Some eight or nine months ago, Y and I found ourselves on one of our many drives along the California coast, cruising down Highway 1. We came upon a lighthouse and decided to stop in. Although we couldn’t get to the top (because they closed it for repair), we did learn that once a year, on the anniversary of the first time the lighthouse went into operation, they fire up the lights for a few hours, giving visitors a taste of what hundreds of ships saw to guide them safely.
It promised to be a photographic opportunity, so we made plans immediately to come back on the anniversary, which was today.
We were terribly excited by the possibilities. The lighthouse, a State Historic Park designated the Pigeon Point Light Station, and located on a cliff off Highway 1, had a “first-order” Fresnel lens (“first order” refers to its size, at 7′ 10″ in height) with 24 reflective panels; each of the resulting 24 beams of light is individually distinguishable from certain angles, and we were hoping to photograph some beautiful shots of a dramatically lit lighthouse.
Unsure how crowded it would get, we decided to get there a few hours before sunset, find a good location to shoot from, and have a small picnic. We drove through Santa Cruz, stopping to grab a couple of sandwiches along the way, and made it (after a few frustrating wrong turns) to Pescadero about 3pm, about two hours before sunset, and three hours before the lighting was to take place.
They were pretty packed, with dozens of cars lining the small road in to the lighthouse. We decided we wanted shots that included the Pacific Ocean as a foreground, so we drove around a bit. We ended up driving down a dirt road with huge holes (in my 2003 Nissan Altima!), only to find five or six other photographers setting up shop, and no easy way to get into a good position without tramping through thigh-high underbrush, but there were no better setups that were easier to get to, so tramp through we did.
We sat around for the couple of hours before the sun started to set, eating dinner and playing cards, and once the sun stared going behind the horizon, were rewarded with a few very pretty moments of colorful clouds behind the lighthouse. We were certain we would be getting some beautiful pictures once the beams came on.
At a few minutes after 6, the lighthouse went completely dark, and a few moments later, multiple beams of light came pouring out in all directions. Unfortunately, the beams were so dim, and we were so far away, that instead of the 24 individual beams we were hoping for, we got about a half-dozen mushy beams, and a far less spectacular view than we’d anticipated.
The other photographers were likewise disappointed, including those who’d shot the lighthouse previously from up close.
While we didn’t end up with a ton of gorgeous photos, we did have something of an adventure. We plan on returning next year, and setting up camp much closer to the station.
I’ll have a few photos up in a little while. Be sure to check back.