Slowing down in Big Sur
My fiancé John and I spent our first engagement anniversary up in Big Sur, a place that I believe to be the most beautiful part of California.
This was the second year in a row we’ve spent vacation time in the area. Last year, John told me we were going camping, drove me hundreds of miles up the coast to a Redwood forest, proposed to me and (after listening to the Cardinals win on the radio) swept me off to what I thought was a campsite but turned out to be a beautiful cabin in the woods at a place called Heart Circle Mountain.
Somehow this year he topped that. It didn’t seem possible, but with the help of some hummingbirds, a bathtub and exquisitely good food, John outdid himself.
He was even more creative this year. He rented a secluded trailer in the woods that overlooked both 54-acres of the jungle-like Big Sur woods and the calm blue Pacific Ocean. The tranquility we experienced defies description; we were in the middle of nowhere, with no cell phone coverage, no TV or Internet and a couple (well more than a couple) bottles of wine and pure, wonderful silence. We’re used to the hustle-and-bustle of L.A. and the never-ending craziness of our jobs as journalists, so turning off our cell phones was just what we needed.
The accommodation was a mile-long walk from where we parked the car. The owner, Richard from Big Sur Vintage Trailers, along with his trusty Australian cattle dog Piha (Pee-HA), met us shortly before dusk. He drove all our belongings to the site on a tiny old school Suzuki SUV.
The type of camping we were about to embark upon is called “glamping” or luxury camping. Usually, John brings me places where we arrive at a campsite just before dusk, have an epic set-up battle with the tent and struggle to make a fire before all the light drains from the sky. Upon arriving at the location with Piha joyfully running along the side of the car and realizing that there was already a place to cook food and a super squishy bed waiting, I was an immediate fan of glamping.
“Big Sur Cabins For Rent is NOT for sissies,” Richard writes on the rental’s website. “Off the Grid – is just that— It’s more rugged than hoteling but not quite roughing it like camping. The trailers are warm, dry and lovingly restored. You can enjoy the view, the high thread count sheets, outdoor (and indoor) showers, and all the utensils you’ll need to create a gourmet meal.”
For Richard, the property is about connecting with nature by disconnecting from the wider-world.
“I don’t try to make it okay for everyone,” he said.
He began renting out his trailer after many friends-of-friends asked him if they could stay on the property. He soon realized it was a place that many people, not just he, found to be spiritually healing.
“We’ve had seven or eight marriage proposals here, not all of them planned,” he said. “Within the framework of Big Sur, there are less people. So people are better able to reconnect.”
Flowers that Richard had planted surrounded the trailer and the entrance giving the property the allure of a rustic secret garden. Many of the plants strategically attracted hummingbirds, and in the mornings we woke up to the fast pattering of little hummingbird wings.
Richard fixed up the trailer himself and did all the hard labor of clearing the trees and leveling the ground where we were staying.
“I’m a servant to beauty and spiritual beliefs in nature,” Richard said in a recent interview. “What is it they say – live simply so others may simply live?”
The set-up is rugged, yet energy efficient.
“Guests learn what it’s like to live in balance with nature and have more personal respect about what they are using,” Richard said. “You can’t waste here, whereas in the outside world there’s no attachment or limits to what you use. People learn to recalibrate.”
Italian lights, hung from branches, light the night and add a romantic luster to the property, accompanying the candle-lit glow of the trailer tucked in amid a sweet smelling forest. All electricity is provided by solar panel and propane heats the water for bathing and cooking, which made me more aware of our impact on the land and really opened my eyes to our surroundings.
Richard has lived off the grid since 1991. He is a master stone mason, builder and carpenter, and a skilled horticulturist. He’s planted fruit trees, wisteria, ginger and vegetables around the property. His property is spacious and comfortable, with a hot shower and bath overlooking both the woods and the ocean, a place to cook, and a warm, quiet, peaceful place to sleep.
“I don’t believe in a house,” Richard said. “I don’t think I could live in a house anymore. I once built a fine home and lost it to satisfying a marriage. I’m not a creature of the city, so now I live in authenticity and synchronicity and have spiritual beliefs based on nature.”
Richard and Piha work the land daily. He is currently working on a second trailer and hopes to eventually transform the property into a community of like-minded people.
“I don’t know if we have enough time on the planet to get this place up and functioning, but I’m dedicated to trying,” he said. “There’s 90 years of nature taking back the land from humans, and I’m trying to peel it back as gracefully as I can and find the original handprint of humans.”
