Grand Landscape and Gaudy Taste

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September 13th 2011
Published: July 20th 2012
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Big Sur in morning fogBig Sur in morning fogBig Sur in morning fog

Another glorious vista, this time in morning fog
This morning, I continue south in Big Sur.

The road has changed completely from yesterday.

Fog rolled in overnight, converting the dramatic landscape into an incredibly atmospheric one, with the road and cliffs disappearing into the haze.

Thankfully, visibility nearby is still good, or this road would be rather dangerous to drive.

Lime Kiln State Park

My first major site is another state park, Lime Kiln.

This park is my chance to explore one of those ravines the road has to cross.

The entrance to the park is rather absurd.

Just after the bridge over the ravine, a side road drops straight down the side of the ravine and swings under the bridge.

Unlike Bixby, this bridge isn’t interesting from underneath.

The side road is very steep.

It quickly ends at a parking lot.

The main hiking trail starts here and heads upstream.

Very quickly, it is surrounded by redwood trees.

This park marks the southernmost limit of their range.

The trees here are much smaller than those in the Humboldt groves (see Forest from Another Time).

The ravine quickly becomes narrow, with space for the creek,
Trail to Limekiln FallsTrail to Limekiln FallsTrail to Limekiln Falls

Hike through redwood trees on the trail to Limekiln Falls
trail, some trees, and little else.

A descent amount of deadfall has fallen in the ravine, requiring careful scrambling to get around it.

The ravine eventually reaches a wider spot where the stream forks.

The trail spits with it.

The left branch leads to one of Big Sur’s historic sites, a set of old lime kilns (see California Beach Culture).

I took the right branch.

Immediately, I had to wade the creek, a foretaste of the hike to come.

The trail followed the creek into the ravine, which became even narrower than it had before.

Even better, this ravine is absolutely filled with fallen trees, so I had to constantly crawl over and stoop under them.

The trail crosses the creek two more times, and reaches a log jam of big branches.

At this point, it appears to vanish.

Clearly, the log jam is sitting on the trail.

The issue is where it goes afterward.

I first decided it had to be the sandy section to the left of the creek.

The ravine turns right, and I found myself facing
Limekiln creek ravineLimekiln creek ravineLimekiln creek ravine

Deadfall filled ravine on the way to Limekiln Falls. The trail climbs the hill on the right
a huge downed redwood.

The sandy part ends soon afterward, and the other side of the creek is mud.

I went back to the log jam and crossed the creek.

This is harder than it sounds because the only safe place is to scramble over the logs.

This deposited me on the other bank with nothing to see but trees.

Searching finally revealed a set of heavily eroded steps up the bank, and I had the trail again.

Now back on the trail, I can hike again.

It continues to follow the stream, as the ravine gets even narrower.

Thankfully, since the trail is now higher up it avoids the worst of the deadfall.

It finally turns another corner, and the reason for this hike reveals itself, Lime Kiln Falls.

This waterfall is one of the most beautiful in Big Sur.

The stream reaches the top of a cliff, spreads into a huge fan, and runs down as dozens of rivulets.

The wet cliff is absolutely covered in moss, with the waterfall threads running between them.

Limekiln FallsLimekiln FallsLimekiln Falls

Limekiln Falls, one of the most beautiful in Big Sur
trail ends a distance back from the waterfall, where fallen rocks block the bottom part.

It’s possible to see the whole thing, and the previous hike makes great preparation.

I needed to wade into the stream and walk to the rock pile.

Careful study reveals a short scramble path to the top.

Water flows over these rocks, so step carefully.

At the top sits a narrow plunge pool in front of the falls, where people can sit on the rocks and watch the waterfall to their hearts’ content.

Getting back from this waterfall is just as arduous as hiking to it, thanks to all the downed trees on the trail.

I slipped and fell in the creek while crossing the log jam.

My boots are waterproof, so I just kept hiking afterward.

Big Sur is still so hot this time of year that my clothes were completely dry by the time I reached my car.

Big Sur Landscape

Having seen the glories of Big Sur, I should have expected I would need to deal with its bad side at some point.

Big Sur in sunlightBig Sur in sunlightBig Sur in sunlight

The glory of Big Sur, now with the fog burned off
though my guidebook warns about this problem, I didn’t expect it until I ran into it.

Remember the environment of the Coast Range further north?

Big Sur has the same thing but even more so, steep mountains covered only in grass above a highway. Every winter, rock and mud slides close the Pacific Coast Highway.

