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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Big Sur is stunning, but difficult to access

We’ll never forget our latest Big Sur adventure.

The stretch of coastline on California Highway 1 between San Simeon and Carmel is memorable in so many ways, especially when you’re traveling in an RV. Yes, the scenery is breathtaking, but it’s more like you’re gasping for air when driving through hairpin turns and dealing with the heavy traffic. Beep, beep, another Tesla is chomping at the bit to pass.

We’d pull over, but we can’t. Most of the viewpoints were already full of cars, so what do we do now?

In retrospect, our visit over a holiday weekend was rotten timing. But you know what? We still wouldn’t have missed visiting this very special place.

Let’s back up for a minute. We began the Big Sur journey by camping for a few days at San Simeon Beach State Park’s popular campground. John snapped up No. 26, an end spot high on the bluff, the Pacific shimmering in the distance.

It was the first time we’ve been unplugged since buying new Interstate deep-cycle batteries for the coach and – hooray! – those puppies came through. The old batts didn’t hold a charge for long.

The state park campground offers fairly easy beach access and the stretch of sand is often empty. At least it was when we first arrived on a weekday. The massive rock formations just beyond the breaking waves are what makes this coastline so magical.

Just up the road, there’s a famous beach where Elephant seals flop on the sand for the winter months, drawing fascinated onlookers who wait patiently for the animals to make a move. Oh, look, over there, a couple of males are fighting for the attention of a female. This time of year, calves are born and tensions can run high.

Not far from the campground, high up on a hill sits Hearst Castle, the over-the-top residence of a powerful newspaper magnate. It’s been part of the California parks and open to the public for tours for many years, but has remained closed during the pandemic.

The charming town of Cambria is just south of San Simeon, offering shops, restaurants and a very cool beachside boardwalk.

We headed into the heart of Big Sur on the Sunday of President’s weekend and quickly got a harsh dose of reality. Our destination – Big Sur Campground and Cabins – was only 60 miles away, but the going was slow and stressful.

When we finally pulled in, the place where we were staying felt like prime time at Pig Out in the Park. It was absolutely packed. This was the flip side of the wide open campsites we had enjoyed at the state park, with tents crowded up against the RV sites. It felt like we’d stumbled in late to a party where we didn’t know anyone.

Once we got settled, our jangled nerves started to unfrazzle. John started a roaring campfire and we looked up to admire the towering redwood trees surrounding us. Now, that’s more like it.

This portion of Big Sur is miles from the ocean, deep in the fragrant forest. John managed to find a way to get back to the beach, fording the Big Sur River at the Andrew Molera State Park and hiking over a hillside on a well-used trail.

Leslie was back at the tiny home on wheels working on some cooking projects and enjoying the peace and quiet at the campground as the weekenders packed up to head home. We were completely off the grid in this remote spot, no cell service, no WiFi, and that break from being tethered to electronic devices was refreshing.

By the time we were heading up the road, it became clear why so many people love this place. It’s not easy to negotiate, but the rewards make it worth the considerable effort. We’ll be back.

Leslie Kelly
Leslie Kelly is a freelance writer.