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California's Lost Coast
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Punta Gorda lighthouse ruins located not far from Fourmile Creek.  The light station was built after the wreck of the Columbia claimed 87 lives here in 1907.  Punta Gorda lighthouse guided ships along fogbound coast for 40 years. Today only the concrete tower remains.

beach photos / California Lighthouses

 

Huntington Beach, California - Dan Heidrick is yearning to get back to the Lost Coast.  For over 30 years, he's lived near the Surf City beach and would not live anywhere else. He loves Southern California's temperate climate and lots of sunshine.  But when several of his children left the roost and moved to Humboldt County near California's northern border, he began frequenting and exploring  the region.  During a recent visit, he went with one son and several  friends on a popular hiking trip along beaches where no lifeguards and few bathrooms exist and often even no drinking water can be found.  It's an approximate 25 mile trek one direction along the California Coastal Trail. Like many, Heidrick chose the option of paying locals in Crescent City  a fee to provide a one-way trip. Some take a ride to the end of the trail opposite Crescent City where they begin the hike. Heidrick's group parked their cars at the remote point and got rides back to their cars when they arrived in town three days after departure, looking like mountain men. 

Punta Gorda Lighthouse  Located along the Lost Coast in the King Range National Conservation Area, the Punta Gorda fog station began operating on June 22, 1888, and the lighthouse with its  fourth order lens on January 15, 1912.  Coastal liner Columbia shipwrecked 16 miles south of Punta Gorda losing 87 lives prior to the 1912. Other shipwrecks included steamers St. Paul and Humboldt. 

Isolated and lonely, the lighthouse was reported to be the "Alcatraz" of lighthouses, a place where employees were stationed as a punishment for misconduct. Throughout its operation, the lighthouse remained a frontier settlement in the midst of a modernizing world. During good weather, a keeper would ride horseback into the village of Petrolia to carry back what fresh supplies he could. For much of the winter, flooded streams and fierce winds kept the area cut off from civilization. The lighthouse was in service for 3 years until it was taken over by the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II and finally closed in 1951. 

 

The property was transferred to Bureau of Land Management in 1963. Possibly too expensive  to maintain, the station buildings were burned in 1970. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places on  October 5, 197, the remains of a light with an empty lantern, concrete oil house, original barn, fog signal building, storage shed, carpenter and blacksmith shop and stables receive coats of paint from time to time.  The public is allowed to look around. 

From Eureka, travel, 10 miles south on U.S. Highway 101 to the Ferndale exit. Proceed 5 miles on County Road 211 to Main Street in Ferndale. Follow Main Street approximately 1 mile to its end. Turn right on Ocean Street, then immediately left on Wildcat Road. Continue 45 miles to Petrolia. Turn right on Lighthouse Road and travel 5 miles to Mattole Campground. The Lost Coast Trail begins at the Mattole information kiosk and leads south 3 miles to the lighthouse. 

 

Punta Gorda Lighthouse  Bureau of Land Management  1695 Heinden Road  Arcata, CA 95521 Phone: 707-825-2300  Email:mwest@ca.blm.govThe lighthouse is along the California Coastal Trail in a region known as the Lost Coast. From the trailhead, the lighthouse is a three to four-mile hike through the sand. Closest town is a tiny hamlet of Petrolia where the first oil well in California was located.

 

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Trail: Lost Cost Trail  Distance: 24.8 miles (one way)  Start Trailhead: Mattole  End Trailhead: Black Sands Beach  Permits: not required for individuals (free permit required for groups)  Driving distance: 230mi north of San Francisco Fire pemits are required for using fires and stoves in the backcountry.  Fire permits can be obtained from the Sinkyone Wilderness SP office in Whitethorn (in the way to Shelter Cove), by self registration in the information boards, or on the trail from a friendly ranger. 

 
For groups, free permits are required if the group meets this conditions: charges are limited to a sharing of group expenses. No paid guides accompany the group, and fees do not offset other costs of running the organization.  Call or write to the Arcata Resource Area, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, 1695 Heindon Rd. Arcata, CA 95521, (707) 825-2300 

Driving Directions to Trailheads  Mattole: U.S. 101 to the "South Fork/Honeydew" exit. Follow the signs some 23 miles to the hamlet of Honeydew.  At the end of the single-lane bridge,  make a right and continue North to Petrolia.  One mile before Petrolia, turn left on Lighthouse Road (marked with a "Beach Access" sign).  Proceed five more  miles to the Mattole Recreation Site.  On May'00, some of the Lighthouse Rd. was gravel.  Nevertheless, the road is easily passable by passenger car in good  weather.  Allow 1 1/2 hours for the trip from 101. 

 

Black Sands Beach (Shelter Cove): U.S. 101 to the Redway/Garberville exit. Take the second exit (Shelter Cove). Turn to the left crossing the freeway and continue about 2 miles to an even  smaller town of Redway. At the other end of the town is Shelter Cove Road (Briceland Rd.) a street turning to the left (by a Restaurant). Continue across the Eel river and through the Whitemore Grove of giant redwoods. Shelter Cove is west for a total of 23 miles. You will pass though the hamlet of Briceland,  then Whitethorn, finally over two mountains in 5 miles. When descending both of these mountains  remember you must use your low gears.  After the "General Store," look for the "Black Sands Beach" sign and turn left.  Allow 45min-1hr from the intersection from 101. 

 

Car shuttle (leave one car a Mattole, the other at Black Sands Beach).  The car shuttle takes about 5 hours round trip (45min from Black Sands Beach to 101, 15min on 101, 1 1/2 hrs to Mattole, and back).  Commercial Shuttles (always call in advance!):  Roxanne@saber.net at www.lostcoasttrail.com: (707) 986-9909   Shelter Cove Camp Ground Store & Deli: (707) 986-7474 

 

It's very important to have a tide table.  Some segments of the trail are impassable during high tide.  Tide tables can be found on-line at www.harbortides.com, for the northern segment of the Lost Coast, you should use the Shelter Cove table at  http://www.harbortides.com/station_tides.asp?station=3080.  You can also use a San Francisco table and convert the tide times to Shelter Cove by subtracting 17 minutes for the low tide and substracting 39 minutes for the high tide.  Note: there are several Shelter Coves in California, make sure you choose the tide table for the right one. 

 

These are the segments that may be impassable at high tide (mileage from Mattole):  Punta Gorda (2.9mi),   Sea Lion Gulch to Randall Creek (4.5-8.4mi),  South end of Miller Flat to 1.5mi North of Gitchell Creek (16.7-20.7mi) 

There are several excellent chronicles and even a book or two written about the California Coastal Trail. Using any search engine, enter the words, "lost coast" or "lost coast +california".  The amount of detail in these online journals will take you the entire route.  You might want to print one before you attempt the trip. 

 

 

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