Walter and Sara Let the good times roll
On Monday May 18th we had a mostly sunny day (yippee). We headed into Florence to the library to pick up our email and catch up on our internet surfing since it had been a bad week for internet signal even in the Day Use area at Carl G Washburne State Park. Then we decided to have our picnic lunch out along the South Jetty—a bit of National Forest area south of town. The South Jetty forms the southern boundary of the Siuslaw River. There’s a port in Florence itself along the Siuslaw and Highway 126 follows it part of the way as you head east towards Eugene.

South Jetty Florence OR

This lovely yellow lupine was in bloom in the sand along the shore. It is a Tree Lupine (Lupinus arboreus) which is a California native that was introduced in Oregon and Washington to control erosion on sand dunes and steep banks.

Tree Lupine (Lupinus arboreus)

I’d just started seeing it in bloom here and there in the last few days.

Tree Lupine (Lupinus arboreus)

While I was out taking photos of the lupine I noticed this Pigeon Guillemot in the water.

Pigeon Guillemot

While we were eating lunch we kept seeing little black heads popping up in the water (with occasional big splashes of water) out across the small bay from us. With our binoculars we thought they looked like seals. We drove back along the little bay and stopped to see if we could get a better view. This is sand dune country.

South Jetty inlet Florence OR

With my zoom lens I caught a few of the seals at work splashing and popping their head up above the water.

Seals South Jetty Florence OR

We’re pretty sure that these are harbor seals rather than sea lions but as always we could be wrong. There were five of them that we counted playing in the shallow water.

Seals South Jetty Florence OR

And in this shot you can tell that the splash comes from their tails.

Seal splashing Florence OR

We did our grocery shopping and other errands and then motored home for a few hours. The we drove back down the hill to the Driftwood Inn on the north end of Florence to meet Walter’s old friend, Bill Shader and his wife Marti for dinner. They’d surprised us along the trail at Heceta Head and we needed some more time together to get caught up on all the news. We had a great visit and the two of them told a few tall tales from their hunting adventures when they were young and foolish. The Driftwood Inn has the only ocean side restaurant in Florence—everything else on the water is on the Siuslaw River because of the sand dunes. The view was lovely and the food was good.

On our way home we stopped at the lighthouse viewpoint to watch the last of the sunset.    

Sunset Heceta Head Lighthouse Scenic Viewpoint

I had to get down on my hands and knees to prop my camera up on the ledge because the wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t hold m camera still. But in the end I managed to get a close up of the lighthouse at work.

Heceta Head Lighthouse evening

On Tuesday May 19th, we awoke at a cloudy day—ah well we’d enjoyed the sunshine while it lasted. We headed south to visit the Umpqua River Lighthouse just south of Reedsport (about 40 miles south of Heceta Head). the sun came out as we headed into Florence and it played peekaboo most of the afternoon.

The Umpqua River Lighthouse was built from the same plans as the Heceta Head Lighthouse and they were both build in the same time period (1892-1894). The Umpqua Light isn’t in as picturesque a location as Heceta Head though. It’s on a bluff that used to overlook the ocean and the entrance of the Umpqua River. But it now it overlooks sand dunes that have built up at it’s base. To make matters less picturesque the Coast Guard has built married housing around it for their people who are stationed at Winchester Bay just down the hill.  

Umpqua River Lighthouse

You can drive right up to it so they get a lot of folks who just drive up, jump out of their cars and then hop back in and drive away. The keepers’ houses were torn down long ago. But the Coast Guard housing that was built back in 1939 for the station here still remains and it’s been converted into a museum.

Umpqua historic Coast Guard housing

There’s an old original Coast Guard rescue boat parked out on the lawn.

Old Coast Guard rescue boat Umpqua River Or

And a very classy maintenance/garage building fills out the picture.

Historic Umqua River Coast Guard building

We checked in at the museum to get a ticket for the tour ($5 for adults, $3 for seniors over 62) and discovered that by mentioning that we were lighthouse tour guides at Heceta Head that we could take the tour for free. Ah, the great privileges of volunteering. We were lucky enough to arrive just as they were getting ready to start a tour. They take group of 8 people (plus a tour guide) at at time up into the lighthouse—way more than they allow at Heceta Head where we try to keep our groups down to 4 to 6 people. The museum where you start the tour is down the road a block or so from the lighthouse so you get to hear about the boat and the buildings and the oyster beds that are on the point due west of the lighthouse.   

