After reading Where The Road Begins, I wonder why I’ve never seen on cars of Big Sur residents’, bumper stickers protesting, “To Hell With Ansel Adams!”

The author of Where The Road Begins, Peter Gray Scott, is a resident of the Oakland Hills, born and raised in Berkeley, and educated at Stanford.  Mr. Scott is an architect who wrote this three-part book,  Where the Road Begins: The Saga of Big Sur’s Pioneer Families, and Environmentalism in America.

The first part provides the history of American settlement in Big Sur, initiated by English-American William Brainard Post and his Ohlone-Rumsen wife, Maria Anselma Onesimo.  The second part focuses on the building of the coast road through the Sur in the 1930s, and the effects once the world rushed in and “discovered” Big Sur.  The third part, with only two short chapters, is about the new people in Big Sur, “. . . who were financially secure or whose income came from somewhere else.  They may have come for the beauty of the place, but they had no essential dependence on the land.”

Mr. Scott details a “Golden Age” on the south coast of about 70 years, from the 1870s to the 1940s.  This Golden Age grew out of an American idealism of individualism, self-reliance, and the pursuit of frontier and wilderness as one’s destiny.  The early settlers considered land stewardship their obligation to community: “Protect the water supply, mitigate erosion, avoid uncontrolled fires, handle waste appropriately, tend the essential plantings, and ensure the livestock had enough to eat without destroying the pasture.”

The Golden Age was an insular time when few outsiders passed through, and those who came and went, were provided food and shelter at a ranch, so long as they worked for their supper and bed.

The highway creation itself was a State-managed project, with no environmental impact reports and no strategic planning.  Promises were made to residents of culverts and bridges, and promises were broken.  Rights of way weren’t paid to residents, yet the residents’ were paying the taxes that went to the road being dynamited through their land.

Once the highway was built, the Sur opened to the world.  With the highway construction completed, the Big Sur economy changed from a dependence on the land, to a tourism economy, now comprised of serving meals and providing lodging for the many post-World War II automobile travelers.  “The highway that brought the tourists was also the breach in the fortress-like geography that had protected Big Sur for nearly a century.  The dead-end residential road morphed into a link in the State’s transportation system.”

The obligations remain the same, though, “Protect the water supply, mitigate erosion, avoid uncontrolled fires, handle waste appropriately, tend the essential plantings, and ensure the livestock had enough to eat without destroying the pasture.”

“Save Big Sur?  From what?  For whom?”

And then came Ansel Adams.  Ansel was one of the directors of the Sierra Club in the mid-sixties when he moved to Carmel Highlands.  Ansel was never a resident of Big Sur, nor did he ever ask the opinion of any of the 800 Big Sur residents, but Ansel decided that the Sur needed saving and proposed the “Big Sur National Scenic Area.”  A National Park like Cape Cod, except that Cape Cod National Seashore, with its 40 miles of wide sandy beaches, eleven nature trails, and three acre residential lots, isn’t like Big Sur.  Imagine a one acre parking structure, built ten stories high, in Big Sur, and, if truly emulating Cape Cod National Seashore, then include picnic areas, comfort stations, shuttle buses and additional parking lots.  Also, carve out a municipal airport.  All these amenities were to accomodate an anticipated twelve million annual visitors*.

How did the Sur escape such a fate?  Buy Where The Road Begins: The Saga of Big Sur’s Pioneer Families, and Environmentalism in America.

Henry Miller Library
Nepenthe’s Phoenix Shop

*Current estimate is about three million annual visitors.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

Two Caltrans projects halt cars on Highway 1 through Big Sur.  The northern one consists of maintenance and improvements at Rocky Creek Bridge.  The southern project consists of two constructions, both well-coordinated to appear as one project; a bridge at Pitkins Curve and a rock shed at Rain Rocks.

