05 Sep Lighthouses of The Oregon Coast. The Oregon/California Coastal Adventure continues
With our cooler packed with groceries & goodies from the downtown Portland Whole Foods Market and a couple of Pastrami sandwiches from Kenny and Zukes, Carissa and I were prepared for the next phase of our Oregon/California coastal adventure. Our plan is to visit five lighthouses along the Oregon coast and about two along the California coast over the coming week. Our accommodations will range from a tent on the beach to a lighthouse cottage in Mendocino to a Yurt in the woods and a hostel in the remote Point Reyes National seashore before winding up our trip in San Francisco. But before I get ahead of myself we have some lighthouses to visit.
Topping out at 93′, Yaquina Head lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse on the Oregon coast and is our first stop. Arriving just in time for the last tour of the day we found our guides dressed in period clothes. They did an excellent job of telling what life was like for the lighthouse keepers in that day. Climbing the 110 of 114 steps, the presence of people who watched the light fills the tower with stories of what keeper life was like at Yaquina Head. You get a sense of what it was like to carry supplies up the spiral staircase as you breathe a little deeper.
The fixed white light was illuminated on the night of August 20, 1873. It was equipped then as it is today with a first order Fresnel lens. It was manufactured in Paris in 1868 by Barbier & Fenestre, and shipped from France to Panama, transported across the isthmus, then shipped again to Oregon. The stories of how these lighthouses were built are as interesting as the stories of lives that were saved by their existence.
After taking a few turns off highway 101 in Newport we found historic Nye Beach. With its own little stretch of sand and a colorful collection of shops and eateries we enjoyed strolling the sidewalks. We stepped into Panini’s where we enjoyed a latte and picked up some great sourdough bread and granola, both of which are made onsite.
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
A piece of Oregon history sits atop a bluff at the mouth of the Yaquina River. It is the Historic Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, built in 1871 and decommissioned in 1874. It was officially restored as a privately maintained aid to navigation on December 7, 1996. It is believed to be the oldest structure in Newport. It is also the only existing Oregon lighthouse with the living quarters attached, and the only historic wooden Oregon lighthouse still standing. The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Too late for a tour but just in time for dinner, Carissa and I had our picnic in the park surrounding Yaquina Bay and enjoyed the view of Yaquina Bay Bridge while we ate.
Just south of Newport we pitched our tent at a campsite at Beachside State Park. Starfish, crabs and shells were in abundance during low tide and were only steps away using a little path that ran by our campsite to the beach.
Today our trip south on The Oregon Coast Highway will take us by three more lighthouses that we are anxious to explore. Known also as US 101, the Oregon Coast Highway is a winding road, two undivided lanes for the most part that meander through towns both small and large connecting the points of land that jut out into the ocean with an interesting array of bridges. Picturesque concrete and steel bridges are a state hallmark, and they stretch from the Astoria–Megler Bridge over the Columbia River to the California border. Tucked in between are the state’s crown jewels, the soaring and repeating arch bridges were built in the 1920s and ‘30s by master bridge builder Conde B. McCullough. The bridges are postcard images, ready for a sunset. Storm, fog, and sunbeam only magnify there beauty.
To save time we made our meals from the cooler. Our favorite was the cheddar cheese sandwiches made with Daves Killer Bread purchased at the Portland farmers market along with apple cider. We stopped at Cape Perpetua to explore the abundance of tide pools found in the lava rock as we made our way towards Haceta Head Lighthouse.
The beauty of this lighthouse was temporarily hidden from view as restoration work was underway. We still enjoyed strolling the grounds and touring the lighthouse keepers home that is now a bed and breakfast and hearing about the history from the tour guides who are still on duty. The view of Haceta Head and its surroundings is stunning as evidenced by the picture below taken from a distance.
Heceta Head Light and Keepers Quarters was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 for its architectural and engineering significance. The site originally included farm buildings and the single-family head lighthouse keeper’s house, which was demolished in 1940, and was very similar in size and design to the remaining house. Due to electrification the head lighthouse keeper was no longer needed, and the house was bought for $10 and dismantled for its lumber which was used to build Alpha Bit bookstore-cafe in Mapleton, Oregon, which still stands today. The remaining keepers’ house was a duplex that housed the first and second assistant lighthouse keepers and their families. After the light was automated in 1963, the last keepers moved away and the remaining house was leased to Lane Community College in 1970 by the U.S. Forest Service, which had taken over management of the building. The porch of the Queen Anne-style house underwent restoration in 1981. The keepers quarters are purported to be haunted by the ghost of an elderly woman, nicknamed Rue. Several incidents have been reported, including a visible apparition, moved objects, and occasional housekeeping. Most reported sightings of Rue occur in the attic, with many from the outside looking up into the attic.
Only about 40 miles south of Heceta Head Lighthouse we found Umpqua River Lighthouse which dates back to 1894. One of the most impressive features of this lighthouse is the gorgeous and unusual revolving, octagonal, red-and-white First Order lens. We very much enjoyed our tour of this lighthouse and the stories told by the excellent guide.
While each of these lighthouses is beautiful and unique, I found Cape Blanco to be my favorite. Located on the westernmost tip of land on the Oregon coast, sitting high on a bluff overlooking the ocean, its location is the most dramatic of them all. Adding to the effect was the howling cold wind that was present as we arrived late in the evening. Carissa and took the long walk required to stand by the base of the lighthouse. It was too late for a tour but I look forward to taking one on a return trip. After inspecting the lighthouse from the outside and taking a few pictures we made our way down to Cape Blanco beach for a sunset picnic even though the wind made finding a suitable spot a challenge. Our time here was memorable and we look forward to a return visit some day.
Next I am excited to share about Gold Bluffs Beach as we cross over the state line into California.
For more photo’s of our Oregon/California Coastal Adventure click here.