The Point Bonita Lighthouse is worth the trek and the wait

California Journal

Being at the Point Bonita Lighthouse just north of San Francisco is like being at the end of the earth.

In a way, you are. It’s the western edge of the United States.

Point Bonita Lighthouse tunnel
Visitors must walk through this hand-hewn tunnel to reach the Point Bonita Lighthouse. (Sheryl Jean)

The 1885 lighthouse is still used today, so it’s open for only three hours a day three days a week: from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Mondays, Saturdays and Sundays. Visiting it is like being let in on a secret.

The U.S. Coast Guard maintains the lighthouse, which is on on the Marin Headlands and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The National Park Service provides access to visitors.

After walking through a tunnel, and a narrow cliff-top path, visitors walk over this suspension bridge to reach the lighthouse. (Sheryl Jean)

Be prepared to walk a half mile to the site, through a rough rock tunnel (open only during visiting hours) and over a suspension bridge to the lighthouse, which sits on a small patch of land jutting into the Pacific Ocean. My National Park guide said it took 3.5 months to dig the tunnel by hand.

You’ll be rewarded with spectacular coastal views and seeing nature at its wildest and windiest best.

View from Point Bonita
This is the view looking North from the lighthouse. (Sheryl Jean)

How it works

The 1885 lighthouse was the third one built on the West Coast to help lead ships through dangerous water and thick fog. The original lighthouse was 300 feet above sea level, but fog often obscured the light. It moved to Point Bonita in 1877.

The Point Bonita Lighthouse can shine its beam 18 miles across the ocean in clear conditions using a Fresnel lens, which is based on ground glass prisms arranged in rings around a light source.

In dense fog, sound is used. First, there was a cannon, then a fog bell and a steam siren. Today, an electric fog horn emits two blasts every 30 seconds.

To reach the Point Bonita, visitors must to drive up and down a narrow, steep, twisting road through the Marin Headlands. Parking is limited. A free Marin Headlands Shuttle operates on weekends through September along Bunker Road, Field Road and Fort Baker, stopping at the lighthouse.

Point Bonita
Point Bonita (Google Maps)

Meet Ranger Jim, traveler extraordinaire

He’s an outdoorsman who wears a wide-brimmed hat and is partial to khaki.

Meet Ranger Jim.

Ranger Jim kayaked last weekend on the Russian River in Northern California. (Sheryl Jean)

He was born at Walnut Canyon National Monument in Flagstaff, Ariz., as a giant orange sun rose over the cliffs. That’s where I met him in February 2014.

Ranger Jim gets around. He’s been to Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas. As you might expect given his roots, he likes to visit public lands. You’ll see him hiking through canyons, climbing up to cliff dwellings, descending into caves and camping under giant Redwood trees on social media, such as Twitter, under the hashtags #RangerJim or #RangerJimTravels.

The popularity of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook has created a worldwide contest of who can post the oddest, prettiest, most spectacular photograph — sometimes with unexpected results. Mashable recently wrote about a woman who calls out other users’ fake travel photos of precarious campsites with incredible views on her Instagram account called @youdidnotsleepthere.

Roaming Gnome on a beach
Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome on a beach. (Courtesy of Travelocity)

More than three-quarters of travelers post photos on social mediaTravel photos on social media, according to data from Internet Marketing Inc. Such photos carry a lot of influence: More than half of Facebook users said friends’ photos inspired their travel plans, it said.

Probably the most popular traveling statuette is Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome. (See photo at right.)

Thanks to a  worldwide marketing campaign that began in early 2004, the gnome has become synonymous with Travelocity. (The idea was based on a prank where people steal a garden gnome for travel and photographs around the world.) Earlier this year, Travelocity launched a series of TV commercials featuring the Roaming Gnome again.

Pokey tasting local beer at Powder River Pizza in Sheridan, Wyo. (Courtesy of Kathy Whepley)

“The power of the Roaming Gnome as a personification of the Travelocity brand really comes to life when we have the opportunity to travel with him,” said company spokesman Keith Nowak. “Walking down the street with the Roaming Gnome means being stopped every few feet as passers-by ask the same question: ‘Is that the Travelocity Gnome?’ … The invariable next request is to get a picture with him, which we happily oblige.”

Many people have copied the idea on a personal level.

My Midwestern friend, Kathy Whepley, took a bendable Pokey figure that’s kind of a personal mascot on a family road trip to Glacier National Park this spring. Pokey even got his own page in a photo book she created of the trip.

For those who aren’t familiar with Pokey, he was the horse of Gumby, a clay dude who spawned two television series, a film and other media since the 1950s. (See photo at upper right.)

Another friend, Joy Finocchio, takes different Lego figures on family road trips, starting with one from central California to Ouray, Colo., in June 2013. (See photo below.)

Finocchio's Legos at Zion NP
Lego figures tag along on Finocchio family road trips. (Courtesy of Joy Finocchio)

“Our boys were complaining about the long drive and I suggested we each pick a Lego figurine to represent us,” Finocchio said. “It was a really fun way to document our trip and coming up with funny situations where we could photograph the Lego figures helped pass the time.”

When Finnochio and her youngest of three sons traveled to Disneyland last year, they brought along Star Wars figures R2D2 and C3PO. She also uses a Lego figure when she attends work-related conferences.

By the way, Ranger Jim is heading off on another adventure soon. Stay tuned!