Project #1 – Rocky Creek Bridge

Along the northern Big Sur coast, about a 1/2 hour south of Carmel, automobiles and bicycles are controlled, by stoplight, to one-way passing on the northern and southern approaches to Rocky Creek Bridge.  You’ll wait only a few minutes at the light while the opposing traffic clears, then be allowed to pass through.  The Rocky Creek Bridge job isn’t listed (as of today) on CalTrans Road Conditions, but its roadwork is mentioned in a February 2012, District 5 Status of Projects.  CalTrans is stabilizing the roadway, widening the shoulders, upgrading guardrails, and installing a retaining wall.  Judging by the multiple scaffolds, it appears that the bridge, built in 1932, is undergoing a multi-point inspection.

Projects #2 & #3 – Pitkins Curve Bridge and Rain Rocks Rock Shed

You’ll wait about ten minutes at the site of Pitkins Curve and Rain Rocks, along the southern coast of Big Sur near Lucia.  You can shut off your engine and relax, while listening to ocean breezes through your car’s open windows.  Rain Rocks Rock Shed and Pitkins Curve Bridge is listed on CalTrans Road Conditions, but without any description of how amazing is this two-in-one project.  Pitkins Bridge and Rain Rocks Rock Shed perch atop the shifting scree of greywacke within the narrowest construction jobsite ever visited.  Steel netting is draped over the rockface to contain ceaseless falling rocks.  The netting was initially draped with helicopter assistance, then climbers fasten it tightly in place.  The rock shed will allow for cars and bicyclists to safely travel this passage and the bridge will connect the rock shed to the northern roadbed.


Slow for the Cone Zone.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

While Holly’s Honey Wheat Berry Bread dough rises in my warm kitchen, let me tell you of a good book about the California coast which provides three things: Intimate Authenticity of the place, a History about how and why people settled at that location, and snippets of Experiences with the Coast Road.  My Nepenthe, by Romney Steele, also forks out exceptional recipes from the restaurant’s kitchen.

My Nepenthe is a cookbook memoir written by Bill and Lolly’s granddaughter, Romney Steele, who menu planned, cooked, and served at Nepenthe’s Cafe Kevah.  Romney’s family harkens to old California, back to the second-half of the 1800s, when her great-great grandfather, Albert Gallatin, built the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento.  Romney’s great-grandmother, Jane Gallatin Powers, grew up in the mansion, and then married San Francisco attorney, Frank Hubbard Powers.  Frank and Jane established the artists’ colony at Carmel-by-the-Sea and invited artists and writers to reside there to paint and write.

In 1949, Frank and Jane’s granddaughter, Lolly, together with her husband Bill Fassett, created Nepenthe atop a projection of Big Sur’s steep land, situated a few hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean.  Bill and Lolly commissioned Rowen Maiden, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright, to develop their plans.  Romney writes, “My grandmother imagined an open-air pavilion for good food, dancing, and Sunday afternoon concerts, a place for people to come and forget their worldly cares.  She worked closely with Maiden to achieve her ideas.”

Nepenthe functioned as both home and restaurant.  “Bats and termites called the cabin home when they (Bill and Lolly) first saw it, and deer and rattlesnakes hovered.  My grandmother planted a grapevine that continues to trail up the front arbor.  My grandfather took jobs in the highway and in construction. The creation of Nepenthe Restaurant, a poet’s paradise carved from the hillside and formed to be one with land and sea, would follow.”

You read My Nepenthe two ways:  As a memoir, enjoying family photographs of good times and gorgeous meals at the restaurant, and also as a cookbook, by following its delicious recipes at your home.

As a memoir, My Nepenthe tells us of Big Sur through the lenses of each decade:

  • In the 1950s, “With a newly-minted highway and recovering economy, and Henry’s (Henry Miller) emerging fame after the ban on his Tropic books lifted, people flocked to Big Sur and hence, to Nepenthe.”
  • “The vigor of the ’60s brought a surge of interest in the coastal hamlet of Big Sur.  Hearst Castle in Cambria opened in 1959, bringing tourists from the south, and in 1962, the Esalen Institute opened its doors to the Human Potential Movement, drawing its own illustrious crowd.”
  • The Nepenthe Cheeseboard and the Vegetarian Chef Salad appeared on Nepenthe’s menu in the ’70s.  “The minute a waiter carried it (the Cheeseboard with generous hunks of cheese, fat slices of dark black bread, and fruit served on a board and accompanied by a glass of port) out to a table, surrounding tables asked for it too.”

