Dec 082012
cape mendocino lighthouse at sheltor cove

Steve Hammons

In 1999, a large helicopter lifted the lantern off the historic, but badly deteriorated, Cape Mendocino Lighthouse and flew it 35 miles to the resort village of Shelter Cove. The rest of the lighthouse, disassembled at the site, soon followed by truck. Within a year the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse Preservation Society had restored, painted and fitted new glass into this 139-year-old sailor’s beacon. It now sits at Mal Coombs Park at the tip of Point Delgada. The Cape Mendocino Lighthouse has a rich history as a signal of warning in some of the Pacific Coast’s most treacherous waters.

Cape Mendocino is California’s westernmost point. The first ship carrying supplies to build the lighthouse struck a rock on its journey and ran aground in 1867. When a steamer finally landed safely at the cape’s headland, the parts of the lighthouse were hauled up steep cliffs to a base 422 feet above the ocean. When the 43-foot tall tower was completed in 1868, it became one of the highest lighthouses in the nation. The last piece, the delicate Fresnel lens, was steamed to Eureka then transported by horse and wagon to the point. The lighthouse began flashing its white signal once every 30 seconds on Dec. 1, 1868. The lighthouse was so remote it had to be serviced by sea in the early years. One lighthouse inspector drowned in 1881 trying to reach it. During more than 80 years of service, violent storms and frequent earthquakes took their toll on the lighthouse. The Coast Guard decommissioned it in 1951, and by the late 1990s the lighthouse was ready to crumble into the sea. Today, the lighthouse is open for tours, when docents are available, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day.