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Sunrise and seagulls from Stonefield Beach

Sunrise and seagulls from Stonefield Beach

{Our trip begins with Day one.}

I had told Arno the night before that I wanted to be on the beach Christmas morning for sunrise photos. It helps to tell someone else when there’s a good chance I’ll blow off my own plans.

“Sunrise is at 7:52,” he announced as soon as I started moving. “We’ve got about 40 minutes. But first, I want you to open this.”

Arno handed me a Christmas gift and I sat perched on the high bed feeling excited about the gift and disappointed in myself. I had searched all over and found him just exactly what he wanted, wrapped it a week before, and left it at home. Darn it! (He has it now though: a GPS for his many many hikes into the mountains.) I opened a new lens! It takes my two old lenses (18-55mm and 70-300mm) and makes them one, 18-270mm. So convenient.

His organization was the opposite of mine: he brought multiple gifts, stocking stuffers (I forgot my stocking, too), and even a little decorated tree, which you saw in the previous post. I opened all my gifts and felt very spoiled. Glancing over the top of my pile of booty through the window, I could see the grey sky growing lighter over the ocean.

Coloured sky lights up the sand and water

Coloured sky lights up the sand and water

Seagulls stand in water from Tenmile Creek

Seagulls stand in water from Tenmile Creek

I couldn’t wait to try out my lens! We jumped out of bed and made coffee, washed our faces, pulled on coats and gloves and I added my new alpaca Christmas scarf.

The temperature was above freezing, but it was cold out there at the beach. Seagulls were in a group, standing in the mouth of Tenmile Creek as it spread out at the beach and then emptied into the ocean. We joked that it was probably warmer in the freshwater stream than in the salty ocean.

Our bellies reminded us that it was time to eat something amazing. We headed back up the hill to see what Sherwood and Stephanie had cooked up for us at the B&B.

After breakfast, our big plan for the day was to Take It Easy. I had checked the tide table and knew that low tide would be around noon, so after we stuffed ourselves on baked grapefruit and cheese croissants, we headed back to the beach to check out the tide pools. We played out there for a couple of hours. The sun prevailed, there was no wind, and for a little while I felt warm. Other people came out too. It felt silly and fun to call “Merry Christmas!” to folks on the beach in the sunshine.

Sea-green anemones

Sea-green anemones

After the beach, we wandered south again on Highway 101. The first thing that caught our attention was the Heceta Head Lighthouse run by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. We left the highway and drove out to it, to see if it was any prettier than the Umpqua Lighthouse from the day before. Oh my, yes it is.

Haceta Head lighthouse

Heceta Head lighthouse

There is a half-mile trail from the parking lot out to the lighthouse, but first we went out onto the beach to get photos of it from a distance.

A pretty romantic way to spend Christmas Day

A pretty romantic way to spend Christmas Day

Lighthouse on the bluff; Light Keeper's House to the right. The weather was perfect!

Lighthouse on the bluff; Light Keeper’s House to the right. The weather was perfect!

We were both grateful for the long trail to the light house. We needed the exercise to burn off some of the holiday food. Above the lighthouse are more trails that head up and along the ridge, which we also walked, just to keep moving. It paid off with new views.

Looking out to sea

A view of the beautiful first-order Fresnel lens

Heceta Head lighthouse is all by itself at the head, and so picturesque.

The 56-foot tall picturesque Heceta Head lighthouse

inside the tower

inside the tower

base of the light

base of the light

inside the lens

inside the lens

Back down at the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, people were whale-watching. It’s a great spot for awesome views of the ocean. Nearby, we admired the Queen Anne style assistant light keeper’s house (the light keeper’s house was torn down for the lumber) is now used as a Bed & Breakfast.

View from the tower. That misty bluff you can see is the location of Sea Lion Caves.

View from the tower. That misty bluff you can see is the location of Sea Lion Caves.

At first we assumed the place would be closed because of the holiday, but it soon became apparent that the OPRD volunteer there was taking people on tours. It was my very first time inside a lighthouse. This one is newly restored and having a tour is a good way to have things explained that I wouldn’t have known to ask. For example, I learned that all the lighthouses along the coast have a signature, so mariners can identify them. Heceta head flashes every 10 seconds, the one at Yaquina every 20 seconds, and the Umpqua lighthouse has a red glass pane, so every third flash is red.

Next we continued south to Sea Lion Caves, and that was closed, as expected. However, we peered over the edge of the cliff and spotted the main attraction anyway. Sea Lions were lounging all over the rocks below us.

Sea lions crowd the rocks below Highway 101

Sea lions crowd the rocks below Highway 101

Sea lion stretches to soak up the last few rays of the sun.

Sea lion stretches to soak up the last few rays of the sun.

After that it was time to dress in Christmas clothes and head to our dinner in Yachats. (We had to ask our hosts how to pronounce it. We never would have guessed it’s Ya-Hots, emphasis on the second syllable.) Our holiday dinner was lovely. I even found a little phone reception and called my 93-year-old Grandma to wish her a Merry Christmas before I went to the table.

View of the lighthouse from Sea Lion Caves

View of the lighthouse from Sea Lion Caves

Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge, in North Bend, Oregon

Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge, in North Bend, Oregon

This is day two of our coast vacation. Day one is here.