Oyster beds Umpqua River OR

Each little dot represents a hanging cluster of oysters that they farm here—free of sand and grit since they’re suspended in the water.

Umpqua and Heceta Head may have been built from the same plans and are often said to be identical but they don’t look it, especially from the inside. Umpqua hasn’t had the full restoration that Heceta Head has, though clearly they’ve done things like replaced the windows. The Work Room is set up more like a museum with displays on the walls about the smocks the keepers wore and photos and excerpts from logs.

The whitewash has been mostly removed from the brick walls of the tower but they haven’t been repointed.

Umpqua River Lighthouse stairs

And the stairs are painted in Coast Guard gray and white rather than the original black that they used in the Heceta Head restoration.

While they had to cut a hole in the Service Room landing for the lead weight to reach the Weight Room, they hadn’t cut into the first landing I-beam as they had at Heceta so the railing didn’t have to be rerouted. There’s only a small notch visible in the floor of the landing. And they didn’t talk about that issue at all. They said that they wound the weight up once every 4 hours (which is what they used to say at Heceta too, before the restoration).

Umpqua River Lighthouse stairs

The biggest difference between the two lighthouses though is the lens. The Umpqua Light’s signature is 2 white flashes followed by a red flash. The lens was designed specifically to produce that. It has 24 bulls eye lenses instead of the 8 you see at Heceta. They’re narrower bulls eyes so that 3 of them can fit in the same space that one big bulls eye fits at Heceta.

Umpqua River Lighthouse bulls eyes

The other big difference is that motor is set to one side and there is a short staircase that goes up into the center of the lens and they let you go up 3 of those steps to take photos up into the lens itself. The top of the lens is very different both in that it is all red and that the very top appears to be opaque while the Heceta Head lens is clear at the top.  

Umpqua River Lighthouse lens

They had just been shut down for 2 days the week before to power wash the outside of the tower, wash all the windows and polish the lens and the brass. So everything was very bright and shiny.

Umpqua River Lighthouse Fresnel lens

The volunteers had gotten to help with the cleaning, even hanging on the outer railings to wash the windows on the outside of the lantern. I’m not sure that the State Parks folks would allow us to do that with their big emphasis on safety! Umpqua is administered by the Douglas County Parks and Recreation Department so they have different rules and a slightly different orientation to things.

This lens was made in France while the Heceta Head lens was made by the Chance Brothers in England. The clear glass in the Umpqua lens doesn’t have the yellow cast that the Heceta Head lens does. They are both first order lenses but the Umpqua lens looks really different because of the red glass.

We spent some time in the museum and then drove out into the dunes looking for a place for lunch. We didn’t find a water view but after lunch, as we drove back into Winchester Bay we found a great view of the bay and the local marina.

Winchester Bay Marina OR

Wednesday we stayed around home and did maintenance and laundry. Walter washed a year’s worth of grime off our hitch and tightened up it’s weight distribution arms. And we spent some time over in the Day Use Area in the ‘phone booth’ reading our email. While we were there, Walter spotted a whale ‘spy hopping.’ The head of the whale came out of the water for a moment and then went back down and then came up again over and over as it slowly passed northward. It was just past the second breaker so it was really close to the shore. And of course, the camera was back in the trailer.

Wednesday night we had a pot luck with all of the lighthouse hosts and Walter and I sang “Before I Met You” for them. It’s a wonderful schlocky blue grass song that we’ve been singing together for over 35 years--it’s lots of fun to sing. It started to rain not long after dinner so the party (which was outside of course) broke up kind of early.

Thursday May 21st we worked the early shift at the lighthouse and had a VERY quiet morning. It was cloudy and a bit foggy to start and there were very few people who hiked up the hill. The fog got thicker as the morning wore on so we didn’t even get the folks who walk up the hill to see the view. The four of us on duty each gave 4 tours but they were all small groups. I missed the one whale sighting because I was up in the tower.

The big excitement for the day was that the park rangers arrived to clean the carriage wheels and the spaces between them while the lens was still turning. Be very careful and don’t get your fingers pinched as the wheels move along.

Heceta Head Lighthouse carriage wheels

And then they dusted the outside of the lens with a microfiber cloth. The ranger was up on the lantern room landing (the round blue lights on the right form part of the floor of that landing) kneeling down to carefully dust each prism as it rotated past.

