Friday, August 13, 2010


Express Staff Writer

Last-minute airline tickets: decadence or destiny?

We left the Wood River Valley at the drop of a hat recently on the sunniest of summer days and wound up in a parallel universe on the foggy West Coast.

Monterey County, Calif., is "ranch-y" and rural at one end and posh at the other, just like ours. The Monterey Peninsula celebrates the return of sea mammals from the abyss. We look to the wolves for redemption.

Our celebrities demur when approached by the press, pretending not to care. On the West Coast, it's all business: Everyone from Angelina Jolie and Clint Eastwood to George Clooney and Robert Downey Jr. mug it up for Carmel Magazine's covers.

We have Bald Mountain and Sun Valley Co. They have the Monterey Aquarium, pumping 2,000 gallons per minute of ocean day and night into jellyfish and shark exhibits. We have ranger stations. They have full-blown tourist traps.

The high and mighty in both counties prefer to live back-to-back with nature's majesty; the near-endless forest and mountains north of Ketchum, or the extravagant, untrammeled Pacific shoreline that extends south to Big Sur.

We have Ernest Hemingway and the crackpot poet Ezra Pound, who was born in Hailey. They have John Steinbeck's Cannery Row and nature prophet Robinson Jeffers, who saw clearly what was worth saving on the western shore of America. We rented a Dodge Avenger to go see for ourselves.

How quickly civilization dissolves under the gas pedal of a full-sized American car. All the glamour and clamor and the wondering where to eat, the slogans and elections and heroes and villains. Nature bats last down the coast where even an old military base seems to barely hang on. The sea down here could swallow up any ship and probably should. Henry Miller, lustful and ribald, has a presence at the northern end of this wild coast. William Randolph Hearst has a castle to the south.

I may never get to the castle and that is just fine with me. Miller found his fame and fortune on the squalid and truthful streets of Paris. Hearst exploited the American desire for scandal. We stayed north because once you have poetry, there is no need for intrigue.

True nobility found a home on a rocky ledge down the coast when the very wealthy Lathrop Brown and his wife, Helen, built a dream home above McWay Cove in the 1920s. They drew electricity from a stream that now pours over a cliff onto a beach that seems to have been created by a Hollywood set designer. There are no human tracks on this enchanted beach—only turtles, birds, seals and other animals are allowed there.

The home was demolished and removed at Helen's request following her death to establish Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Fragments of marble staircases remain where the Browns once looked out on the ocean, threw lavish parties, and, I like to think, were very much in love with one another. Of all the monuments one can leave behind, sometimes the best is nothing at all.

We built a fire at sunrise on Sunday morning at the Big Sur Lodge and walked barefoot through a cathedral of giant coastal redwoods. We heard that dozens of blue whales were feeding on a sizeable krill bloom in Monterey Bay, more whales than anyone had seen in years.

Tony Evans is a staff writer for the Idaho Mountain Express.

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