Lilting Lighthouse Lore and Labor, Big Sur, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14304A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Help restore the rare landscape and structures of the light station
  • Close-up viewing of elephant seals, sea otters, and other endangered species
  • Explore the spectacular Big Sur Coast on free days


  • Lodging in former U.S. Coast Guard duplex units at the lighthouse
  • Home-cooked meals and comfortable beds
  • All tools and safety instructions


DatesOct 4–11, 2014
StaffArlene Jamar

Trip Overview

The Trip

Our location is the Piedras Blancas Light Station, which is situated in a spectacularly dynamic area that's rich in species diversity and cultural history. It is six miles north of Hearst Castle off the California Coastal Highway and adjoins San Simeon State Park. This isolated promontory is surrounded by the largest mainland rookery of northern elephant seals, which are commonly sighted, along with sea otters, California sea lions, harbor seals, and peregrine falcons. The awe-inspiring seascape is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest marine sanctuary in the United States. Sweeping vistas of the Big Sur Coast and sounds of pounding surf will encompass your daily backdrop.

Some history about his breathtaking location: In the 19th century, President Andrew Johnson approved the purchase of Piedras Blancas. The light station was completed in 1875, then subsequently operated by employees of the U.S. Lighthouse Service until 1939, when the U.S. Coast Guard assumed command. In 2008, Congress designated it an “Outstanding Natural Area” and it is now part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Natural Landscape Conservation System.  Just to the north of the light station is a 90-mile stretch of rugged California coastline between Carmel and San Simeon, the renowned Big Sur Coast.


We will work for four days and have two free days to explore the marvels of this coastal seascape. Over the course of the past few years, volunteers have nearly eradicated a virtual monoculture of invasive ice plant from the 19-acre station site, and are now working on the adjoining San Simeon State Park property. Overall, there are numerous projects in progress, including exotic invasive plant removal, nature-trail work, and maintenance on the California Coastal Trail.



Getting There

You may fly to the mid-coastal region and then travel by car, or drive directly to the light station. The nearest airports are San Luis Obispo (55 miles), Monterey (90 miles), Santa Barbara (130 miles), San Jose (160 miles), and San Francisco (200 miles). Each person is responsible for his or her transportation to Piedras Blancas, but the leader will share particpants’ contact information to help them to arrange carpooling from various destination points.

Accommodations and Food

We will have the rare opportunity to stay at the light station. This area, until recently, had been off limits to the public for more than 130 years. We will be staying in the former U.S. Coast Guard duplex housing units that were built in 1960.

We consider food to be part of the adventure on our Sierra Club trips, so please, join us with an open mind. Our meals are planned to satisfy your appetite and to be a social gathering occasion after a day’s work or play in the outdoors. The menu will be healthy, nutritious, high-energy front-country cuisine. Meals will be vegetarian, with some opportunities for meat during the week. Meals often include protein in the form of dairy and soy products. We will have a group commissary, with everyone taking turns preparing meals and cleaning the kitchen area.  

If you have food allergies or dietary restrictions or special food preferences, please contact the leader and cook before you apply to join the trip to determine if reasonable accommodations will be possible within the limits of our commissary set-up and trip location.

Trip Difficulty

We will probably be doing a variety of projects, from exotic invasive plant removal, to nature trail work, to structure maintenance, repair, and restoration. Expect moderate-to-hard physical labor, though participants may have some choice in the jobs that they do. You will be expected to dig, bend, crawl, lift, saw, and hike to complete the projects. Your Sierra Club trip leader and local agency representative will provide tool training, directions, and support to insure your safety. Plan ahead and prepare for the work by conditioning yourself for outdoor labor, which is only part of the trip’s fun since you’ll also have the opportunity to meet and work with a variety of like-minded individuals who also care about this fragile and special environment.

Equipment and Clothing

Tools will be furnished by the agency, but bring thick work gloves, sturdy boots, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts due to the sun, insects, and poison oak. Preventative steps with the proper clothing choices will make for a safer, more enjoyable trip. You will need a day pack to carry your lunch, water, raingear, sunscreen, etc. You will need a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid to carry your lunch in your backpack. Plates, bowls, cups and eating utensils will be provided.

We will have a first-aid kit, but you should bring moleskin, light bandages, repellant, and personal medications.

Piedras Blancas Light Station can be very windy. It is best to have layers of comfortable clothing as temperatures may range from 40 to 85 degrees. A full list of equipment will be sent to all participants. If you have questions, please contact the trip leader or cook.




  • Henson, Paul and Donald J. Usner, The Natural History of Big Sur. University of Calif. Press.
  • Lussier, Tommie K., Big Sur – A Complete History and Guide. Big Sur Publications.
  • Alder, Peter and Fred Heath, National Audobon Society Field Guide to California. Alfred A. Knopf.

The light station has a gift shop that sells books and souvenirs.


The Big Sur Coast’s natural resources were exploited and abused in the 19th and 20th centuries and our efforts are part of a program to restore, repair, and preserve the area. We’ll talk about the wildlife recovery programs that have been implemented. We’ll learn about the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest marine sanctuary in the United States, and the marine inhabitants of this ecosystem. Our conservation and environmental discussions will include any of the varied issues that participants might share from their own communities.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Arlene Jamar has been a leader and cook for many Sierra Club service trips. She enjoys the satisfaction of taking care of and enhancing the beautiful wilderness areas all over our Country. In addition, she likes the camaraderie and fellowship of others with similar interests. Arlene began her involvement with nature as a Girl Scout. When not involved with outdoor activities, she enjoys playing music.


Terry Sario has been leading and cooking Sierra Club service trips for years. Her first trip was a family service trip and she is now thinking about taking her grandson on a trip. She has done trips in Arizona, California, Washington, British Columbia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.

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