Weston, grandson of photographer Edward Weston,
talks about photography, and about the Lone Cypress
and Point Lobos while he stands in the window of his
grandfather's home April 25, 2013.
BEACH, Calif. — You’ve seen the Lone Cypress. It
stands along famously scenic 17-Mile Drive, raked by wind,
swaddled in fog, clinging to its wave-lashed granite
pedestal like God’s own advertisement for rugged
may be 250 years old. It might be the most photographed
tree in North America. It sits alongside one of the world’s
most beautiful (and expensive) golf courses. It’s a
marketing tool, a registered trademark, a Western icon.
Potigian, owner of Gallery Sur in Carmel, explained it to
me this way: This tree is to the Monterey Peninsula what
the pyramids are to Egypt, what the Eiffel Tower is to
Paris. No wonder its keepers are hoping it will last 100
let’s face it: This is one spindly old conifer, small
for its species, scarred by a long-ago arson. For more
than 65 years, half-hidden steel cables have held the tree
you pay the $9.75 per car to cruise 17-Mile Drive (which
is private property, part of the 5,300-acre Pebble Beach
resort), you will see the Lone Cypress and behold the
spectacular collision of land, sea, golf and wealth that
is Pebble Beach. But you won’t get within 40 feet of the
tree. Chances are you’ll be joined by a few other
tourists. Maybe a tour bus too.
is the challenge of a classic postcard destination. Like
many travelers, I’m drawn to these places — the Lone
Cypress, Yosemite’s Half Dome and Monument Valley, for
instance. Yet when I arrive, I don’t want a warmed-over
experience. I want a jolt of discovery.
if you haven’t read Don DeLillo’s novel "White
Noise," you have felt like the character in it who
gazes upon tourists as they gaze upon the
most-photographed barn in America. "No one sees the
barn," he says. "Once you’ve seen the signs
about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the
want to see that barn — or, in this case, that lonely
tree. I’ve seen plenty of Lone Cypress images but never
stood before the genuine article and stared. When you
finally get to such a place, you want to spot something
that will draw you closer or transform your perspective.
You want to understand what’s changed and what hasn’t
since that first postcard photographer rolled up in his
Ford, or maybe his Packard. And you want to know what
waits beyond the edge of the postcard view.
stories are my stab at that. This is the start of a series
in which photographer Mark Boster and I revisit iconic
Cupressus macrocarpa, the Monterey Cypress. Once you reach
Pebble Beach, about 325 miles north of Los Angeles, you
enter 17-Mile Drive, pay the booth attendant, then head
past well-tended fairways, sprawling estates and coastal
open space to stop No. 16.
your way, remind yourself that as a species the Monterey
Cypress naturally occurs no place on Earth but around
Pebble Beach and Point Lobos. Every one of these natives
is a rarity.
No. 16, you find about two dozen parking spaces lining the
two-lane road. Above the surf, rocks and foliage, there’s
a wooden observation deck, and nearby there’s a fenced
private home that has stood within 200 feet of the tree
for about half a century. (It was a woman in this home,
Frances Larkey, who saw the flames and called authorities
when an unknown arsonist set the tree afire in 1984.) And
out there on the rock, there’s the Lone Cypress.
tourists shrug and stay two minutes. Some make out and
and below sea level, it’s a rich coastline. Elsewhere
along 17-Mile Drive, you can stroll the beach at Point
Joe, prowl the tree skeletons at Pescadero Point and take
in the wide panorama at Cypress Point (which closes April
1-June 1 for seal-pupping season).
you prefer to do your coastal rambling on foot without
golf courses and private estates, it’s only a few miles
south to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve ($10 a car). If
you ask Kim Weston, grandson of famed photographer Edward
Weston and a longtime Carmel local, Point Lobos beats
Pebble Beach hands-down as a place to prowl with a camera.
did I see the tree anew? Not exactly. We visited it
morning, noon and night, watched tourists ebb and flow,
chartered a boat to see it from the ocean. More than ever,
I have a soft spot for that singular figure on the rock.
But the best minute of the trip — the travel moment that
felt fresh, enduring and uniquely rooted in this corner of
the world — occurred just up the road.
rented a bike. The sun was low, and I was meandering north
from the Lone Cypress toward Point Joe. Ahead, 17-Mile
Drive, nearly empty, gently rose, fell and curved.
began to sense a deepening connection, began to feel as if
I’d finally wedged myself between the landscape and
everything else. A chilly breeze. Squawks and barks from
Bird Rock. Orange sky. I have no picture to show of that
happy, unobstructed moment, but I have the moment all the
THE LONG LIFE OF THE LONE CYPRESS
look at key dates in the history of Pebble Beach’s
famous tree along 17-Mile Drive.
1813, experts think
Monterey cypress seedling takes root on a chunk of granite
on the Monterey Peninsula.
magnates Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, Collis
Huntington and Mark Hopkins want to lure more Americans
west. Through their Pacific Improvement Co., they open the
Hotel del Monte, a grand resort on the dramatic coastline
near Monterey. The following June, they open a path for
horse-drawn carriages and call it 17-Mile Drive.
R. Fitch, writing in the Monterey Cypress newspaper,
reports that "a solitary tree has sunk its roots in
the crevices of the wave-washed rock, and defies the
battle of the elements that rage about it during the
storms of winter."
nine-hole Del Monte Golf Course, the first venue of its
kind on the peninsula, opens and soon expands to 18 holes.
Improvement Co. starts charging 25 cents for passage on
17-Mile Drive. Highlights include the Ostrich Tree (downed
by a storm in 1916) and the Witch Tree (downed in the
1960s). The Lone Cypress is seen at Midway Point.
F.B. Morse (a distant relative of the Morse Code inventor
of the same name) buys the resort, which now includes a
hotel, a lodge and two golf courses. On stock
certificates, Morse includes an image of the Lone Cypress,
which becomes a company trademark through the decades.
show the cypress’ rock has been shored up by
U.S. Navy, which leased the Hotel del Monte during World
War II, buys the hotel. (It’s now the Naval Postgraduate
School.) Photos show the Lone Cypress is now supported by
steel cables, but tourists can walk up to the tree and
tree is fenced off to protect its roots. Morse dies at 83,
having built the resort into a promised land for golfers.
Its ownership will change several times during the next 30
years, and the Del Monte imprint will fade as new
management emphasizes the Pebble Beach name.
group, including Peter Ueberroth and Clint Eastwood, buys
Pebble Beach Co. from Japanese owners.
upstart cypress begins creeping out of the Lone Cypress’
rock base, raising hopes of renewal for the landmark. Then
comes a storm. The upstart is obliterated; the Lone
Beach Co. now operates three hotels, four golf courses, a
spa, a beach and tennis club, an equestrian center and
17-Mile Drive. Neal Hotelling, the company’s director of
licensing and unofficial historian, notes that a Monterey
cypress in ideal conditions can last 500 years. As for the
Lone Cypress: "We certainly suspect it will continue
to live a good while. I would hope at least another 100
years." The company has no plan for when the tree
dies, Hotelling said, except that "we think the
trademark will live on even if the tree doesn’t."
Pebble Beach Co.)
AND DON’TS FOR A LONE CYPRESS VISIT
on where to eat and stay and what else to do, by distance
from the Lone Cypress.
miles away from the tree: Do splurge on dinner at the
Bench (Lodge at Pebble Beach, 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach;