In Big Sur, smaller wonders take the spotlight

On a sunny day, I might not have thought to point my camera down. But the gloomy weather was asking me to look differently, look closely, or else I’d miss Big Sur’s tiny beauties.

Taking photographs is my job and my passion, so I don’t – can’t – stop even when I’m on vacation, and even when it rains. While I had envisioned capturing Big Sur’s iconic coastline and the soaring vistas of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park during my recent time off, the low gray clouds and rolling white fog made that impossible. What to do? 

A ranger at Big Sur Station directed us to one of his favorite hikes, Tan Bark Trail. I put on my rain poncho, my husband his waterproof jacket, and we set out.

After crossing a short wooden bridge, we walked beside a rushing stream that ran through a canyon. We climbed through a grove of ancient redwood trees, their branches and leaves forming a high canopy above us as a soft rain fell. Instead of the grand landscapes I might have photographed on a bright day, I now relished zooming in on the smaller elements of nature juxtaposed with the towering trees. 

The trail steepened as we climbed. When we reached an overlook, the bothersome fog had lifted, and a blue sky rewarded us with a clear view of the sparkling ocean in the distance. But it was nature’s nooks and crannies that spoke to me that day, the intricate details I would have missed had I gone looking for Big Sur’s “bigger” shots.  

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

Stereum, in tones of orange and yellow, grows on the bark of a tree at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, March 2.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

A puddle of leaves, pine needles, and pine cones makes up a still life designed by Mother Nature.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

The bright green of new growth is seen between immense sequoia trees, their bark still blackened by a recent wildfire.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

A stream rushes in a canyon on the Tan Bark Trail, one of the favorite hikes of a ranger at Big Sur Station.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

The pattern on the charred bark of a redwood tree in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park creates its own kind of beauty.

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