When Drake's expedition traveled inland from the shore they noticed right away that the land had good soil and would be excellent for farming. As it turned out, the inland area of the Point Reyes National Seashore was and still is home to several dairy farms. This started in the 1850's when the United States took over California, and while the ownership of the Point Reyes area was being litigated, a law firm was overseeing the property and it's senior partners began operating dairy farms.
Windy Point Reyes
Point Reyes is considered to be one of the windiest points on the California coast.
According to the National Park Service, Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent.
Visit there on the right day and you'll surely agree. Winds can be 40 to 60 MPH and have reached 100 MPH and more. Fog can often be present and thick as you can see in the lighthouse photos on this page. In fact, it's foggy on the peninsula quite frequently and is why the lighthouse was erected.
The Point Reyes headlands stick out about ten miles into the Pacific Ocean and it's for this reason that the point had been so dangerous to mariners for over 100 years. Any vessel leaving San Francisco Bay had to take note of the Point Reyes area. Historians count some eighty maritime accidents off Point Reyes claiming hundreds of seamen. Before the Point Reyes lighthouse could be built, a suitable flat site was blasted out of the rock about 300 feet below the cliff. This is the reason that visitors today must walk down the long steps to enter the lighthouse itself.
|Very foggy day at Pt. Reyes|
The clockwork mechanism shown below on this page, glass prisms and housing for the lighthouse were shipped on a steamer around the tip of South America to San Francisco. The Point Reyes Lighthouse, also called the Point Reyes Light Station, was first commissioned in 1855 but because of land disputes with local owners the lighthouse was not built until 1870.
Originally operated with oil fueled lamps, electricity first reached the lighthouse in 1938 and in 1975 it became automated. All U.S. lighthouses are now automated simply because with modern technology it's much easier and cheaper to operate. Ownership and management of the Point Reyes Lighthouse at the Point Reyes National Seashore is handled by the National Park Service which keeps the site maintained and preserves it's history. The Cape Mendocino Light further up the California coast is a replica with both being 37 feet high.
Point Reyes Lighthouse Had A Unique Construction
|Clockwork mechanism Point Reyes|
Because of the heavy winds and frequent thick fog, duty at Point Reyes was not always fun. In fact, the nearest settlement to the lighthouse was and is the small town of Inverness, about 19 miles inland. The job of the lighthouse keepers included constant trimming of the wick, winding the grandfather clock style mechanism shown at left every two hours, stoking coal for the steam-powered fog signal, cleaning the large Fresnel lens every day, polishing the brass gears, and repairing the steps and the outbuildings.
There are stories that duty at this remote lighthouse caused psychological problems as well as alcoholism. According to the local newspapers, a story in 1887 reported meager salaries of $800 a year for the top-ranked lighthouse keeper, $700 for his second in command and $500 for two assistants. Not great pay for solitary duty in such a wind swept, fog covered and highly remote area such as Point Reyes.
|Fog horns at Point Reyes|
All foghorns operate by using a vibrating column of air to make a tone. The tone can be adjusted up and down thus giving a variety of signals. The lower floor of the lighthouse has exhibit panels on the history of the light and the keepers. The equipment building next and slightly below the lighthouse exhibits the two 1947 super typhon foghorns, the air compressors, and a backup power generator that were employed at Point Reyes.
When you drive to the Point Reyes headlands which is about a 45 minute drive (21 mile) from the Bear Valley Visitor Center, you will find a large parking area. The walk from the parking area to the lighthouse visitor center is 0.4 miles.
|Bear Valley Visitor Center|
Visiting Point Reyes can be a great addition to your San Francisco vacation plans and can be a perfect combination road trip on your drive north from San Francisco to the Sonoma and Napa county wineries.
(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)
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