Point Lobos State Reserve
The deep dark-shining
Pacific leans on the land,
Feeling his cold strength
To the outmost margins
Point Lobos, the gateway to Big Sur, is a national treasure with a
rich history encompassing several ethnic groups, a variety of
business ventures, and unusual geological formations.
Visiting Point Lobos without knowing the history
leads to enjoyment on one plane—the beauty of nature. While this may
be okay for many hikers, the people who hiked with Sandy Lydon’s
class got history, geology, and poetry from three instructors.
The geology at Point Lobos is unusual, beautiful, and millions of
years old. Dave Schwartz, instructor at Cabrillo College, explained
the varying landscapes and geology with drawings in a student
We saw hobnail granite boulders in numerous places
at Point Lobos. “The hobnail granite is a distinctive rock full of
blocky crystals of orthoclase feldspar that resist weathering better
than the other minerals, and so tend to stand out in relief on
weathered outcrops.”1 At the headlands, we saw muddy sandstones and
shales. In places, the rock formations featured brown polka-dots. In
many places, we could touch Carmelo conglomerate rock material.
Walking along the shore, the landscape was unusually varied.
Marcy Alancraig, English instructor at Cabrillo, added an unusual
dimension to the hike with readings from Robinson Jeffers who lived
at Carmel. The landscape greatly influenced his poetry.
Sandy Lydon began with the rich, human history of the area. The
first inhabitants were the Rumsien, an Ohlone triblet, who lived in
the area from 2500 to 3000 years ago. They have been characterized
as a “gentle and peaceful people.” They caught fish and shellfish in
the ocean and local streams. They gathered grass seeds and acorns.
They hunted birds and small mammals to supplement their diet. We saw
one large grinding stone within a few yards of the ocean. Many
middens or mounds of discarded shells verified that the natives ate
mussels and abalone.
The Rumsien were present when the Spanish era began. Sebastian
Vizcaíno, a Spanish explorer, entered Carmel Bay and claimed the
area for Spain, December 16, 1602. Vizcaíno was so favorably
impressed with the bay that he wrote a report that stated the harbor
was defended from all winds, a feature that was not recognized when
the Spanish returned in 1769.
Upper California was neglected until 1769 when José de Gálvez,
inspector general of New Spain, commissioned a four-pronged
expedition of exploration—two by sea and two by land. The religious
supervision entrusted to Franciscan Fray Junípero Serra was
protected by the military arm led by Don Gaspar de Portolá. The four
groups met in San Diego and proceeded north to Monterey. While
marching north, they were also planning locations for five missions.
When Portola’s group camped at San Jose Creek, which flows into
Carmel Bay, they did not recognize it from Vizcaíno’s description.
Believing they had missed this landmark, they continued to march
A few months later in May 1770, the Spanish again camped in the
area. The second California mission was established, first at
Monterey, but later moved to Carmel and named San Carlos Borromeo de
Carmelo. During the Spanish occupation, Point Lobos received its
name. The barking sea lions inspired the name Punta de los Lobos
Marinos, or Point of the Sea Wolves. Reminders of the Spanish
colonization are the Spanish names of the missions, presidios, and
In 1822, Mexico won its independence from Spain. For the next 26
years, Upper California was ruled from Mexico. To colonize the area,
the government issued many land grants. One grant of 8,818 acres
(Point Losoa area) was awarded to Don Marcelino Escobar in 1839. He
sold the land a few years later to Dona Josefa for about three cents
an acre. She held the property for a short time and then deeded the
land to a group of soldiers stationed at the Monterey Presidio. They
kept it for a few months and then deeded it to their superior
officer, Jose Castro.
In 1848, California was annexed to the United States. That
annexation marked the beginning of court battles lasting four
decades to settle the property claims. Finally, in 1888, a patent
signed by President Grover Cleveland divided Escobar’s land grant
into 34 parcels. Several owners sold their interests to the Carmelo
Land and Coal Company, a deal that reunited most of the old rancho.
The third ethnic group to live on the coast was Chinese. Lydon
speculates that Chinese sailors had crossed the ocean for centuries
by following coastlines. The historical record indicates that in
1851 a Chinese sailor, Quock Junk, ran aground at Point Lobos. The
Chinese were rescued by the Ohlone and became the first commercial
fishermen in the area. Lydon introduced a descendant of the first
Chinese, a young man whose family is helping to complete the history
of the Chinese at Point Lobos.
When the whaler’s cottage was renovated, archaeologists found many
Chinese artifacts under the floor contributing to the accepted
belief that the Chinese built whaler’s cabin.
On September 22, 1853, San Francisco and the Point Lobos lighthouse
were linked by telegraph. The connection was used primarily to
exchange maritime and weather information.
In 1855 a granite quarry was established at Whaler’s Cove. The
granite was shipped to San Francisco to build the United States Mint
in San Francisco, portions of Fort Point in San Francisco, and
buildings on the Navy’s installation at Mare Island. The harbor
entrance at Whaler’s Cove was very narrow. To compensate for this
danger, sea captains brought the ships in backwards, loaded them,
and then sailed out.
