at how skinny their trunks are and how tall they are. They are babies. Tall, tall babies.

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
In the photo below you can see how green shoots are coming out of the trunk of this burned tree.

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
And below, a closer view. Also note how the underlayers of the bark are not burned. Amazing to me.

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
Whoever maintains this trail (I believe it is part of the Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park) is allowing the saplings to take root and grow wherever they come up — even if it’s right in the middle of the trail. I love that. We had to walk around several new stands of saplings.

coastal redwoods new growth
Below, another example of old and new trees. The bright green whippersnapper in the front is easily 10 feet tall. That puts into perspective the size of the blackened tree behind it.

2009 fire burn survivors -- coastal redwood
I am going to do a post on the Tanbark Trail in general, but there was so much to this trail, I had to do a couple of extra posts to show the details (last night I posted about my bear sightings; still coming up: the Tin House.).

The Basin Complex Fire ravaged this part of the coast. I am so happy that some of it can come back.

Whales, Rain Rocks and a Broken Arm

Pitkins Curve and Rain Rocks and the Big Sur coastline
I want to preface this post by saying that the stretch of Highway 1 through Big Sur is known as The Scenic Crawl. On these 100 or so odd miles of twists, turns, and cliff-to-sea vistas you will find tens, maybe even a hundred, turn outs where you can pull over to let faster cars pass or get out, stretch your legs, and take in the views.

Hundreds of people do this every day. Often you see them standing on top of berms in order to get a better look. This is so common that it becomes a part of the Big Sur experience, both seeing it and doing it.

people on berms looking out to sea
We had spent the day in Big Sur hiking the Tan Bark trail and traipsing along the coastline (posts to come). We’d caught glimpses of whales while on our hike — big spouts of spray shooting up into the air, even though the whales themselves were a mile or so out. Despite being so far away, a whale siting is still exciting, still worth a finger pointing out to sea, and still warrants a cry of “whale!” ensuring your hiking partner has seen them as well.

whale tail and dorsel fin
As we drove home we saw even more glimpses of whale activity and pulled over in three different spots to marvel at these creatures and our luck at seeing them, regardless of how far out they were.

whale back
For our third stop we used a turn out just north of the huge construction site for Pitkins Curve and Rain Rocks. We’ve been eagerly charting this development for a couple of years, marveling at the work. Stopping here was exciting to me because not only would I see whales and the beautiful fog over the ocean, but I would finally have the opportunity to take some shots of the construction site.

Rain Rocks and Pitkins Curve
Note the very large boulders below the rock shed. THOSE CAME FROM UP ABOVE. Just a couple of examples why this rock shed is so important to this part of the coast. Prone to regular landslides and rockslides, Rain Rocks and Pitkins Curve, when damaged, can shut off the road for months at a time. Not only cutting off access for tourists, but isolating residents as well. (See Big Sur Kate’s blog for insight from a resident.)

turn out, looking north
While there was a turn out here, it wasn’t a “nice” turn out. It is rough. I guess it should be, considering this is a landslide zone. The earth itself is made up a type of sandstone known as greywacke, a crumbly, unstable type of soil. If I had known about its properties beforehand, perhaps I would not have chosen to stand upon the berm at this location.

Construction site at Pitkens Curve and Rain Rocks
As I stepped up, I made a mental note that it was not hard packed like the berms at other locations. My feet sunk into the dirt a half-inch or so. The site was dusty and gritty. I stood squarely on top and it didn’t feel unsafe, but, as there was a sloping cliff directly below us that plunged hundreds of feet into the Pacific Ocean, I did stay mindful.

Below you can see what this coastline looks like (photo from the blog post Rain Rocks | The Coast Road). We were standing about one-half inch to the left of the Pitkins Curve arrow. There is a small dark-ish spot near where we were standing.

