Shelter Cove is an isolated community on Point Delgada on the Lost Coast between Deadman Gulch to the south and Telegraph Creek to the north, about 54 miles (87 km) south of Eureka and 43 miles (69 km) north-northwest of Fort Bragg, California. The name was applied to the small natural harbor south of the headland by the U.S. Coast Survey in 1854 during a hydrographic survey because it provided an anchorage from northwest winds along an otherwise exposed coastline. It is still regarded as a harbor of refuge for vessels experiencing heavy weather off Cape Mendocino. Point Delgada is a descriptive name meaning ‘narrow point’ that initially was applied to Point Arena, about 78 miles (126 km) to the south-southeast, by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra in 1775 on the sailing vessel Sonora. The expedition was chartered by the government of New Spain to map the north coast of Alta California and was under the command of Lieutenant Bruno de Heceta. In 1792, Captain George Vancouver changed the name of that headland to Barra de Arena. Cartographers of subsequent charts showed a Point Delgada somewhere near 40 degrees north latitude, and the name was not attached to a fixed location until 1841 when Lieutenant Charles Wilkes of the U.S. Exploring Expedition applied the name to the present-day point. The narrow headland is situated where the King Range, a part of the Northern Coast Ranges, is aligned parallel to the coast and its western slopes fall steeply to the Pacific Ocean. Point Delgada is a volcanic and sedimentary marine terrace about 1300 feet (400 m) wide, bounded on the east and west by major branches of the San Andreas fault, and buried under Pleistocene debris flows and landslides. The marine terrace consists dominantly of basaltic pillow lavas, pillow breccias, and sills, overlain and interbedded with layers of mudstone, sandstone, and conglomerate. The landslides were apparently shed from the steep retreating scarp of uplifted sedimentary rocks assigned to the Franciscan Complex of the King Range. The Franciscan Complex is a late Mesozoic terrane of rocks found throughout the California Coast Ranges and is dominated by greywacke sandstones, shales, and conglomerates that have experienced low-grade metamorphism.
The exposed tectonically active coastline of Point Delgada, backed by rugged mountains that were prone to landslides, made this an inhospitable area for human settlement. But despite the isolation, the area around Point Delgada was the territory of the Sinkyone tribe, an Athabascan people that lived in the area for at least 4,000 years. Shelter Cove Sinkyone were terrestrial hunter-gatherers but were also known to hunt seals and sea lions that were speared or clubbed from large redwood canoes and towed to shore. These canoes were likely river canoes used on the ocean only for very limited distances in calm weather. Prior to the California Gold Rush, it is estimated that twenty Sinkyone villages were located near the coast, and fifty along interior rivers, with a total population of over 4,000 individuals. Direct contact between the Sinkyone and Euro-Americans was initially contained to coastal areas. Starting in 1850, the northern coast experienced a surge of gold seekers, loggers, and ranchers. These settlers caused disputes over resources and brought diseases that decimated the population and by the end of the 1860s, there were only a few Sinkyone survivors. The first documented settlers were a pair of cattle ranchers named Hamilton and Oliver who arrived in 1850 and started Shelter Cove Ranch. When some of the cattle went missing, the ranchers followed trails to a gap in the mountains above Shelter Cove where they engaged in a battle with the Sinkyone. Mr. Oliver was killed and Mr. Hamilton escaped, and subsequently met the brothers John, William, and James Ray who were on the way up the Mendocino Coast. They were reputedly traveling north along the coast with cattle looking for land and promptly traded Mr. Hamilton a herd of oxen in return for the whole of the Shelter Cove Ranch. In 1884, the Robart brothers formed the Shelter Cove Warehouse Company. In 1885, they built a wharf that extended 960 feet (290 m) to deep water to accommodate steamers from San Francisco. The Redwood Highway portion of State Route 1 was built between 1900 and 1949 but bypassed Shelter Cove due to the very steep terrain. As a result, the village remained isolated from the rest of the state until 1948 when a local resident built an airstrip, and shortly thereafter the wagon road to Garberville was upgraded for vehicle traffic.
In 1936, due to increased activity by commercial fishing boats anchoring in the cove, the U.S. Coast Guard installed a bell on the point at Point Delgada. A tower was built for the bell which rang continuously when it was foggy. In July 1960, the Cape Mendocino light station was put up for sale to the highest bidder with the stipulation that everything was removed from the station. When no takers came forward, the wooden structures were burned, and the remains were pushed over the cliff. The abandoned lighthouse was slowly succumbing to rust until a citizen’s group started an initiative to save the tower and relocate it 35 miles (56 km) south to Shelter Cove as a historical attraction. During the first week of November 1998, a helicopter from the Army National Guard removed the lantern room from the tower and airlifted it south to Shelter Cove. The remaining pieces of the lighthouse were numbered, dismantled, and trucked to a construction yard for renovation. In the summer of 1999, the lighthouse was restored, painted, and fitted with new glass by the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse Preservation Society. It was then reassembled at its new home at Point Delgada in Mal Coombs Park and opened to the public on Memorial Day 2001. Mal Coombs is a park located at Point Delgada, on the west side of Shelter Cove, named after a local mill operator and managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The park is within the King Range National Conservation Area that includes and surrounds Shelter Cove. The conservation area encompasses over 68,000 acres (27,518 ha) of public land with diverse recreational and wilderness opportunities including the Lost Coast Trail which is part of the California Coastal Trail. Read more here and here. Explore more of Shelter Cove and Point Delgada here: