Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sea Ranch to Point Arena

Point Arena Lighthouse, Point Arena, California
A pulsating roar interrupts the gentle sounds of surf below us. As we stand on the top deck of the Point Arena Lighthouse, a helicopter lands at the adjacent Coast Guard helipad. According to the docent, Ron, this happens about once a month. We picked a special day to come here.

Soon the gentle sounds return and we admire the view while Ron talks about lighthouses, from the Tower of Hercules at La Coruña, Spain–built in 20 BC and still operating–to the oldest in the U.S., New Jersey's Sandy Hook Lighthouse, built in 1764. He also says some disparaging things about Point Loma Lighthouse which he asks us, on learning that we are from San Diego, not to repeat. I have already forgotten what they were.

Point Arena Lighthouse was built in 1870 and badly damaged in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The one we are standing in opened in 1908. Ron informs us that it has served as the backdrop for several films, including Truck Stop, Shirin in Love, and Forever Young.

The lighthouse exists because of a rock about a half-mile to the northwest that extends to within six feet of the ocean surface. During the Gold Rush, there was a shipwreck every month, which tends to be bad for business and other things.

Ron is full of information. We learn from him that:
  • Gallery” is the lighthouse term for balcony.
  • Pharology” is the study of lighthouses.
  • People study lighthouses.
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, Point Arena has the cleanest air in the United States.
I can verify the first three claims, and the fourth seems plausible (although the American Lung Association has awarded the title to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2012).

We are a couple of miles west of CA-1, at the end of a one-lane road. The top of the lighthouse, which stands 115 feet high, is reachable by a seemingly endless series of spiral stairs followed by a ladder for the final stretch. We can see vast reaches of California coast, harbor seals on the rocks below, and what Terry Gilliam would call “a whole bunch of water.”

During our 20-minute stay at the top, which includes a walk around the deck outside, Ron is periodically interrupted by a radio call from the fellow in the museum next door who sends folks up the stairs all day to hear Ron talk about lighthouses. There isn't much room at the top, so Ron has to give the okay before anyone comes up to visit.

Ron gets many calls, some of which are even warranted. It becomes a running joke. “Copy that,” Ron says after each interruption, then shrugs his shoulders and continues with whatever story he was relating.

The chopper is still resting on the helipad when we return to ground level. People have wandered over to talk with the crew. We resist, instead taking a final look at the lighthouse before heading back to the main highway.

There are many rivers to cross this afternoon. We'd better get started.

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