Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mile Rock

Located on the south side of the entrance to San Francisco Bay west of the Golden Gate Bridge.
A Coastal Trail to a viewing area can be accessed via the parking lot at Lincoln Park at the end of El Camino Del Mar/48th Ave. (From Ocean Beach, follow Point Lobos Avenue north past the Cliff House and the Sutro Bath ruins. Turn left at the traffic lights on El Camino Del Mar/48th Ave. Heading down Point Lobos; make a right turn at the traffic lights on El Camino Del Mar/48th Ave.). Follow the road into the parking lot at Fort Miley/Lincoln Park.

Latitude: 37.79282
Longitude: -122.510375
Status: Active
Year established: 1906
Latitude: 37 deg 47 min 33 sec N
Longitude: 122 deg 30 min 34 sec W
Height above sea level: 49 feet
Tower Height:40 ft.
Original Optic: 3rd Order, Fresnel, ruby red
Original construction: white caisson with orange bands
Status: automated in 1966, active aid to navigation
Light characteristic: flashing white every 5 seconds, visible for 15 nautical miles, Fog horn: 1 blast every 30 seconds lasting 2 seconds

What is an adventure, if it does not have some sort of intrigue or fun? The intrigue can take many forms. Is the weather going to cooperate? How accessible is the location and what are the opportunities for interactions with the people and the environment. The fun often comes in solving these challenges that beset my journey from the onset to end. Often times I put myself in harms way, not intentionally, but in chasing the prize and to finish the journey so it’s not incomplete. My overall challenge is to take good pictures of all the lighthouses and locations in California. So far I have sat on dismal cliffs as far north as Crescent City, and climbed a volcanic 300 ft as far South as Point Sur. My ambition is to go down to San Diego and work my way up the coast. I have been on ferries and boats, stayed in dinghy motels, Drank wine on mountain tops, surfed the net in the wilderness, saw cows on the lurch on the side mountains above the clouds as if they where mountain goats, saw a medley of American flags in a trunk, in the midst of woods, watched big and small seals mate, met the most wonderful people and got drunk on nature, now that’s an adventure.

When I arrive at a lighthouse location, I am uncertain as what to expect, it could be totally demolished, vandalized, or might be inaccessible because the coast guard still has ownership, like Yerba Buena. I quickly scan the site looking for light, structures, uniqueness and whatever works for image capture. I stroll around the marina, harbors, parking lots, cliffs, beaches and at times climb the sides of Mountains. Some more challenges for the future is to learn scuba diving, horseback riding, take a ride in a helicopter, fishing boat, and kayak to get to some of these sites. The weather is another challenge, from blue skies to a dull overcast grayness. At times because of the grayness of the weather and or the conditions of the lighthouse grounds and structures, I have to improvise, and promise myself a return journey. At times I wish I had a video camera with me on these trips to try and capture the uniqueness of the moment, I am also trying new ways to present my images to the unsuspecting world. Maybe I might find a way of the old masters, such as Cezanne, Picasso,Seurat or even some Modern day artists for drawing inspiration.

It was around 10:30 I arrived at my Brother Eddie’s house. The day was dark and grey; I was hoping that it would burn off by afternoon. We decided that we would go and have breakfast somewhere near the Ocean Beach or Point Lobos Ave, and wait for the blanket of fog to burn off, we knew the weather in San Francisco is unpredictable, it can be foggy one minute and the next the sun can be shining from a nice blue sky. So it’s always a gamble even in the summer time to visit San Francisco. We dropped by Starbucks and picked up a few coffees and we where on our way. It was a quick run on highway 280, and turnoff towards the zoo, which brought us to the waterfront beach.

As we got closer to the Ocean Beach front, near the cliff house on Point Lobos avenue, the fog looked real menacing, it was dense and the waves on the shoreline came crashing with a load roar, that gave a hauntingly cold feeling, not at all welcoming, and it was already crossing our minds that maybe we should be heading south towards our other favorite haunts, Point Montara and Pigeon Point. Driving towards the cliff house we spotted Beach Chalet restaurant and decided we would drop in there for breakfast.

 Breakfast was not too bad, it would have been a lot better if they did not plaster garlic all over the potatoes. We both had the same items, eggs, sausage, wheat toast, potatoes, coffee and orange juice. Eddie wanted some pancakes but he was out of luck only served Mon – Fri. Also the atmosphere was a bit yuppie and pricey about $50 for both of us, Eddie paid. Beach Chalet is interesting place to visit, some large murals of the history of the area on the walls and some great models of golden gate park, certainly a place of interest for tourists to visit.
We continued to observe the dense fog and the waves pounding the beach as we leisurely ate our breakfast, the fog looked like it had settled for the day and was not about to budge. After breakfast we wandered around the beach chalet building, it is an interesting place, located just off the Ocean Beach; the downstairs of the building is filled with lots of pictures, stories and models of the History of the park with a large scale model showing the park’s layout. We had breakfast in the upstairs part of restaurant