Unlike the previous highway, here the roadway is narrow enough that the only way to clear the road it to close it.

I encountered one of these closures.

Periodically, the police open the roadway and let people through.

I had a long, painful wait that seemed to go on forever.

Finally, I was through.

After that blockage, the landscape just goes on and on.

In a few places, the road passes into wooded ravines before making a U turn and passing back out.

Others just have steep mountains with the road clinging to the side.

The fog has burned off by this point, so the views are glorious.

No matter how special a given overlook appears, another one just as good comes by minutes later.

Of course, the landscape is not really endless.

The road slowly dropped
Big SurBig SurBig Sur

In Big Sur, every overlook looks as good as this! I took the picture facing north.
elevation until it ran close to the water.

Soon afterward, a flat area spread out between the mountains and the waves.

I have reached the end of Big Sur.


Video of this stretch heading north, landslide damage included:

Hearst Castle

While driving this stretch, the road gave a view of something that looked like a castle on a distant mountain top.

The castle slowly grew closer.

I reached a sign for ‘San Simeon State Monument’.

The castle in question is officially called ‘San Simeon’, although everyone knows it as the Heart Castle.

It is the most extravagant off a series of houses built by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst.

William Randolf Hearst was only son of millionaire mine owner George Hearst, who owned the Homestake Mine in South Dakota (see Gold Fever) among many others.

At one point, he was one of the richest men in the United States.

The elder Hearst poured some of his money into cattle ranching, and set up a huge ranch in this area.

William spent many summers here as a boy, riding his horse
The end of Big SurThe end of Big SurThe end of Big Sur

Ocean coast just north of San Simeon
across the countryside.

When he later wanted to build a house, he decided the ranch was the perfect place.

George Hearst also owned a newspaper in San Francisco, the Examiner.

William discovered he liked the business.

He got a job working for Joseph Pulitzer at the New York World in 1886.

Joseph Pulitzer specialized in what was then called “yellow journalism”: stories of sensation, scandal, celebrity, and controversy.

If none existed, Pulitzer was quite happy to create his own.

After leaving the World, Hearst combined these techniques with his father’s money to create the largest newspaper empire in the country.

At its peak in the late 1920s, it sold one out of every four newspapers in the country and three out of every five in California.

It lasted until the Depression, when Hearst was forced to sell many of his newspapers bit by bit.

Hearst’s personal life was worthy of his newspaper stories.

He married socialite Millicent Veronica Wilson in 1903.

He found life with her too dull, so he hooked up with actress Marion Davies.

They became fixtures in the Hollywood social scene.

San SimeonSan SimeonSan Simeon

San Simeon, popularly known as Hearst Castle
acquired movie studio Cosmopolitan Productions and used it to make her a star.

Although everyone involved with the movie denied it, film historians agree that William Randolph Hearst was the real life model for Citizen Kane by Orson Wells.

The two stories match almost exactly.

The people involved had good reasons for the denial; Hearst had the ability to make or break a movie through the publicity his papers provided.

Hearst did try to suppress the movie, but Orson Well’s tireless efforts ensured it was still exhibited.

For what it’s worth, the Sam Simeon gift shop doesn’t sell the DVD 😊

The mansion can only be seen on guided tours.

Tickets for most sell out days early.

I owe some thanks to the monument staff regarding my tour.

I got to the castle rather late due to the road closure, and missed my tour.

They managed to squeeze me on a later one so I could still see the place.

The first part of the tour is a long bus ride up the mountain.

The road, Heart’s former driveway, is narrow
San Simeon front facadeSan Simeon front facadeSan Simeon front facade

The front facade of San Simeon, designed to look like a spanish church
with very sharp curves.

Along the way, it gives fantastic views of the mountains and the sea beyond.

The bus ride has taped narration, by Alex Trebek of all people.

Personally, I think Robin Leach from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous would have been more appropriate.

Along the way, the road gives a view of an odd flat area looks like a landing strip, because it is one.

Hearst had a private airport for his guests.

Later on, it passes through overgrown areas with lots of pines and flowering trees.

These are the remains of flowering gardens, which once covered half the mountain.

They were nearly as large as the Biltmore! (see One Big House).

The bus drops people off at the same place Heart’s guests arrived, at the bottom of an impressive set of marble stairs.

Climbing them reveals a courtyard surrounded by several buildings, palm trees, topiary plants, and some impressive flowers.

