Category Archives: Lighthouses

Redwoods and Rocky Shores 

Heading into Northern California on US-101, we were really impressed with how beautiful the region was.  The hills along the winding road soon were filled with progressively taller forests, eventually transitioning into groves of coastal redwoods.   We spent a night in Myers Flat to quickly explore the Avenue of the Giants, knowing we were going to be spending a full day at our next stop in Redwood National Park.  While checking out the visitor center at Humboldt State Park, we noticed the campground next door. 

When we walked in to take a look, we realized that it was the same place that our friends Lee and Tracy had hosted at back in 2015.

The next day, we drove up to Klamath and set up on a riverfront site at Klamath River RV Park.  We decided to do a little exploring, so we drove down towards the ocean.  One of the first things we saw was the entrance to the old US-101 bridge over the Klamath, which was washed out in 1964.  

The span featured these concrete grizzly bears on the railings, similar to the gold bears on the new span farther upriver.  Why are the bears on the new span gold?  Well it seems that back in the 1950’s, several friends were at a local bar discussing how the town needed to be spruced up.  They set out that night sweeping up the streets and washing windows on the businesses.  To top it all off, someone suggested they coat the bears on what is now the old bridge with some gold paint that he had in his shed.  When the California Department of Transportation saw them the next day, they sent workers with turpentine to remove the golden hue.  This went on back and forth several times until the state finally gave in and left the grizzlies as the townsfolk wanted them to be. 


 
When the new bridge was built, the highway department adorned the approaches with these bedazzled bruins as a tribute to the Golden Bear Club of Klamath.  😊

The other point of interest on our drive that afternoon was the old World War II era early warning radar station along the coast.

The trail down to the facility was not maintained, so we couldn’t get any closer. Disguised to look like a farmhouse and barn, the structures actually housed radar equipment, a generator, and two 50 caliber anti-aircraft guns.  This particular station is the last of 65 such stations that once were located up and down the entire coast.  If they detected any military boats or aircraft that didn’t belong, they sent out a warning. Having not heard of these defenses before, we wondered aloud, ” What sort of things like this exist today that we don’t know about?”

We drove to the national park visitor center in Crescent City the next day to get our bearings.  We had business to take care of that required good wifi, so we knew our time would be limited in the park. We made good use of the local library’s wifi, and checked out town before heading out to see the big trees.

Battery Point lighthouse sits just off the mainland.  There is a trail out to it that is accessible only at low tide.

From there, we drove up into a grove of trees northeast of town.

The height on the coastal redwoods can get quite a bit taller than sequoias, even though they aren’t as old or as big around.

Even after they’ve fallen, they are gigantic!

They are so rot resistant, large trees take root in them and grow to impressive heights before the nurse log has a chance to decay.  

After spending nearly a month exploring California, we arrived in Oregon on Tuesday, May 23rd. Our first stop was in Port Orford.  We drove out to Cape Blanco to check out the lighthouse and the westernmost point in the contiguous United States.

The wind was blowing so hard, we had trouble holding our footing!  It was incredible!

On Wednesday, we arrived at Carl G. Washburne State Park north of Florence, Oregon.

This is our campsite for the month of June, as we will be interpretive hosts just south of here at…

…Heceta Head Lighthouse!  This sentinel has held a special place in our hearts since we visited it during a special nighttime tour back in 1996. We will be giving tours until the end of June, when we will be moving on to a different adventure. Our internet is non-existent at our campsite, but we do get service in the day use and at the lighthouse. If we are slow to respond to comments, that’s why.   Please stay tuned as we explore the central Oregon coast over the next month!

Oceanside and San Diego

After spending a considerable amount of time in the desert the past few weeks, we crossed over the Laguna Mountains in Southern California and into the wonderfully cool temperatures of the San Diego region.  Our plans were to see Diana’s relatives who live in the area.  We arrived in Oceanside on April 27 and met up with Diana’s cousin Barry and his wife Dawn for dinner. 

The next day, the four of us hopped the Coaster train to San Diego to do a little touring!

These tiled pillars in the Santa Fe Depot were fabulous!  The building was opened in 1915 and has been in use ever since.  It was built by the City of San Diego in an attempt to lure the Santa Fe Railroad to make it the western terminus for its transcontinental railroad.  Los Angeles ended up winning that competition.

