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    Big Sur: Of Cordilleras and Condors 

    He sat up the better to look at the great mountains where they went piling back, growing darker and more savage until they finished with one jagged ridge, high up against the west.  Curious secret mountains; he thought of the little he knew about them.

                                                                                                                         -John Steinbeck, The Red Pony


    Miles shrink in California’s South Coast Ranges.  Surveyors have plotted other states from here, and astronomers have plotted other galaxies.  Exotic wildlife from all corners of the globe roam these mountains as if they were native. And California condors, having once soared above the continent form Florida to Canada to Mexico, have built the last nests of their species here in areas measured by acres, not miles.  

                                                                                                                         -Russell B. Hill, California Mountain Ranges


              The below photos were taken in the late summer in Big Sur, namely along the coastal Highway 1 through Big Sur and on the trail to Cone Peak.  The town of Monterey makes for a perfect launching pad for one’s southerly expedition (if you stay in Big Sur you may want to stay at the hostel there).  As one would expect, Highway 1 is particularly crowded on the weekends, especially when the sky is blue and the sun is shining upon the vast ocean and the burgeoning kelp forests offshore, but the traffic is not unreasonable and makes for some good people watching at Nepenthe, where you can stop to have a drink. (If you do drive down from Monterey, be sure to check out Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and Andrew Molera State Park, as well the view of McWay Falls in Julian Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where I snapped some pictures of some lucky paddling up to the beach where the waterfall is). On the drive down toward Cone Peak I happened to pull over to pee at the right spot because a family of condors was hanging out just off the road.  There are only 463 California Condors living in the wild, so I saw a little over 1% of them. Like the elephant seal and otter, the condor almost went the way of the grizzly bear, jaguar, and wolf in California, but populations recovered before going extinct.


             The Coast Ridge Road to Cone Peak is doable in an economy car, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  For the half hour that it takes to traverse the winding 5.5 miles I was constantly questioning the wisdom of continuing in my modest car and whether or not it would be smarter to pull over and start walking, thereby obviating the possibility of popping my tire on one of the many large rock shards on the dirt road.   Located in the Los Padres National Forest, Cone Peak – which stands at 5,182 feet and is three miles from the coast – is the highest peak in proximity to the ocean in the lower 48 states.  Cone Peak is part of the Santa Lucia Range, which is part of the South Coast Range, which, together with the North Coast, Klamath, Peninsular, and Traverse, Ranges make up the California Coast Ranges.  These five extensive mountain ranges are part of the even larger Pacific Coast Ranges which span the entire Pacific Rim and is comprised of the mountain ranges stretching along the west coast of North America from Alaska to Mexico.  Furthermore, the Pacific Coast Ranges are part of a greater geological system of mountain ranges, plateaus, and basins ascribed to the North American Cordillera (which means mountain ranges), which is part of the American Cordillera, which goes from Antarctica to South America, and includes the volcanic arc of the Eastern Pacific Rim of Fire, and God only knows what that’s part of.





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