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Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is the home of the Mc Way Falls, which descends some 80 feet onto a white sandy beach, surrounded by aqua green water. Saddle Rock can be seen in the distance. There is a 1/2 (.8 km) walkway (The Waterfall Trail) that takes you from the parking area to the scenic overlook of the cove. During high tide the ocean water covers the beach and the waterfall flows straight into the sea. The park is located 37 miles (60 km) south of Carmel and 12 miles (19 km) south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

The recreational area is more suited for hikers since it does not have any beach access. There are several trails that will lead you through the 2800 acre park. Some of the trails are quite steep. The park extends from the Pacific coastline to the 3000 ft ridges in the distance. You can experience a wonderful view of the Big Sur coastline if you are willing to make the enduring climb.

Julia Pfeiffer was the daughter of Michael and Barbara Pfeiffer, some of the first European settlers to homestead this area of the California coast. The Pfeiffers were a family of ranchers and much of this portion of the Big Sur area bears their name. 

The land surrounding the falls was first homestead by Christopher McWay. He established The Saddle Rock Ranch there. Julia and her husband John Burns owned a ranch on a nearby ridge. In 1924 Lathrop and Helen Brown purchased The Saddle Rock Ranch from McWay. Julia and her husband leased land from the Browns and worked cattle on the ranch. Helen and Julia became good friends. In 1962 Helen Hooper Brown donated the land  to the state, so that a state park could be created, and named in memory of Julia Pfeiffer Burns. 

At the end of The Waterfall Trail is another overlook of the Pacific Ocean. This is a good area for whale watching. Gray whales migrate through this area to the Baja California Coast in January and February, and back in April and May. There is a large wooden bench at the end of the walkway. 

Next to the bench is the reminisce of a stone staircase terrace that ascends up the into the hills. The Brown's built what became known as the "Waterfall House" there. The house was torn down in 1965. I wish I could  have seen the house. I have read that it was pretty ornate. 

The photos were take the first week in July 1999, during the July 4th, Independence Day holiday. I had almost given up on taking photos for the day. In the summer months the costal fog can linger on the ocean and inland areas for most of the day. It was mid-afternoon and the sun was still behind the clouds. About 3:00 the sun became partially visible, moving back behind the clouds from time to time. I decided to take a short drive to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, not knowing if suitable light would last for very long. I love waterfalls. 

When I got to the park I was astounded by the view. It was tough taking photographs since the sun kept popping behind the fog for several minutes at a time. I had to wait for the sun to come back out, in-between successive shots. I am pretty happy with the end result.

I took the photos using a polarizing filter. The overlook is several hundred feet above the cove. The combination of the gray green filter and the distance from the ocean made the aqua water appear to be emerald green. I have not experienced this problem with the filter, shooting at closer distances.

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McWay Falls - Photo 1    McWay Falls - Photo 2    McWay Falls - Photo 3

McWay Falls - Photo 4        McWay Falls - Photo 6

McWay Falls - Photo 7    McWay Falls - Photo 8


All photographs 1998-2002 Michael Wheeler. All rights reserved.




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