Friday, April 23, 2010

Point Cabrillo

Location: Caspar, California, 2 Miles north of Mendocino Village and 6 miles south of Fort Bragg, just off Cabrillo Drive. The Light Station is approximately 1/2 mile walk from the parking area. Handicapped access parking is available at the Light Station in front of the residences.
Directions:4 Hrs North of San Francisco, 85 miles Highway 101 to 128, 55 miles Highway 128 to 1, 12.1 miles North to Cabrillo Dr, 1.3 miles North to Lighthouse Dr. ½ mile walk in,
Google Maps Directions

Latitude: 39°20′54″N
Longitude: 123°49′33″W
Status: Active
Year established: 1909
Automated: 1973
Tower Height: 47 ft, 81 ft above sea level. Octagonal on fog signal building
Original Optic: 3rd Order, Fresnel, DCB-224
Original construction: Wood, white building with red roof, black lens room and roof, foundation concrete
Light characteristic: Flashing white 10s. Emergency light of reduced intensity when main light is extinguished. Visible 22 nautical miles,
Fog horn: Twin sirens powered by an air compressor ran by 2 18-hp engines housed in the building.
Admiralty number: G4362
ARLHS number: USA-619
USCG number: 6-0450


This journey was different than most. I posted the trip on a photography meetup site, several people indicated an interest in coming, but only one made the journey with me. I had set the meeting place for Pete’s coffee shop in Castro Valley. I arrived at Pete’s around 10:00 am and waited about 30 mins before anyone arrived. A young lady came and we spent a little time drinking coffee, she explained that at the last moment she had to work. I then got a call on my cell, the caller was Prashant Gaigavale, I had never met this person before, and he said he was 15 mins away. So I sat in the beautiful sunlit patio of Pete’s sipping a cappuccino and waited patiently.

When Prashant arrived we cordially introduced ourselves, I suggested that we head to Safeway and get ourselves some refreshments and sandwiches for the journey. He transferred his camera gear to my MDX and we where on our way. This was a long journey, approximately 4 hrs; I played a medley of music from my IPod. As we journeyed I engaged Prashant in some small talk, I soon learnt that Prashant, was married and living in Dublin with his wife and a 2 1/2 yr old daughter. He worked as software professional and was in the process of changing jobs from Wells Fargo bank to Infosys technologies. I guessed that he was in his late 30’s to early 40’s. As we moved north the skies started to clear and blue skies eased their way out from the clouds, it looked like we where going to have a nice day.

Our journey was long and uneventful, Prashant appeared to be very friendly and spoke a lot about his family and job. He was also at the early stages of photography, I hope his desire grows. We took the turnoff from Highway 101 to Highway 128, and a short break in Cloverdale. The town seemed to have a lot of Mexicans, I suppose it’s due to being a farm region and it needs a lot of back breaking laborers. I do not envy these people; they are the butt of people’s jokes and receive very little pay. We did not spend too long in the town as we did not want to waste the day. The roads got a lot narrower and the sharp bends retarded our progress, we could not maintain the speed of 60 mph, mostly we where travelling was reduced to 40mph. This slow travel allowed us an opportunity to absorb the beauty of the rich green rolling hills, with clusters of yellow flowers and the surrounding tree line. Where the sun broke through in narrow gaps between the towering redwoods, nature was making her presence felt and one could only wish that he/she was an fish, an elk, an eagle or one of Gods created beauties to be part of the harmony of nature, I knew I was part of His plan.

The picturesque beauty of the landscape changed dramatically as we approached the coast. The trees where much larger and the scenery had a more vastness appearance. Instead of rolling hills we had mountain ranges, instead of tree lines we where buried deep in the woods, a massive forest of redwoods, gone where the cows and other domestic animals, now we had raw beauty of color and sound and less of mans intrusion, with his mechanization and concrete jungles, entangled with artificial light, smell of pollution and honking vehicles’. Now I could hear nature sing with running rivers, see colors of green, blue and yellow, and breathe the air into my lungs easily. The rivers sounded as country music as it made its way around snake bends and down deep ravines, I could hear the squawk of some bird high in the sky as it swooped down from the glaring sun. Green, blue and yellow blended so naturally, fields covered in California poppies juxtaposed with the Giant Californian redwoods and a deep blue sky speckled with white puffy clouds. What more could the senses cry out for. I felt that I am at home.

It was not long until the sea came into full view and again that my physical senses went on overload, I am high above the cresting waters of the emerald sea, looking down at pearly white crashing waves against a jagged seashore, I am watching a flock of seagulls circling high in the sky with a golden orb, and Cows mulching luscious green grass on the side of steep hills as if they are mountain goats and I am asking myself will other generations see this, or will we neglect and destroy this beauty. When God gave man the earth, he made us a Steward of nature not an abuser of the land. If we don’t try and protect this land it will be gone forever. We have a responsibility not to pollute but to preserve this wonder of nature for our children and grand children. The Bible says that nature groans for the manifestation of the sons of God. It’s as if we have arrived at the end of days when our very world has said enough of this pollution, tend the garden and it will take care of you.

Finally we arrived at point Cabrillo, the settings was very quaint. The visitor center was closed, so we parked in the parking lot and made our way towards the lighthouse. The walk is not that strenuous; just bring some water as no refreshments are served at the station. Prashant and I basically split up and spent the next few hours taking photographs of what interested us. I made my way in around the keepers quarters, their is at least 3 light keepers buildings and one was open to the public, its contents was restored to the days of old, and it acts as a museum. As I made my way to the Lighthouse, I was impressed at its setting, so alone against the Pacific Ocean, it was almost majestic. I felt nostalgia arise inside my gut. It was the appearance of what seemed to be a lone church on a hill against the horizon of the ocean. The nostalgia was for a longing to belong to early western times, this imagery awoke in my subconscious mind. If I was to look in a mirror at that moment, I felt I would see a shroud of melancholy hang over my countenance separating me from this accursed world. I wanted to be a part of this environment, live near the sea, take up residence in a small town, become part of the landscape, yet I found that I am anchored to the suburbs, I am a fool for not living my dream, but so are all men, I am a fool for the city.

The afternoon was leisurely spent, taking pictures of the surrounding areas, hills, cliffs, flowers and ravines and from every angle of the lighthouse, , until the arrival of sunset when I occupied a park bench for a few minutes, snacking on a piece of chocolate and gazing out to sea. I caught a glimpse of some far away whales, spouting water into the air in the distant horizon I observed some romantic couples taking pictures of each other and I wrapped up the day passing a few tips to Prashant about the art of photography. Then it was a trek back to the MDX, a bite eat, some coffee and the final trek home. It was a good day, except for filling up with gas, nearly $5 a gallon, ouch in Mendocino.

1850: July 25th The brig Frolic, heading for San Francisco from Hong Kong, sank off Point Cabrillo. This event was indirectly responsible for the lumber industry in northern California. Miggs a San Francisco businessman sent his foreman Ford to make some salvage attempts from the frolic. Forded reported back about the massive redwoods and Miggs setup what is considered the first Sawmill company in Northern California. He founded what is now known as Mendocino town. the Mendocino coast was soon home to hundreds of thriving sawmills.

1873: The Lighthouse Service surveys Point Cabrillo for a light station.

1908: The demand for lumber to rebuild San Francisco from the 1906 earthquake meant that the demand for seafaring commerce was at a peak. The safety of sea going vessels and their cargo was critical, so construction of a lighthouse began.

1905: Due to the growth of the Sawmills and the export of wood to the south and commercial goods to the north, the lumber industry petitioned for a lighthouse in the area
1906: The Earthquake in San Francisco set off an inferno that increased demand for lumber for rebuilding; more commercial sea going traffic was making its way up and down the Mendocino coast, it was at all time high. The seafarers and the merchants put pressure on the Government for a lighthouse. Congress allocated $50,000 for a light station on Point Cabrillo.

1908 The US lighthouse Service began building the light station on 30.5 acres of land. The assignment was one of the most desirable in the area because of its closeness to provisions and a school. The combination lighthouse and fog signal building resembles a small church with a 47-foot octagonal light tower attached to the eastern end of the small 1 ½ story fog signal building. 2 18-hp engines housed in the building ran an air compressor that powered twin sirens protruding from the western end of the roof. A 3rd order Fresnel lens, built in England by Chance Brothers, was installed in the lantern room. Powered by a kerosene lamp it produced a white flash every 10 seconds, the 4 sided prism, operated by a clockwork mechanism was made to revolve 3 times every 3 minutes, using a 80lb weight suspended in the tower on a chain which descended through the floors of the tower. The keeper had to wind the chain up unto a cylindrical drum every couple of hours. The concrete floor was modified to add an extra 5 ft of chain, which gained an addition 10 minutes, the light had a range of 13-15 miles, The station inland consisted 3 spacious keepers houses framed by trees, coal house, carpentry shop, smith shop, 2 water towers, a barn and a pump house. The Station was staffed with a head light keeper and two assistant keepers and between them they rotated shifts to power the compressors and insured the light kept burning. Their duties included cleaning, painting, maintenance of the structures and they maintained the fog signal, lens and station machinery. For this their remuneration from the lighthouse service, a house for their family, a salary of $450-$600 and land to raise crops and livestock

1909: June 10th midnight. A new sentinel appears on the Pacific Coast and the light at Point Cabrillo was illuminated. The first appointed Chief lightkeeper Wilhelm Baumgartner; he had transferred from offshore St Georges reef lighthouse, invited surrounding residents of Pine Grove to go to the midnight ceremony. The First assistant wife Mrs. basset prepared supper for about 40 guests that dark foggy night.