This is the formal entrance to Sam Simeon.

Sam Simeon was built over many decades.

William Randolph Hearst toured Europe many times while in his teens and early twenties, a popular thing
San Simeon lilly pondSan Simeon lilly pondSan Simeon lilly pond

The lily pond in front of San Simeon. The famous ramp is just visible on the left
for the rich at the time.

He fell in love with European art and architecture.

He then started collecting on a grand scale, buying artifacts and entire rooms from European castles.

Many items were shipped back to California and added to his house.

Literally everything here came from somewhere else.

The house was never officially completed, just abandoned after Heart’s death in 1951.

The center of the courtyard features a pond filled with lily plants.

A small ramp leads from the center of the pond toward the entrance to Sam Simeon.

Many visitors ask about that ramp.

Hearst owned dogs, and they loved to play in the lily pond.

Heart’s servants had the unpleasant job of ultimately getting them out.

They complained about it so much that Hearst installed the ramp to make the work easier!

The front of Sam Simeon looks like a Spanish church.

It has a brass doorway surrounded by stucco reliefs, and two statues.

The central part is flanked by two octagonal towers.

Hearst asked his architect Julia Morgan to make the house look like a European cathedral, and a man of
Reception roomReception roomReception room

William Randolph Hearst's reception room at San Simeon, bought from a European palace
his wealth gets what he wants.

The guide points out two other details in the plaza that show Hearst’s egomania.

He liked palm trees, and wanted some on his estate.

He was far too impatient to watch them grow, so he paid people to uproot fully grown palm trees and bring them here.

Even better for showing his vanity, he had his name painted on the house’s rain gutters!

Inside, the tour covers the formal rooms.

Every one is a museum of priceless European antiques and decorative arts.

The sheer volume is breathtaking.

Hearst really could spend money the way most people breathe air.

Hearst was far from the only wealthy man who furnished his house through European shopping sprees (see Valley of Romantic Memories), but nobody else did it on this scale.

The tour goes through the reception room.

This room is huge with a high ceiling.

The walls contain priceless medieval tapestries.

Above them is an intricate carved ceiling.

The lower portion of the walls is also intricately carved wood.

Some of the panels hold
Dining RoomDining RoomDining Room

The dining room at San Simeon, bought from an English castle
secret doors.

The corners hold statues.

Most of this room came from an Italian palace.

Hearst deliberately wanted an impressive room to show his social position.

Hearst had a much wider range of visitors than most wealthy people did at the time.

He did so deliberately, both to annoy other wealthy men and to gather material for stories.

He served as host for many famous people over the years, including people associated with the movie business.

At the time, most wealthy men considered film stars to be low class.

Hearst also had a famous contest among his newspaper dealers; whoever sold the most papers over a year got to be a guest of the boss for a week.

One of the secret doors leads to the dining room.

This room was bought from a medieval castle in England.

A long formal table fills most of the room.

Heraldic flags overhang the table.

The ceiling is carved wood.

To ensure nobody misses the symbolism, a case behind Hearst’s chair holds an English royal mace.

William Randolph Hearst sat in
San Simeon gardensSan Simeon gardensSan Simeon gardens

A small portion of what remains of the San Simeon gardens
the exact middle of the table during meals.

He carefully arranged his guests around him based on who he found the most interesting.

Lots of conversation passed on this table, during which Hearst did story gathering.

As Hearst became bored with someone, they moved down the table.

He rarely needed to tell people they were no longer welcome.

The room was heated by a huge fireplace near one end of the table.

The table places closest to this fire were a literal hot seat.

People who ended up eating here, by staggering coincidence, soon decided they would be happier visiting somewhere else.

In this room, our guide mentioned Hearst’s family arrangement.

As noted above, Hearst lived with a mistress, not his wife.

I suspect the only reason they didn’t formally divorce is that it would be too scandalous in the early 1900s (which is saying something!).

Hearst’s wife hated San Simeon, so his mistress was free to be the social hostess except at the most formal occasions.

When a head of state or someone equally important visited, Heart’s wife would fly out just long
Neptune PoolNeptune PoolNeptune Pool

The outdoor Neptune Pool, the most photographed feature at San Simeon
enough to hostess the occasion, and promptly left afterward.

We later saw the pool room.

This room was bought from yet another European castle.

The walls held yet more tapestries, along with some impressive mosaics.

The ceiling beams were painted with geometric patterns.

Nooks in the walls held statues, along with one of the oldest telephones in this part of California.

