The Oregon Coast Lighthouses

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We spent five weeks on the Oregon coast, darting inland at times but mostly driving up and down the coast. Rugged, windblown, rocky, majestic and overwhelming at times, there is nothing like the ever changing coast of Oregon with its sounds of wind, surf, birds and the numerous sea creatures that abound in this part of the world.

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Nine lighthouses survive today along the coast of Oregon, built between 1870 and 1896 by the Army Corps of Engineers and maintained by the U.S. Coastguard. The remaining lighthouses remind us of the heritage of Oregon’s maritime history and remain today as iconic as the monoliths and craggy coast that Oregon is so well known for.

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Seven of the nine lighthouses are open to the public. The other two are not accessible, one because it is located on private Indian land and the other because it sits on a small islet a couple of miles out to sea. The ones that are open to the public have interpretive displays and often guided tours led by docents who volunteer their time and are great sources of knowledge about the lighthouses, the light keepers and the light keepers houses.

We got to the Cape Blanco Lighthouse on an alternately foggy and misty day, punctuated by brief moments of sun and a swirling wind. Located nine miles north of Port Orford, which is the westernmost town in the continental United States, it sits on a cliff top 256 feet above the ocean and is the oldest of the remaining lighthouses in Oregon, commissioned in 1870. We got some great shots of the lighthouse and the rocky coast through mist and sun.

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The Coquille River Lighthouse is located two miles north of Bandon in the Bullards Beach State Park. The Coquille River seems benevolent enough until it reaches the ocean at which time it churns furiously over a dangerous bar. The lighthouse was commissioned in 1896 to help guide mariners through this perilous part where river meets ocean, but improvements to the river over time led to the decommission of the lighthouse in 1939 and its restoration as an interpretive center in 1979. The day we were there no boats were passing over that bar.

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The Cape Arago Lighthouse is located 12 miles south of Coos Bay 100 feet above sea level on an islet owned by a Confederated Tribe of Indians, rendering it inaccessible to visitors. The newest of the Oregon lighthouses, first illuminated in 1934, it replaced a couple of other lighthouses that succumbed to erosion and weather in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

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The Umpqua River Lighthouse is located three miles south of Reedsport above the entrance to Winchester Bay. Ironically, it is the second lighthouse to guard Winchester Bay, the first collapsing into the river due to a very unstable foundation built on a layer of sand.

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The Heceta Head Lighthouse, my favorite, is located 12 miles north of Florence and sits 206 feet above the Pacific Ocean and just outside of the 549-acre Heceta Head State Scenic Viewpoint. It took two years to build, the transporting of materials a very difficult task due to the swirling tides and extreme weather that affects the Oregon Coast in the winter. First lit in 1894, its light power has been updated and is now the strongest beacon on the Oregon Coast, seen for 21 miles and “the visibility… limited only by the curvature of the earth”.   Only the Queen Anne style assistant light keepers house remains of the original dwellings and it has been restored as a bed and breakfast and as an interpretive center. A magical and romantic place to spend a weekend with a loved one.

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North of Newport are the two lighthouses of Yaquinah. Yaquinah Bay Lighthouse is the second oldest lighthouse in Oregon and was used for the first time in 1871.

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Unfortunately, the location where it was built was inadequate to really help as a navigational aid for sea-faring vessels coming from the north and it was closed in 1874 and replaced by the Yaquinah Head Lighthouse with its 93-foot tower, the tallest in Oregon. The Yaquinah Bay Lighthouse was re-opened in 1996 and today serves as a navigational aid for mariners entering and leaving the bay. All the lighthouses were eventually fueled by kerosene  and amplified by a French made Fresnel lens. The history and use of Fresnel lenses is a fascinating story and for those of you interested in delving further into that story should do so.

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The Cape Meares Lighthouse is located 10 miles west of Tillamook, cheese capital of the west. It first lit up the coast in 1890 and was decommissioned in 1963 when it, like all the other lighthouses, went to an automated system of navigational aids. It is the shortest of all the Oregon lighthouses at 38 feet and sits 217 feet above the ocean. There is a great viewing area at the lighthouse for birds and whales, and just above it at the parking lots are great views of Three Arch Rocks and the Oregon coastline. Within the park you can find a large sitka spruce with no central trunk and radiating limbs alluding to its name “the octopus tree”. Pretty cool.

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The last lighthouse along the Oregon Coast, or the first depending on which way you are headed, is the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse near the town of Seaside. Located 1¼ miles off the coast on an islet it has a 62-foot tower and sits 133 feet above the ocean. It served as a navigational aid to ships approaching the mouth of the Columbia River in Astoria and is now a privately-owned structure with no public access. We had to hike through a forest to an opening along the cliffs in order to get a decent view for some photographs.

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I came to crockpots late in life, preferring to be hands-on during the whole cooking process (really?) so when I got my first one it was like “where have you been my whole life”? We had to downsize our pot to fit in the motorhome but we’ve had a few good meals done in absentia while we were out exploring lighthouses. This one, slow cooker Italian sausage meatballs with chianti sauce is rich and complements a cool Oregon evening. Enjoy!

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