CAL­I­FOR­NIA DREAM­ING

A MAG­NET FOR HOL­LY­WOOD STARS, PO­ETS, MU­SI­CIANS, TECH PRODIGIES AND NEW-AGERS, BIG SUR ON THE PA­CIFIC COAST IS A RE­GION OF EL­E­MEN­TAL BEAUTY. A HUM­BLE INN TURNED RE­SORT, COM­PLETE WITH GLAMPSITES, IS A PER­FECT PLACE TO FEEL THE MAGIC.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY MARIA SHOL­LEN­BARGER

They had skies of pure azure and walls of fog mov­ing in and out of the canyons with in­vis­i­ble feet, hills in win­ter of emer­ald green and in sum­mer moun­tain upon moun­tain of pure gold … there was ever the un­fath­omable si­lence of the for­est, the blaz­ing im­men­sity of the Pa­cific, days drenched with sun and nights span­gled with stars.”

So wrote the Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Henry Miller in the 1950s about Big Sur, the much-mythol­o­gised stretch of Cal­i­for­nia coast where he lived for some 18 years in the mid­dle of the last cen­tury. Much of his work con­tains such tes­ta­ments to its sin­gu­lar beauty, a beauty that over­whelmed and in­spired him in equal mea­sure. “It was here in Big Sur that I first learned to say ‘amen’,” reads a sign at the en­trance to the Henry Miller Me­mo­rial Li­brary, an unas­sum­ing cabin tucked in a forested gully off the Pa­cific Coast High­way, the two-lane in­ter­state built in 1937 that fol­lows the coast as it stretches some 150km south to north, from the artists’ colony of Cam­bria up to the sea­side vil­lage of Carmel. The road is as iconic as Big Sur it­self. Like a long as­phalt rib­bon, it wraps it­self round the flanks of Miller’s ex­alted hills – ac­tu­ally the Santa Lu­cia moun­tains, which rise to 1500m be­fore tum­bling spec­tac­u­larly down to the Pa­cific – and weaves through the deep dap­pled shade of Big Sur’s Cal­i­for­nia red­woods. It cuts through 65 mil­lion-year-old boul­ders of gran­ite and lime­stone; it crosses soar­ing, ele­gant steel bridges, and runs par­al­lel to high silt­stone bluffs along which cat­tle graze placidly – some­times un­der a vast blue sky, some­times barely dis­cernible through the cur­tains of cot­tony mist that roll in from the ocean; some­times both within the space of 10 min­utes.

In the later years of my child­hood, my fam­ily and I com­muted many week­ends from Los Angeles, where I grew up, to our va­ca­tion house near Carmel – of­ten along this very high­way; and I can say with cer­ti­tude that hav­ing Big Sur on your doorstep doesn’t make you any­thing like blasé about its grandeur. Its inim­itable con­flu­ence of sky, moun­tains and sea has never looked pre­cisely the same way twice, on the hun­dreds of times I have driven or hiked along it. It is one of those rare places on the planet in which words like “ma­jes­tic” and “sa­cred” re­claim their in­tended res­o­nance. Hence its al­lure for trav­ellers from the world over – seek­ers, scribes, and sybarites alike. Hence Miller’s amen.

That unadul­ter­ated beauty, cou­pled with Big Sur’s phys­i­cal prox­im­ity to Hol­ly­wood, se­cured its pop­u­lar­ity with A-Lis­ters long ago. Richard Bur­ton and El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor filmed parts of The Sand­piper at Ne­penthe – the cliff­side restau­rant that since 1949 has drawn a mix of lit­er­ary and cine­matic lu­mi­nar­ies, along with a healthy con­stituency of dropouts and hip­pies – and were re­port­edly smit­ten. So was Clint East­wood, who bought a home in Carmel, and later be­came its mayor. Mu­si­cians from the Beach Boys to the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers have re­treated to these moun­tains in search of in­spi­ra­tion (or per­haps just to party); the Miller li­brary’s shady deck has drawn Ar­cade Fire, Philip Glass and oth­ers to play low-key sets. The likes of Jack Ker­ouac, John Stein­beck, Lil­lian Ross, and the poet Robin­son Jef­fers joined Miller in mak­ing a pro­tag­o­nist of Big Sur in their writ­ing. Ansel Adams and Ed­ward We­ston, two gi­ants of 20th-cen­tury pho­tog­ra­phy, earned their fame in part by im­mor­tal­is­ing its crash­ing, treach­er­ous surf, its bent, wind-con­quered cy­presses, and the gun­metal and pewter tones of the ocean in win­ter.

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