In this room, Marion Davies played tricks on many unsuspecting male guests.

Hearst allowed women to play, a rare gesture at the time.

She became quite good.

When guests played, she would act the part of a ditzy actress who knew little about the game.

Eventually, the guests would invite her in and she proceeded to lose, badly.

The act continued until a guest offered to increase the stakes of the game by playing for money.

At this point, she became the pool shark she really was, and cleaned them out.

The tour ends in a movie theater.

It’s as impressive as the rest of the house, with red fabric walls and a
San Simeon GardenSan Simeon GardenSan Simeon Garden

Another part of San Simeon's glorious formal gardens
carved wood ceiling.

Hearst frequently invited film executives and stars to his house to screen movies before they were released to the public.

Most complied, because a good review in Hearst’s papers went a long way to ensuring popularity and a profit.

If Hearst hated the film, he would walk out in the middle of the showing.

People knew to prepare for the worst, because his papers would almost certainly pan it a few days later.

This power over Hollywood is why people took Heart’s threats over Citizen Kane seriously.

Hearst Neptune Pool

After the house tour, I wandered through the gardens around the plaza.

All of them are planted with flowers.

Marble statues appear in places.

The gardens are organized in a series of marble terraces, ending at the estate’s most photographed feature, the Neptune Pool.

The outdoor pool was designed to resemble a Roman Bath.

It has an intricate tiled floor.

The big deck is surrounded by Roman columns.

One end contains marble statues copied from a Roman fountain.

Hearst installed a system that continuously refreshes the pool water
Morro RockMorro RockMorro Rock

Morro Rock in Morro Bay. Its less impressive than it can be, thanks to the low clouds
so it does not need chlorination.

The deck has a fantastic view of the surrounding hills with the Pacific glowing in the distance.

These days, a dip in that pool is the most expensive swim in California.

The park holds an auction every year to raise funds.

One of the items is a swim followed by dinner in the mansion.

Most years, the winning bid is in the high five figures.

Ultimately, my tour was way too short.

I only saw the public rooms on the first floor of the castle.

Other tours see other areas, which show the mishmash of architectural styles even more, but they add additional time and expense.

I prefer the experience I had at the Biltmore where the admission price is very high, but I could see most of the house and do so at my own pace.

Heading south along the coast, the scenery quickly turned into a clutter of beach towns.

Even worse from a scenic standpoint, a cold front came in bringing fog and low clouds.

The road soon reaches Morro
Elfin ForestElfin ForestElfin Forest

Flowering bushes in the Elfin Forest
Bay, an area created by old volcanoes.

One of those old volcanoes sits in the middle of the bay, Morro Rock.

Elfin Forest

I turned west to find something better, the Elfin Forest.

It sits on a peninsula on the far side of the bay.

Salt blown by the wind forces the trees to grow low to the ground here.

The forest is surprisingly hard to find, a marked trailhead at the end of a side street.

The trail loops around the trees through sand and boardwalks.

It passes ancient oak trees that look more like twisted bushes than traditional trees, alternating with flowering plants.

Several overlooks show views of the bay and tidal flats.

Leaving Moro Bay caused momentary depression.

This is my last view of the Pacific Ocean on this trip.

From now on, I’m heading back across the country toward home.

My trip is steadily getting closer to the end, which my budget book makes clear enough.

I considered impulsively continuing down the coast to Los Angeles, but ultimately turned east.

No matter where I go, money and time will ultimately
Elfin Forest oaksElfin Forest oaksElfin Forest oaks

Century old oak trees look like overgrown bushes in the Elfin Forest
determine when I need to end, and trying to stay near the coast longer won’t change that.

Now heading east, the road climbed into the southernmost part of the Santa Lucia range.

Like the mountains further north, they were mostly covered in grass.

It crested a pass and then dropped through a long ravine on the far side.

I ended up in an area of rolling hills.

I stopped at a rest area along the way, which had a signboard about the San Andreas Fault.

The fault runs only a few miles from here.

I soon crossed it, which of course is the second time I’ve done so.

Like at Santa Cruz I could not actually see it.

After more hills, I ended up in a perfectly flat valley that is covered in farms.

Very quickly, I realized I have travelled from one of the best areas for a convertible to one of the worst.

This valley is part of the Central Valley of California, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world.

All those farms have a distinctive odor.

In my car, I can’t escape it, even with the top up.

I was very glad to get through and find my hotel for the night.


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