Day 1: April 23, 2016
My trip to San Diego began early, with a 5:00 am flight, but fortunately, I didn’t get the in-depth groping from the TSA agent that my girlfriend received. Something about the waistband of her pants made her seem like a terrorist, so she got more action than a prostitute in a lumber camp… I jest, but they really did give her the once over (more like twice or thrice over!), and she was not happy. It all seemed like a bit much for 3:45 in the morning… What we do for the love of travel…
Our two flights were non-eventful, and we got to San Diego at about 9:30 in the morning, where we waited for ages for our rental car! It was easily the most banged up rental car I’ve ever seen! I wasn’t going to have to worry about a scratch that we put on it! I put X’s and O’s all over the little diagram where it asks you to document any existing damage and took pictures of the car with my phone, and then we were on our way.
We checked into our hotel, but our room wasn’t ready yet so we changed into shorts, stashed our luggage with the bellman and made our way to Cabrillo National Monument!
Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the first exploration of San Diego Bay and the West Coast by Europeans: Spaniard Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Cabrillo had been a part of the group of Spanish conquistadors that landed in Mexico and wiped out the Aztecs. After that Cabrillo settled in Guatemala, where he was given vast land holdings, but his spirit of adventure caught up with him and he was selected for a mission to explore the West Coast.
The three ships in Cabrillo’s expedition landed at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542, likely at the spot known as Ballast Point (the Ballast Point brewery is named after this spot, and their Grapefruit Sculpin is excellent by the way…). They declared it an excellent port, and Cabrillo named is San Miguel. The name was changed to San Diego about 60 years later. Cabrillo continued north to Monterey Bay, and it is speculated that he got as far north as Point Reyes before bad weather forced a turn back south. The expedition wintered in the Channel Islands, where Cabrillo died on January 3, 1543, after a scuffle with the local Native Americans caused him to fall and shatter a limb.
The monument was designated by a proclamation signed by Woodrow Wilson in 1913; the original purpose was both to commemorate Cabrillo’s landing and to protect the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which was constructed in 1855. Approximately 877,951 visitors come here each year.
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse was first lit on November 15, 1855, and guided sailors into San Diego Bay for 36 years from its perch 422 feet above sea level. But on March 23, 1891, the third order Fresnel lens was extinguished for the last time, and a new light took over, built closer to sea level. The problem with the Old Point Loma Light was that they hadn’t realized when building it that the heavy fog in San Diego often obscured that light that far from sea level. Oops… But the lighthouse remains, and it is now open to the public. I went into the Lighthouse and saw the restored keeper’s quarters and various rooms, and was able to peek into the tower from below. I have heard that they open up the tower one day a year to the public for visits, but otherwise it is protected by a metal grate.
Cabrillo National Monument also has one of the best vantage points in the country for watching the annual Pacific Gray Whale migration; not far from the Lighthouse is a whale watching area where visitors flock in the winter. We were there too late to see the whales, but we were able to see the Coronado Islands in Mexico off in the distance. The view was spectacular!
Not far from the Lighthouse is a large statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo; it was placed there in 1988 after the original 1949 statue began to deteriorate from so many years of being exposed to the elements. The statue was a popular place, with lots of tourists posing with it, or having their picture taken with the bay in the background. My friends made a friend, a ground squirrel was clearly accustomed to being fed by the tourists. We didn’t give in to his begging.
We took the path down closer to the water and watched the waves crash against the rocks. Geologically, the rocks are formed from sandstone, shale and siltstone; they contain fossils of ocean dwelling mollusks, and dinosaur fossils have been found here as well. It was neat to see how the ocean has carved these cliffs into very interesting patterns. Visitors can also go further down and explore the tide pools and check out the creatures that inhabit them.
On the way out, we got a view of the Rosecrans National Cemetery, with its perfectly straight rows of graves. There is something so peaceful about cemeteries, I loved seeing this one in its perch high above the water.
Cabrillo National Monument was a worthwhile afternoon outing – I loved it!