The Ghost of Devil's Slide

An overdue 'thank you' to a forgotten and vandalized relic from America's past
November 26, 2015Words by Jon GlatfelterPhotos by Jon Glatfelter

If you ever want to see a ghost, go west from San Francisco until you reach the Pacific Coast Highway. Then turn south. You'll see it just after Pacifica and just before Half Moon Bay. I didn't the first dozen or so times. I was too focused on the road that winds through the mountain of redwoods. And the bright light at the end of a long, dark tunnel — a light that eventually becomes the sky above the Pacific Ocean. But when you reach the light, look up and you'll see the ghost. It's there, atop an immense cliff called "Devil's Slide," and it's haunted the coast for seventy years, ever since August 15th, 1945 — Victory Over Japan Day — when its watch came to an end.

The observation post was one of five such structures built in the Bay Area by the US Army after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Formally called a Base End Station, the metal and cement bunker allowed for San Francisco's harbor defense to watch for enemy ships and aircraft on the horizon. But that was seventy years ago. 

Today, the bunker appears to be teetering upon the edge of disaster, as if at any moment it might lose the last of its strength and slide off the continent that it once safeguarded. Because the foundation of rock beneath it has near-completely eroded; a botched 1970s construction job coupled with a half-century of wind and earthquakes have seen to that. If it is doomed to fall away though, it won't die. Because it's a ghost. The bunker was already killed. You can see the killers' work smeared and scarred over the once-proud, purposeful lines and shapes of the structure.


They could have drawn anywhere. There’s no shortage of Photoshop licenses or canvas at the craftstore, but they chose that bunker. Even if the graffiti was more than just four letter words — even if it rivaled Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling — there's still a blindness and a violence in defacing the bunker. And, maybe worse, in thinking that the graffiti isn't a big deal. It is. It's the only badge awarded so far to a building that safeguarded our grandparents and parents — and by extension ourselves. It's proof that on some level, we're seperated from the past's achievements — and our present prosperity — by much more than just time and space. We're seperated by intellectual and emotional lightyears.

"It is not only species of animal that die out, but whole species of feeling. And if you are wise you will never pity the past for what it did not know, but pity yourself for what it did."
— John Fowles, The Magus

There's a line from a book that I think says it best, spoken by an old man to a young boy: "It is not only species of animal that die out, but whole species of feeling. And if you are wise you will never pity the past for what it did not know, but pity yourself for what it did." The old man's point here, I think, isn't to chastize the young boy for not respecting "the good old days." The point is to to respect the good. And one way to respect the good, is to give thanks for it — and its defenders. 

So, when we look down our dinner tables today — a day intended for giving thanks — when we see all the faces of loved ones and all the mountains of food, we should feel thankful for what makes such good moments — good days — good lives — possible: ghosts like the one on Devil's Slide. 

If you ever want to say thanks, go west from San Francisco. Then turn south. Can you see it? [H]

Eight miles south from the bunker on Devil's Slide, Half Moon Bay's North Ridge Trail. 


Jon Glatfelter is an Editor at Huckberry. He can't wait for his Thanksgiving Day hike in Half Moon Bay with a big book under arm — or the enormous turkey feast after.
You can read along with him here.


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