Category Archives: Ghost Light

Two weeks ago, Day 9

My last day on the road, alas.  I got up and out early, and drove north from Seaside to Astoria, where I had an appointment with the curator (the librarian was on vacation) of the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

But that wasn’t until later in the morning, and in the meantime I wanted to visit the Astoria Column.  I’d seen it in the distance any number of times on trips through Astoria, perched up there on its hilltop, but I hadn’t ever actually gone up there.  So Kestrel (my car) and I crept up the steep, narrow streets — Astoria is much smaller than San Francisco in every aspect but its hilliness — to the top of the highest – peak may be an overstatement, but you can certainly see forever from up there.

It was eight in the morning, clear as a bell, and the shadows were dramatic.  I’d had it in my mind that I was going to climb to the top of the tower, but I should have known better.  I always forget about my fear of manmade heights.  I don’t mind natural heights.  I’ve stood at Glacier Point in Yosemite, 3200 feet above Yosemite Valley, a direct drop below, without a hint of trepidation.  But when I visited Chicago I took one look at the then-Sears Tower and said, no way.  Absolutely no way.

Then there’s the whole claustrophobia thing, which I do not forget about.  I am very uncomfortable inside a plane if I’m not in a window seat, because I need to be able to see out, for instance, and I really do prefer my elevators to be glass, although I can manage regular ones if I have to.  But caves don’t bother me, so I guess it’s the manmade thing again.  Odd.  At any rate, the inside diameter of the Astoria Column is about eight feet across.  No windows. 164 steps to the top.  I took about ten steps up and could just feel it closing in about me.

So I came back down and decided I would a) be satisfied with the views from the hilltop, which really were spectacular, and b) take my pictures of the column from the outside, which was much more interesting, anyway, with its mural about exploration.

And here’s the photographic evidence.

The Astoria Column, backlit.
The Astoria Column, backlit.
Towards the northwest from the base of the column.  That's the Columbia River, and the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which I would cross later that day.
Towards the northwest from the base of the column. That’s the Columbia River, and the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which I would cross later that day.
A view of the column and its spiraling mural.
A view of the column and its spiraling mural.
To the southwest from the base of the column -- those clouds mark the coastline.
To the southwest from the base of the column — those clouds mark the coastline.
A close-up of the very top of the column.
A close-up of the very top of the column.

By the time I was done at the column, it was almost time for my appointment.  The Columbia River Maritime Museum is on the waterfront, appropriately enough.  It’s a fabulous museum, and I highly recommend it to anyone with even the faintest interest in western or maritime history or boats or lifesaving, or…  But today I was there to do research, so I headed back to the library, where I met with the curator.

He was a very nice man, and it was a very nice library, but the library was not his area of expertise.  He was persistent, though, and finally produced the main item I was there to see, a thesis written by a student of American Studies at, of all places, the University of Utah, on lighthouses and their keepers on the Oregon coast.  She’d done a lot of field work on the coast, and research, and interviews, and one of the three lighthouses she focused on just happened to be Heceta Head.  Gold mine.  Even though the museum’s copy turned out to be missing its bibliography.

The curator also found me a number of other interesting items, and I had a very productive morning.

But after a beer-battered scallops and chips lunch at the Wet Dog Café, a place I’d eaten at before and loved (and which, unlike Mo’s, more than lived up to my memories of it), it was time to head home.

It was only a three and a half hour drive.  But it started with being stopped near the very top of the Astoria-Megler Bridge by bridge repairs.  I did mention my fear of manmade heights, right?  Well, I managed to distract myself during the wait by taking photos from the car.  I bet I’ll never get any from this vantage point ever again.

Stuck at the top of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
Stuck at the top of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
The Columbia River and Washington shore from the top of the bridge.
The Columbia River and Washington shore from the top of the bridge.
Down, down, down we go, to Washington.
Down, down, down we go, to Washington.
The very oddly-named rest area near the Washington end of the bridge.  I suspect William Clark is the culprit, but there wasn't anything there to explain it.
The very oddly-named rest area near the Washington end of the bridge. I suspect William Clark is the original culprit, but there wasn’t anything there to explain the origin of the name.