After reading the book as a memoir, a memoir of Big Sur’s changes, a memoir of the restaurant Nepenthe, and a family memoir, you too will be inspired to cook.  My kitchen smells heavenly when making both, “Day At The Beach Minestrone Soup” and “Holly’s Honey Wheat Berry Bread.”

The Nepenthe telephone booth’s history is noted in My Nepenthe.  Lolly worried that they would be burdened with constantly answering the phone, “Everybody will call call to see if there was fog or not.”

Buy My Nepenthe.



This post written by Anneliese Agren

Currier & Ives lithographed the West for the railroad.  The coastal scene above presents a California that is both abundant and simple.  A magnificent mountain peaks above clouds.  Ships harbor in the distance and a man walks with his burros towards the village along the coast road.

Idyllic.  Edenic.  An untouched world available to possibility.

Other lithographs of the West by Currier & Ives.

Sharper colors displayed at David Rumsey.

Someone paid $5,175 for one at Christie’s.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

The botanist told us

“over by Davis Lumber, between house furnishings and plumbing, there’s a Grecian laurel growing – not much smell, but that’s the one that poets wore.  Now California laurel’s not a laurel  It can drive off bugs or season a sauce, and it really clears your sinus if you take a way deep breath -”

Crushed leaves, the smell

reminds me of Annie – by the Big Sur river

she camped under laurel trees – all one summer

eating brown rice – naked – doing yoga –

her chanting, her way deep breath

Gary Snyder 2004 “danger on peaks”


This post written by Anneliese Agren

Jeff Horn’s website.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

Sitting in a park in Paris France
Reading the news and it sure looks bad
They won’t give peace a chance
That was just a dream some of us had
Still a lot of lands to see
But I wouldn’t want to stay here
It’s too old and cold and settled in its ways here
Oh but California

California I’m coming home
I’m going to see the folks I dig
I’ll even kiss a Sunset pig
California I’m coming home

I met a redneck on a Grecian isle
Who did the goat dance very well
He gave me back my smile
But he kept my camera to sell
Oh the rogue the red red rogue
He cooked good omelettes and stews
And I might have stayed on with him there
But my heart cried out for you California

Oh California I’m coming home
Oh make me feel good rock ‘n’ roll band
I’m your biggest fan
California I’m coming home

Oh it gets so lonely
When you’re walking
And the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read
Just gives you the blues
Just gives you the blues
So I bought me a ticket
I caught a plane to Spain
Went to a party down a red dirt road
There were lots of pretty people there
Reading Rolling Stone reading Vogue
They said “How long can you hang around?”
I said a week maybe two
Just until my skin turns brown
Then I’m going home to California

California I’m coming home
Oh will you take me as I am
Strung out on another man
California I’m coming home

Oh it gets so lonely
When you’re walking
And the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read
More about the war
And the bloody changes
Oh will you take me as I am?
Will you take me as I am?
Will you?

© 1970; Joni Mitchell


There is treasure hidden there, on the coast of California.
El Diego hid it there when The Clara ran aground
On the coast of California, deep within a cave that’s never seen.
Treasure stolen from the Incas, we could capture for the Queen.

There’s a mountain in the ocean on the coast of California
and deep within its side the tides of night alone reveal
El Diego’s hidden cave where we’ll plunder the riches of Granada.
While the Spaniard, blind with pleasure plays ashore in Ensenada.

We will sail before the dawn along the coast of California.
El Diego is delayed. The wine and women hold their sway
And our map is clearly drawn to the dark and stormy shore.
On the coast of California lies a mighty prize of war.
Tell not a soul that you have seen me. Breathe not a word of what I say.
Tell not a soul that you have seen me. Breathe not a word of what I say.


There was an error retrieving images from Instagram. An attempt will be remade in a few minutes.

Coast Road Twit

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Flickr Photos

Days until manuscript completion

Final DraftNovember 30th, 2013
Dot i's and cross t's.