Exploring the Oregon Coast

Florence Travel Blog

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9.10.08 Cape Lookout State Park


Remember the “hulking, iron shipwreck on the beach” at Fort Stevens that I mentioned from 9/8/08?  I learned that it was the 1906 shipwreck of the Peter Iredale.  That is a long time to remain on a beach!


Remember the book I was reading, “Into the Wild” (and finally finished) about the Emory graduate who lives alone in Alaska, just north of Denali NP?  It was made into a movie in Astoria, OR, which we visited on 9/8 also.  That’s where the big column is located, the first U.S. settlement west of the Mississippi.


Before leaving our beachfront campsite at Lookout Cape State Park this morning, we exercised with a long beach walk and admired sand dollars along the waters edge.  We had another beautiful Oregon Fall day with clear blue sky, warm sun, and crisp wind. 


Did you know that nearly 400 miles of Oregon’s coast, the entire thing, was set aside for the people (with no commercial development) in a landmark bill years ago?  It makes for spectacular coastline with the black steep cliffs, blue water with whitecaps, and lush green trees.  Simply stunning!  Thus, the entire coast is lined with State Parks, renown for their very high quality.


One could spend a very long time exploring all the OR state parks, quaint seaside small towns, and the lighthouses along the rugged coast.


Today’s jaunt continued the famed Hwy 101 southward along the Oregon Coast, which is just stunning.


We visited another lighthouse today- the tallest one in Oregon ��"the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.  It is 93 feet high and 123 steps (or close- the kids counted as we made our way to the top).  It uses the famous Fresnel lens to both reflect and refract the light from just one bulb.  With 18 glass layers on the top, 16 in the middle, and 8 on the bottom, it looks somewhat like a sparkly space machine, but can direct light so that it can be seen for 20 miles out to sea!  That is quite a lens!  The Meares Lighthouse that we saw yesterday (probably the shortest lighthouse in OR with just 25 steps to the top) also sported a Fresnel Lens (“Fray NEL”- it’s from Paris).   There are 2 bulbs in there, but only one lights at a time and the other is a ready-to-go backup that will swing around into position when needed.


Did you know that lighthouses are each identified by their light signal?  The Yaquina Head Lighthouse signal is 2 seconds on, 2 seconds off, 2 seconds on, and 14 seconds off.  Very cool.


We also learned that the Lightkeepers were required to show all visitors around the lighthouse whenever they dropped by unannounced, 6 days a week, in addition to their regular duties of keeping the light burning, making repairs on the lighthouse, etc.  An inspector would show up 4 times a year, completely at random, sometimes at midnight for a 2 am inspection.  They would do a cleanliness inspection of the house that would include running their white gloves atop the door to check for dust, which really irked the wives.  The light was finally automated in 1923 (?) and the era of Lightkeepers came to an end.  The kids got their picture taken with the Rangers in Lightkeeper attire.


Did you ever think about how much trouble it was to build a lighthouse?  Think about how they’re located on rugged rocks, on the edge of high cliffs, above a raging sea!  How do you get supplies in and the lighthouse built with the high winds?  Then add in a lack of roads and require horses to pull wagons of supplies and you’ll see why it took several years to get all the 400,000 bricks there and the Yaquina lighthouse and quarters constructed.


The Yaquina Head Lighthouse is within our federal government’s BLM (Bureau of Land Management) area called the “Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area” that protects all within an expanse of area.  I haven’t seen the rather modern national designation of an “outstanding natural area” before. 


So once again our National Park Annual Pass, which we’ve about worn out since purchase in Big Bend, TX, got us into Yaquina which included:


  • the wonderful and expansive Yaquina exhibit area
  • a nice movie about the lighthouse’s history
  • a walk down a nice path to the lighthouse and up to the top of it
  • neat views of nearby Harbor Seals sunning themselves on the rocks and of many seabirds
  • access to the tide pools near low-tide in which we saw and touched an orange starfish and sea anemones.  Okay, Lia touched them (you’re allowed to touch, just not to pick them up) and we admired them.

We did stop at the Sea Lion Caves, but it turned out to be a for-profit deal where you take an elevator down to caves to see where Harbor Seals overwinter.  Since the report on the street was that just one seal was down there right now and we’d just seen about 50 of them on the rocks at Yaquina, we decided to pass on that activity as it was getting late.


Honeyman State Park is where we’re camped for the night with full hookups ($22).  It’s the 2nd largest OR state park (Ft. Stevens was the largest) - Charles and Lia enjoyed biking around and the playground while Jazy did some reading and I cleaned out my tourist info and made dinner.  It is a lovely park and the yurts for Oregon’s “Camping Lite” initiative are extremely appealing.  The kids got to peek in one and loved the setup with the bunk beds and futons. 


Here are some interesting things we’ve discovered about Oregon:


“Don’t turn your back on the ocean”:  Apparently there are waves called “sneakers” that can come in while the tide is receding and sweep you into the ocean.  So we’re supposed to keep an eye out for them and “know the tide schedule, which I cannot say I’ve studied much prior to today. 


Helmets are required for bike riders under 16 and parents are ticketed if the kid is not wearing one.  We know one kid who wears his unbuckled and claims he doesn’t get in trouble (although it does him no good in an accident and we’re not sure we believe that).


You’re not allowed to pump your own gas in Oregon (and apparently not in NJ or British Columbia either).  It has “been that way for 80 years,” I was told by the attendant today.  They also require a credit card or cash *in hand* before they will begin to pump.  The gas price does not seem to be higher because of the full service, as discussed by our Lazy Daze friends.


The State Parks here are huge (up to 500 sites), located everywhere along the coast and inland, top-notch, very busy, all Oregon Veterans are free (in Washington the resident Veterans are half price), and they have many Park Rangers keeping close tabs on who is here, registered, paid second vehicle fees, etc.  It is a very well-run machine of a park system!

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photo by: bluemarbletreader