The Cabrillo National Monument is beautiful, but the name is deceiving. Itâ€™s considered a monument because there is a statue of Cabrillo here, but this area should really be called The Cabrillo State Park, or The Cabrillo Ecological Reserve.
The statue sits on top of a finger of land dangling south from the California Coast, guarding San Diego Harbor from the waves, winds and -the never arriving- invading foreign flotilla.
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stands â€“or at least his statue stands- looking out to sea, with the harbor of San Diego to his back.
Cabrillo was an archer in the subjugation of Mexico City and must have done a good job because he acquired land and became wealthy in Mexico. He also must have become bored after a number of years of wealth, so he built three boats with local materials at hand where Mexico and the Pacific meet, and headed north into the great unknown.
On Sept 28, 1542 he and his ships entered a harbor, which he called San Miguel, and would one day be called San Diego.
There were a few groups of local Indians who already lived by the bay, but Cabrillo â€˜foundâ€™ the harbor anyway, and claimed it for Spain.
Cabrillo died, most probably from an infection from a broken bone, as his ships continued north from San Diego, and eventually the little flotilla â€“after losing one of its ships in a storm, and without the captain- returned to Mexico in April of 1543.
The bay has grown from those few Indian settlements along the harbor to -450 years later- a city of 3.5 million and one of the largest naval bases in the world.
The view from the statue is panoramic, with California scrub brush falling away to the blue harbor, submarine births to the left, a military airfield sitting in the center, and the towers of San Diego and the Coronado bridge in the hazy afternoon sun.
The navy is not just visible in the harbor, but out to sea as well. In the two hours I spent in the park I saw three large military ships, probably transport or cargos, a few fighter jets leaving with booming noise, and the top heavy V of an aircraft carrier in the distance.
This spit of land that sticks out and guards the harbor is really one huge military base. On the drive out to the park the road is lined with barbed wire fence and military barracks. Just the tip is open to the public, from 9-5 with a $5 entry fee for my car and I.
There are basically three things to do in the park:
Old Point Loma Lighthouse:
Just a short walk up from the visitor center is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, restored to look like it did 150 years ago, where I met Robert, decked out in period costume.
He worked in the park, as a historian, or greeter, to the tourists. We chatted a moment about the tide pools down below, and how sad it was that most of the sea creatures had disappeared over the last 50 years. Itâ€™s especially sad that the Black Abalone are gone, with their oil-slick-rainbow-colored inside that made them susceptible to the destruction of man.
Robert was kind enough to pose for a photograph in the living room of the restored lighthouse, and smiled, despite probably having to pose for hundreds of these photographs every day.
The lighthouse stopped being used in the 1890â€™s because itâ€™s situated 400 feet above sea level. Therefore most of the time it was also above the level of the fog, and therefore no use to the sailors. Now there is a lighthouse at the very tip of the peninsula, at sea level, operated by the Coast Guard, but itâ€™s not open to the public.
On the way up to the lighthouse is a tiny cramped building that was once a WWII radio room. During the war years, the park was closed to the public and it was used as a military gunnery and listening station.
In the little building are displays of letters and radios, maps of the range of the guns and a short video. The video shown is probably from the 1950â€™s and is a description of how to hit a ship 15 miles out to sea.
Itâ€™s all about the geometry, trigonometry and triangulation. Itâ€™s simple, really.
There are two viewing posts, probably half a mile apart, with the gun in between. To find a target -or to triangulate a target- three things must be known.
The first is the distance between two corners of the triangle, or in this instance, the distance between the two viewing posts.
The other two are the angles to the third point of the triangle, or the ship to be destroyed.
The viewing post measures the number of degrees between the ship in the distance, and the other viewing post.
With these three numbers (say half a mile, 60 degrees and 60 degrees) and a little help from trigonometry (view the equation here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangulation ) a shell can be lobbed from up to 20 miles away and hit the target.
Happily this instillation never needed to fire in anger in WWII, and therefore the letters on display talk mostly of the boredom of spending the war in San Diego.
Leading away from the lighthouse is the easy 1.25 mile hike (2.5 mile return journey). Itâ€™s not really a hike, but more like a gentle stroll along a smooth easy path, wide enough for a small car.
Along the way are numerous signs, pointing out the old military installations, the local and the migratory birds, the different types of scrub brush and flowers, and the geology of the area.
The hike leads down along the edge of the peninsula, with continuous views of San Diego harbor, and the numerous sailboats, motorboats and military ships entering and leaving.
The Tide Pools:
On the opposite side of the peninsula from the hike, exposed to the pacific waves, are the tide pools. It must have been high tide when I arrived, because there were no creatures on view, just the waves smashing on the jagged rocks.
Or as I see it,where geology and beauty meet.
One selection of rocks were standing at a 30 degree angle, like the ramp for an Evil Knievel rocket car jump over the Pacific Ocean.
These rocks were once under the sea. The visible layers, which look like an infinite layer carrot cake, were created over millions of years on the sea bottom. Sand, silt and dead creatures fell to the flat bottom of the sea and created layers.
Then along came volcanoes, continental drift, and uplift which pulled and twisted this land, eventually turning it 30 degrees from flat and depositing it not on the bottom of the sea, but on its edge.
And this rock, that was once the sea bottom, is slowly being eroded way, so that the fine layers of sand are again deposited on the sea floor, for the whole million year process to begin again.
There is also a perfect stone imitation of the deadly walk-the-plank of a pirate ship.
The mass of stone sticking out is what is left of a molten lava flow. This rock once pushed its way to the surface from deep underground, and slowly cooled. As it cooled the rock shrunk, creating cracks in the solid stone. Weirdly symmetrical cracks.
The sea came and eroded most of the rock away, leaving just this little stump left, with its sisters already broken away into the sea, as remnants of what was once here.
On the drive along the peninsula, in between the barbed wire fences and the barracks is a cemetery. A cemetery filled with symmetrical white headstones.
Itâ€™s Fort Rosecrans Cemetery, and is filled with military personal, from those who died on the field of battle, to those who survived to a ripe old age, and even one who never had a chance to begin.
March 2, 1947
March 3, 1947
It’s a reminder of all this military hardware crammed into this bay, is all useless without human beings.