This was the third mission established among the 21 California missions, and it still retains the charm of the a surrounding oak studded valley. In July 1771, 3 padres and their small mission party hung a bronze bell in an oak tree and commemorated the establishment of San Antonio De Padua. The current mission is 3 miles from the original location where the bell was hung, but still dates back to the earliest agriculture and engineering marvels that the padres supervised in the valley. The building itself was ransacked and in ruins at the time that Hearst family bought the land, but fortunately, the restoration took high priority and was well financed by the Hearst fortune. So, restoration, while not ideal by today's standards is really quite good because Hearst himself favored a distressed and handmade look in the revival structures he had built. One of the three bells hanging in the campaña is the first bronze bell cast in California. Today, Franciscan friars live and minister to the surviving indians who have reclaimed their heritage in the area.
A unique and scenic way to drive to Big Sur from Hwy 101 is via Nacimiento Fergusson Road. This 20-some mile stretch of road crosses Fort Hunter-Liggett on the way from Jolon, near Highway 101, to Highway 1 south of the town of Big Sur on the Coast.
About half of the route in on Fort Hunter Liggett. Here you can stop at historic sites such as Mission San Antonio and the nearby Hearst Hacienda. This stretch also allows you to see an small, but operational military base, with hundreds of vehicles in motor pools, soldiers training, and tanks set up as targets at shooting ranges. Depending on the security condition, the fort may not always be open for through traffic, so be sure to call ahead.
The second half of the Nacimiento Fergusson Road runs through the Los Padres National Forest. This section of the route is more scenic, and includes some steep stretches of mountain road, views over big valleys, campgrounds, hiking trails, and finally, a dramatic and picturesque descent onto Highway 1. This stretch of road also can be closed, usually due to weather conditions or natural hazards such as rock slides, so be extra sure to call ahead!
Sure you can pay $20 or more and hang out with thousands of tourists at the world famous Hearst Castle. But did you know Hearst had another mansion near Big Sur called the Hearst Hacienda? Even better, this second mansion is far from the throngs of tourists, and free to visit.
Before he constructed the massive Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst, a huge newspaper baron, built this much more modest hunting lodge and ranch he called the Milpitas Ranch House. It was designed by Julia Morgan, the same architect who built the Hearst Castle, and was designed after Mission San Antonio, less than a half mile away. In the 1930s, the entire ranch including the hacienda was sold to the US Army to become Fort Hunter Liggett.
Today the military has priority on hotel rooms at the Hacienda, but any of the remaining 14 rooms in the small hotel are available to the public. Also in the building are a nice bar and a restaurant. Hotel rooms range from $45 for a shared bath to $145 for the private suite.
Mission San Antonio de Padua was constructed in 1771 and was the third of 21 Spanish missions in California. The original location was a few miles away, but the facilities were moved to the current location in 1773. The missionaries built the mission much as you see it today, with a large quadrangle, mission church, a mill, and reservoirs. Through the 1830s the mission was very successful with large herds of sheep and cattle. In the 1830s the missions were secularized by the Mexican government, and Mission San Antonio was maintained by a few priests until the 1880s. By 1906 the elements and earthquakes destroyed most of the original mission, leaving just a few walls and the original church facade. When William Randolph Hearst bought the property he gave significant funds for rebuilding the mission, and since the US army purchased the land, restoration has continued.
Today Mission San Antonio de Padua is one of the only Spanish missions in California that exists in a similar natural environment as during the Spanish times. This is a beautiful mission in a secluded valley that is very welcoming to the rare visitors who make this trek. We loved the little cats that run around the mission just begging to be petted by anyone who comes near. Visiting the mission, gardens, and surrounding grounds is free, but the museum asks for a small entry fee.
Stretching 220 miles between Monterey and Los Angeles County, Los Padres National Forest encompasses 1.75 million acres of mostly chaparral, oak, evergreen, pinyon-juniper, and conifer forest. Interestingly, since 1912, 2.3 million acres have burned within the forest, obviously some areas have been torched more than once, particularly in the chaparral-covered areas. The forest maintains 1,257 miles of trails for day-use and backpack hiking, as well as 459 miles of roads and trails for off-road vehicle use.
From Big Sur, one way to get a good look at much of Los Padres, besides its coastal areas, is by taking Nacimiento-Ferguson Road toward Fort Hunter Liggett. This scenic route runs about 11 miles from the coast to the fort, and another 11 miles to Jolon, near Highway 101.
Everyone knows you get to Big Sur via Highway 1, but few seem to know about the back way to Big Sur via the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road. About half of this route runs through the Los Padres National Forest, while the other half goes through Fort Hunter-Liggett, an active US Army post.