In 1862, Portuguese whalers from the Azores came to Point Lobos. The
population of the whaling families ranged from fifty to seventy
people. Whaling was a hazardous occupation that lasted from
mid-December to May. Typically fifteen to twenty men in a 24-foot
boat were seated backwards. Out on the ocean they looked for
migrating whales. When they hooked a whale, the whalers were
subjected to what Lydon called a “Nantucket Sleigh Ride,” as the
whale fought to get free.
Once the whale was dead, the crew rowed as hard and fast as they
could to get the whale to shore where they harvested the blubber.
The blubber was rendered in huge cast iron caldrons called “try”
pots about six feet in diameter. The blubber was rendered for the
Then the carcass was towed out to sea. They had to be sure that they
towed the carcass far enough so that it was not carried back in by
the tide. If the carcass came back, the smell attracted grizzly
bears. Sometimes a carcass was buried in a meadow, the bones
disinterred a year later and put back together. Alexander Allen used
a carcass as a tourist attraction. Lydon said he played on a whale
skeleton as a boy. You can view whaling equipment and bones at the
whaler’s cabin, now a park museum.
In the mid 1870’s, the Carmel Land and Coal Company mined veins of
coal found in the coastal hills. The coal was a low grade bituminous
coal that was soft and brown. The native Rumsiens referred to the
coal as “ever-burning rocks.” After mining, the coal was hauled by
horse-drawn wagons to a road where it was put on ore carts for
transfer by rail to a coal chute on the north shore of Whaler’s
Cove. The coal was then loaded on ships for transport to market. The
coal mining lasted until the late 1890s when it was suspended
because the cost of operation exceeded the market return.
Abalone harvesting— for the meat and the beautiful iridescent
shells— has been important to the Point Lobos area. The Ohlone
Indians harvested abalone for food. The Chinese turned the harvest
into a business. While abalone was the primary product, the Chinese
also caught a variety of fish, squid, and urchins.
The Japanese immigration began in the mid-1890s. Gennosuke Kodani
was the first Japanese immigrant and marine biologist to come to
Point Lobos. He recognized the aquatic richness of the area and sent
for Japanese fishermen and divers. The Japanese dried the abalone in
the sun on rocks or wooden racks since they could not be shipped
fresh. When the supply close to the shore dwindled, the Japanese
began to dive using primitive diving equipment with hand pumps to
supply air to the diver.
About 1899, Kodani formed a partnership to set up an abalone cannery
with Alexander M. Allan. The cannery was very successful, supplying
about 75 percent of the abalone sold in California. This enterprise
lasted until 1928.
Alexander M. Allan and his wife Sadie (Bradley) Allan were the most
important land owners because their gift to the future was saving
Point Lobos. Born in the 1860s, Allan was from Pennsylvania. He came
to the area in 1888. He was a coal miner and originally bought the
640 acres from the Carmel Land and Coal Company, but it was not
financially profitable. Additionally, Allan valued the sand of the
area. Until the 1950s, sand was shipped by way of the former coal
chute to cargo ships that docked in the harbor. Allan was also a
horse racetrack architect and real estate developer.
In 1900, Allan built their home of local stone around a saloon that
was a popular gathering place in the town of Carmelo, the original
Carmel. Another unusual feature of the Allan house is that the piers
or joists were made of whale vertebrae. The Allans had three
daughters whose descendants come through three families: Hudson,
Riley, and Wilson. (This house is on Riley Ranch Road on the
eastside of Highway 1.)
Satie (Bradley) Allan was a debutant from Chicago when she met
Allan. She was considered the heart of Point Lobos and determined to
preserve it for the future. She died in 1907. The Allan’s three
daughters and their descendants have completed that wish.
The Point has been a movie location since 1914. Forty-five movies
have been filmed at Point Lobos.
The efforts to preserve Point Lobos first started with the Allan’s.
They put up toll gates and prohibited camping. The Monterey pines
and cypress are native to Point Lobos.
Meanwhile, scientists and foresters were also concerned with saving
the Monterey cypress trees. Save-the-Redwood League became involved
in the mid-1920s. The State of California purchased 348 acres from
the Allan family in 1933, three years after Allan’s death. The Allan
family gave 15 additional acres to the state. In 1960, 750
underwater acres were added as the first underwater marine reserve.
“The marine reserve was designated an ecological reserve in 1973,
and in 1992 became part of the Monterey Bay National Marine
Sanctuary, the nation’s largest marine sanctuary.”2
1 Alt, David and Donald W. Hyndman. Roadside Geology of Northern and
Central California. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula,
2 Thomson, Jeff. Explore Point Lobos State Reserve, A Visitor’s
Guide. Walkabout Publications, Soquel, California, 1997.
Alancraig, Marcie. Poems by Robinson Jeffers.
Lydon, Sandy. History handout.
Point Lobos State Reserve, a living museum map and trail
Rolle, Andrew F. California. A History. Thomas Y. Crowell Company,
New York, 1963.
Schwartz, Dave. Geology handout.