Paul's Excellent Big Sur Trip - Dec 9-11/2011

In December  I flew to my companies HQ outside San Francisco for  training. As I normally do, I book-ended  a weekend trip for a personal photo shoot of the Pacific coast in Northern California. This time I decided to make the trip south to one of two waterfalls that fall into the Pacific ocean. The McWay Cove falls is in the Julie Pfeiffer Burns State Park south of Big Sur on the famous Pacific Highway 1. I booked into Big Sur Lodge in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park which is about 45 minutes south of Carmel so I didn't have to spend a lot of time just traveling.

As always, planning my trip included researching photo locations from PhotoSecrets 'San Francisco and Northern California' by Andrew Hudson. The map on the right is from the guide and shows a number of the locations of pictures below. By the way, click on any of the pictures to enlarge.

The first day I drove from San Mateo  to Carmel for lunch. I also used the opportunity of the large number of  art galleries in Carmel to pick up an Ansel Adams calendar as a Christmas present for Brenda. Even though Ansel Adams is best known for his Yosemite pictures it seems he also spent time in Carmel so his pictures are everywhere there. After a wonderful lunch at the Village Garden, I headed about a mile outside of town to my first photo stop at Point Lobo's State Preserve.

There is a lot to see at Point Lobos. Something I did not realize until I spent time with one of the guides who was also a photographer. A number of sites require a long trail hike I didn't have time for if I wanted to make it to McWay falls before sundown. I settled for the short Sea Lion point trail that leads to the spectacular Devil's Cauldron and Sea Lion Rocks.

As you can see from the picture on the left, there are a lot of California Sea Lions on their rocks. Some of these can be seen swimming and feeding south of the rock  where the water was calmer.

It was a fairly hazy day and with the mid afternoon sun, not a ideal time to take pictures. However, Devil's Cauldron lived up to it's name even in fairly mild seas. I can only imagine what it looks like during a storm.



From Point Lobo's,  I drove to Big Sur Lodge in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park to check in.  This is a resort for those who want to get away from it all.  In the rooms there are no phones, no clocks, no Internet and no TV's. However, every time you step outside you are greeted by the sight of  majestic redwoods and the smell like you had walked into a Christmas tree.

If you are up early in the morning (like I am), you can also see some of the local turkeys (and no they were not on the menu).

An advantage of staying at the Lodge is that you are given park passes. So I taped my on the windshield and headed down the road to find the waterfall.

McWay Cove Waterfall is in the
Julie Pfeiffer Burns State Park. There's a short trail from the parking lot that leads across a ridge above the falls with a large  number of perspectives for taking pictures of the falls. You aren't allowed on the beach below the falls which is just as well. I can't see getting a decent picture of the falls with people milling around at it's base.

It's a beautiful little waterfall that seems to have the consistent flow throughout the year  from numerous pictures I've found on the web.  However small, there use to be a small electric generator upstream that is no longer in use.  Next time I'm going to review the tide charts so I can get low and high tide shots.



I finished up the day with dinner at the lodge in front of a warm cozy wood fire. It was close to freezing most nights but crept up to 50F during the day.

The next day I was up early to check out Pfeiffer Beach. This is a beautiful beach that provides access to some of its rock formations during low tide. It is also known for the Pfeiffer Beach Arch.  A natural formation where the setting sun shines through it during the winter months. I met another photographer who told me that the sun was starting to get into alignment leading up to it's peak in January.  Knowing this I made a return trip the beach about  ten minutes before sunset. I should have called ahead to book a location. There were about  two dozen photographers set up on this out of the way beach to try and catch the sunset. Unfortunately, mother nature did not cooperate. I saw a beautiful red sunset through the arch just as I got my camera set up but before I could snap a picture, it dropped behind low clouds on the horizon. I now understand why there were so many photographers there. You never know when you will get a good shot. If you look at the link for the Arch, you will see how spectacular it can be.



The shots above include the arch in them. One from the morning and one from sunset.

I also spent time that day  in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park  to take some pictures of Pfeiffer Falls (right). Normally, it has it's own trail  up the valley floor following the river. Unfortunately, in 2008, there were several fires and mud slides that have closed this trail. Instead, to get to the falls, one has to take the Valley View trail which is a 1.6 mile round trip. You also have to hike up and down a large hill ; both ways. Tiring and I got a blistered even though I was in proper hiking shoes.

For dinner that night, I went to the the highly recommended  Nepenthe Restaurant for a delicious sscallop dinner. Again, next to a large round warm wood fire. All the restaurants I went into around Big Sur had wood fires going. Many times, especially in the morning they were needed.

On Sunday, I checked out and took a slow trip up Route #1. I'd been along this section before but there are always pictures to be had. One I  taken before, but in fog, was Point Sur Lighthouse (left). This time it was fairly clear.  

En route towards Monterey I stopped to take this picture of Bixby Bridge below. One of the most photographed bridges because of it's curved span. I also included it to show the coast  where the road has to follow the many inlets that greatly increase the driving time over the distance that of how the crow flies. Rugged beauty but does add to the travel time.  It is also a marked contrast to Route #1 north of Monterey up to Half Moon Bay where the coast is straighter.


I decided to finally visit the famous Monterey Aquariumon my trip back to San Mateo.  What an experience! Beautiful displays showing off numerous sea creatures. The displays are set up for excellent picture taking opportunities. Worth a 2-3 hour visit if you are in Monterey. Sorry, I haven't taken the time to name them all even though I did take pictures of all their placards.










So, a very excellent trip in 2.5 days.

Next is a photo shoot at the Muskoka Wildlife Center in January.