Dusting Fresnel Lens Heceta Head Lighthouse

Friday May 22nd was a classic foggy day on the coast. We worked the morning shift and one minute you could see the headland across the way and the next we were lucky if we could see the water below us. Things started out slowly but it was the beginning of Memorial Day weekend so things up picked up and we actually had a couple of times when people had to wait 5 to 10 minutes for a tour. We each gave at least 5 tours and Walter and I think we may have given 6. And they were all good sized with at least 4 and often times 6 people (plus a few small children). It was fun and we had lots of kids who can provide a lot of entertainment (think 3 toddlers who HAD to climb all 58 stairs themselves both ways).

On the way back down the hill after our morning shift, I spied some Smith’s Fairybells (Disporum smithii) in bloom along the trail. I’d never seen them before but one of the other hosts knew what they were. They turn out to be fairly rare according to my NW flower book.  

Smith’s Fairybells (Disporum smithii)

It was sunny when we awoke to the first full day of Memorial Day Weekend on Saturday May 23rd. The campground was full and we had tons of dogs (BIG dogs like Great Danes and Dobermans) and kids to add to the general merriment. There were big family gatherings going on and few spots had only one vehicle parked in it. We restrained ourselves from doing too much in the morning knowing that we’d probably have a busy day at the lighthouse for the afternoon shift. We left a little early and stopped by the ‘phone booth’ in the Day Use Area across the highway from the campground. And while we sat and read our email, the clouds came rolling in from the south and the sun went away. But odd as it may sound, it was clear out to sea. So when we hiked up the trail to the lighthouse we hiked into the sunshine (backwards from the way it is most days up there).

They’d had a busy morning and for the first time we finally had a ticket system to deal with the crowds. It involved colored tickets set up in the rotation. The hitch? There were only 4 tickets of each color so you got to make a decision as whether each person needed a ticket because they might weigh a lot or whether 2 people could share a ticket. This created BIG groups with 3 or 4 adults and passels of kids. We did okay considering it was our first day with the tickets and the 2 guys hadn’t be introduced to the entire system. The morning folks had had 5 people on duty so they had been able to have one person do tickets all the time while the other 4 people gave tours (with time for a 10 minute rest). We had only 4 people on duty so we ended up having to hand out the tickets while we were ‘resting’. It meant we never really got to sit down. I ate my sandwich at 4:50 and then gave the last tour of the day.

We had a steady crowd of people up at the lighthouse all afternoon—many not interested in tours thank goodness since most of the time we had at least 2 groups waiting for tours. The high point of my afternoon was when the great grandson (and great great granddaughter) of Olaf Hansen, the head keeper from the early 1900’s ended up on one of my tours. He had never been in the lighthouse but his daughter and her husband had been on a tour on their honeymoon. They oohed and aahed over the photo that we show of the Hansen family in 1904. And then he announced that he loved this lighthouse so much that he’d had it tattooed on his chest. He raised his shirt to show me and I asked if I could take a photo of it.

Heceta Head Lighthouse tatoo

His grandmother had grown up at the lighthouse and had told him that she and the other kids would take a rowboat over to the sea lion cave. When he realized how far it was and how rough the seas were he decided that she had been crazy! Kids have no sense of danger and since no one had ever gotten hurt she saw no problem. I bet it was a nice steady rowboat that didn’t tend to capsize easily in the waves.

By the end of the day we were all tired and glad to head home—especially since we knew we had one more day of tours FULL of people to come. Sunday May 24th was sunny and gorgeous but windy. The beach was full of people with shade shelters and picnics all over the beach. We were working the afternoon shift and had gotten the last parking spot in the overflow parking (though there were some RV spots left there). There were people waiting up to a hour for tours all afternoon and we just kept on humping up and down the tower giving tours. There were 4 of us and one worked keeping the ticket situation under control while the other 3 gave tours. We switched every so often so we all got to do tours but you didn’t get much of a chance for a break. Once again, I ate my lunch at 5 pm. And the last tour came out of the tower at about 5:45 (and there were still folks coming up asking us if we could just do one more tour.) Whew were we glad to be done for the week!

The campground had a few empty spots by Sunday morning so clearly some folks were heading home early. By Monday morning the place was emptying out quickly when we set out for a day trip up to Cape Perpetua, which I’ll tell you about in my next missive.

We have just one more week here at Heceta Head. We’ve enjoyed ourselves and are really glad that we signed on to do this. And a month here on the coast has been just about right for us. On June 1st we’ll be heading east on our way to Idaho for 3 months at Lake Cascade State Park about 70 miles north of Boise.