Out to sea there were about seven whales spouting and breaching and slapping their tails. The fog bank put on a show, too.

looking out to sea

fog bank
After a few minutes we decided to get back in the car and continue our trip home. Even though SLO was only 70 miles away, the crooked road and slow speed limit slows you down. It would be another two hours before we’d get home.

Looking south again towards Rain Rocks
The berm where I stood was maybe three feet high. It took a step or two to get up and it would take a step or two to get down.

The dirt gave way, though, when I took my first step down. I tried to find my balance, but couldn’t. It wasn’t one of those slow-motion falls; it was a fast-moving crumple. As my feet couldn’t get their bearing, I just collapsed in a hard-hitting stumble-fall towards the road.

Steve was by my side in an instant. One of my sandals was three feet away (how did that happen?). My keys had pitched from my hand (and we were both so happy they didn’t go over the cliff). I stayed very still for a moment, both gathering my wits and making sure I was okay.

I was rattled, but I was okay. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing. My right hand had a giant road rash and started bleeding right away. My arm hurt, but I could move my fingers. I could stand up. I got my sandal back on. Steve grabbed my keys. It was a close one. But I was okay.

We drove straight to my doctor’s office stopping only to see if we could find some painkillers (nope) or some ice (thank you Ragged Point!). We learned later that I had a minor fracture (a nondisplaced transverse ulna fracture) that my doctor said couldn’t have happened in a better location. I got a splint. I got some heavy duty pain medication and I headed on home.

Even though it was just a little spill with just a little injury, I realize it could have been so much worse. I feel grateful that I fell toward the road and not the cliff. I feel lucky that it’s only a little fracture and not a compound doozy. I feel thankful that Steve was there not only to drive us home, but to soothe and take care of me. I feel a little stupid and cavalier for taking frivolous risks so far from home and help. It’s a fine line between smart and scared, between adventurous and idiotic. I’d like to veer on the smart and adventurous side.

I go see the orthopedist soon. My bet is that I will stay in the splint and not need a cast. I’m a little sad I won’t be able to take yoga classes or lift weights in the weeks to come like I was planning, but really, I’m just happy to be safe and on the mend.

Hanging out at the Henry Miller Library

Statue at the Henry Miller Library, close up

Henry Miller Library isn’t necessarily a “library” tho his books and typewriter are there. It’s not really just a bookstore, though you can buy books. It’s more than just a venue, tho amazing bands play there. I don’t really know how to classify it, or if anyone would need to.

There is art. There’s a gardenish-lawn area. There’s a stage. There are tall tall tall massively huge coastal redwoods. There is the library, which is also a bookstore that features his books and other great books and postcards and posters and memorabilia. Sometimes there are events — from concerts to dinners to talent shows to film festivals. Tourists show up. Locals mill about. I love it.

Statue at the Henry Miller Library

me inside

books hanging from the rafters

2011 line up poster

There are concerts. Amazing, intimate concerts featuring amazing performers. From Cat Power to John Doe. From MGMT to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Patty Smith, Bat for Lashes, Steve Earle. (What a range!) I’ve never gone but oh my god I want to.

Below you can see the little stage and lawn for seating.

stage and grass -- where the performances happen

Our main focus, though, was to just chill out with a cup of coffee.

hanging out with steve (stage to the right)

Karmapa dream flag above the entrance to the library

I’d never noticed the Dream Flag before, though it’s probably been there for a long time. I got a little excited. I bought a Dream Flag sticker from Karme Choling when I took my refuge vows and it “flies” proudly from my car’s back window.

drinking coffee on the deck

hanging out with steve

Partington Cove

Woman with the pink hat

Week 19. Partington Cove used to be a working landing (or at least a loading point; let’s say that as I’m not quite sure what the difference is between a landing and a loading point) at the turn of the century for a business man who sold tanning bark. I have no idea what that is, but I learned about it on this Hiking in Big Sur – Partington Cove web page.

