Big Sur, or the el sur grande, ‘the Big Country of The South’ is a spectacular section of California coastline south of San Francisco. Famous for its rugged and beautiful mountains meeting the sea, it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Big Sur is not a town, it’s a region and the only way in or out is on Highway 1, a curvy, dangerous road with thousand foot drops to the ocean. Four million tourists travel this road every year, as many visit Yosemite National Park annually. The 900 residents who live in Big Sur also use this highway to get to work, buy groceries or get to a hospital. Since the highway was built in the 1930s this place has become home to artists, writers, entrepreneurs and homesteaders drawn to the beauty and solitude. Henry Miller wrote in his memoir Big Sur and The Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch : “Big Sur has a climate all its own and a character all its own. It is a region where extremes meet, a region where one is always conscious of weather, of space, of grandeur, and of eloquent silence.”
Not everyone would choose to live here. Those who do are acutely aware of the fragility, the responsibility and the privilege of being a part of this dramatic place. Nature is big and the people are small. Fires, mudslides and storms happen, with sometimes huge consequences. These challenges seem part of the Big Sur life, part of a life lived close to nature.
In recent years, Big Sur locals have been facing a new challenge. It has become too popular. The highway is often so clogged with tourist’s cars that a 30-minute drive for groceries takes 3 hours. Visitors leave trash everywhere and the fires that used to be caused by lightening are started more often by illegal campers. At the end of the winter in 2017, after a prolonged drought, Highway 1 was cut off by a collapsed mountain at the south end of Big Sur and a collapsed bridge at the north. This was not the first time the road was closed, there have been many landslides on Highway 1 since it was built. With the road closed to outside traffic, people could only hike in and out. The rains caused much damage and many people lost their livelihood. But it also brought back peace and quiet…
When the road was blocked Kirk Crippens and former resident Torre MqQueen went to Big Sur. They hiked around the destroyed bridge and came across Pfeiffer State Park picnic tables buried in mud. They saw the iconic Deetjen’s Inn cabins destroyed by landslides and fallen trees, and an empty highway. Businesses were closed, paths overgrown. The idea for Going South began to take root. The photographs Kirk made of the landscape show the peace and quiet, the destruction, and the beauty. His portraits of Big Sur residents reflect the resilience, self-sufficiency and attitude that life, work and art will continue through it all.