Friday, September 22, 2017

Light house delights! Oregon coast offers eye-catching array of sentinels to the state's sea life

Oregon's lighthouses are a beloved part of coastal history, much visited and appreciated by locals and tourists alike.


The approach to Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport, offers a fine view
of the seacoast, where nesting seabirds may be observed. 

LIGHTHOUSES -- those sentinels on the shore, saviors to sailors and an appealing curiosity to tourists -- are beloved across the world and particularly on both U.S. coasts.
In the state of Oregon, lighthouses testify to a rugged life before modern technology.  They tell of strong families and courageous sailors, of risky journeys and fierce storms.
Nine classic structures -- from Tillamook in the north to Cape Blanco near Port Orford in the south -- take visitors back in time to learn what life was like for the keepers who lit the way and sailors who navigated the waters.
A young docent at Yaquina Bay Lighthouse dresses in
vintage garb to welcome visitors.  We enjoyed commentary 
and a tour of the keeper's office, then climbed with 
her to the top of the state's highest lighthouse.
MOST ARE OPEN to the public, offering a variety of ways to "get close-up."  Some have tours and visitors centers.  Others offer public rental space. Some are co-operatively managed by state, county, town and tribal agencies. Most are part of state or county Parks and Recreation Departments, which maintain them and the visitors centers.
Several contain original first-order Fresnel lenses. Others are known for their seabird nesting sites, wonderful nearby hiking and enchanting tide pools.
Each lighthouse has unique features. Heceta Head Lighthouse has admirably preserved its assistant lighthouse keeper's house, now a bed and breakfast, recently undergoing extensive restoration.
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse stands grandly on a basalt rock islet and was once used as a columbarium to store ashes of the deceased.
Cape Blanco is the oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, commissioned nearly a century-and-one-half ago in 1870.  Its history includes faithful service during the colorful gold mining and lumber industry days. It did service for more than a century, when automated equipment was installed by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1980.
Friends of the Lighthouse at  Yaquina Head Lighthouse help maintain the 93-foot tower,
highest on the Oregon coast. The lighthouse is near Newport, 162 feet above sea level. 
BECAUSE OF THE various methods and agencies maintaining these intriguing monuments to past life -- including private ownership -- there is no uniform schedule or access.  For hours and tours, seek individual web or phone contact.
Indian tribes, for instance, own Cape Arago Lighthouse, near North Bend and Coos Bay. There's no public access but a beautiful nearby bay offers a fine view.  We enjoyed the unique fog horn there.
Fresnel lens is the star in the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. The lens has a unique design allowing a larger aperture and shorter focal length, projecting light over a greater distance. This friend to sailors and boatmen assured precious cargo made its destination.
The Fresnel lens (pronounced "Fre-nel," with a silent "s") has a prominent place in any lighthouse it serves.
Named after its French

 The Fresnel lens, left,
gives ships far better
 light for navigation.

At right, a typical 
lens used before Fresnel.
inventor, most of these lenses retired more than 20 years ago.  In Oregon and California, they remain an attraction because of the superb craftsmanship and ability to concentrate light into a powerful beam.
 "Far out," as we said in the 1960s and '70s.
Our guide gave detailed descriptions of the lens, along with lively lighthouse history as we examined tools, records and lighthouse lore. Life as a keeper was tough -- through all kinds of weather -- and included surprise visits at any time of day or night from the inspector. 
KEEP IN MIND that the lighthouses of Oregon also offer excellent wildlife viewing, situated as they are on rocky outposts. During fall, winter and spring, visitors flock to the lighthouses for prime whale watching, too.

A lineman from Beartooth Electric cuts tree limbs from his perch in a
"basket" attached to his power company truck, at High Chaparral Friday.
NEXT UP: Lights -- wait -- no lights -- but plenty of action and cameras this weekend as the lights and power went out in "Wild Kingdom," AKA High Chaparral in the northern Rockies. Linemen from the local Beartooth Electric Company cut downed tree branches, then restrung and spliced power lines felled by snow-soaked limbs. We were snug inside, cooking scrambled eggs on the wood stove. We'll tell you how we cope  with power outages as we play our version of  "O, Pioneers," the wonderful Willa Cather book in which she introduces the land as a character. Remember to explore, learn, live and catch us Fridays for each new weekend's post.


  1. Thanks for sharing one of our favorite "sports"-- lighthouse trekking. We are proud of ours.

  2. We have some wonderful lighthouses in northern California, too. Believe you wrote a lively piece about our beautiful Point Arena Lighthouse, which also has guest cottages.

  3. Thanks for shedding light on these unique links to our seafaring past. Look forward to the "light out" post!

  4. Just found this delightful lighthouse story while perusing the web looking for things to do on our Oregon road trip. Perfect timing. Thank you.