If there had been an Alcatraz of lighthouses in the early 1900s, the Punta Gorda light station would have been it. It was as isolated and lonely as a frontier settlement. The lighthouse keeper spent the winter months there virtually in solitary confinement, when flooded streams and harsh, windy conditions kept the site cut off from civilization. Even during the pleasant summer months, he had to travel 11 miles on horseback to shop for fresh supplies in the small town of Petrolia.
Originally sanctioned as a fog station in 1888, it was not until 1912 that the Punta Gorda (Spanish for “fat point”) Lighthouse was approved by Congress, and then only after 10 ships and countless seamen had met their fate near the point. The flashing light in the small 27-foot-tall tower was in service until 1951, when the Coast Guard decided the remote site was too expensive to maintain, and replaced it with a flashing buoy. Now controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, the only structures remaining are the concrete lighthouse and the oil house, both of which were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
The lighthouse site is a 3-mile, strenuous hike along the Lost Coast Trail, which begins at the Mattole Beach campground. The trail offers beautiful black-sand beaches, dunes and tide pools. A large portion of the hike is through fine, loose sand, and hiking beneath the cliffs can be dangerous at high tide. Tide information is usually posted at the trailhead. To reach the site from Hwy 101, take the Honeydew/Dyerville exit in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Travel west to Mattole Road in Honeydew to Lighthouse Road, almost an hour and a half trip. Travel 5 miles to Mattole Campground.
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