The Tallest Lighthouse

091-21BW Pigeon Point Lighthouse

We’ve had some fog here on the Monterey Bay coast over the last few days which got me thinking about our California lighthouses. Pigeon Point Lighthouse is one of my favorite, located about halfway between Santa Cruz and San Francisco.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast at 115 feet high. It was built in 1871 with a first order Fresnel lens that, believe it or not, burned lard. The lamp was later converted to burn mineral oil and it wasn’t until 1926 that an electric lamp was installed. An aerobeacon was installed in 1972 thus ending the use of the Fresnel lens.

There is usually a story behind the names of places here on the coast. Pigeon Point was named after an American built clipper ship, the Carrier Pigeon, launched in Maine in 1852. Her life was short. On 6 June 1853, during her maiden voyage, the ship sailed past Santa Cruz on her way to San Francisco, got caught in the fog at night and tore a hole in her hull. The wreck occurred only 500 feet from shore and all of the crew made it to safety. Unfortunately, though, the ship was a total loss. Nineteen years later the new lighthouse was named after the Carrier Pigeon.

It was a rainy, foggy day when I first saw the lighthouse in 1985. I greatly enjoy photographing in fog, haze and even smoke because they diffuse light and can create a silvery and unearthly glow. The light that day was perfect for making an image of a lonely, old lighthouse. To add to the ambiance, it was cold and a little blustery.  The rain, wind and cold all combined to make finding a good spot to set up my tripod a bit challenging. I didn’t really want to fall off of the cliff so I took my time getting set up. The spot where I decided to work was at the very edge of the cliff and not too stable, to say the least. In the end, the image was worth it although I may have shortened my lifespan by 10 years.

Come to the coast on a foggy day, explore and visit Pigeon Point, the tallest lighthouse in the west.  As an added bonus, remember that you are seeing not only the tallest lighthouse but the only one named after a pigeon.


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