He has truly created a retreat. A separate bathroom with a large turquoise tub opened up to the empty green woods and the crazy calming blue waters. Richard provides a small basket of shampoos and even a mason jar of bath salts. Showering outdoors overlooking the Pacific was an experience that was surprisingly freeing, and I took advantage of it as often as one can in a three day period. One night while we were enjoying the tub, there was a small earthquake; we saw the bathtub water ripple from the quiet shaking, yet still felt oddly safe.
We spent an evening hiking to the basin of the mountain and shot our own ‘Save the Date’ photos. The walk down was partially cleared and wholly beautiful. The forest’s lush green trees and intoxicating smell of wet dirt brought me back to almost a year ago when John proposed to me while sitting on a log in the depths of the Big Sur woods. This forest will always hold a special place in my heart and now, after our photo hike, is immortalized in film along with our goofy smiles and a banner announcing our wedding date.
“There’s a lot of hope in nature,” Richard said. “Relationships go bad, friendships change, people die, but the rugged intense beauty of Big Sur doesn’t change.”
Because the trailer was located a ways from our car it was easy to resist the temptation to do activities outside of the immediate area. Instead we read our books, watched the water and spent the weekend chilling out. My heart rate, usually above normal, finally slowed down to a regular pace, and I was finally able to finish a Joyce Carol Oates book that I had struggled to find time to read in my workaday life. One of the evenings we got really adventurous and braved the trail to the car to get dinner 10 miles away at Nepenthe Restaurant. I’m always amazed at the views in Big Sur, but Nepenthe takes the prize for sunset viewing.
The guest book, located in a nook in the trailer, was filled with praise for the location and Richard’s handy work. The chicken coop that is located about a three minute walk from the trailer seemed to be a huge draw for most of the visitors, and many wrote about their morning excursions with the hens. I grew up on a farm in the Midwest, so when we first got there and Richard gleefully told us that we were allowed to feed the chickens in the morning, he unfortunately got a farm girl’s reaction – another chore? – not his usual city-slicker excitement. The eggs, however, were definitely something to be excited about, and magically showed up somewhere on the property every morning for us to turn into a wonderful meal.
All of the entries in the trailer’s journal reflected the calm, relaxed feeling that we had also experienced. Other visitors clearly spent many reflective hours drawing pictures in the worn pages for the next guest to enjoy. People of all ages and nationalities wrote poetry and waxed long about their adventures. I even had a spurt of creativity and added an entry about my happiness not just at the location, but life in general – a feeling I never have time enough to truly soak up and enjoy.
“People get rejuvenated here and go back recharged and go out in the world and do things,” Richard said.
By the time our weekend was up I was so relaxed that my heart rate was probably below normal and I knew that we would definitely be coming back next year – this time, for our honeymoon.
Glamping options in Big Sur
Big Sur Cabins For Rent and Big Sur Old Growth
54915 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920. The property is located 10.5 miles south of Nepenthe Restaurant and the Phoenix Gallery and across the street from Esalen. The Trailers are available at a fixed minimum rate of $350 for the site rental – includes 2 nights. Additional nights are $175.
Call (831) 601-7974 for reservations.
48510 California 1, Big Sur, CA
Call 831-667-2345 for reservations.
Located among the redwood trees and along the Big Sur River, Big Sur Camping and Cabins offers both camping and lodging with an emphasis on family. Quiet time lasts from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily. Camping cabins start at $110 and pets are allowed for an additional fee.
Call 831-667-2322 for reservations.
Tree Bones Resort offers 16 yurt-style camp sites with stunning ocean views full cabin amenities that include WiFi and a plush queen-sized bed. They also boast the only ‘human nest,’ a single campsite that features the a woven wood-art walk-in campsite accessible by ladder. The resort also offers yoga classes three days a week and features Wild Coast Restaurant and Sushi Bar, one of the best sushi bars in the area with beautiful views of the ocean and organic farm-to-table dinners with many of the ingredients grown on the property. They also offer ‘eco-adventures,’ that feature hikes along the coastline as well as ocean kayaking trips. Campsite fees start at $85 while Yurt sites start around $199 breakfast is included.
Call 877-424-4787 for reservations.
Big Sur Getaway is owned by a husband and wife pair that renovated their fleet of Airstream trailers together and has a passion for sustainable living. Their trailers invite guests to enjoy a simple lifestyle away from urban life without internet or a microwave. They have three airstream trailers all decked out with comfortable beds and modern decorations. All offer a private outside area with lounge chairs and a gas fire pit. Pets are welcome to stay for free.
“Big Sur Getaway invites you to explore what is not possible in the city,” their website says. “Take a hot outdoor shower under redwood trees, observe wildlife, sit at a fire pit and play the guitar, daydream in the hammock, cook outdoors, stroll on the beach, and so much more!”
Prices start at $175 in the low season and go to $260 in the high season.
Visit firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation