The Light At The Edge Of The World – Point Reyes Lighthouse, CA
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
There are certain places you go where time seems to stand still and the whole world is encompassed in a single spot. Places so raw and wild they stand at the end of things, perched at the precipice of everything with nothing to separate them from the force of nature’s will. Here you see the earth at it’s wildest and most exposed. Grasses that move endlessly with the wind, trees that are grotesquely bent and distorted from storms past, wildflowers that bloom and are almost immediately swept away. It’s an intensely lonely place that bares you down to your very soul.
But there is also light.
At the very edge of the corner of this wildness, set precariously on a cliff overhanging a grey and tumultuous sea is a structure of cast iron with a light of 160,000 candles shining out to the horizon. It’s a single beacon of hope, a warning light to guide those lost in the black ocean, a place carefully tended by keepers through nights of unending storm and wind. Or so it was, over 140 years ago.
Ah yes, my friends I’m talking about a lighthouse.
Those of you who’ve followed the blog over the years know that we are lighthouse FANATICS and not ashamed to admit it. Not only do we enjoy visiting these fine pieces of history, but we love them so much we’ve volunteered as lighthouse hosts for the past 4 years, passing on their history and stories to others.
There is SO much encompassed in these old structures from the keepers (& their families) who lived in these mostly remote and uninhabitable locations, to the fascinating science of the Fresnel lens to the history of the areas where they were located. Lighthouses are not just pieces of history, they are beacons of hope and enduring reminders of the unique people who dedicated their lives to them. On top of all that they tend to be in amazing locations and look darn pretty too. What’s not to love??
But for whatever reason, despite the many years we lived in San Francisco (pre-RVing) we never went out to see Point Reyes Lighthouse.
Part of the reason is that it’s a bit of trek to get there.
The lighthouse sits at the very edge of the Point Reyes National Seashore, a remote 71,028-acre (287.44 km2) slice of land that sticks into the ocean like an odd appendage right off the coast north of San Francisco. By all measures this area should have been an island, attached as it is by just a sliver of connection to the main coast-line in a heavily tectonically active area. But instead it survived as a peninsula, albeit a geologically unique one. Over 45% of North American avian species and nearly 18% of California’s plant species are found in the park due to its incredible variety of habitat and geology. It’s safe to say this is a place like no-where else.
There are miles of hiking and beaches around the National Seashore and if you’re coming for nature you’ll have an abundance of choice. However, if you’re a lighthouse nut, once you enter the park you’ll need to drive another ~20 miles (~40 mins) around the peninsula to get to the lighthouse parking area. From there you’ll need to walk another ~1/2 mile and then (here’s the butt kicker) you descend 300 steps before you finally connect with the lady herself. So, it’s not for the faint (or weak) of heart.
But it’s so very worth it, despite it all.
Point Reyes Lighthouse isn’t the best-kept of lighthouses. She was built in 1870, out of cast iron no less (what genius thought of that one??!) and she definitely shows her age. The structure is rusted and brown, slowly succumbing to the ravages of being so close to never-ending storms and ocean salt. But she also carries a rather sweet secret. Inside her decrepit tower are the original remains of a 1st order Fresnel lens, the original clockwork mechanism (for rotating the lens) and the original weights (which were regularly wound up to engage the lens rotation) and, although no longer active, all are in beautiful condition! Plus her location, perched as she is right on the edge of the cliffs, is stunning!
We went to see the lighthouse on a overcast Friday morning, leaving doggie at home (no doggies allowed on the trail to the lighthouse). It was a long, windy drive to get there (which, for a gal who gets car-sick like me really takes some effort) but it was also gorgeous, despite the heavy grey skies. We spent an hour hanging by the lighthouse and enjoyed a tour inside the lens room by the ranger (most recommended!) before we engaged our thighs for the 300 steps back to the top. A stop at a remote beach, a mocha in downtown Point Reyes Station and that pretty much swept away the entire morning.
From a place where time stands still, a light at the edge of the world, we came back feeling like we’d seen the whole of Mother Earth in a single spec of a spot. A fabulous place and a…totally…AWESOME….day!!!
Lighthouse Visiting Notes -> Lighthouse is only open, weather permitting (they shut down during high winds) Fridays through Mondays from 10 am to 4:30 pm. LENS room is only open Fridays through Mondays from 2:30 pm to 4 pm. During whale migration season, you may have to take a shuttle to get here otherwise you can drive to within ~1/2 mile of the lighthouse. It is FREE to visit.
Doggie Notes -> NO dogs allowed on the trail to the lighthouse, but dogs are allowed on several beaches (Limantour Beach and Point Reyes/Great Beach) as well as the trail to Kehoe Beach. Click HERE to read about pet restrictions within Point Reyes National Seashore and HERE to download a map (with pet-friendly areas clearly marked).
Related External Links:
- Point Reyes Lighthouse Info & History -> Click HERE and HERE
- Point Reyes National Seashore -> Click HERE for official site and HERE for visiting hours.
Related Blog Posts & Awesome Lighthouse Books:
- Blog Post -> Top 10 FAQ -> Lighthouse Volunteering/Hosting
- Book -> Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers
- Book -> Guardians of the Lights: Stories of U.S. Lighthouse Keepers
- Book -> A Short Bright Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse
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