Point Loma Lighthouse

and back across the country to climb to the top of more things … to the top of one of my favorite places in San Diego, Point Loma. the Lighthouse isn’t why I enjoy Point Loma as much as I do, but it was a good selling point for visitors. there’s a surprising lot to do on this southwesternmost point of the continental United States.

beginning in 1855, what is now known as the “Old” Point Loma Lighthouse was a beacon over San Diego Bay for 36 years. the year after California became a state, a coastal commission selected this location for its seemingly convenient and useful vantage point, 422 feet above sea level on a peninsula that overlooks both the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and construction began three years later (in 1854). workers used sandstone from the surrounding hills for walls and tiles from a nearby abandoned Spanish fort to cover the floor. the 3rd-order Fresnel lens (cutting-edge technology at the time; Fresnel lenses now go up to the 6th order) didn’t arrive from France until almost a year after the Lighthouse building was completed.

after illuminating the light for the first time in November 1885, however, it quickly became apparent that the position of the light at some 462 feet from sea level was rather less than ideal. on clear nights, the beacon could be seen some 25 miles out to sea. on foggy nights (of which there are plenty in San Diego, no matter what you hear about the weather), the light was in the middle of the cloud bank and useless to sailors navigating into San Diego Bay or up the coast. to compound the situation, there was no foghorn so, on foggy nights, the Lighthouse’s longest-serving keeper, Captain Robert Decatur Israel, would stand outside firing a shotgun into the sky to warn off ships.

while it operated, the Point Loma Lighthouse was home to a bustling family, whose quarters are recreated in the building as part of the museum. the tablecloth folded back on the table to make room for a game of solitaire, instruments propped against the wall in the children’s bedroom upstairs, a glimpse of the root cellar out back. access to the lantern room is restricted, but you can climb up those last few steps anyway and peek up into the space where the lens once resided. the light was extinguished for the last time on 23 March 1891 and duties were transferred to the “New” Point Loma Lighthouse, located at the bottom of the hill a mere 88 feet above the water.

more information from the National Parks Service and Wikipedia

if you’re going to San Francisco…

and now for something completely different …

you all know that I can’t keep still and I’ll travel almost anywhere, given the opportunity.
in October, having returned from Ireland just four weeks previously, I flew out to Santa Cruz to visit with some college friends for our Fourth Annual Pi Phi Homecoming. on Saturday, we drove up to San Francisco with the intention of seeing Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghiardelli Square, Pier 39 and the Golden Gate Bridge.
of course, events did not proceed as envisioned and we spent a great deal more time in the car than planned. we drove through the heart of the Castro, which I was pretty excited about. no one else seemed particularly interested (not the least, I’d wager, because several of them hadn’t seen “Milk”), and while I would have enjoyed the opportunity to explore, I was satisfied for the time being with our driving tour.
things took a turn for the frustrating and colorfully-worded when we hit the Embarcadero. turns out, the Saturday we drove into San Francisco was the same day as the Air Show over the Bay. the same Air Show that visits San Diego every fall heads north the following weekend and we pulled up just as things were getting started.

ultimately, after devouring a much celebrated cafe lunch on Geary (in Central Richmond), we agreed that we ought not head back to Santa Cruz without visiting *anything* tourist in San Francisco, and headed back towards the Presidio and Golden Gate Bridge. we parked on top of the hill — the road back down under the Bridge to level with the bay was closed off in preparation for the air show. we walked to the Golden Gate Bridge welcome center and saw the tail end of the show, fighter jets flying around the Bridge, over the Bay, past Alcatraz.