1911: Baumgartner wed the blacksmiths daughter Lena Seman from Mendocino. The Light Service hinted he should marry seeing as he was now in charge of a family station. The kerosene lamp in the lens was upgraded to an oil-vapor lamp.

1912: A concrete oil house structure was built at the light station.

1923: Wilhelm Baumgartner dies. he had lived with his wife for nearly 12 tears at Point Cabrillo.

1935: Electricity is introduced; electric motors replace the clockwork mechanism to rotate the lens and power the fog signal and the electric light bulb replaces the oil vapor lamp to light the lens.

1939: The Coast Guard takes over the light station from the Lighthouse Service. Bill Owens is the last civilian Lightkeeper at Point Cabrillo, Coast Guards and their families took up residence at Point Cabrillo.

1952: Bill Owens with his wife Cora relocated to Point Cabrillo from Point Arena. Cora described a battle with a wretched goat that endangered her flower garden.
“There was a goat that kept jumping the fence onto the light station and eating anything and everything that grew. The men kept putting him back into the field until they got disgusted and shot him in the leg. He just lay in the grass unable to walk. I felt sorry for him and kept a pan of water near his head. There was plenty of grass beside him that he could eat. After four or five days he got up and started walking, and he was put over the fence again. He stayed there after that.”

1960: February the lighthouse was brutally hammered by a fierce storm, by rocks ripped from the cliffs below the point. Massive waves relentlessly struck the station with enough force to break the doors; the fog signal engines was lifted from its base and slammed against the buildings wall. After the storm subsided, the floor of the lighthouse was deep in mud, gravel and sand. The keepers after turning the light on sought refuge in the eastern most buildings hoping the waves would not reach them. Cora described the event of that day.
“Late in the evening, after dark, I heard a sound that reminded me of cattle or horses stampeding. I wondered what it was but had to wait until morning to find out. … On the south side of the property, I found that a great many rocks had been thrown up by the waves a great distance from the edge of the bluff. One huge rock was at least fifty feet back from the cliff.”

The Lens survived the storm intact was not damaged.

1963 Feb 28th: The last civilian light house keeper on the west coast, Bill Owens retires from Point Cabrillo. The coast guard manned the station

1973: The Coast Guard disengaged the Fresnel lens and installed an aero-marine rotating beacon, it was mounted on the roof of the fog signal building. The Fresnel lens remained in the lantern tower; the clockwork mechanism and fog signal machinery was removed. The station was automated, and maintained by Coast Guard from Fort Bragg.

1978 The Coastal Conservancy acquired the Point Cabrillo land, and operated the Preserve with the North Coast Interpretive Association (NCIA).
1989, the Coast Guard planned to move the inactive Fresnel lens to a museum in Virginia. Local opposition kept the lens at Point Cabrillo.

1991: The Coastal Conservancy acquired the Light Station with its surrounding lands and aligned with the North Coast Interpretive Association, a non-profit group, to administer Point Cabrillo.

1992 The Coastal Conservancy takes over the light station from the Coast guard

1995, a major restoration of the station was undertaken. The blacksmith shop and oil house were restored first. The LORAN Coast Guard equipment, formerly housed in the lighthouse, was then relocated to the oil house so work on the lighthouse could begin. In

1996: To restore the lighthouse especially the lantern room and to create public facilities the Conservancy is awarded a federal grant through the ISTEA program (Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Activities)

1998: August Work begins on the project. The Fresnel lens is dismantled and taken from the lantern tower for clean-up and refurbishing. Nov the lantern room was lifted from the tower.

1999 April, the lantern tower restoration is complete; the lens is refurbished and reinstalled in time for the 90th Anniversary. The Coast Guard, NCIA, and Coastal Conservancy help with funding and restoration.

2000 California Bond measure for $4 million is passed to Purchase the Point Cabrillo reserve by the California Department of Parks and Recreation

2001 August, the rest of the lighthouse is completed

2002: The property was transferred to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, and all programs managed by the Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association for the restoration of the lighthouse and parks. Today, Point Cabrillo Preserve is 300 acres of protected open headland along the Mendocino Coast.

2005, the easternmost keeper’s dwelling was completely restored and opened as a museum.

2006 The head keeper’s dwelling opened as the Lighthouse Inn at Point Cabrillo.

2009 The western building is partially restored, quarters for the caretaker.

  1. Point Carbillo, Cora Isabel Owens, The Keeper's Log, Spring 1990. 
  2.  The Keeper's Log, Summer 1999.
  3.  Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.

CA Parks Mendocino
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