For seventy miles along California’s central coast stretches an exceptional landscape known as Big Sur. Looming mountains, precipitous cliffs, deep canyons, towering redwoods, abundant wildlife, and an expansive ocean are all defining features of this prized coastline. Big Sur’s timeless landscape compelled California legislators to cater to the growing auto-tourist demand of the 1920s by penetrating the isolated Big Sur with the Carmel–San Simeon Highway, later known as Highway 1. For over seventy-five years, this ribbon of road, etched into the Santa Lucia Mountains, has delivered millions of admirers to the dramatic Big Sur coastline. They seek contact with a landscape that possesses qualities similar to those of a national park, but they also come to Big Sur because it has long been a cultural symbol of California and the West, a place rife with meaning in contemporary society. Big Sur’s pioneering preservation model—developed by residents and local and state officials—is key to its mystique. Big Sur occupies a hybrid space somewhere between American ideals of development and wilderness. It is a space that challenges the way most Americans think of nature, its relationship to people, and what, in fact, makes it “wild.”
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