before we left, we all climbed up onto a cross-section of cable to take pictures. the piece is 36.5 inches in diameter and contains 27,572 individual wires. these three-yard-thick cables are what holds the bridge up as millions of cars cross it every year. some other fun facts that I have uncovered: the Bridge has only been closed due to weather, namely wind gusts, three times in its history, all in December. in 1951 gusts reached 69mph, in 1982 they topped 70mph, and in 1983 they reached 75mph.
the Bridge is also the most popular place in the U.S. to commit suicide (as well as one of the most popular in the world). since it opened in 1937, there are no solid figures as to the number of people who have jumped, only 26 people are known to have survived the fall and fatality rates are estimated to be 98 percent. there are hotline numbers and phones posted along the span of the bridge (similar to the ones posted along the canals in Galway), and, in addition to the highway patrol, iron workers volunteer their time to talk to or wrestle down suicidal people. the introduction of a safety net or suicide prevention barrier hasn’t gotten far, however, because of cost and vehement public opposition as to how such an addition would change the aesthetic of the Bridge. a year ago, the Bridge’s Board of Directors voted to install a plastic-covered stainless steel net beneath the bridge, extending twenty feet outwards on each side, but funding remains an impediment.

Blasket Islands

looks like this might be my last post about Ireland.

the Blasket Islands are situated off the Dingle Peninsula and, until 1953, were home to a modest number of people, determined to eke out an existence on some truly inhospitable protrusion of rocks just off the coast of Ireland in the Atlantic ocean. during the first half of the twentieth century, the population remaining on the islands dwindled steadily, as people migrated to the mainland in search of employment and grater opportunities. eventually, the number of people remaining on the islands could not sustain themselves through the traditional farming/cultivation practices and the last islanders left for the mainland in 1953, with support from the Irish government. most remained on the Dingle Peninsula, settling in communities within sight of the islands.

although people moved from the islands, the government was keen to preserve the stories of the “traditional” island way of life, offering grants for residents to share their stories. a well-known Irish author, Peig Sayers, spent much of her life living on the Great Blasket Island and the accounts of many residents were published following the migration/relocation of the mid-twentieth century.

there is (apparently) an ongoing debate as to whether the islands will become a national park. current plans will convert the bulk of the islands into a park under the supervision of the Office of Public Works, though at the time we traveled through, nothing had yet been set up.


a plant matter: peat

peat. that rich loamy stuff that carpets much of Ireland. used for heating and, yes, gives off a particular scent when burned. Connemara is covered by blanket peat bogs, and driving up from Clifden bogs stretched in all directions in various stages of harvest. cutting of peat for fuel (called ‘turf’ once cut) has changed the landscape of Ireland. hiking in Connemara National Park (one of six national parks in Ireland) gave me an opportunity to see the stuff up close. there are two types of bogs: blanket and raised, the former prevalent along the more mountainous coastal regions in the west, the latter in the valleys of the middle of the island. it’s easier to harvest from raised bogs, and so consequently the bogs in central Ireland have been more greatly affected by turf cutting. the blanket bogs aren’t as deep, so they’ve fared somewhat better. while I was hiking, the loam looked so rich and inviting that I felt compelled to pry off a piece and really get my hands on it. the stuff is rich: it feels rich and smells rich and i suspect that if I’d been possessed to take a bite, it would also have tasted rich..

turf is cut with a special kind of spade in the form of bricks. usually they’re hacked from the bog in rows, cutting downward into the face of the bog, depleting the bog six-inches deep at a shot. once it’s cut, it’s left to dry on the bog for a week, before being re-stacked for further drying. in the second photo, you can make out where turf has been cut from the bog. there’s been quite some destruction to the size of bogs, particularly in the late 20th century. cutting of turf increased in the 1980s and, because they are made up of compressed plant matter, they do not replenish themselves nearly as quickly as they are harvested. if left long enough, and compressed enough, it can turn into coal.

I wish that I could remember some of the figures they had in the visitor’s centre at Connemara National Park, about how much peat the bogs lost in the 20th century, how much of Ireland is covered in peat, and all the other interesting history-of-peat tidbits they had. I went into the visitor’s center after my hike (as I did the trail in reverse of the “normal” direction) and got roped in to take one of many visitor’s surveys about my experience. in any case, if you’re ever in Ireland, then I recommend Connemara. and if you’re ever in Connemara, I recommend the National Park.