Who owns the night? In many California parks and public venues clearly not you or me. Anyone who has spent much time photographing at night has certainly experienced being kicked out of state parks and other supposedly public spaces after sunset.
Case in point: the other day on the spur of the moment I was shooting before sunset from an overlook above Purisima Beach just south of Half Moon Bay (see photo). It was clear and beautiful, but cold and windy in the late afternoon. I was the only person there.
My appreciation for the wild landscape and the accomplishment in preserving it for prosperity was diminished when a docent arrived to tell me I had to leave at sunset. Personally, I had no problem with the docent, who was affable, and who informed me he was paid a small stipend. But it is surprising that money can be found for this in a day and age in which parks are closing for lack of funds.
I also don’t get the thinking behind ejecting people who genuinely want to use the land in benign ways—like night photographers.
I started this story by asking, “who owns the night?” A better question might have been, “For whose benefit are lands like the Purisima Trail being preserved?” I think this preservation serves the purposes of neighboring land owners and farmers (nothing wrong with them, by the way) rather than those like me who want to “take only photos and leave only footprints.”
As an action item, I would urge public land trusts and others charged with the administration of parkland to also consider the interests of those who like to be out in the night when establishing policies. This is the stance of the US National Parks, which do not restrict access at night. The night should belong to all of us—and if you take away the freedom to be out in the wilderness landscape at night we all lose a great deal.