Where the Air Tastes Good

Trip Start Jun 22, 2010
Trip End Dec 15, 2011

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Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, June 2, 2011

If I could draw, I would draw a cartoon picture of myself throwing a lasso around the arms of a clock and using every ounce of my strength to slow down this year. I can't draw nor do I have the power to change the pace of time. Yet it seems time has the power to fly by more quickly than it ever has in my life.  We have not even lived in Monterey a year, but it seems to have gone by in a flash.  This week my husband received his official orders that we will move to Maryland in January.  I recognize that is still half a year away, but my list of things I want to see and do in this area seems to be growing instead of shrinking.  

Summer, especially early summer, is not the nicest time in Monterey. I know it is counterintuitive and I have learned that most tourists struggle to comprehend how June can be one of our cooler months. I will spare you the climate and geography lesson, just know the term "June Gloom" is used to describe the persistent fog and cloud cover that dominate this time of year.  However, this June began with the promise of sunny skies, at least for the first three days with yucky weather casting an evil spell over the weekend. I woke on Wednesday disappointed that everyone I knew was working or at school. I was dying to go to Big Sur. A friend once told me that if you can travel by yourself the world opens up to you.  Unfortunately being a woman, I do think that I need to be more careful than men in regard to this. However, I realized that if I stuck to well-traveled state parks and trails, there really is no reason that I could not go hiking by myself.  I knew it might be the only way to start tackling my massive Monterey To Do list.

Since my husband had explored Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park with a friend, I decided this was a good opportunity to check it out.  Part of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH also Highway 1) washed out in early spring. Between that and a rainy winter, it had been months since we ventured down to the glorious place. Still I wonder if I could ever drive down to Big Sur and not be dazzled. It is one of, if not the most gorgeous place I have ever been. The road winds between mountains and rocky coastal headlands. At times, the highway is perched precariously above high cliffs that allow you to drive at the same height condors and hawks fly. The Pacific water below looks deceptively warm with shades of indigo, turquoise and deep blue. And then there is the air.  As my friend Adam claimed on an earlier excursion to the area,  “The air even tastes good here.” I opened the sunroof and turned up the Vampire Weekend CD and after forty-five minutes of breath-taking views I pulled into the park.

The most trafficked trail at this park travels to Pfeiffer Falls. The trail begins with a beautiful redwood grove flanking the sides of a brook. The quickest route to Pfeiffer Falls has been closed for a couple years due to a wild fire, but the Valley View trail also provides easy access. I crossed a small footbridge in front of the falls. Two streams of water flowed down one cliff then met on a narrow ledge before continuing down to the creek below.  I then continued the hike on the Valley View Trail and looked down to the Big Sur River and the narrow valley below. The hike took about an hour, but I was hungry for more. My Big Sur Trail book described a 3 mile trail, Buzzards Roost that climbs the western mountain that separated Big Sur River from the sea. I began walking along the side of the river through more redwood trees. The trail began to climb up the mountain and I got to better comprehend the height of some of the trees as I glanced down to the river below. I would not describe the climb as strenuous, but the incline was steep enough to keep more hikers at bay as I passed a lot fewer people than on the previous trail. At the top of the mountain, I glanced out to the sparkling ocean. It was also a great place to observe the gorgeous mountain bordering the east side of the Big Sur River. Most of the trail was a loop and it was nice to take a new path of longer switchbacks on the way down. It was a little after four o’clock when I finished the hike and I knew I needed to get back soon to start dinner. However, I felt like my fun was just beginning, so on the way home I plotted a return trip the next day.

Sadly, many of California’s State Parks are slotted to close after this summer. Limekiln State Park, situated about thirty miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur Park is one of these places. I had only ventured on this portion of the PCH during my house hunting trip to Monterey and was anxious to explore it in a more relaxed manner. Despite driving most of the route the day before, it was just as enjoyable. In fact, at one point a few tears filled my eyes as I thought of moving away from this part of the country, Is it possible for a place to break your heart? Luckily, the sadness passed and the landscape renewed my spirit.

Limekiln is a small park with only three short trails that meander along the floor of one of the Pacific’s steepest coastal canyons on the West Coast. Lots of tents and campers dotted the sites along the beautiful creek and near the beach. The main trail begins by following the creek before each trails divides to follow a separate branch of that creek.  Each trail is less than a mile round trip. All of the trails are lined with redwood groves and filled with sound of rushing and bubbling water. Streaks of sunshine penetrated the tree cover and I breathed in the smell of the forest. I don’t know if I could have been more content. The most impressive trail is the Falls Trail which ends at a 100 foot waterfall.  To get there you have to crisscross the creek several times. It was not too difficult and I was happy to survive the trail without any missteps. Unlike Pfeiffer State Park, there is complete access to the falls. I loved feeling the spray on my face. The cliffs around the falls create a huge opening without tree cover allowing lots of sunshine and warm temperatures. I knew I had found a great swimming hole for warmer days.   After finishing the three trails, I sat in the beach for a little bit, munching an orange and enjoying the sea breeze.

As I was reluctant to end my day of exploration, I continued driving about twenty more minutes until I was forced to turn around (due to a landslide, Highway 1 near Gorda was closed). I turned up an O.A R. CD and began driving back home. As the sun shone into the car, I could tell that despite putting on sunscreen that I was a little burned.  Yet I could not bring myself to close the sunroof. The sun, the air, the scenery, it was all completely euphoric.  Part of me kicked myself for not foregoing the guilt that my husband was at school and the slight anxiousness of hiking alone sooner. However, I simultaneously delighted in the knowledge that I am perfectly happy with solo adventures. And maybe just maybe, there will be enough time to explore it all.  
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Ray Schilling on

Ginger, this is so well written. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your solo adventure visiting Big Sur. And the pictures are wonderful. Kaye and I so much enjoyed our visit with you and Mike when we visited Big Sur and it brought back such good memories. Hopefully you will be able to find enjoyable trips like this one when you are in Maryland. Maryland has a lot to offer also--from the Atlantic Ocean to the mountains in the western part of the state.

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