North of the town of Mendocino is the Pt Cabrillo Lighthouse. In over 20 trips to the Mendocino Coast, we have never been to this light station. Big mistake.
Just before our visit, we stopped at one of our favorite lunch spots – a picnic on Caspar Beach. We ate and watched the waves.
Then on to Pt Cabrillo Lighthouse – off of Pt Cabrillo Drive. We parked in the lot near the drive and then headed downhill towards the point.
The weather in northern California has been most unusual lately. Warm and sunny during the day and cold at night. As we walked the half mile to the lighthouse, we were glad for the sunshine. A normal January visit would mean rain.
We passed three lightkeeper houses used for the keepers and their families from 1909-1939. Now they are available as vacation rentals.
A small building near the lighthouse used to be for a blacksmith and a carpenter – now it is a small marine science museum and has an 250 gallon aquarium of local starfish and anemones.
We entered the lighthouse next. There is something so calming to me about lighthouse interiors – maybe just being out of the wind – with light colored walls and large windows. I spent some time looking for whales that others had reported seeing. I read about some of the history of the area from native inhabitants to shipwrecks.
The enthusiastic docent at the museum, also pointed out that due to the current clear dry weather, we could see the Lost Coast to the north. (Makes up for not seeing a whale.)
Climbing the road back to the parking lot, we slowed down to study the plant life. The prairie was similar to Sonoma County, but in place of coyote bush was a bush – in some places a tree – with many long narrow leaves. (Still unidentified and yet incredibly common, I’m sure.)
There is a trail through the prairie from the parking that loops around the headlands. We’ll take that next time. If you go, beware the cliff’s edge wherever you encounter one. The sandstone crumbles away. There was some serious erosion making headway between the lightkeeper houses and the lighthouse.
Cabrillo Point was named after a Spanish explorer, though the Spanish never got this far north in their exploits. After several shipwrecks it was decided a lighthouse was needed. It was built in 1909 and run by the Lighthouse Service until 1939. The US Coast Guard took control of the lighthouse and then in 1973 covered the lens and installed a modern light.
The California Coastal Conservancy bought land around the light in 1988. In 1991 the North Coast Interpretive Association (later the Point Cabrillo Light Keeper Assoc. or PCLK ) started managing the station. They raised funds and oversaw the restoration of the lighthouse and returned the main Fresnel lens to working condition. They continue to run the station for the California State Park system. Officially, a State Park in 2002 it was slated to close in 2012 due to state budget cuts. It’s still open, but…
a little help please
While the US Coast Guard helped with the lighthouse restoration, it is now asking to decommission the lighthouse. The Pt Cabrillo Light Keeper Assoc. is asking visitors and others to contact the US Coast Guard and copy local congresspersons to keep the light on. (This type of lens is better used than not – a huge sum of money was already made to restore it once.)
Please connect to this link for more information about the closure and who to write to keep the lights going. http://goo.gl/iGnPLA
Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park
Click for Park brochure and map http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/22276/files/pointcabrillo2008.pdf
Events: Whale festivals – March 1, 2, 15, 16 (with tours of the lantern room) and more. Check website for more information http://www.pointcabrillo.org/events.htm
Other features: Marine Science Museum in former blacksmith and carpenter building. Museum and Gift Shop in the lighthouse. – Visitor Center at parking lot is currently closed.
Location: Pt Cabrillo Dr (parallels Hwy 1) between Mendocino and Caspar.
Hours: 11-4 daily for lighthouse. Park open sunrise to sunset
Distance: 1 mile round trip
Picnic: At the parking lot and at the lighthouse.
Bathroom: At parking lot and near cottages by lighthouse (very large, flush, cold water).
Wheelchair accessible: Yes. If you have a handicapped placard, you can drive down towards the lighthouse and park there.
Dogs: On 6’ leash on the road. Not on trail. One of the cottages is dog friendly.
Not camping but houses are for rent. Go to the website regarding vacation rentals of house or cottage.
See you on the trail!
Words by Lynn Millar, photos by Mike Millar – available upon request.