We walked to the bay to see the aircraft carrier USS Midway and to check out the waterfront.

I even kissed one of the pretty girls while we were there!

We had a nice lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, caught a pedicab back to the depot and headed back to Oceanside.  Our driver was very upbeat and entertaining, despite having to haul four adults across town.  😉

The next day, Diana and I hopped in the Escape and headed back south along the Pacific Coast Highway.

One of the surprises for us was the Veterans Memorial on Mt. Soledad.  There were semi circles of black granite tiles with veterans names, photos and stories inscribed in them.  Any U.S. veteran, living or dead, can have a plaque there.  Prices start at just under $1,000 and go up, depending on the size of the tile.

From the top of the memorial, there was a tremendous view to the north…

…and to the south!

From there, we skirted the western side of San Diego to visit Cabrillo National Monument and Old Point Loma Lighthouse.  This maritime sentinel had been on our list of places to see since way back at the turn of the millennium when we were members of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.  That organization featured the lighthouse at that time and caught our eyes.

Built on the top of 400 foot high Point Loma in 1855, the lighthouse was the highest in the United States during its 36 years of service.  It’s demise was brought about by the fact that it was too high to be seen by ships during foggy periods, resulting in the lighthouse keeper occasionally having to discharge a shotgun who warn passing ships.  To solve that issue, the New Point Loma Lighthouse was constructed in the late 1800’s at the base of the hill.

While it was a simple home in a remote location, the views from the windows of the harbor and the ocean made life here worth the hardships.

The next day, we got together in Oceanside with several of Diana’s relatives at a gathering that Barry and Dawn hosted at their timeshare.

On the left is Gregg and Diana’s cousin Evie, who Diana hadn’t seen since she was in fifth grade. On Diana’s left is her cousin Sandra, who was visiting from Delaware.  Next is Dawn and Diana’s cousin Barry, then Aunt Barb and Uncle Don, then me.  Several of us went down to the beach to watch the sunset later on.

Diana and I finally put our feet in the ocean, marking the completion of our trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific!  Thank you so much, Dawn and Barry!  We had a fabulous time! 

On Monday, Barry and Dawn took us on a tour northward from Oceanside up to Huntington Beach.  We made stops in San Clemente, Balboa Island and Huntington Beach, where they treated us to lunch.  We really enjoyed spending some quality time with them!

The following day, we went to see Uncle Don and Aunt Barb at their place in Escondido.  They took us out for lunch and we also spent some time visiting in their beautiful home.  It was great to be with them! 🙂

That wrapped up our time in Oceanside!  Next up, we move north to San Dimas to explore the Los Angeles area and to visit with friends and more family!  Stay tuned!

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Old Point Loma and other Amazon items at our exploRVistas link by clicking HERE. 😊

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Old Mackinac Point Light Station

  
On the northernmost tip of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan is a place that is near and dear to our family…Old Mackinac Point.  On this ground in 1892, my maternal great-grandfather led his crew in building Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the barn that stands behind it.  The light station had been established three years before, and the first fog signal building became operational in 1890.  A request for bids for the lighthouse and barn went unanswered, and the second request in March of 1892 solicited three bids, with my great-grandfather’s being the lowest at $13,722.00.  He gathered his work party and boarded the lighthouse tender Amaranth at the Detroit Lighthouse Depot for the journey to Mackinaw City.

  
John Peter Schmitt was born in Germany in 1844.  He and his brother came to the United States in the 1870’s and took up the construction trade in Detroit.  The bell tower on St Joseph Catholic Church in Detroit is his work, as is St Anthony’s Catholic Church, just up Gratiot Avenue.  Both are still in use today. He and my great-grandmother had four girls who all died within a month of each other in a diphtheria epidemic that swept through Detroit in the late 1800’s.  They had and lost a fifth child following that.  They then had three more children, with my grandmother being the middle child.  My great-grandfather was 40 years old when she was born.  He lived until 1904, when his spirited horse took a corner in Detroit too fast and tipped his wagon over.  He cut his hand in the dirt street and developed tetanus, from which he died eight days later.  Another nine years past before my grandmother married. She gave birth to my mother at 38 years old and my mom had me when she was 36.  So while my great-grandfather and I are genetically close, there are 114 years separating our births!

