HI Point Reyes is the site of a historic ranch, Rancho de Laguna (Laguna Ranch), named for its close proximity to Drake's Bay. First appearing on Marin County maps dating back to 1860, it was one of three pioneer dairies originally owned by the Steele brothers. In 1866, the ranch was moved about a mile inland (closer to Muddy Hollow), where the buildings still sit today.
Laguna Ranch thrived on the new grounds, and by 1893, it had sprawled to 1,500 acres of pasture, supporting 160 milking cows. The ranch changed hands several times during its 100 years, and was owned by pioneers and innovators alike, including James Burns (who leased Laguna Ranch from 1898 - 1906), the first dairyman in Marin to run his cream separator and butter churn with a gasoline engine.
The Great Hoax
Laguna Ranch was also the site of an elaborate, 40-year hoax, when a chauffeur named William Caldeira reportedly found Sir Francis Drake's "Plate of Brasse" on the premises in 1933. Historians long believed that the brass plaque was left by the English explorer during his brief landing on the California coast in 1579, but scientists proved the artifact a fraud in the 1970s.
The Military Years
During World War II, the U.S. military leased the ranch from the current owner, Leland Murphy. The Army's 30th Infantry Division moved in and built barracks, established new roads, and erected gun emplacements in the hills above Drake's Bay. Laguna Ranch's dairy days were put on hold until 1945, when the Army moved out and the cows came home.
Establishing HI Point Reyes
After the war, Murphy sold the Laguna Ranch to millionaire rancher and lumberman Robert D. Marshall, who continued to raise beef and dairy cows on the land until his death in 1962. In 1971, Marshall's son sold the ranch to the National Park Service, and the property became part of the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Park officials were on the verge of bulldozing the buildings at Laguna Ranch, when at the last minute a local rancher notified the nonprofit Golden Gate Council of American Youth Hostels (now HI USA Golden Gate Council). The Council's Board of Directors met with the rancher and with Park Service staff, and attended public hearings in support of establishing a hostel in Point Reyes National Seashore. Although the Park staff were dubious -- the Golden Gate Council at that time was completely volunteer-run, and the hostel was an ambitious project -- they agreed to let the Council take on the challenge.
Initially reported to be in excellent condition, the property turned out to require a lot of work. Council volunteers went up to Point Reyes every weekend for 18 months -- cleaning, painting, putting up bunk beds, renovating the kitchen, landscaping, and building an addition for the "house parents." A former horse barn was renovated to become a bunkhouse, converting the tack room to baths and showers, and the horse stalls to bunks.
The Laguna Ranch Hostel (now known as HI Point Reyes) opened its doors in 1972. Charging $1.50 – $2.00 per night and hosting some 900 guests during the first year, it was an immediate success, and became the first of six Golden Gate Council hostels on State and National Park lands. Today, HI Point Reyes welcomes 10,000 travelers from around the world every year.