The Spirit of Wild Places

My latest article for Voices of Monterey Bay is out. Here are the first two paragraphs.

I’ve been enchanted with the spirit of wild places most of my life. I went backpacking to the top of Mount San Jacinto when I was 9, long before the tram was built. My family and I took a weeklong mule trip to the high country camps of Yosemite when I was 10. We camped every summer when I was growing up. I grew up as a Girl Scout and wild places were very much part of my life. We were taught to pack it in, pack it out, just because … well, what else would one do? Long before there was a “leave no trace movement,” it was what we were taught and what we did.

This upbringing probably contributed to my love affair with Big Sur. It was a natural extension of my wildness education in many of the most beautiful places in California and the West. I learned to water ski on Big Bear Lake and hike in the Sierras. We traveled to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and other wild places of the West. I wish others had the opportunities that I did. Sadly, most of these places are overcrowded and overrun now. The experience is not quite what it was. The wildness is becoming harder and harder to find.

One can find the rest of the article here:


Big Sur Saturday Tidbits, 5/25/19

from Sylvia Trotter Anderson

26 Jun 1937 MPH – Mrs. Helena Smith, Early Settler of Big Sur Country, Recalls Olden Days

Opening of the new Carmel-San Simeon highway is focusing attention on the magnificent Big Sur country and those interesting people who are pioneer settlers of that region.  One of the oldest residents of the Sur country alive today is Mrs. Helena Smith, 77 years old.  Mrs. Smith, who lives at Westmere, is the widow of the later Richard M. Smith, who was with the first wagons that crossed the Sierra Nevada mountains after the Donner Party.

It was nearly 50 years ago that Mrs. Smith first visited in the country with her brother-in-law and sister, Mr. and Mrs. John Edward Boland.  The Bolands, who lived at Little River, are the parents of Mrs. Thomas Doud and Mrs. Edward Doud, present residents of Monterey.

In 1888 the Smiths bought the Dexter ranch and a few years later purchased the adjoin Jones Ranch, property that is still in the family and now known as Westmere.

“It was the horse and buggy days,” Mrs. Smith recalled, as she spoke of her first trip down the Coast.  “We left Monterey at ten o’clock in the morning and reached Little River with a span of horses and a spring wagon about 5 hours later.  The roads were barely passable; some grades were so steep we walked to lighten the load on the wagon.”

As years progressed, Bixby’s Landing was built and from there the tan bark of Mill Creek was shipped.  Later Notley’s Landing, purchased from the Smiths, came into existence and from there lumber and tan bark were shipped points East.

The mail stage started its first delivery with Charles Kessler as driver.  That was about 1891 or 1892 when the first mail contract was given to Keller, who was later killed on duty when his horses went over the cliff.  Even today, mail is being delivered just three times a week, although it is reported that a daily delivery will start with the opening of the new roads.

Like many other Sur residents, the Smiths had Dr. John L. D. Roberts of Monterey as the family physician.  Doctor Roberts who dreamed the new coast road many years ago, and his son, Houghton Roberts, will take prominent parts in the road opening ceremony tomorrow.

Hobart L. Pierson, present resident of Oakland, was one of the first people to drive an automobile on the old coast road in 1906, Mrs. Smith remembers. “Charles Culp of Pacific Grove and Shelley Pickles of Oak Grove were among his fearless passengers who rode on the running board as an early safety measure.”

“The first road improvements were sturdy wooden bridges that defied the elements for many years” Mrs. Smith said.  “These were followed by the steel constructed bridge that was soon destroyed by the ocean spray and breezes.  Today, with our fine concrete bridges, cars can pass Little River in three quarters of an hour.”

“Our first school was located one mile from the ocean on Mill Creek,” Mrs. Smith recalled.  “It was called the Palo Colorado School.”  Miss Grace Fitch was the teacher and was justly proud of her nine pupils.  The largest school attendance recorded was round 30 pupils when Mrs. Florence M. Houge was the teacher.  Mrs. Houge owns and lives on the Bixby Ranch, where she conducts a school today.

“No better proof of the progress of time has come to my attention, “Mrs. Smith said, “then when my grandson, Lieutenant John S. Chennault, who is with the US Air Crops at Selfridge, Michigan, flew down from the Oakland airport to Westmere in 40 minutes.”

Big Sur Saturday Tidbits, 5/18/19

26 Jun 1958 MPH – Fabulous Big Sur Country Lies South of Carmel

“Oh the south coast’ a wild coast ane lonely…” So goes the opening line of the “South Coast Ballad”, written a number of years ago by Mrs. Harrydick (Lillian Bos) Ross of Partington Ridge in the Big Sur country.

Big Sur, about 30 miles south of Carmel on the Coast Highway, is a good stop-over on the way to the Hearst Castle at San Simeon, another 64 miles to the south.

The loneliness and inaccessibility of the region is described where “the lions still rule the barrancas and a man there is always alone.”

Things have happened in the Big Sur country, however, and more and more people have been attracted to this area above Pacific waters.

As early as 1948, residents there worried about a “building boom” and feared such additions as hot dog stands, cocktail bars and subdivisions.  True, there are camp sites, store, motels and restaurants as well as Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and thousands visit there each summer.  A master plan for the area, however, restricts building and in such sections as Coastland, only large parcels are available.

First Settlers – The first settlers, the Pfeiffer family arrived there in 1869 and others, such as the Posts, came in not long after.

Electricity was carried to Grimes Canyon below Big Sur in 1952, daily mail service began in 1951 and in June of last year dial telephone service was installed.  This latter innovation eliminated the old crank-type phone and enabled residents to dial their neighbors instead of having to meet face-to-face to exchange the time of day.  Prior to that toll stations only were available.

More recently, residents there were faced with a garbage disposal problem and a temporary solution, at least has been found.  Plans to establish a dump area on the ridge above Sycamore Canyon brought loud protest from home owners.  At the present time resort owners have made an agreement with the Carmel Valley Disposal Service to handle their garbage.  Residents will continue to dispose of their own until a satisfactory plan is developed.

Despite such modern additions Big Sur, away from the highway, is still wild and remote.  People living there seek solitude away from the hurly-burly of modern urban existence.  Artists and writers have migrated there to live and work and many of them can boast of outstanding achievements in the creative fields.

Among them are Louisa Jenkins, noted for her mosaic tiles; author Henry Miller; Nicholas Roosevelt, writer, diplomat and gourmet; Brad and Helen Fuller who are, respectively, writer, photographer and actress; Dr. Dryden Phelps, religious philosopher who spends part of his time there and his son, Lyon Phelps, a visitor, who is a New York play producer.

David and Bettina [Betty] Tolerton are long-time residents of Partington Ridge.  He is known for his iron sculpture and ceramics.  Harrydick and Lillian Bos {Shanigolden) Ross are also pioneers of that section.  Harrydick is a sculpture and Shanigolden a writer.

Other Residents – There is Maud Oakes, author of such volumes as “The Two Crosses of Todo Santos”, who does her research in Guatemala under a Bollingen Foundation Grant.  Emile Norman and Brook Clement are famed for their laminating process in plastics and are busy working on new commissions.

There are others, of course.  Some who come to work, some who wish to retire among the majestic stands of redwoods and others who, liking the country, come to seek a means of livelihood.

Residents there, however, are jealously guarding their privacy.  They don’t want the Big Sur country to expand.  They don’t want thousands of people to live there.  The still want I to remain “a wild coast and lonely.”