Big Sur is a sparsely populated region of the Central Coast of California where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. The name “Big Sur” is derived from the original Spanish-language “el sur grande”, meaning “the big south”, or from “el país grande del sur”, “the big country of the south”, referring to its location south of the Monterey Peninsula. The terrain offers stunning views, making Big Sur a popular tourist destination. Big Sur’s Cone Peak is the highest coastal mountain in the contiguous 48 states, ascending nearly a mile (5,155 feet/1571 m) above sea level, only three miles (4.8 km) from the ocean.
Three tribes of Native Americans—the Ohlone, Esselen, and Salinan—are speculated to have been the first people to inhabit the area now known as Big Sur. Archaeological evidence shows that they lived in Big Sur for thousands of years, leading a nomadic, hunter-gatherer existence. Few traces of their material culture have survived. Their arrow heads were made of obsidian and flint, which indicates trading links with tribes hundreds of miles away, since the nearest sources of these rocks are in the Sierra Nevada mountains and the northern California Coast Ranges. They followed local food sources seasonally, living near the coast in winter to harvest rich stocks of mussels, abalone and other sea life, and moving inland at other times to harvest oak acorns. The native people hollowed mortar holes into large exposed rocks or boulders which they used to grind the acorns into flour. These can be found throughout the Big Sur region. The tribes also used controlled burning techniques to increase tree growth and food production.