Big Sur

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Big Sur: Beauty and Elephant Seals!

Jan 25, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Scenic Beauty; wildlife

Cons:Tough driving; remote

I drove Big Sur -- a remote stretch of Highway One along California's central coast -- this weekend for the first time in ages.

The drive itself is a total pain in the neck. Hairpin turns, creeping tourists and legitimately tough stretches that keep your speed below 30 test the nerves of any driver. Autobahn-by-the-sea it certainly is not.

But it's definitely gorgeous. If you like hills and ocean and wonderfully dynamic seashores that testify to the complex relationship between land and ocean, then Big Sur is truly one of the world's great drives.

But unlike all the other great drives in the world, Big Sur has something really special. It has elephant seals!

Big Sur proper ends in the south when the mountains cease plunging directly into the ocean and instead recede to allow for a majestic sweep of rolling hills that gently reach the ocean. The road in this stretch, from just north of San Simeon all the way down to Morro Bay, is straight and gently rolling. It's much faster and a ton of fun to drive. The whole thing looks like Ireland in April.

As the road descends from the dizzying heights of Big Sur it caresses the beaches into which the green fields roll. After passing two or three beaches with clusters of cars parked along the road, I decided to see what the fuss was about. I expected surfers or campsites. Instead, I saw elephant seals. Hundreds of elephant seals -- from the 1000 lb. bulls to little babies snug against their mothers' bellies -- lined the beach. Hideous beasts, the seals were fat with winter blubber, and their characteristic floppy snouts distinguished them from all their pinniped cousins.

As could be expected of animals of such large stature, they did barely anything. Several of the more active bulls slithered along the sand in search of nothing in particular. And occasionally one would rise up on its haunches and utter the most gutteral noise I've ever heard in nature, a blubbery, gurgling cry that would aptly describe the beast to a blind person.

I'd read about elephant seals and have always been casually interested in seeing nature in action, and I was uplifted to see nature in all her glory strung about the beaches of central California. I could have approached within arm's reach of a medium-sized male had a park ranger not barked at me. I'm not sure whether she was trying to protect me or the seal.

No clue what the elephant seal "season" is up there, but it's a nice drive regardless of pinniped presence.

Recommend this product? Yes

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