Climb to the top of the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, California

MENDOCINO, CA, June 2022

Photos by Mikael Blaisdell

Last weekend, volunteers for the Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association and the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 87 led visitors to the top of Mendocino’s historic 1909 lighthouse. This was a very special occasion, because these were the first lens tours held since March of 2020, when COVID-19 shut down indoor activities at the park.

On June 11, 825 days after the last lens tours, eighty-seven tourists and locals got the opportunity to stand next to Point Cabrillo’s working Fresnel lens, the same one that was first lit at midnight on June 10 of 1909. That lens continues to serve an Active Federal Aid to Navigation, owned and operate by the United States Coast Guard and outfitted with a 1000-watt halogen bulb.

Visitors to the Lighthouse on Saturday were able to learn the history of Point Cabrillo, from the keepers that took care of the light to the intricate design of the Fresnel lens, and its 150 prisms. The Fresnel lens was invented in the early 1800s by French engineer Augustin Jean Fresnel. The lens at Point Cabrillo was made in England by the Chance Brothers manufacturing company. It was shipped off to Mendocino in the early 1900s, sailing around the horn of South America before being assembled at the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse.

A view from the top

In 1972, the lens at Point Cabrillo was replaced by an automatic beacon, but thanks to the heroic efforts of the Mendocino Coast community, it was kept at the Lighthouse and put back into active service in 1999, just in time for the centennial celebration. Since then, there hasn’t been a day when the light hasn’t shined at Point Cabrillo. The lens is maintained by members of the local Coast Guard Auxiliary, a group of volunteers that also cleans and cares for the Fresnel lens in the museum at Point Arena Lighthouse.

Looking up at Point Cabrillo’s third-order Fresnel lens

The Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association is planning at least four more Lens Tours before the end of 2022, and potentially even more if the weather holds in later months. You can join PCLK volunteers on the first Saturday of the next few months: July 2, August 6, September 3 and October 1 for a chance to climb to the top of the Point Cabrillo tower and stand next to its historic Fresnel lens. You can find more information about these tours at Tours will be canceled in extreme weather, or according to county guidelines regarding COVID-19.

Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association would like to thank Samantha, Mikael, Tanya, Richard, Tom, Debbie, Chris, Al, and Jen for their time spent volunteering on June 11th. And one more thank you to the people of Northern California, who have kept Point Cabrillo Lighthouse shining for so many years.

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