My vehicle was parked on a nearby road, which was close to a giant windmill called Wilhelmina windmill park, In case the Mile Rock lighthouse trip was not going to work out, I would at least get some pictures of the windmill. We spent some time in the park before continuing our quest for mile rock; I helped my brother Eddie with the use of a DSLR. I lent him my Canon 40D with a 17-40mm lens. I watched the excitement as he used a semi professional camera. He moved around the park as if the Windmill was his model. Looking for variations and different perspectives; shooting windmills can be as exciting as shooting lighthouses; they bring you back to a world gone into the fading recesses of our minds. To try and salvage what is gone, becomes the job of the photographer, to move from pretty pictures to ones that encapsulates meaning. In my minds eye, I have to do is see the windmill working in its heyday as I would see a lighthouse. This is where my form of art lies. It’s developing the ability to open a persons mind to another world, precept, idea or vision.

Finding Lincoln Park was not too hard, it was just North of the Cliff house, that’s going uphill, there is a cross roads with a traffic light. It can be called 48th avenue or El Camino Del Mar. We went up the hill and turned left, into Fort Miley/Lincoln Park and parked in the parking lot. It’s free. We followed the path down towards the water, turned right and made our way towards the golden gate bridge. About a ¼ of a mile in on the trail, there is a good view spot with benches for looking out over the bay. When we arrived at Lincoln Park, the fog was still hanging over the bay and was quiet close to shore. Not too many people about, a few volunteers planting and tilling the hillside. And a few tourists trying to get a picture with the golden gate bridge in the background. The weather was on the chilly side, from a distance we could hear the fog horn blaring out its dire warnings in the background. With the dense fog and the sound of the Foghorn, you realized why they needed a station here at mile rock. It was also very surreal, it reminded me of a scene in the Humphrey Bogart movie Casa Blanca, Characters Louis and Rick walk into the fog.

Loaded with our cameras, we strolled along the coastal path, looking out into the fog laden waters for the lighthouse, at first we did not see the lighthouse, and then it appeared ever so dimly from behind the fog. It was like a giant striped mushroom appearing ever so dimly; almost eerily, combined with the foghorn and the Golden Gate bridge it was twilight shot. My attitude is to accept, what you are given, because in a moment everything could be gone. I snapped a few pictures. As we continued to stroll, the fog continued to retreat and a picturesque scene unfolded before our eyes, the bridge and its two towers protruded above the thick blanket of fog. The sun shone on the fog, and it appeared like a white giant cigar sitting under the bridge and the mountains on the other side of the bay basked in heavens light as they rose above the fog. It was as if the world was changing before our eyes, click, click, click. We got some pretty pictures. I could see Eddie was taking a serious interest in working with the Dslr camera. I had set the 40D on AV and this allowed him think only about the basics, strap around the neck, clean lens, and how to hold the camera. I kept the technical stuff to the minimum.

We meandered along the trail a bit further, maybe for a mile or two. Some incredibly steep climbs or steps, Eddie is just as nuts as I am when it comes to pushing our bodies. His back must have driven him crazy with the pain. My knee, even though I had a knee brace was singing aloud with pain. But of course that was not going to stop us from following this trail. The nature trail provided a number of places to take some wonderful shots and allowed me to teach Eddie about the trickery light plays with the camera. We came to area on the trail where I could see the Arch of the Golden gate bridge, just about where fort Point is located. I thought if I waited a few minutes the fog would pull back, so I could get a good shot of the bridge and Fort Point. But it was not to be. The constant blaring of the foghorn could be heard coming though the fog. It sounded almost eerily that there was danger in the fog. Even as I write this I still hear the mourning blare “BEEEEEEE-Ohhhh” of the foghorn in my ears. It’s like one of those Film noir movies, standing on the wharf, and far-off in the night, through the misty fog, the deep sound of a foghorn can be heard. It can be a romantic sound, if you’re a lover waiting ashore for your loved one come in on the ship, or a signal of danger cliffs or rocks ahead. On the water, it blares out “Here is danger!” and echoes. “Stay well clear.“. With no clearing of the fog, we decided it was time to turn back.

On our return trek, we met, a young couple where the young man was having breathing problems climbing the steps. An elderly group of English people from Manchester England sitting at one the state rest spots on the steps, we passed a few moments of joviality with this group and as the Sun was picking its way out from the clouds so where more and more people appearing on the trail. It was like a new day, Sun and Blue skies. We turned a bend in the road, near Mile Rock Beach and there was our lighthouse, without its main tower, yet it looked great, it was a orange stripped mushroom, the top had been leveled so that it was a helipad. The sun had finally won out over the fog. I could see right over to the other side of the bay. I could see Point Bonita and Point Diablo and at the Bridge Fort Point. This had the makings for a great day.
We finished our day shooting, noticed the young volunteers had finished taking care of the plants. Made our way to my SUV and then decided we would have a late lunch or an early dinner. It was around 4:30 pm, we dropped into a restaurant on the corner of 48th, Seal Rock Inn, my advice stay away. The food is cheap and so is everything else. Coffee tasted as if it was burned, the fries had no taste, as for the fish, it was not caught fresh from the bay. It looked as there was a mini convention for some old bikers going on as we ate. We enjoyed the remainder of the day, and took the long way home and enjoyed the scenery.

