February 14, 2019

Camp Pendleton Ranch House Tour

“There’s so much to see right here in San Diego County” was a phrase I heard repeated throughout this fascinating tour to Camp Pendleton and North County. Upon arrival at the base’s main gate, we were escorted by Navy enlistee Jamie Brewer. Jamie came aboard our motor coach for a few minutes to tell us a little bit about life at Camp Pendleton and to answer a few questions.  One of the interesting things we learned is that there is about a 3:1 ratio of Marines to Navy personnel on base, as the amphibious training here is a collaborative effort between the two branches of military.We passed by the impressive new $456 million Naval Hospital which opened in December 2013.  It was built to replace an older Navy Hospital on the base dating back to 1969. The new hospital employs over 2400 and primarily provides outpatient medical care including the delivery of babies, immunizations and broken bones. Those needing longer inpatient care or specialized surgeries (including combat wounds) are treated at the Naval Medical Center in Balboa Park. Another interesting thing we passed by was the El Camino Real Commemorative Bell, one of California’s over 500 historic El Camino Real bells.  The bell symbolizes the trail used by the Franciscan Padres on their journey to Northern California from Mexico in the 1800s.  El Camino Real, Spanish for The King’s Highway, was the trail used by the Padres that begins at the first mission in San Diego, and ends in Sonoma, at Mission San Francisco de Solano. The Padres were Catholic priests sent by the King of Spain to convert Native Americans of California to Catholicism, in order to become citizens of Spain.

Camp Pendleton’s pre-military history is very deep.  It goes back to Native American people who occupied this land over 10,000 years before Europeans arrived. The Spaniards came out and discovered this land and built missions and communities in San Diego and throughout California.  The area was first discovered in 1769 by Spanish Colonists led by Gaspar de Portola who christened the area “Santa Margarita.” In 1821 Mexico gained independence from Spain and the “Californios” became the new ruling class of California. Two brothers by the name Pio and Andres Pico became the owners of Rancho Santa Margarita. By 1863 the ranch was developed into a thriving cattle industry.

Santa Margarita Ranch House

Upon arrival at the Santa Margarita Ranch house, we were met by 3 docents who gave us a very personalized, in-depth tour of the ranch which included the historic chapel (the oldest structure on base), the Bunkhouse Museum, and the Ranch House itself. Our tour started in the charming and historic chapel.  We were told that the chapel building actually began as a winery in 1810 when the land belonged to Mission San Luis Rey. Today, this lovely chapel still hosts worship services and weddings. The ranch house, built in 1827, was originally the home of Pio Pico, last governor of Mexican California, however it would also serve as a private home to four other families before finally becoming home to 35 United States Marine Corps Commanding Generals.   One of the highlights we saw on the tour of the house were the photographs in the “Presidents Room” from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s historic visit as well as photographs from other presidential visits.  We also saw antiques donated by Anthony Quinn during the filming of “Guadalcanal Diary” in 1943. The Rancho Santa Margarita would eventually be bought in the early 1940s by the Marine Corps and the base was established in 1942 to train U.S. Marines for service in World War II. It was named after Marine General Joseph Henry Pendleton who had long advocated setting up a training base for the Marine Corps on the west coast.

Initially they were trying to figure out how to train Marines and Army here, but the army eventually said no. However, the Marine Corps thought it would be a perfect place to train troops for battle on both land and sea as it had all the swamps, mountains and beaches needed for amphibious training.  Today, Camp Pendleton remains the world’s largest U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Training Base. The size of Camp Pendleton is comparable to the size of the State of Rhode Island! (125,000 acres and 200 square miles) It is home to over 45,000 active marines and more than 60,000 civilian and military personnel are at work on base each day. Over 36,000 people reside within Pendleton’s gates.

Camp Pendleton maintains more than 17 miles of coastline, and its rugged terrain looks much as it did in the 1800s, when it was a large cattle ranch. Speaking of animals, the deer, rabbits, raccoons, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes rattlesnakes and tarantulas all share the hills with Marines.  There is also a herd of over 90 bison that inhabit the remote areas of the base, which were given to Camp Pendleton by the San Diego Zoo.  Wildlife is carefully managed and protected by the Base.

After leaving the Rancho Santa Margarita, we continued toward Camp Pendleton North and, along the way, we passed by the Mechanized Museum.  The building itself is an important piece of Base history, as it was the terminal building for the railroads that serviced the base shortly after its purchase in 1942. Many Marines arrived at Camp Pendleton at this terminal building to begin their training for World War II and the Korean War.  The building was converted into a museum in 2002 and contains working Marine Corps transport and battle vehicles including a WWI vintage ambulance to a Gulf War HUMVEE.

We exited via the San Luis Rey Gate in Camp Pendleton North and headed for our delicious included lunch at Applebee’s in San Marcos. Afterwards, we continued on to the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad.  Our group was divided in half and taken around the museum by two fantastic docents.  It was such a pleasure to listen to their enthusiastic, knowledgeable commentary!  The museum was opened in 2000 and its galleries include more than 450 vintage instruments and artifacts.  It is organized chronologically highlights various genres of music that became popular throughout history.  The museum is very interactive and allowed us to listen to samples of popular music, which made things fun. They also had a special exhibit on accordions that offered a hands-on opportunity.  What a great day we had without ever leaving San Diego County and this tour definitely left travelers interested in doing more in our “own backyard!”

Mark Jacobson
DayTripper Tour Manager

Tour: Camp Pendleton Ranch House Tour
Date: February 13, 2019


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