Table Bluff, Humboldt Bay

Table Bluff, Humboldt Bay

by | Feb 10, 2022

Table Bluff is a promontory and coastal plateau less than 1 mile (1.6 km) wide with an elevation of 163 feet (50 m) located about 19 miles (31 km) north-northeast of Cape Mendocino at the base of South Spit that encloses the southern portion of Humboldt Bay, about 9 miles (15 km) southwest of Eureka and 4.5 miles (7 km) northwest of Loleta, California. The bluff separates Humboldt Bay to the north from the Eel River to the south. Early explorers originally called it Ridge Point, and later Brannan Bluff for an early settler named Samuel Brannan, and by 1851 it was commonly known at Table Bluff. The geology of Humboldt Bay consists of rocks from the Late Jurassic and Cretaceous Franciscan and Yager formations. The Franciscan rocks are greywacke, shale, chert, basalt, and shist. The Yager rocks are greywacke, shale, and conglomerate. Originally Humboldt Bay was a much larger estuary than it is today. During the middle to Late Pleistocene, the coastal rivers now known as the Eel, Van Duzen, Elk, and Mad Rivers all flowed into a common bay. Sea level was about 400 feet (122 m) lower than today and continental and marine sediments were deposited in the bay that extended further west than the present-day coastline. These sedimentary deposits eventually created the Hookton Formation that was uplifted and warped which raised Table Bluff and separated the Eel River from the ancient bay. About 15,000 years ago, the sea level started rising following the Last Glacial Maximum. As the sea rose it flooded the ancient stream valleys to form a series of tidal estuaries. When the sea level stabilized the sediment deposited by the coastal streams formed spits through the transport and deposition of sand by ocean currents and waves. The ex­tension of these spits formed a barrier to the sea and the area shoreward was protected from the open ocean waves creating present-day Humboldt Bay.

The Wiyot people arrived at Humboldt Bay around 1,900 years ago, possibly displacing an earlier Hokan-speaking people who were highly mobile. The Wiyot language is related to the Algonquian language of the Great Plains. The Wiyot territory was only around 36 miles (58 km) long and roughly 15 miles (24 km) wide but encompassed miles of old-growth redwood forests, sandy dunes, wetlands, and open prairies. The Wiyot used redwood trees for building canoes and small houses. To make the canoes, the Wiyot would fell a tree and hollow out the log with fire. Their houses were made out of redwood planks, forming a rectangular shape. Anthropologists estimate that there were around 98 Wiyot villages or seasonal camps built along Humboldt Bay and the nearby river banks. The Wiyot diet mainly consisted of acorns, berries, shellfish, salmon, deer, elk, and other small game. In 1806, Captain Jonathan Winship who was employed by the Russian-American Company was the first to enter Humboldt Bay by sea with a large contingent of Aleut sea otter hunters in baidarkas. In 1849, an expedition led by Josiah Gregg attempted to find an overland route to the Pacific Ocean from the interior. The party was near starvation when they emerged on the coast where they discovered the bay and later reported their finding in San Francisco. In 1850, two ships sailed from San Francisco with hopeful gold miners and settlers, and upon entering the bay, named it after the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Settlers started encroaching on the traditional territory of the Wiyot and encounters soon turned violent. The settlers initiated what is known as the 1860 Wiyot Massacre when a group from the nearby town of Eureka descended onto a Wiyot village armed with firearms, clubs, knives, and hatchets and murdered women, children, and elders. The entrance to Humboldt Bay was notoriously dangerous and the first navigational aid was built in 1856, on the north spit near Eureka, but it was too low and often obscured by fog. In 1892, the U.S. Lighthouse Service constructed a light station on Table Bluff. During World War II, the station was expanded to include lodging for horse-mounted beach patrols, a coastal lookout post, and a radio compass station. In 1953, the fog signal was discontinued and the light automated. A Christian youth ministry purchased the property in 1969 and renamed it Lighthouse Ranch. In 1971, Jim Durkin, a local pastor and real estate agent formed Gospel Outreach to purchase the ranch and it became a stopover for young adults seeking spiritual direction. A documentary about the ministry was made in 1972 and can be seen here. The property was sold to the state in 2005 and donated to the Bureau of Land Management in 2012. The agency contracted for the demolition of all remaining structures on the property including the original fog signal building, carpenter shop, oil house, and the foundation where the tower and light keeper’s residence once stood.

In 2000, the California Coastal National Monument was created by presidential proclamation to protect thousands of islands, rocks, exposed reefs, and pinnacles owned or controlled by the United States within 12 nautical miles (22 km) of the shoreline of the State of California. In 2014, the monument was expanded to include coastal bluffs, tide pools, onshore dunes, coastal prairies, and riverbanks. In addition to providing vital habitat for wildlife, these coastal lands were critical for the native peoples who first lived along the California coast. In 2017, the monument was enlarged again to include other spectacular areas along the coast containing significant scientific or historic resources, including the Lighthouse Ranch property which is part of the ancestral home and current cultural traditions of the Wiyot Tribe, who gave it the name Waluplh. Table Bluff is now a county park and an ecological reserve that provides public beach access. The Table Bluff Ecological Reserve includes approximately 140 acres (56 ha) on the northwestern tip of Table Bluff. About 94 acres (38 ha) are grassland and the remainder are mostly spruce forests. Most of the reserve has supported agriculture for more than a century. Approximately 30 acres (12 ha) of spruce forest and grassland remain relatively undisturbed by human influence, and a portion of this contains the largest of four populations of the endangered western lily known in California. Approximately 38 acres (15 ha) have been fenced to exclude deer grazing and will be managed specifically to maintain and enhance the western lily population. Table Bluff is also adjacent to the South Humboldt Bay State Marine Recreational Management Area that protects an area of 512 acres (207 ha) and prohibits the take of all marine resources with exemptions for members of the Wiyot Tribe. Read more here and here. Explore more of Table Bluff here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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