Weekend Coastal Crawl, Part 1

It’s Friday afternoon on the last weekday of the month, and I am looking forward to a weekend “coastal crawl” of more gorgeous beaches and more lighthouses to explore!   I can’t leave until I finish my end of month reporting.  I am burning up the keyboard, feeling like a drooling puppy who has been caged all week, and is about to be let off leash to run for 48 hours!  Insert the word “LIGHTHOUSE!”  for “SQUIRRELL!!”

Again, I have no reservations for the weekend, but I have come to love and appreciate the abundance of State Parks up and down this coastline that all seem to always have a “Vacancy” sign conveniently hanging from their entrance signs along Highway 101.  I suspect I am becoming hopelessly spoiled by traveling the coastal road in the early season, before school lets out.

Site #9 of Umpqua River State Park, $28 for electric and water.

Site #9 of Umpqua River State Park, $28 for electric and water.

Lake Marie, Umpqua River State Park.  Wish I had time for a paddle!

Lake Marie, Umpqua River State Park. Wish I had time for a paddle!

I decide on the Umpqua River State Park, since it is within walking distance of the Umpqua River Lighthouse.   Whether planned or coincidental, I am greeted at the gate by the friendliest, hippest camp host I have ever met, Allan.  We have a nice chat.  He tells me there are two areas of the State Park – the parallel sites along the entry road, and a loop down by the lake.  He tells me, “I recommend you stay up top with the big boys because it gets really noisy down by the lake where the kids are.”   I later go for a walk around the lake, and I am grateful for his advice.  When I get back, Allan is sitting outside watching his outdoor TV, so I stop by to thank him, as the loop below is teaming with kids, while I am surrounded by nothing but the chirping birds!

The sun is dropping fast, so I take off for the quarter mile hike toward the Umpqua River Lighthouse.  I know it is closed, but I want to do some reconnaissance for the tour tomorrow morning, as well as see the prospects for a good sunset.DSC_0737 The lighthouse is difficult to photograph, because unlike the others, it is surrounded by US Coast Guard barracks.  This really gives me a great appreciation for the efforts of organizations like the Parks service, the historical preservation society and Oregon conservation groups to keep the coastline publicly owned and protected, otherwise I suspect there would be a Starbucks in the base of a high rise hotel adjacent to every lighthouse up and down the coast.

The sunset is a bust due to heavy marine layer, but there is one aspect of this lighthouse that hooks me in as the sun goes down. It has red glass over the Fresnel lens!   Even though the sun is long gone and I am now freezing, I can’t take my eyes off the turning, twinkling red and white alternating beams of light. It is mesmerizing.   I can’t wait for morning when I can return for the tour!  I have to see what is happening up inside that big, beautiful beehive!
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I wake up the next morning in the deep green surroundings of Umpqua River State Park, a giant hemlock tree drooping right outside my bedroom window, and tall pine trees so thick that I can’t see daylight through them.   It’s chilly enough to sleep with the windows open, as long as I am under the down comforter.   I can hear the ocean in the distance, and there is a lighthouse just a 10 minute walk away.  I lie there trying to imagine a better life.  I send my family an email titled “Bliss….”

The Umpqua River Museum

The Umpqua River Museum

Umpqua Light has a wonderful museum, the back room which is dedicated to the lighthouse.  I start my visit there, where I also pay my $5 for the lighthouse tour (correct change only!)  There is an entire display on the Fresnel lens for those of us who just can’t get enough.  A display case contains pieces from the Cape Blanco Light that were vandalized in 1992 and replaced.DSC_0776 DSC_0784 The information board describes the lens as I couldn’t say better, “Looking beyond the damaged areas, it is plain to see the absolute beauty of the glass.    Fresnel lenses are a marvel, really, a complex array of dazzling glass prisms and bull’s-eye lenses mounted in a gleaming brass framework….made in France in 1868.”

Finally, the bell sounds in the museum indicating it is time for the tour.  This will be an “expanded” tour, as our very through tour guide, Volunteer David, takes us over to the overlook and tells of the history of the Umpqua River.

Note two jetties make a triangle, where oysters are being cultivated.

Note two jetties make a triangle, where oysters are being cultivated.