1889 November, The fog bell at Fort Point, at times could not be heard at Mile Rocks a pair of stones about half a mile north of Point Lobos in San Francisco and a Mile south of the mid channel of the main shipping lanes coming into the Golden Gate Strait. Considered to be hazardous due to fog and strong currents, building on top of the rocks or dynamiting them was not considered practical. The Lighthouse Service Board Placed a bell buoy, near the area of the rocks. The strong currents of the waters would often submerge the buoy and set it adrift.
1890 The ineffective buoy was removed.

1901 February 22, the worst ship disaster in San Francisco history took place. The steamer, City Rio Janeiro from Hong Kong ran aground at Fort Point Ledge. As it entered the Golden Gate there was a heavy fog, the warning bell from Fort point was not heard, they ran aground and In approximately 8 minutes the steamer sunk, and 100 to 200 souls where lost. The public outcry for better infrastructure to keep ships safe was heard by Congress and funds where appropriated for the construction of a lighthouse at Mile Rocks. Just North of Point Lobos, at the mouth of the bay, was two large rocks that edged in and out of the water, disappearing with the onslaught of waves. The larger of these rocks 30ft by 40ft at high water, "Mile Rocks," was selected for the building of the lighthouse.

1904. James A. McMahon, set out with a crew of skilled construction workers, when they saw the challenge of working on the small, barnacled wave-washed rock, they turned down work because of safety issues. McMahon recruited a group of deep-water sailors from the waterfront - less skilled as construction workers, but familiar with hazards of the sea. They arrived on the job by jumping from a small boat to the rock, often ending up in the water. The Rio Rey was anchored nearby to provide living quarters for the crew. The lighthouse is considered to be one of America's greatest engineering feats. The Mile Rock Lighthouse was the only caisson style lighthouse on the west coast, described by some as a steel or metal wedding cake. A good portion of the rock was blasted to provide a level foundation. 4ft thick walls, built 35ft high of concrete cosseted by steel plating was the foundation base of the 3 tiered telescoping steel towers. A water cistern and fuel tanks where located within the 35ft base. Steel and concrete in the foundation alone weighed 1,500 tons. The first tier housed the fog signal apparatus, the 2nd tier was the keeper’s quarters, 2 stories, the 1st story had the dayroom, office, and kitchen and the 2nd story the sleeping quarters and bathroom, with the lantern room and storage room on the 3rd tier. The lantern room with its cross hatched windows housed a 3rd order fixed Fresnel lens.

1906 Feb 15th, Mile Rocks joined the sentinels on the west coast with beacon and blare of the fog horn. The light was illuminated by an oil vapor lamp, housed in a Funck 3rd order fixed Fresnel lens. A 3 sec blast every 27 seconds came from a 10" air whistle; operated by duplicate 20 hp Hornsby-Akroyd oil engine. The lighthouse had a crew of 4. Because the living area was so small, families could not live in the lighthouse. The light keeper’s family lived ashore and the light keepers rotated duties. Because Mile Rocks was so isolated, and there was no escaping the blast of the fog signal day or night. the Coast Guard relieved the men one week off for every two weeks worked. Getting to the Light Station involved maneuvering a small boat, at times in the midst of large swells, under a 40ft boom extended over the water to scale a rope ladder (Jacobs Ladder) lowered from the catwalk above to the rocking boats below, from bobbing decks the keeper had to snag the Jacob’s ladder suspended from the tower’s catwalk, and make a 30 ft ascent to the lighthouse tower, occasionally the keeper would be knocked from the ladder. Despite the risks Light Keeper Lyman Woodruff remaind on mile Rocks for 18yrs.

1960's, was the beginning of the end for Mile Rocks, The coast guard deemed the station too difficult to access and maintain they decided over public outcry to automate it.
1966 August, The conversion was completed. The upper 2 tiers were removed and a heli-pad created. Solar panels powered the light station. Air horns served as the fog signal and the Fresnel lens was replaced by an aero beacon and moved to the lantern room in Old Point Loma San Diego, at an expense of $110,000.

1992 Ending another tradition, the Coast Guard stopped the distinctive foghorns replacing them with electronic signals. Protests from romantics all over San Francisco brought some of the horns back.

2009: Today, The white 85-ft tower at Mile Rocks cannot be seen anymore. It now appears like a stubby striped mushroom, its former glory gone.


1. Guardians of the Golden Gate, Ralph Shanks, 1990.
2. Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs, 1986.
3. Lighthouse of California, Bruce Roberts & Ray Jones,1930
4. California Lighthouse Life,Wayne C. Wheeler,2000
5. Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.

Content is copyright by O'Cairdestudio 2010
Post a Comment