The main gate at Hunter-Liggett is near Jolon, just off Highway 101. To get on post you must have a photo ID, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. Once on the post you can visit the historic sites of Mission San Antonio, the Hearst Hacienda, and the ancient Native American art at La Cueva Pintada (The Painted Cave) . Also on the fort you are likely to see soldiers training, hundreds of vehicles in motor pools, and even tank targets out on the ranges. The fort was created to provide a training ground for soldiers, and its 165,000 acres provide plenty of opportunity for that! The majority of the base was purchased from William Randolph Hearst. Fort Hunter Liggett was under control of Monterey's Fort Ord until it closed in 1993. Today Fort Hunter Liggett falls under the command of Fort McCoy, WI and is used mainly to train guard and reserve forces. Cone Peak, at 5,155 feet, is the highest peak within the fort.
Julia Morgan designed the Hacienda for Randolph Hearst to a mission revival style. The Hacienda served as the end stage of accommodations for Hearst and his Hollywood star friends during the 1920's and 30's. Riding by horseback from the Hearst Castle, friends camp along the way, and then arrive here to stay in what was then delux "dude ranch" style accommodations. Today, the buildings are a hotel open to the public, but seem my tip for this. Julia Morgan was perhaps the most original California architects of the day and this is but one of many buildings she left behind.
Nearby the mission are outdoor demonstration models of sorts that show how pine trees brought down from the Santa Lucia Mountains were cut into beams and planks by a two indian rip saw. Many of these tools appear quite old and rusty but like the signs that explain them, are likely reconstructions made perhaps 30 years ago or more. The indians today are involved in helping to recreate aspects of the mission life. However, the original wheat field location does appear authentic, providing the only opportunity to see California's original agriculture, and there are efforts underway to revive archeological analysis of the mission grounds at all the California missions.
The mission padres and others document well the productive capacity of Mission San Antonio de Padua. Indeed, one of the earliest feats of engineering within California was the tapping of the water resources of the San Antonio creek, and its diversion to a small reservoir. This control and distribution of water by a stone culvert and by the noria, as shown in the outdoor pictures and by museum model, provided year around access to water not only for bathing and the irrigation of crops, but also for a leather tannery that was quite productive in its time.
Near the gift shop, that has mostly cheap junk souvenirs for children, there are a couple of glass cabinets that contain a small but excellent collection of original California indian basketry. Nevermind the exact age, most probably late nineteenth and some early twentieth century baskets made for tourists, these are all extremely valuable specimens of an art form now completely extinct. As I have written elsewhere, California indians produced perhaps the finest indigenous basketry of all time anywhere in the world. Close examination of the weave and woven color designs for these baskets shows a remarkable skill that should have amazed the padres in their time. Yet, unfortunately, the padres didn't view the California Indians as capable workers overall, and tended to abuse them. In these glass cases are some prehistoric tools found in the area. In various places around the property are both archeological remains and reconstructions of native traditions. For example, there's an indian "sweathouse" near the entrance to the mission grounds. And, of course, there is a large walled cemetary area where the indians recently baptised, died of European diseases, and were buried.
Inside the sequence of restored monastery rooms is a museum of considerable merit. The best part of the museum are the models of mission crafts, some containing original mission pieces, others recreated. Wood working, metal working, weaving, wine making, and so on are shown by these models. At the back of the museum is access to the supposed original wine vat and the barrel room below it.
The mission church is quite wide for a single aisle design. The construction is simple and efficient in design compared to many of the later built missions, and because the ruins were looted for their best artwork, only a few, but still significant, instructional paintings of the apostles and other biblical scenes remain on the church walls. Present reconstruction did not get under way until 1948, when the mission received a grant of $50,000 from the half-million dollar fund established by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation for mission restoration. As a consequence, Mission San Antonio today is largely a reconstruction rather than a preserved ruin. The little hills of earth that once had formed the adobe brick of the original walls were carefully reformed in the same simple fashion practiced by the padres and their neophytes 150 years before. Every piece of timber in the new structure was carefully cut and surfaced with the same type of tools the first woodcutters had used. Modern conveniences remain perfectly concealed and, from the exterior, it could be the same humble structure the followers of Father Serra knew so well. The darkness and cold are gone, dispelled by electric light and radiant heating. Fortunately, the landscape that surrounds the mission is virtually as undisturbed as in the mission days. Not even the military buildings are but a distant feature in the otherwise oak studded landscape.
This mission is the most out-of the way of the missions which the Spanish established in California, but it is worth the visit. It is in a scenic setting in the Santa Lucia Mountains, and the immediate area is largely undeveloped. The mission is both quite beautiful and substantial as well, while there are some additional ruins of subsidiary buildings and a large Indian cemetery. While part of the mission building itself is new or rebuilt, it does retain some original portions of the structure and one of the bells is the first bell cast in California. In addition, one can still visit the original wine vat where the mission inhabitants crushed grapes for wine, and the cellar to which the wine flowed and in which it was stored.
The mission was founded in 1771 and is the 3rd oldest of the California missions.
While I am not a big fan of what happened to the Native American population when the missions were built, I do find the architecture and the history of this period interesting. The chapel here is plain, but not without its own style of decoration. It is rustic and a little strange, and it is partly the strangeness of it that I like.
Here is another fresco inside the mission. This one is in the music room, and it looks so esoteric - I really like it!