A drive through the Big Sur area would not be complete without either a closure on Highway 1, a detour, or road construction to repair pre-vious landslides. And so it was on the day I visited Lime Kiln State Park. I had attempt-ed to visit this park three months earlier, but a mudslide had completely blocked the road. Today I was able to see the repair work under way.
The park is named for the actual kilns that were used to produce lime in the 19th cen-tury. It opened to the public in September of 1995 after the state ac-quired a privately held camp-ground and 716 acres of land in southernmost Big Sur.
The park has two very sepa-rate environments. From the parking lot you can walk straight into a Redwood forest to the East, or take about a three minute stroll to the rocky beach in the West. The hike through the Coastal Red-woods is an easy one mile round trip trail, with the only tricky part being crossing the creek on wobbly rocks and logs two or three times each way. There is a fork in the trail about halfway down. One way goes to the waterfall and the other to the kilns.
I love the fact that within a few steps of the parking lot and highway, you can be plunged into the grand, peaceful environment of the Redwood forest. I find that the instant transformation in the landscape transforms my weariness and anxieties in an equally dramatic and short amount time.
Quarried limestone was “kilned” (smelted) in four huge wood-ﬁred kilns in the 1870s and 1880s. When I first stumbled onto these giant kilns, I had to fight the urge to also look for a gingerbread house, so odd did he seem to see huge ovens in the middle of the woods.
Powdered lime was packed into barrels which were then attached to cable that was strung from the canyon wall down to the beach and some 50 yards out into the Paciﬁc Ocean.
Schooners slipped into tiny Rockland Cove, as the landing was known, and loaded the lime. The lime, a primary ingredient in cement, was used to construct buildings in Monterey and San Francisco. I wondered if any of the lime was being used for the road construction uproad from the beach, or for the tall highway overpass separating the beach from the parking lot.
The industry was hard on Redwoods as they were chopped down to fuel the kilns and to make barrels to store the lime. After a quiet century, nature has healed most of Limekiln Canyon’s wounds and today it shelters some of the oldest, healthiest, largest trees in Monterey County.
Some scientists speculate that these redwoods, along with those in other nearby steep canyons, may prove to be a special subspecies or variety of redwood that differs slightly from more northerly stands.
Nonetheless, in 1984 a pri-vate landowner wanted to log these redwoods. Thanks to conservationists from around the state and the local Big Sur Land Trust, the trees were spared, and their habitat pre-served in the public domain.
A family-owned campground was operated by the Esalen Institute for a number of years. It is now run by the state of California. When the state acquired Limekiln Can-yon, it made some facilities improvements, but not many. The park’s plumbing system remains problematic. Campsites are "Big Sur funky," deﬁnitely not of the quality of those grand northern redwood park campgrounds designed by landscape architects.
I had spent some quiet time in the Redwoods, sitting by the creek in silence, with only the occasional sound of a human voice or footstep. Now on the other side of the park, at the Beach, I did the same. A small bench sat at the base of the highway overpass, look-ing out toward the ocean. A nearby campsite indicated a possible long term resident had put it their for their own special view of the sea. Nice!
At this writing I cannot find any news of Lime Kiln State Park being rescued from closure. What a shame. It is such a jewel with the beach and forest within a five minute walk of each other. Perhaps there will be a last minute reprieve. I hope so.
In the meantime, I hope to see you at the State Parks.
This blog is dedicated to the memory of my Father, who loved reading maps, exploring alternate routes, and taking the road less traveled.
Alvin David Dick, April 28, 1926 - May 20, 2012