Trail down to Partington Cove

It’s a semi-steep walk down — but not difficult or tricky as it is a wide and well-maintained road; if you are fit it will be no problem. If you tire easily, bring a walking stick and some water. The trail forks. Right fork takes you to a rocky beach; left fork takes you to the cove. We took both, but went right first.

Trees along Partington Cove trail

The trail features coastal redwoods and monterey cyprus as well as many other trees. It’s a green dream. Beautiful.

Sign about what's under the sea -- kelp, fish, etc

Read the sign for more information about everything going on under the water. We saw fisherman catching rock cod on both the rocky beach side and the cove side. I also thought I saw sea otters, but I think it was just very buoyant and huge kelp.

Steve taking photos next to big trees

The redwoods here aren’t massive like you’ll find in other parts of the Sur, but they are still tall and impressive.

Coastal redwoods

And maybe a little massive.

The rocky beach; woman in a pink blanket

We went to the rocky beach first. The woman wrapped in a pink blanket caught my attention immediately. Her husband was out in a kayak fishing for rock cod.

The stream that comes down to the cove (with a very small waterfall)

I’m not sure you can call this a waterfall proper, but it’s definitely a rapidly moving stream coming down to the ocean.

Hearty plants grow in the rock walls

Loved the plants growing in the cracks of the rock cliffs, but also couldn’t help but realize they were helping the cracks grow wider. Some day this wall will crumble (though perhaps not in our lifetime). Erosion happens in even the best circumstances.

blooming yellow flowers looking up towards the top of the trail

The bottom of the trail was flanked by great stands of yellow flowers, so thick that you can’t even see the trail that is switching back amongst them.

me on the trail, tho it looks like i'm in the flowers

Photo above so you can see how the trail is within the flowers.

The tunnel to Partington Cove

After exploring the cove, we headed back up the trail to the fork to check out the tunnel.

When we started the hike we didn’t even know its name, much less what to expect. We saw something on the east side of the road and pulled over to stop. It was only then that we realized that there was a trail on the oceanside. When we saw the tunnel I don’t think either of us had any expectations beyond getting to go into a tunnel (that alone would have been enough for us.).

The light at the end of the tunnel

Workers used the tunnel in the late 1800s to get through 100 feet of rock to the cove. Where the ocean meets the cove seems dangerous to me; I can’t imagine pulling my boat into this cove, but I am obviously not made of seafaring fortitude. (Note: we were there on one of the calmest days I’ve ever seen at the Big Sur coast. The ocean was glass. It usually isn’t. I can imagine the waves here get ferocious.)

Trail to the end of the cove

The trail is nicely maintained and I loved how the fencing included an angled top plank so you could lean over it. Whoever made that decision: good work! I did a lot of leaning while there. Very comfy.

at the end of the trail

There were four fisherman at the cove and one was actively manning his fishing pole, sure that he had hooked a rock cod. (The man above is not the actively manning guy. Actively manning guy had pole in hand and was reeling in and letting back out his line, repositioning his pole, pulling back against the tug of the fish, etc.)

Above you can see a person taking a couple’s photograph. Steve took their photo on the rocky beach side. I love how they wanted their pic taken on both sides. Obviously, a happy couple (which made me happy).

Looking back, steve on the trail with the top of the area visible

The cove itself is capital R Rugged. There is a small cave/natural bridge formation and the waves BOOM! when they go through it. You can see Steve above (red jacket) taking a sound recording of the booming waves. The cave is below him and not shown in the photo. Way up above you see the peak; there’s a house built there.

We both give Partington Cove the thumbs up. It’s rugged and beautiful (in that ruggedly beautiful way).

Of note: the poison oak, we noticed, was tricky here. You will see it blatantly growing along the side of the path with vigor and health. But it’s in other places, too. There was a pretty bank of wild oxalis going toward the tunnel. How pretty, we said. But when we looked closer we realized that the oak was hiding in with the oxalis. It’s like it has an evil agenda of getting you whenever it can. Evil oak, you don’t fool us.

Peak a Week 19!