The Frolic, built in 1845 by the Gardener brothers of Baltimore, Maryland, was a sailing Clipper Brig used for trans Pacific voyages between Asia and San Francisco. The vessel wrecked en route in 1850 near Mendicino, California. Indiana University helped to create the 1850 Frolic Shipwreck Park, a valuable addition to the parks and preserves of the State of California. The park serves as the final resting place of a shipwreck from the Gold-Rush Era and is an excellent historical resource of mid-19th century maritime trade and commerce between the United States and China, noted by its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
Additionally, Indiana University conserved a large number of artifacts from the Frolic, which have been returned to the state of California.
This area is typical of the protected outer coast of Mendocino County i.e. semi-sheltered from the full force of the surf by headlands and close-lying offshore rocks. The climate is also typical for coastal Northern California with foggy summer months with mean annual terrestrial temperatures of about 60° F., and rainy yet relatively mild winters, with average temperatures of 43 ° F and rainfall averaging about 25 inches a year (Western Regional Climate Center, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, California Energy Commission 2006). The mean annual temperature at Fort Bragg located just to the north of the lease area is 53 °F (Layton 1990). The cold California current that flows north to south along the coast keeps water temperatures along the Mendocino coast on average about 52° F. On shore directly north and west of the lease area has been developed with small subdivisions, while to the south lies undeveloped privately owned coastal bluffs and the Point Cabrillo State Reserve, home of the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse and its associated outbuildings.
The on shore and off shore environment harbors an abundance of terrestrial and marine life. The cold coastal waters are inhabited by wide array of marine life including numerous shellfish (mussels, abalone, etc.), fish (rockfish, sculpins, sea basses, etc.), mammals (otters, harbor seals,) and birds (cormorants, brown pelicans, Black Oystercatcher, Mew and California gulls). The coastal bluffs to the south of the lease area are covered with north coastal prairie (annual and perennial grasses) a lush environment where a variety of animals can be found including deer, coyotes, fox, rabbits, squirrels, and several species of birds (California Quail, American Kestrels, jays, sparrows, and wrens). The setting of the wreck site is overall one of natural beauty, with the only real reminders of the modern world the homes built on the north side of the cove. These modern structures unfortunately are directly within the line of sight of the wreck diminishing somewhat the unspoiled historic setting of the site.
The wreck site itself is situated on a rocky substrate made up of boulders and bedrock dissected by a series of deep crevices and surge channels which harbors a wide variety of marine life, to a depth of 60 feet. Algal growth at the wreck is dominated by giant kelp (Macrocystic pyrifera) and bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana). Together they form a canopy which blocks out much of the sunlight during the year allowing for rich colonies of sponges, hydroids, bryozoans, and tunicates, and numerous kinds of fish (Parks and Recreation 1990).