Santa Lucia Mountains

I had the great good fortune to discover and explore the Santa Lucias when I was nine. My dad did some gold prospecting in the Los Burros Mining District in the late 1940s, and staked a claim for 20-acres atop a 3,000-ft ridge between Spruce Creek and Alder Creek. 

That mining claim was at the summit of San Martin Top, a dozen miles or so from Hearst Castle. Today much of this region has been named the Silver Peak and Willow Creek Wilderness, withdrawn from all mining, but in the 1950s and early 1960s, a gnarly dozen prospectors and miners inhabited the scattered redwood cabins and shacks of this "South Coast Mother Lode."

This old satellite view of Cape San Martin reveals the Hobbit Mine location, along with traces of Los Burros roads.

In fact, my dad built one of the last redwood cabins of that fading gold-fevered place, right on the magnificent Pacific vista knoll called San Martin Top. That was in 1950, and since that day I've spent years exploring and adventuring amid the Santa Lucia Mountains.

I grew up on a small family strawberry farm near Moss Landing and Castroville.  On weekends, dad drove the family south through Monterey and across the dozens of bridges, around the hundreds of curves that are Route 1, a couple of hours it took. We neared the southern frontier of Monterey County before leaving the Coast Highway, turning left across the cattle guard where the row of miner’s mailboxes stood in the south coast breezes.

Willow Ck & San Martin Top are both on this old map of the Cape San Martin region. 
Hobbit Mine was at confluence of North Fork with Willow Ck.
Nephrite jade found along most of this coastline. Elevations shown in meters.

The "South Fork" of Willow Creek named on this map is known locally as "Spruce Creek." The first major gold strike of the Los Burros gold rush was the Last Chance Mine (aka Buclimo, Los Burros) situated between San Martin Top and Alder Creek.

The Santa Lucia Mountains, a part of the Pacific Coast Ranges, extends for about a hundred miles, running southeast from Monterey to San Luis Obispo. Junipero Serra Peak (5,853 ft) is the highest summit in both the range, and in Monterey County.

Close enough to the Pacific Ocean and high enough to force incoming moisture upward, the west side of the Santa Lucia range stays wet, and fit for conifers--especially coastal redwood--to flourish.  They also produce a rain shadow over the considerably drier Salinas Valley to the east. The higher peaks of the Santa Lucias sometimes get some snowfall during the winter.

The climate of the range is classified as 'Dry Summer Subtropical,' or Mediterranean. Rainfall varies from 16 to 60 inches throughout the range, with the most on the higher mountains in the north, and almost all falling in the winter. 
Surface runoff from storms is rapid, and many streams dry up entirely in the summer. 

During the summer, fog and low clouds are frequent along the coast up to an elevation of thousand feet or so. 

Los Burros Rd, c 2m up from the coast. Hobbit Mine Mill Site bordered road at L, Spruce Ck fork of Willow Ck downhill to R. 
Up this road 1/2-mi is the Willow Ck Rd fork. It's 2-mi downhill and another mile by trail to the Hobbit Mine. 

California State Route 1 runs along the Big Sur coast to the west of the Santa Lucias, while U.S. Route 101 lies in the Salinas Valley to the East. The only road across the Santa Lucia Range is Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, from Lucia to Jolon, passing over the crest a few miles south of Cone Peak.

At the summit of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road is a junction with the South Coast Ridge Road, a dirt track winding south above Mill, Prewitt, Plaskett, Willow, Spruce, and Alder Creeks, proceeding along the frontier of Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation and the Ventana Wilderness.  

Coast Ridge Road passes the turnoffs to Dempsey Flat ("Nacaruby"), Plaskett Ridge (locked gates), Los Burros (Willow Creek ridge) road, Alder Creek, and San Martin Top. Views of the Santa Lucias and Pacific along this rugged and remote route are unsurpassed.

After our first family trip to the Los Burros Mining District, in 1950, I'd developed a vision of mining gold there, with my own hands and simple tools, somewhere, somehow, but there. On the second trip down the coast, we spent a week, and I got plenty of time to explore and prospect the vicinity of what's called San Martin Top.

Truly, on three sides, that high knoll overlooking almost 270-degrees of Pacific horizon is much to steep to explore, much less to prospect upon.  One of those sides falls steeply into Alder Creek canyon, dropping at least a thousand feet of crumbling serpentine and rotten limestone without respite. Several dozen inspiring yucca, these called Our Lord's Candle, punctuate this hotter, south-facing and sunny mountain face.  

On the directly Pacific side of the ridge are several descending grassy knolls, rolling and gentle enough, yet steep, falling toward Gorda, until the going again gets too steep to easily hike. That's the west side of the hill, as it were. Swinging north from the west, there's a respite from the steepness, where pines and fir shade steep but not impossibly so hillsides flowing into canyons. 

     San Carpóforo Creek, just past the south Monterey County line and 15-mi from Willow Ck, marks the southern edge of the Big Sur region.