Thursday, 15 January 2009

And So To Trinidad

Thursday 15th January 2009
And so to Trinidad ... In case that sounds a bit exotic even for this pair of virtual travellers let me immediately point out that today we arrived at Trinidad in Humboldt Country and not Trinidad in the Caribbean. Nothing wrong with Trinidad Ca, mind you: this little seaside town doesn't need to stand in awe of anyone. Actually, it's not a town but a city, and with a population of just over 300, it is California's smallest incorporated city. Small it may be, but it has two lighthouses, ten public beaches and the gateway to a National Monument within its city boundary. Add to this the fact that many claim that it is the oldest incorporated city in California and that it used to be the County seat of the long-gone Klamath County, and you can see that tiny Trinidad punches well above its weight.

Let's start with those two lighthouses : there is nothing much to choose between them because they both look very similar. Trinidad Head juts out into the Pacific Ocean and its phalanx of sharp rocks and craggy bluffs coupled with the areas natural inclination towards sea fogs leads to a natural hazard to shipping. From the 1850s onwards Trinidad became an important harbour for both the gold prospecting valleys of Klamath County and, later, the lumber industry, and therefore a lighthouse was an urgent requirement.  The Lighthouse Friends website takes up the story :

"In 1866, forty-two acres were purchased for a light station on the southern portion of the headland, but work on the project did not begin until the spring of 1871. First, a road was carved into the eastern side of the head, and then work began on the Trinidad Head Lighthouse, which would stand at the top of a 175-foot cliff. Given the loftiness of its perch, a squat brick tower was deemed adequate. The tower and associated keeper's dwelling, located roughly fifty yards from the tower, were finished over the course of the summer and fall, and on December 1, 1871, Keeper Jeremiah Kiler activated the revolving fourth-order Fresnel lens for the first time".

An important part of the installation was a fog bell which was set into the cliffs some fifty feet below the height of the light. The bell was struck using a clockwork mechanism which had to be wound up by the lighthouse keepers every two hours, an exhausting business.  Electricity didn't come to the lighthouse until the 1940s, but then the old Fresnel lens was removed along with the metal fog bell. It was then that the citizens of Trinidad clubbed together and built a second lighthouse - nearer the centre of the city - to house the relics. This is the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse shown in the picture above.  

As Amy and I stood on top of Trinidad Head we looked out on what is the magnificent California Coastal National Monument for which Trinidad is one of the five "gateways". In all the monument covers 1,100 miles of coastline and some 20,000 small islands, rocks, exposed reefs and pinnacles. Established in 2000, the primary objective of the monument is to "protect the important geologic features and the unique habitat they provide for both terrestrial and marine plants and animals found within its boundaries". This is why, I said to Amy who was getting distracted by certain movements along the cliff edge, you can't chase the birds.

We walked back into Trinidad, it really is a super little town (I can't get my head around the idea of it being a city). Within a few weeks, Amy and I would be leaving California for the state of Oregon. This little town with its rocks and its lighthouses would form just as powerful a memory of the state as would the mighty cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco.


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