Globe-trotting correspondent Robert Wernick heads west, to the precipitous cliffs that plunge into the Pacific at Big Sur. There, on the edge of the continental United States, he chronicles the stories, past and present, layered in a legendary province of forest and fog, ocean and stony beach, sea otter and condor and mountain lion.
In colonial days, the inaccessible stretch of coast south of the provincial capital of Alta California at Monterey was known as el país grande del sur, "the big country of the south." This trackless wilderness has always drawn loners and dreamers — outlaws on the run, a few hardy homesteaders, an occasional miner or logger.
In 1914, Big Sur became a bohemian redoubt as well, when poet Robinson Jeffers settled here in a hand-built stone dwelling. Over the years, other artists would take up Jefferson's mantle — among them, novelist Henry Miller, who came here straight from Paris and settled in for 18 years, Richard Brautigan, who would write A Confederate General from Big Sur, and the ultimate outcast, Jack Kerouac.
Today, Big Sur remains the preserve of rugged individualists; loners still live off the land in isolated cabins. But the rich and famous — Ted Turner and the late David Packard, for instance — have made this their retreat, too. (It has been influential individuals who have succeeded in keeping development at bay in this rugged, beautiful country.) Tourists driving Highway 1 along the coast will find the land here eternally wild.