Shimmering summer heat has fallen on the Big Sur Valley this week, sending crowds to Pfieffer Beach, driving locals not blessed with pools down out of the hills in search of shade at the river and a swimming hole still deep enough to submerge in. With the promise of clear skies this weekend, and the annual Concourse d'Elegance car show in full swing on the Monterey Peninsula, Highway One is a slow-moving train of all kinds of vehicles. Families in RVs trundle along in front of dusty 4WD ridge-runners driven by frazzled locals; a pack of Lamborghinis makes its annual pilgrimage down the coast to brave the gridlock of the Nepenthe parking lot; and every turnout is full to overflowing with tourists in late-model rented convertibles looking for the perfect photo op.
Those of us who live here and commute daily on Highway One tend to react to the late-summer barrage of traffic with either philosophical, zenlike detachment or barely-contained shrieking deathrage. It's the time of year when the sustained craziness has begun to wear thin and we anticipate seeing Labor Day in the rearview mirror along with its miles of crawling cars, dreaming of the time, still months away, when the rains come and the hills slide and the road closes in one direction or another, blocking access and bringing a few blessed days of quiet.
For now, though, we brave the crowds with as much equanimity as we can, knowing the visitors are all drawn to Big Sur for the same reasons we were, when it first captured us and then held us close - the immense, harsh beauty of the coastal cliffs at the edge of the world, the ancient gravity of the redwoods in the narrow canyons, and the strange spirit of a place that still feels - despite the frenetic buzz of the highway - feral at heart, wild, and free.