When the crew arrived in Mackinaw City in May of 1892, work began in earnest. By October 25th, the first lighting of the lamp took place in the tower.  Considering the building is a two-story all-brick duplex, complete with basement, that was quite a feat!

  
Here is the crew out in front of the partially completed lighthouse.  John Schmitt is directly below the double set of windows in the castle tower section of the building.  The next person to the right in the white shirt is his brother Tony.  The lens has yet to be installed in the tower in this photo.  If you look to the far left of the image, there is a horse poking its head in.

The lighthouse continued to guide ships through the Straits of Mackinac until 1957, when the Mackinac Bridge was completed.  The bridge’s lights were more than sufficient to provide safe passage after that.  For a short time after, the State of Michigan operated a maritime museum from the building, but no access to the tower was permitted.  Eventually, the museum closed.

In the 1990’s, my Aunt Marge visited the grounds and then wrote to the Mackinac State Historic Parks (MSHP) to inquire on the building’s status.  Diana and I visited not long after that, and we were concerned that this beauty was being left to decay. MSHP’s focus at that time was aimed towards the forts it maintains in both Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island. Interest in lighthouses was really beginning to take off, and this was one of the most easily accessed lighthouses in Michigan.  It deserved to be opened, and in 1996, I began pressuring MSHP to do something.  It wasn’t long before they suggested I join a fund raising committee to raise the funds to restore the lighthouse. I took them up on that suggestion, and made several trips from Grand Rapids to Mackinaw City over the next few years to work with them.

  
Here is a February photo of mine from one of my trips up there.  Note the red and white lantern room, which was not historically correct.  The radio tower was also not part of the original station, and was moved off the property in later years.

One of the questions I had was the whereabouts of the Fresnel lens.  I was told that it was destroyed when they tossed it off the tower after the lighthouse closed.  Turns out, it had actually been residing in the U.S. Coast Guard Ninth District Admiral’s office in the Federal Building in Cleveland, Ohio.  I contacted that office about being able to see the lens.  With permission granted, Diana and I made the trip to Cleveland.

  
This is my photo from that day. A young Coast Guard officer gave us a special tour of the office.  There were several artifacts, but none as beautiful as our lens.  There was a small ceremonial cannon on the floor next to the lens, and the officer explained to us that the gun was there to signify that it was guarding something of great importance.  It sure was important to us!  To think that my great-grandfather was there to see it lit for the first time was overwhelming, to say the least.  It was obvious that the admiral treasured the lens, but Coast Guard rules stated that he had to return it to its original home, once the lighthouse had a proper place to display it on the first floor in a museum setting.  Senator Carl Levin’s office helped in making sure that happened.

In 2004, after a successful fundraising campaign, the lighthouse reopened.  Diana and I decided to host a family reunion of every descendant we could find of John Peter Schmitt to coincide with the grand opening.  Of the 300 people attending the celebration, 100 were our family.  Some of them travelled up from Marathon, Florida and Missouri to be part of the event. The reason I pushed MSHP so hard was for the family…especially John Peter Schmitt’s grandchildren.  As I write this today, almost all of his grandchildren have passed.  The two of us were thankful that we were able to make it all happen while they were still alive. 

A little magic happened that day.  Not only were the descendants of the builder there, but also of the lighthouse keepers.  One of the keeper’s relatives recognized one of my cousins, as their children attended the same high school north of Detroit.  Both were unaware of each other’s ties to the lighthouse.  That was a special moment.  🙂

At the time of the grand opening, the only structures remaining at the light station were the lighthouse and the 1907 fog signal building. In the ensuing years, MSHP replicated the picket fence and the original fog signal building.  They also returned the barn to the site, which had been moved to the west side of Mackinaw City a number of years before.  Below are photos from our latest visit to the light station, which we toured on our way home from the U.P.

 
Looking north along the west side of the lighthouse, the proximity to the Mackinac Bridge can be seen.  Note the brown grass from the current drought conditions in the area.  The tire tracks in the yard are from the recent construction of the replicated 1890 fog signal building. The lantern room is back to its original black, and the picket fence has been replicated.

