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Quintessential Big Sur just 10 miles south of Carmel.

We'll get the bad news out of the way first. Garrapata is Spanish for "tick." In the 1830s, explorers pushing along the Big Sur coast gave the name to a canyon and creek where the diminutive nuisances thrived. The name lives on in Garrapata Creek, and in the nearby coast and hills set aside as Garrapata State Park.

Is there anything else unflattering to say about Garrapata State Park? Nothing comes to mind. Ten miles south of Carmel, California, Garrapata gives you the quintessential Big Sur experience, though in fact it lies a little north of what some people consider the true Big Sur.

Pacific breakers thunder against broken cliffs, rafts of sea otters bob in kelp beds, and redwood-shaded canyons thread through September's sun-bronzed hills. As for the garrapatas, they can be found in the inland portions of the park, but in no more bothersome profusion than in many other wild areas of California, and this month doesn't fall within their peak season.

A seaside walk to Whale Peak . . .

Long used for cattle ranching, Garrapata became a 2,800-acre state park in 1983. It doesn't look much different from how it did in its cattle days, and many area residents want to make sure it stays that way. Last year, when the state park system announced tentative plans for more intensive development, local opposition was fierce enough to send the planners back to their drawing boards. As it stands now, Garrapata allows only day use, and lacks facilities other than trail signs and portable toilets.

The absence of a parking lot or official park entrance means you have to be alert as you drive south from Carmel on State Highway 1. In about 9 1/2 miles, you'll see signs for the park. Watch for turnouts; these bear signs with numbers so small you'll have to stop your car to read them. Park at turnout 13 (on the west side of the highway) or 14 (on the east side).

From turnout 13, trails lace west across the bluffs to Soberanes Point and around--and up--Whale Peak. During the fall and winter months, point and peak are favored spots for watching migrating gray whales; this time of year, you'll probably have to content yourself with sea otters (the park lies near the northern end of the California Sea Otter Game Refuge). Tidepooling is also good, but should be done with great respect for the waves that bash these cliffs.

Garrapata is used by two special-interest groups. Rock fishermen like to try their luck for greenlings and surfperch (a California fishing license is required). And the sheltered northern and southern sections of the park's beach draw nude sunbathers. (One Bay Area publication recently named Garrapata best nude beach in northern California.) More open to the elements, the middle section tends to require a bathing suit, if not a windbreaker and long pants.

. . . and into the hills

From turnout 14, two trails run east into the interior of the park. The easier 1 1/2-mile (one way) Soberanes Canyon Trail pokes along Soberanes Creek to a small grove of redwoods; watered by the creek and by the fog that creeps up the canyon, they're a verdant surprise in these chaparral-clothed hills. More difficult because it's steeper is the Rocky Ridge Trail; in 2 miles (one way), it climbs 1,500 feet to views south to Point Sur, north to Monterey Peninsula. For either trail, carry water, watch for poison oak, and--though you're more likely to find them in spring than now--check yourself for garrapatas.

For more details on Garrapata State Park, write or call Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur 93920; (408) 667-2315.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Sep 1, 1991
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