of Big Sur
and mysteries are associated with this dramatic, isolated stretch
fairies to fog spirits, people have been reporting unusual experiences
as long as there have been people in Big Sur.
In the time of the missions, Native Americans would go out on
foggy evenings to "cheer up" their friends, the sad
and lonely fog spirits. The mission fathers strictly forbade any
such pagan activity and one night followed them out into the fog
and performed an exorcism. The fog spirits, offended, departed
howling, causing sadness among the Indians. Poetic justice prevailed,
however, when the priest who performed the exorcism went mad,
jumped off a cliff into the sea at Point Lobos, and was drowned.
Or so the story goes.
Visitors in the 1900's often told of seeing "little dark
people". John Steinbeck's mother, among many others, saw
these mysterious creatures. Also benevolent were the fairies spotted
playing in the mist of a waterfall by a party of hikers in 1939.
Not many traditional ghost stories haunt the South Coast, perhaps
because it was the practice of settlers on leaving their homes
to tear down the structures. Ghosts, after all, need someplace
to haunt, and most of the old barns, farmhouses and outbuildings
have succumbed to time.
But the artist Elwood Graham tells of trying to paint the old
Arborlado Cooper house in the Little Sur, and having something
or someone interfere. Every time he set up his easel, a wind would
suddenly spring up on the otherwise calm day and blow it over.
He finally gave up, but the photograph taken by his companion
that day shows strange ghostly shapes behind the broken windows...
Point Lobos seems to be the focus for many strange tales. Huge
winged angels, or devas, have been seen hovering there, and choirs
of heavenly voices heard singing in many languages. A dark winged
beast, allegedly one of the "sea spirits" that dwell
at Lobos, also has been seen by many, hovering near the cliffs.
"Beware of the sea spirits at Lobos," said a noted spiritualist.
"They do not mean to harm anyone. They are like lion cubs.
It is dangerous to play with lion cubs."
The cypress trees at Lobos hold another mystery. In 1915 a Tibetan
lama in San Francisco for the Exposition insisted on visiting
Point Lobos. He told reporters that there were accounts at Lhasa
of three Buddhist missionaries who sailed from China across the
Pacific 1,000 years previous, planting seeds from the sacred trees
that grew only at the monastery at Lhasa. They stopped at Point
Lobos, in the area of Seventeen Mile Drive, down the coast at
Cambria, and further south in Mexico. An improbable tale, and
yet how else explain the presence of the rare trees?
Some visitors have told of being overcome by a nameless terror
while hiking in the Point Lobos area. A sudden, overwhelming sensation
of impending danger--since dubbed "The Terror"--came
to a hiking party that included marine biologist Ed
Ricketts, the real-life Doc of Steinbeck's novels. All members
of the party simultaneously were overcome by dread and ran back
down the trail to the highway where their vehicle waited.
"The Terror" be caused by the earth's energy built up
in the many faults that bisect the land, or could it be, as spiritual
scholar Ella Young put it, that "Point Lobos is not ready
to make friends with society yet... But when the force of Lobos
is released, when America taps this magic that the Indians had,
then we will have great poetry, great music, great singing."
The final mystery is more down-to-earth, but no less profound,
and that is the mystery of the missing sea otters.
Declared extinct in 1841, these defenseless marine mammals were
hunted for their dense fur, the densest of any animal, with over
one million hairs per square inch. The Spaniards bought the pelts
from local Indians and the Russians and Chinese hunted them from
boats offshore. The animals were such easy prey and the pelts
were so prized that the entire population, from Fort Ross in the
north to Morro Bay in the south, was completely eliminated by
For 97 years no southern sea otters were seen off the coast, even
though the area was well-traveled and inhabited by settlers.
One day in 1938, however, the lonely kelp beds were suddenly lonely
Howard G. Sharpe, owner of the Rainbow Inn in Bixby Creek Canyon,
spotted some three hundred of the furry little fellows riding
the ocean swells 120 yards from the mouth of Bixby Creek.
Several phone calls to the scientific authorities were met with
frank skepticism, but finally the experts trooped in and concluded
that yes, there was a healthy population of the southern sea otter
off the Sur coast again.
But where had they spent the intervening 97 years? Patient study
quickly failed and led to wild conjecture--hibernating? Hidden
in sea caverns? No one knows... but today the visitor to this
coastline has the rare delight of watching the engaging creatures
roll, romp and play in the sea, now protected from poachers and
hunters by strictly enforced laws.
Nature is vast, cosmic in dimension--how could we claim to know
her every wile the way we know, say, the internal combustion engine?
Any place where she remains largely untramelled is bound to be
a place of fertile mysteries for the human imagination to wander