  

Standing watch for 123 years, the tower shows the effects of the harsh weather conditions at the Straits of Mackinac.  The bricks that the U.S. Lighthouse Service provided for construction were not the proper quality for the application, and the freeze/thaw cycles in the area began to cause them to deteriorate prematurely.  This has been an ongoing problem and there is no clear solution…short of re-bricking the entire structure.  In the previous photo, note the chimneys.  The original flared chimneys were replaced with straight rectangles at some point during the lighthouses working years, and MSHP has recently replicated one of them to its 1892 form.

  
The 1907 fog signal building, built three years after my great-grandfather passed.  This building now serves as a gift shop and as the entrance to the station grounds. The original 1890 fog signal building was constructed too close to where the lighthouse was intended to sit, and was deemed a fire hazard.  It was moved to the southeast corner of the station as a storage barn, and was eventually torn down.

  
This is the barn John Peter Schmitt’s crew built.  It is in need of a paint job, which appears to be in process.  The building was moved to the west side of Mackinaw City, prior to the construction of I-75 and the Mackinac Bridge.  It was being used as a storage garage by MSHP In that location.  To bring it back, the trailer tires had to be deflated a little to fit the barn (minus the cupola) under the Mackinac Bridge approach.  Even then, there was green bridge paint that ended up on the peak of the barn’s roof.  🙂  Once it was returned to the station grounds, the structure was restored to its original appearance.  It now houses a theater that shows a video about the shipwrecks in the straits.

  
Here is the newly replicated 1890 fog signal building, situated in the location the original structure occupied during its service as a light station warehouse.  The corrugated cladding gives the exterior of the building an authentic feel.

  
The interior of the building houses a beautiful shipwreck museum.  There are several displays with models of the original ships as they appeared on the surface, and the corresponding model of how each shipwreck currently sits at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.  This is the display of the 604 foot limestone carrier Cedarville, which was lost in heavy fog off Old Mackinac Point in 1965.  It collided with a Norwegian freighter, killing ten crewmembers.  It lies in two pieces in 110 feet of water.  Kudos to MSHP on this addition to the light station, as it is very well done.

Inside the lighthouse itself, some of the rooms are restored to their 1910 appearance.  Other rooms have interactive displays.  The lens is also displayed behind a glass partition.

  
Tower tours are conducted every 15 minutes.  When I began working with MSHP to reopen the building, the director informed me that the tower would not be opened to the public, for safety reasons.  I knew that the museum’s success was dependent on public access to the tower, and we didn’t see eye-to-eye on the subject. Who wants to visit a lighthouse and not be able to climb the tower?  When that director took a job in Pennsylvania and Phil Porter took over his position, everything changed.  Tower tours became the featured attraction at the lighthouse, and the attendance numbers reflected that.

  
The unique ascending tower windows, as seen from the inside.

  The view from the lantern room looking down at the roof of the lighthouse, and the other structures on the station property.  The only buildings that are missing from the grounds are the cast iron oil house and the privy.  I’m not sure if there are plans for replicas of those in the future, or not.
  
Looking north, the Mackinac Bridge stretches out for 5 miles to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

  
This graceful structure is what rendered the light station obsolete.  When it is lit up at night, it is pretty obvious to passing ships.

  
Needless to say, our family is pretty darn proud to have this lighthouse still standing, and to be open for future generations to discover.  If you find yourselves in Mackinaw City, take an hour and tour this special place.  We think you will enjoy it.   🙂

Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach was a dream of many a baby boomer, at one time or another. Driving on the beach itself is a pastime that dates back to the infancy of the automobile itself.

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After visiting with family in the center of the state, we decided to loop out to Daytona for a few days. Jim was happy to see that the sand was firm enough to support our 8000 pound truck.

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Having lived for so long in West Michigan and also frequenting the Gulf coast of Florida, it was a special treat to see a sunrise over the ocean. It even made the coffee sweeter.

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While we were there, the USAF Thunderbirds were practicing for an air show. Talk about a front row seat! We were on the southern turn of their practice route.

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At the southern end of the strand is Ponce Inlet, with a beautiful lighthouse. This area had a laid back feel to it.

Daytona is considered by many to be past its’ prime, but there do seem to be some strong attempts to bring it back. Many major hotel chains are opening new places along here, including Hyatt Place, Residence Inn, Hampton Inn and others. A new Joe’s Crab Shack recently opened on the pier. We enjoyed our time here, even though we prefer the Gulf side. After all, it is hard to resist reliving a teenager’s dream of cruising the beach with your sweetheart!