Friday, July 12, 2019

Where A Shipwreck Changed Human and Natural History of Mendocino Coast

Point Cabrillo Light Station, June 9, 2019

Date: January 8, 2018, June 9, 2019
Place: Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park, Mendocino, California
Coordinates: 39.350012, -123.813205
Length: 1.7 miles
Level: easy

When Pappa Quail suggested visiting the Cabrillo National Monument on our latest SoCal trip I was surprised: at that time I had known only about Point Cabrillo Lighthouse State Historic Park, which I had already visited nearly a year before. As I learned. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who was the first European to have set foot in the North American West Coast, had never made it as north as where Mendocino County is today. Still, Point Cabrillo is named after him as well.
And since our SoCal trip during which we hiked the Cabrillo NM and explored the tide pools there I also had another opportunity to hike Point Cabrillo yet again, and this time in spring.
I include here photos from both of these hikes.
At the trailhead, January 9, 2018
I dated the photos, but I think it's pretty obvious which was taken when. In it's not the clouds that are the determining difference - it's the vegetation. The difference between the mostly last season's weeds with the beginning of new greening to full early summer green and wildflowers colors is striking.
June 9, 2019
Along the coast of California there would be always something blooming. In early January the early bloomer was the huckleberry.
Evergreen Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, January 9, 2018
The park's main attraction is the old lighthouse and the fascinating history of the place, but the park's area also have a few very beautiful nature trails. It was the north loop that I hiked on both occasions.
January 9, 2018
Less than a mile down the west-bound trail I took a turn on a narrow foot trail through the coastal prairie to the northwestern corner of the park where the Frolic Cove Beach is.
June 9, 2019
On January I did this hike was very quickly. On June however, I stopped a lot to look at wildflowers or to graze on the blackberries that were ripening at the time.
Purple Checkerbloom, Sidalcea malviflora ssp. purpurea June 9, 2019
Coastal plants are often low and spreading as an adaptation to windy conditions. The irises grew  taller than most of the plants in their surroundings and were the easiest to spot from afar. Still, they were considerably shorter than their inland forest area counterparts. They were also much darker in color - both the green leaves and the deep purple of their blossoms.
Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana June 9, 2019
The local thistle provided a great example of this flattened wind-adaptation phenotype. It blooms pretty much at ground level.
Browny Thistle (Circium quercetorum), and Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum), June 9, 2019
Mendocino County is part of the Pomo Native Californian territory. By 1850 the Pomo at their southern borders were already being harassed by the Spanish missionaries but in the northwestern part of their territory they were still largely unbothered. All that changed when the opium runner The Frolic run aground on the rocks right off the shores where Point Cabrillo SHP is now. All hands survived the wreckage and on their way back to San Francisco they had made a discovery: the huge forests of old growth giant redwoods.
The Frolic Cove. June 9, 2019
That discovery brought the end for the Pomo way of living and for many of the old growth redwood forests of the area along with the ecosystems they supported. The logging industry moved in in full force. New communities mushroomed along the coast and ports were built. The Pomo people were forcefully evicting to reservations where many of them died from diseases, starvation, and abuse. Of the huge redwood forests only a few enclaves were preserved.
And the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse was built to alert the ships which shuttled the redwood logs south to San Francisco and goods back north to Mendocino of the dangerous off-shore rocks.
A coastal rock ledge, January 9, 2018
From the view point of the Frolic Cove I made my way south along the coast, following the beautiful cliffs and enjoying the breeze.
June 9, 2019
This coastal trail was leading me south to the old lighthouse. It has a lovely red roof and looks very pastoral in the blue sky backdrop of June (photo at the top of this post). In January however, it was already getting dark when I was heading that way, and I could barely see that the roof had any color at all. There was only the radiant evening sun glowing through a thinner spot of the cloud cover. 
January 9, 2019
A second later there was a mother flash of light, from the still operational lighthouse itself.
January 9, 2019
Each season has its own charm and beauty. On my June hike I didn't see the lighthouse light but I was treated to a colorful display of wildflowers.
Seaside Daisy, Erigeron glaucus, June 9
And the water in the narrow coastal coves wore a sparkling emerald hue. I could stand there for a long time just watching the small waves washing in and out of those little coves.
June 9, 2019
The lighthouse building stands alone very close to the cliff edge. In the old time, the foghorn was located too in this building but theses days it is located on a buoy off shore. The light is still operational and the bottom floor is a nice historic museum. In this museum is the story of the area, including Pomo items and relics of the Frolic, excavated after its story was rediscovered by an anthropologist researching he Pomo old sites.
Point Cabrillo Light Station, January 9, 2018
Further inland are three more red-roofed houses where the lighthouse keeper, his assistants and their families used to live. Two of these very nice looking houses are available as vacation rentals. The third is another museum dedicated to the life in the old pioneer times of North California Coast.
Assistant Lightkeeper's House, now a museum. June 9, 2019
There is a paved road leading from the park entrance to the lighthouse area. It is possible to drive all the way and park right there. Driving there however, would have deprived me of that beautiful hike.
I walk back along that road, completing a loop hike.
January 9, 2018
Walking back and forth this road is how most visitors get to the lighthouse, and it is indeed a very nice walk and a good leg stretch for long distance drivers on Hwy 1. It is also where the park  personnel had strategically pace some nice information boards explaining some of the local nature, including some nit readily visible things like whales.
When I walked that road in June I had the pleasure of seeing more wildflowers along the way.
California Wild Rose, Rosa californica, June 9, 2019
One of these flowers was new to me and I was duly impressed with its color combination. At first i thought it was an invasive species but searching Calflora I identified it as the harlequin lotus, which isn't only a California native plant, but also a fairly rare one - it is endemic to the Mendocino coastal region. Such a fortunate sighting makes me happy.
Harlequin Lotus, Hosackia gracillis, June 9, 2019
As I neared the end of the road I turned around and took a last longing gaze westward. The lighthouse was hidden from my view by the grove of trees planted around the historic residential buildings, but the blue ocean was a visible thin line between land and sky. California coastline is very beautiful, and the Mendocino coastline is absolutely spectacular. Cabrillo would have loved it had he ever made it there in person.
June 9, 2019


  1. This is a very beautiful place, but its history is tragic :-(
    The dark pictures are beautiful! The harlequin lotus is very special.

    1. Thanks! Yes, the history of the Native Californians is very tragic indeed. Add to it the destruction of the redwood forests and you can see how damaging our society can be to Nature and ultimately, ourselves :-(