We are staying at SeaQuest Inn Bed & Breakfast, and it is a story in itself…so you’ll have to wait and I’ll talk about that wonderful place and its spectacular hosts in my next post. I will say that our Christmas Eve gourmet breakfast was worth raving about. Stephanie and Sherwood prepared a two-course breakfast that began with a fruit and nut granola, orange juice and coffee. The main course was egg and cheese baked onto an English muffin (I do not recall the proper names for the dishes – apologies to the chefs.), with a potato pancake and caramelized bacon. It was totally delicious and I ate every last bite.

Unfortunately, our first plan of action for the day was to meet for lunch, and I was stuffed! My Great Aunt and Uncle live in North Bend, Oregon which is south of the B&B. We had been hurrying up the highway the night before, and didn’t stop. Christmas Eve was a good time to head south again and see all the things we missed in the rain and in the dark.

bridge

entrance of Siuslaw River Draw Bridge, designed by Conde McCollough

Climbing. Again.

Climbing. Again.

The weather cleared up and warmed up. We stopped for photos of bridges. Arno climbed one. I can’t take that man anywhere…

It was a perfect day for visiting, too. The best part of the visit was hearing some old family stories that I didn’t know about, and seeing photos of my Great Grandfather William Wells Haley (and realizing that Great Uncle Dwight looks just like him) and photos of my Great Grandmother Mabel Redman looking very Indian. I trace my Cherokee heritage through William.

We were treated to lunch at a favourite place of Great Aunt & Uncle’s, and the staff all came out from the back and said hello. That was pretty special. We managed the meal as gracefully as possible, and turned around once more to head north while there was still daylight.

Umpqua River Lighthouse

Umpqua River Lighthouse

Our first stop was the Umpqua River Lighthouse, which is a lovely old lighthouse but an active Coast Guard Station. So, as scenic as it is, it’s behind a chain-link fence and there are ugly military buildings packed right up next to it and that made it difficult to get a nice photo. A map of the coast showed how all the lighthouses are still in use and how their ranges overlap so that mariners can always have an eye on a lighthouse in the night. The Umpqua lighthouse is small, and not set very high compared to others, so its range is not as far as others.

An informational sign told us about whale-watching. Arno had his binoculars up and had already been gazing out to sea, when I began reading the instructions for spotting a whale. About the time I finished reading out loud, Arno said, “Oh, hey! I saw one!” He saw the puff of spray blown above the water as the whale came up for air, and he also saw the dark shadow of the whale’s body. It turns out that it is peak whale-watching time. I tried a few times to see something, but never did.

Memories were recounted along the highway. We were long overdue for a visit to this part of the country. Arno’s main memory was of a bicycle trip he made from Portland to Florence when he was 17 years old. Mine was dune-buggying with my dad when I was very young…perhaps 8 or 9. I remember reading the Wizard of Oz and Nancy Drew to my Pa and my brother around the campfire at night.

We continued along the road past the lighthouse, and came to a large parking area for a huge section of sand dunes. No one was there, which was nice. The sand dunes were remarkable, and beautiful. They rise as high as 500 feet above the sea and stretch for 40 miles along the Oregon coast. It’s a famous recreation area for off-highway vehicles (OHVs), and practically every square inch of dunes in front of us were beat down with vehicle tracks. But at least no one was there on Christmas Eve, so it was quiet. We hiked over a couple of sand peaks, wanting to know what was on the other side. The answer: more sand.

Unlike other images of dunes I’ve seen, this one is interspersed with clumps of pine and fir trees. The deep green oases of evergreens are an unexpected sight when everything else is suggesting Saudi Arabia.

Sand dunes and tree islands near the mouth of the Umpqua River

Sand dunes and tree islands near the mouth of the Umpqua River

A high dune beside the sea

A high dune beside the sea holds unexpected tree shadows

Sun sets behind a tree island

Sun sets behind a tree island

Too soon, the early winter sun dropped from the sky and things got chilly. We left the dunes and returned to the car and found our way back to Highway 101. It was nearly dark on the highway, which at this section is too far away from the beach to see the sea.

Arno wanted to find a beach from which to watch the sunset. I skimmed the map but didn’t see any obvious place to pull over. I told him there was nothing, and we should just head north. He began to get a little insistent. In my mind, I chalked it up to his sappy tendencies. Arno is such a romantic. I’m more practical: it’s late, it’s dark, let’s roll. He wouldn’t let up and I could tell it was important to him, so I took a good look at the map, and found a spot we could pull off. It was a small road from the highway that led out to Siltcoos Beach, which we had never heard of.

We parked behind a bluff, where the sky still looked dark. Arno hurried me up the sand dune so we could see the sea on the other side.

And I was astonished! “Oh! Oh! Oh my gosh look at the colours!” It was magical. It was a Christmas gift. I don’t know how close I came to not seeing this amazing sight out of pure unromantic stubbornness, but thank goodness it didn’t happen. I simply could not limit myself to one or two sunset photos, so you’ll have to endure a whole string of them.

This is what we saw when we hiked up the dune from the parking lot.

This is what we saw when we hiked up the dune from the parking lot.

through the grass

through the grass

Romantic enough for a Hallmark card

Romantic enough for a Hallmark card

Waves crash into the air in front of the setting sun

Waves crash into the air in front of the setting sun

A seagull contemplates the likelihood that I am holding something good to eat....

A seagull contemplates the likelihood that I am holding something good to eat….

....and when it turns out that I am only holding a camera, she leaves us.

….and when it turns out that I am only holding a camera, she leaves us.

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