Monday, November 24, 2008

Ano Nuevo

Ano Nuevo, Spanish for new year. Its an Island just south of Pigeon Point in San Mateo County. It was late on a Sunday afternoon, that I set off from my house in Castro Valley. The weather was not that good. The skies where extremely grey. It was low lying fog that laid itself over the bay. Never the less I set out in my Acura MDX. I was on my own, and this was going to give me sometime to contemplate my situation of being out of work. Also I had not visited a lighthouse in several weeks. This was a good way to break out of the slump.

I headed for the San Mateo bridge, as I drove down Jackson, it was good to see that gas had broken the $2.00 mark. I know many factors are involved in gas prices. But I think when the threat that we will drill here is an option, speculators get worried. I punched in a few radio stations to listen to and all I got was junk. So I listened to my CD. As I reached the bridge, a motor bike weaved past me, in and out lanes, next a police car sped by in pursuit. I continued on through the hills and enjoyed my music and scenery.

I thought of stopping in Halfmoon Bay for a cup of coffee, but time was moving and it also appeared to be getting dark. I headed on down the coast, watching the visibility of the coast. I noticed the further south I drove , the weather was colder and darker. The sky had a dirty greyness to it. When I reached Pigeon Point, I nearly terminated my journey, I was going to stop at the lighthouse and see if I could take a few dusk shots of the lighthouse and its surrounding. But I moved on.

It was not long after that I arrived at Ano Nuevo. I thougth I was too late. Spoke to the ranger and asked about the visitor center. He let me in without paying as I thought I was going in and coming straight back out. I arrived at the center, a lady ranger spoke to me, and thought since I was here I should take my cameras and get some pictures. I told I could come back another day, but she said I had plenty of time to make my way out to a spot for my pictures.

It was about a mile and half trek to my picture site, the last half mile was over sand. I was in pretty good shape, dragging my tripod and 400mm lens and camera bag with me. I found a spot which gave me a good view of the Island and I could plant my tripod. As I made my way I met a few people with their children as they where making their way back to the visitors center. They where very cordial with "Hi", "Hello", How are you" and "that's a nice camera" which came from an Indian lady as she sat at a rest stop. The trail was peppered with rest stops. I was wondering with the fading light if I could get any descent pictures. Especially since I could not move around the Island, the island is a protected area and off limits to the public.

I was out there with island in full views by myself. It was beautiful, quiet calm serene. I could hear the barking of the seals in the distant and listen to water as it broke upon the shore. I said to myself I could spend a lot of time here. Surrounded by hills and water and totally wrapped in the handiwork of God.

Ano Nuevo was originally the first fog signal station in California. It is located 6 miles South from Pigeon Point, and one and half miles offshore. It shares much of its Lighthouse history with Pigeon Point. A series of ship disasters had hastened the building of lighthouses in the area. It was like many of the lighthouses at the time involved with landowners squabbling for more money for the purchase of the land, and only when the government had taken steps to condemn the land, and another owner offered his land did the owner of Pigeon Point and Ano Nuevo Island settle on a lesser price. This haggling had delayed the building of the lightstation, and other ships had been wrecked off the coast between Ano Nuevo and Pigeon Point. The Island on which the station was built is about 9 acres, it held a long affinity with the mammals of the area. On one end was the Fog Station and the other the keepers Victorian style quarters. They where connected by a wooden walkway. A rain catchment basin provided water for the station.

1868 $90,000 was appropriated for a first-order Fresnel Lens lighthouse in the vicinity. By My 29th 1872 a 12 inch steam whistle was operating in Ano Nuevo, When it first blasted, the cows in the neighborhood bolted towards the sound, according to locals, they must have thought their was a new bull in town. Getting on and off the Island was never easy. On a clear day 2 brothers set out from the island on a boat. Their wives watched in horror as the boat was swamped in water. They flew distress signals for nearby ships to help in the search, but the brothers bodies was never found.

Seals are indigenous to Ano Nuevo,every winter hordes of male seals descend upon Ano Nuevo to breed. In their hundreds they come. Weighing upto three tons, and as long as 20 ft,ready to do battle with each other for the right to procreate. The bulls bellowing, barking, and biting at each other to establish dominance; the “alpha male” mates with most of the females, and the rest must wait till next year. Pups conceived the previous year are born in January, and mating goes on through March.

Over the years the keepers had problems with seals. They found them bothersome and noisy and smelly. Yet the keepers protected the seals from those who came on schooners to hunt the seals. 1890 a lens was mounted on the water tank. 1906 a two story dwelling was built next to the Victorian building, 1915 a skeleton Tower with a watch room and a Fresnel lens was installed. 1926 the lens was shattered in the earthquake. The old lens lantern had to be used until a new lens arrived.

For the keepers life was very isolated, no electricity and often water was in short supply. Some of the keepers took up beer brewing on the Island to pass the lonely isolated life. The vegetables was watered using bath water. By May 1949, ship traffic patterns had changed, automated systems where coming into place and the station was closed. The station was left to the elements,Elephant seals and seal lions, 1976 the coast guard toppled the tower for safety concerns. The Victorian building in ruins is now inhabited by the mammals and birds of the island. There is a modern structure on the island which is for those involved in protecting and studying the sea mammals.

California Ligthhouses Sharlene & Ted Nelson Umbrella guide
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