Note the “triangle” off shore, with the black dots in the center.  That is a second jetty that was built for the purpose of redirecting the silt collecting in the mouth of the river.   The black dots are floats with hanging oyster beds attached!   They are called “Triangle Oysters,” because they are grown in the triangle.  David tells us with a mix of 80% salt water and 20% fresh water, these local oysters are sweeter than average, and recommends a restaurant at the nearby Winchester Bay Marina where tastings are offered.


Spiral staircase “floats.” It is supported at intervals by the lighthouse structure, but not attached.

Finally, we are to the part of the tour I have been waiting for, at the top of the floating spiral staircase.  One by one, the other seven people on my tour queue up to climb the final four rungs of the ladder to stick their head and shoulders up into the rotating lens.  I wait until last, because I want as much time in there as he will allow me, without feeling like someone is waiting their turn.
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I am almost embarrassed by the fact that I am quite emotional, even tearing up as I climb the ladder into the “beehive” of the massive Fresnel lens and watch the crimson prisms mounted in the gleaming brass frame rotate around like a carousel of glimmering, refracting light.  The largest First Order lens has 616 hand-cut prisms, 24 bulls eyes.  Real gold was used to make the red glass.  The lens is over nine feet tall and six feet wide, and weighs two tons.  It rotates on a carriage wheel.DSC_0791 IMG_0583

In 1983, the carriage wheel failed, so an automated strobe was put up as a navigational aid.  But the townspeople protested, so the carriage wheel was repaired, and the First Order lens was put back into service in 1985.

Standing there, I try to solidify the memory in my mind.  I never want to forget what it feels like to stand on the ladder with the upper half of my body inside an optical orgy of light…hundreds of tiny rainbows dancing all around me, giving the illusion that I am taking a ride in a human-sized kaleidoscope…

To be continued…


11 thoughts on “Weekend Coastal Crawl, Part 1

  1. One can’t help but notice, on the road atlas, that the coast of Oregon is cluttered with green pine icons for state parks. When the group comes to Bend, I may have to sprint west for the coast.

    RUN FREE, caged puppy, RUN FREE!!!

  2. Ok, you really MUST become “that little old lighthouse keeper lady” in your retirement! Just rotate from place to place so you don’t get too bored with caring for just one of them 🙂

  3. I dont blame you for moving to a quiter spot. Kids are great but and they really enjoy being outdoors etc but the by product of them having fun is noise.
    The design of those lenses are amazing, so much light generated from such a small source.

    Good for the local people in getting the original restored.

  4. Yes I think putting the paddle to it would be well deserved ….. maybe my time will come. Some really beautiful scenery there I have to say. I have to admit you certainly have me considering blowing the cobwebs off my ’84 Itasca and building a mount for the kayak. Exxon/Mobil here I come!!!!

    You are so lucky to be seeing such beautiful places and touring those interesting lighthouses. Fresnel’s technique has been incorporated in many devices over the years. One we are familiar with is the tail light lens on our cars.

  5. Hi,I don’t know if any of my past comments where accepted, but I very much enjoy seeing you and others from the other side of our country exploring my side of this world. Having visited all these places many times from Seattle. I’m glad it puts a smile on your face! There is so much to enjoy here in the Western States.
    I just got back from Idaho, Montana; and Wyoming hot springs trip.
    Keep having fun..

    • Hi, David — thanks for the comment! I only saw one other comment about Cape Perpetua campground. Thanks for that info! But that is the only other comment that has come through. I have the blog set to require the first comment to be approved, but once you are approved, all comments from then on are published automatically. So no more needing approval unless you change email addresses. Do you have a blog? I would love to read about Idaho and Montana. I have spent time in Wyoming, but not the other two…so I look forward to exploring those after Washington…if I can ever bear to leave Oregon, that is. 😉

  6. Hi Suzanne, I don’t have a blog, If I did and had the time it would be one like yours.
    Your photos are excellent and the descriptions also. I have traveled all the roads in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, and California. I’m talking back roads, I hate freeways unless no other choice.
    I’ll just keep watching..lurking? And give you any hints that you may wish to follow.
    I can see the smiles on your face, keep enjoying.

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