The Cambrian

Free tours mark light station’s 135th year

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse turns 135 years old on Monday, Feb. 15, and the public is invited to celebrate the “birthday” with free tours of the oceanfront light station.

The guided visits at the rugged and remote Pt. Piedras Blancas and its light station (off Highway 1, 14 miles north of Cambria) are to be held on Tuesday, Feb. 16, and Thursday, Feb. 18.

For details or reser vations, call 927-7361 and leave a message with name, phone number, preferred tour date and how many people will be in the party.

Part of the tours focuses on the light station’s history.

In the 1870s and 1880s, there were no roads in the San Simeon area, and the bay frequently was filled with steamships delivering food, lumber, farm products, mining equipment and oth-

er supplies to various commercial entities, ranches and the growing nearby estate of land baron/miner George Hearst. Some ships also provided passenger transport.

That was long before such technical advances as radar, sonar or global-positioning system (GPS) units. Because the sea there is studded with jagged, jutting rocks, and the atmosphere is frequently foggy, various vessels wrecked, including the Sierra Nevada and the Harlech Castle ships in 1869.

So, the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment authorized building a lighthouse, and on Feb. 15, 1875, light keepers lit the new tower’s massive First Order Fresnel lens for the first time. The lens, removed in 1949 after the tower was damaged, is on display near 1000 Main St. in Cambria.

The Piedras Blancas Light Station’s light “code” alerted captains to beware of nearby dangers noted on maps and in mariners’ logs. To compensate for frequent dense fog, a fog-signal whistle was added in 1906, and its signature “blast” also helped define the location.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management assumed responsibility for the light station and the tower in 2001; seven years later, Congress designated the entire station as an “outstanding natural area” under the National Landscape Conservation System, which is celebrating its own 10th anniversary this year.

Bureau staffers and volunteers and members of the Piedras Blancas Light Station Association continue using the station, as do research scientists who come to study flora and fauna, especially otters and the elephant seals and gray whales that migrate past the point twice a year.

BLM, the association and the volunteers are working to restore station structures and landscapes deemed historic by the National Register of Historic Places.

And the light — now an automated, rotating marine beacon — still blinks its signal to mariners around the clock.