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The two RV Gypsies explored
Cabrillo National Monument
in San Diego, California
May 23, 2015
California map showing location of Cabrillo

history bookCabrillo National Monument is located at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, California. It commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. This event marked the first time that a European expedition had set foot on what later became the West Coast of the United States. The site was designated as California Historical Landmark #56 in 1932. As with all historical units of the National Park Service, Cabrillo was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.

The area encompassed by the national monument includes various former military installations, such as coastal artillery batteries, built to protect the harbor of San Diego from enemy warships. Many of these installations can be seen while walking around the area. A former army building hosts an exhibit that tells the story of military history at Point Loma.

Cabrillo National Monument sign
Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center sign

The Visitor Center offers a place to purchase souvenirs and learn about the park's history. The center also allows visitors the chance to communicate with Park Rangers and volunteers. Visitors can learn the day's weather readings, the time of low tide, get a National Park Passport stamped, visit the Age of Exploration exhibit, and learn the times for ranger talks/guided tours and auditorium showings. The auditorium offers several showings a day, and features three different films including: In Search of Cabrillo, On the Edge of Land and Sea, and First Breath: Gray Whales.

Cabrillo National Monument also hosts a "Junior Ranger" program in which children can earn a Junior Ranger badge by exploring the park and filling out an activity sheet.

USS Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer sign
model of the USS Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer
sign about ships of the Pacific Fleet
sign about ships of the Pacific Fleet

The two RV Gypsies began their walking tour on the patio behind the Visitor Center. Below is Ballast Point, the small spit of land where Cabrillo is believed to have come ashore.

small spit of land
small spit of land

Below: Harbor views taken from behind the Visitor Center.

Harbor View
Harbor View

Leaving the Visitor Center, the two RV Gypsies walked a few feet to the right. A series of plaques helped them to identify dozens of the naval warships, auxiliary ships, planes, and helicopters that can sometimes be seen around the harbor.

aircraft sign
aircraft sign
sign about Cabrillo's ships

Below: A long distance view
of the Cabrillo statue

Below: A zoomed in view of the
Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Cabrillo statue and the harbor
Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Cabrillo Statue:

history bookClimbing out of his boat and onto shore in 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stepped into history as the first European to set foot on what is now the West Coast of the United States. In addition to telling the story of 16th century exploration, the park is home to a wealth of cultural and natural resources. Sculpted in sandstone by the Portuguese sculptor Alvaro de Bree in 1939, a stalwart Cabrillo proudly holds a sword in one hand, a pair of dividers and a quadrant in the other. This handsome figure was intended for the Golden Gate International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1939, but it arrived too late. It was subsequently taken and transported southward by a San Diegan who thought this city its rightful place. The Portuguese spelling of Cabrillo's name and carved inscriptions are on the back of the statue.

Cabrillo Statue
Cabrillo Statue

Behind the statue is perhaps the most magnificent view of the bay.

view of the bay
view of the bay

Then the two RV Gypsies took a short walk to the Coast Defense Exhibit.

Militay History Exhibit sign
Army Radio Station sign
historical sign

The two RV Gypsies headed up a short set of stairs to see some magnificent views of the surrounding area.

Lee Duquette on the stairs
view of the surrounding area.
panaroma of the area and Karen Duquette
view of the surrounding area.
view of the surrounding area.

The two RV Gypsies approached the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and the Assistant Keepers' quarters.

old bunker
the two RV Gypsies

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is the highest point in the park and has been a San Diego icon since 1855. The lighthouse was closed in 1891, and a new one opened at a lower elevation, because fog and low clouds often obscured the light at its location 422 feet above sea level. The old lighthouse is now a museum, and visitors may enter it and view some of the living areas there.

history bookOld Point Loma Lighthouse

In 1851, a year after California entered the Union, the U.S. Coastal Survey selected the heights of Point Loma for the location of a navigational aid. The crest seemed like the right location: it stood 422 feet above sea level, overlooking the bay and the ocean, and a lighthouse there could serve as both a harbor light and a coastal beacon. Construction began on the lighthouse in early 1854 and was completed in November 1855. By late summer 1854, the work was done. More than a year passed before the lighting apparatus - a five-foot-tall 3rd order Fresnel lens, the best available technology - arrived from France and was installed. At dusk on November 15, 1855, the keeper climbed the winding stairs and lit the oil lamp for the first time. In clear weather its light was visible at sea for 25 miles. For the next 36 years, except on foggy nights, it welcomed sailors to San Diego harbor. However, the lighthouse's location on top of a 400-foot cliff meant that fog and low clouds often obscured the light from the view of ships. On March 23, 1891, the flame was permanently extinguished and the light was replaced by the New Point Loma lighthouse at a lower elevation. In 1984, the light was re-lit by the National Park Service for the first time in 93 years, in celebration of the site’s 130th birthday.

After boarding up the old lighthouse in 1891, the keeper moved his family and belongings into a new light station at the bottom of the hill, which is still an active light. It can be seen from the Whale Overlook, 100 yards south of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, or from the tide pool area.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse
Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Trivia Question: Did you know that the Old Point Loma Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument was one of the first lighthouses on the West Coast?

Old Point Loma Lighthouse
Old Point Loma Lighthouse
Old Point Loma Lighthouse

There was a little garden growing behind the lighthouse. The two RV Gypsies liked the display of Artichoke.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse
artichoke growing

history bookThe lighthouse first sent its beam out to ships in 1855, five years after California joined the Union. Unfortunately, however, the beam didn't always reach the ships -- the light was 462 feet above sea level and often obscured by low clouds. Hence 36 years later, in 1891, the government built a new lighthouse, still in use, at sea level at the base of Point Loma. The original lighthouse fell into disrepair, but now has been restored to reflect the way it was in 1887.

lighthouse lens sign
lighthouse lens
sign about Harbor lights
sign about Harbor lights
how a lighthouse works
Illumination through the ages

Behind the lighthouse, an employee was lighting a match using a magnifying glass.


There were many informative signs about the lighthouse and lens.

Point Loma sign
lighthouse plaque
model of the lighthouse
bay area map

Soon the two RV Gypsies reached a path where they enjoyed a view of the Pacific Ocean as they made their way south to Whale Overlook.

whale sidewalk
whale sidewalk

Every winter the Gray Whales migrate from the Bering Sea and the Chukchi Sea, between Alaska and Siberia, to their breeding grounds in the warm, shallow lagoons of Baja California and mainland Mexico. As late as the 1800's, female whales calved in San Diego Bay as well, which partly explains why whaling was a significant San Diego enterprise in the second half of the 19th Century.

whale sign
whale monument and bones
whale highway sign
whale sign
whale informaitonal sign

The path on the south side of the overlook provided a great view of the present operating lighthouse down at the ocean's edge.

new lighthouse

Then the two RV Gypsies took a nice walk on a beautiful path back to the parking lot.

fancy sidewalk
look below

go to the next adventure of the two RV GypsiesPlease continue on to page 2: The cliffs and tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument.