It All Started Here ~ Cabrillo National Monument

cabrillo national monumentSeptember 28, 1542 is when it all started here, California that is, at Point Loma.  The Cabrillo National Monument displays the sandstone icon commemorating the exploration of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, which aptly overlooks the San Diego Bay.

Cabrillo was something of a mystery man.  No one knows for certain where he was born or where he is buried.  What we do know  is that he was a Spanish conquistador and explorer and the first European, along with his expedition, to set foot  on the West Coast of the U.S., right here in San Diego Bay.  He had grand ambitions when he sailed north from Mexico, to chart the mythical passage from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic and search for gold, just to name a couple of his dreams.

After a six-day stay to wait out a storm, Cabrillo’s flotilla continued to sail north, sighting the islands of Santa Catalina and San Clemente and on to what is now San Pedro Bay near Los Angeles.  No one knows for certain just how far he sailed as his original navigation log was lost.  Details of his voyage and the events of his death came from an accounting that was gathered after the expedition returned to Mexico without him.

On January 13, 1543, his exploration goals short-lived, Cabrillo allegedly died on one of the Channel Islands from an apparent infection that set in after he suffered a broken leg.  Although he did not live to see his exploration dreams fulfilled, the knowledge gained of winds and currents and landmarks charted made later exploration safer.

From the Cabrillo monument, on a clear day you can catch views of the San Diego Harbor and skyline and Coronado Island, along with the Naval Air Station North Island, dubbed the “Birthplace of Naval Aviation”.  Although a little hazy when we were there, we were thankful the marine layer stayed further offshore during our visit.  While standing out on the point we were fortunate to see (and hear) a squadron of fighter jets take off from the Naval Air Station, out on maneuvers.

naval air station north island
Naval Air Station North Island Operations

San Diego is headquarters to the Eleventh Naval District and is one of the busiest and largest U.S. naval ports in the world.  Many of the Pacific Fleet’s cruisers, carriers, destroyers and amphibious ships are stationed here.  The U.S. Coast Guard, part of The Department of Homeland Security, conducts extensive operations out of San Diego.

u.s. coast guard facility
U.S. Coast Guard Facilities

Another prominent structure standing watch over San Diego Bay is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.  old point loma lighthouseBuilt in 1854, it was one of the first lighthouses on the West Coast.  It was taken out of service after 36 years as fog and clouds could often shroud the light.  It was lit for the first time on November 15, 1855 and its light was extinguished on March 23, 1891.

The lighthouse stands 422 feet above sea level and, at the time, it seemed like the perfect location for it.  Sandstone was carved from the hills for the walls and the floor tiles were taken from a Spanish fort ruins.  A five-foot tall 3rd order Fresnel lens, which was tops in technology at the time, was shipped in from France.  This lens made the light visible at sea for 25 miles, that is when fog and clouds weren’t obscuring the view.    There was no foghorn at the time so a shotgun was fired to warn ships away from the menacing rocks below.  Today the interior of the lighthouse, which has been refurbished to its 1880’s appearance, and the out buildings, are open to visitors.

Located at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula, a Pacific gray whale display can be seen, with sitting areas to watch these majestic mammals make their southerly 12,000 mile migration from the Arctic to the Baja.  Gray whale sightings are fairly common here from December through March but are not seen at all making their trek back north in May.

pacific gray whale display
Display of the migration of the Pacific gray whale

We timed our visit here to coincide with low tide so we could check out the tide pools, which are some of the best around we have heard.  All things finally came together to make for a near perfect day.  After watching a 30-minute film on the intertidal zones, we headed to the western side of Point Loma, where from late Fall until Spring the tide pools are visible.  Within the tidal zone is the 4 square mile Point Loma kelp forest, the largest on the West Coast.

There are two low and two high tides every day in California, something new to me.  The low tide that would have been best for viewing life in the pools was at 3:00 am but we were hoping for a good showing for the one at 1:00 pm.  With three intertidal zones (high, middle, and low), we would be viewing the high and hopefully some of the middle.

Terry, waiting for low tide

Although the tide wasn’t as low as we would have liked and we did not see any of the stars of the pools (sea stars that is), the pools were still teeming with life.

Sea star, compliments of marinebio.net

Treading lightly and close inspection is what is needed to find the diverse life here.

Wading in the pool, searching for the unusual

Camouflage is the name of the game as sea life here have many natural-born enemies.  The tide pools are really a window into the rest of the ocean.  Here is just a little of what we were able to find:

starburst anemone
Starburst anemone ~ a voracious eater!
owl limpet
Owl limpet

The owl limpet has a muscular foot that holds its body and shell tightly to the rock.  It is a hermaphrodite, beginning its life as a reproductive male and if lucky to live long enough, transforms itself into a female.

sea lettuce
Sea lettuce

Sea lettuce is a bright green algae that can tolerate heavier levels of pollution than most sea life.  Where there are large populations, pollution level alert!

barnacles draped with sea lettuce
Barnacles draped with sea lettuce

Barnacles live upside down, attached by antennae to rocky outcroppings.

conspicuous chiton
Conspicuous chiton nestled in a rocky depression
hermit crab
Hermit crab sitting atop a disguised sea anemone

These “squatters” take up residence in empty shells of other animals, moving on when they outgrow their homes.

striped shore crab
Striped shore crab

I chased this skittish little guy around for a while before he agreed to just one photo!

So much going on where it all started and so much left unseen in the low tidal zone, these mysterious creatures of the sea.

It’s a balancing act!

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