When I arrived home, it was to find that the condo hadn’t burned down and that the cats were just fine, and that was the end of this year’s “long” trip.  While I had a good, and productive, time, here’s hoping next year’s holds more new territory and lasts longer.  Sigh.

Two weeks ago, Day 7

Some good things, and one disappointment.

I got a kind of late start this morning two weeks ago, and I woke up to overcast skies and a fair amount of wind.  In my experience, the Oregon coast is a very windy place, and I’d just been lucky the day before.

I stopped in Waldport at a visitor center commemorating the bridge over the Alsea River, which was interesting, especially since the bridge they were commemorating (built in the 1930s) had been replaced by a more modern one just a few years ago.

Then I stopped at an ocean view pullout and wrote for a while since I hadn’t the night before, before driving on to Newport, where I arrived about lunchtime, by design.  I’d been looking forward to going to Mo’s, which is sort of an institution on the Oregon coast, famous for, among other things, its clam chowder.  I’d eaten there before and enjoyed it, but not this time.  As I wrote in my journal, it was “an absolutely wretched lunch.  A crab melt, which was watery and flavorless, and, oh, the bread was burned, and a small cup of chowder, which tasted pretty much like Campbells out of a can.  I don’t know what’s happened to Mo’s, but I won’t ever be going there again.”

I then went to the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse (Yaquina is pronounced ya quinn’ a). I’d been there before, but I thought it might be interesting again, and it was.  The rooms are all decorated in period, and the lighthouse itself is in a state park.  I wish Heceta Head’s lighthouse and keepers’ quarters were the same building, because I suspect it would facilitate the plot, but I’ll manage.  Also, Yaquina Bay Light, which was only actually lit for three years (see the website for that story) is supposed to have a ghost, too.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
The view from the front stoop of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.  You can just see the Yaquina Head Lighthouse from here.
The view from the front stoop of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. You can just see the Yaquina Head Lighthouse from here.
The kitchen in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.
The kitchen in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.
A closeup of a baby Fresnel lens.  Fresnel lenses, which concentrate the output of a small light into one direction, making it look much larger, are some of the most beautiful practical things in existence.
A closeup of a baby Fresnel lens. Fresnel lenses, which concentrate the output of a small light into one direction, making it look much larger and brighter, are some of the most beautiful practical things in existence.
A bedroom in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.
A bedroom in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.
The Hwy 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay.
The Hwy 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay.

After that I drove the short distance up the coast to the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.  I thought I was going to get blown away, but other than that it was a terrific stop.  They have a very nice visitor center with lots of interesting historical exhibits and a short movie about the lighthouse, and then there’s the lighthouse itself, which is the tallest one in Oregon (not in the northwest, that would be the Gray’s Harbor Light, which is in Westport, one of my favorite day trips from home).  Once I was done in the visitor center, I drove on up to the headland, parked my car, and hung onto my hat (literally — my hair is thin on top of my head, and I always wear a hat outdoors to keep my scalp from getting sunburned).  The views were spectacular again, but the tidepools were terrific.  They were seven stories worth of stairs to reach from the lighthouse parking lot, but the basalt beach cobbles and the sea stars and crabs and sea anemones and other interesting critters were well worth the climb back up.

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse.
The Yaquina Head Lighthouse.
Birds covering a sea stack at Yaquina Head.
Birds covering a sea stack at Yaquina Head.
Gray basalt cobblestones on the beach below Yaquina Head.  Beautiful, but a bear to walk on.
Gray basalt cobblestones on the beach below Yaquina Head. Beautiful, but a bear to walk on.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse from the tidepools below.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse from the tidepools below.
A sea star.
A sea star.
The stairs leading down from Yaquina Head to the tidepools.  The equivalent of seven stories, in wind almost strong enough to lift you off your feet.
The stairs leading down from Yaquina Head to the tidepools. The equivalent of seven stories, in wind almost strong enough to lift you off your feet.
A really big, really gorgeous first order (the largest size) Fresnel lens at the top of Yaquina Head Lighthouse.
A really big, really gorgeous first order (the largest size) Fresnel lens at the top of Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

Then I headed north to Lincoln City, where I visited the North Lincoln County Historical Museum.  They’ve done a very good job there, telling the story of that part of the Oregon coast.  Lincoln City is basically five small beach tourist towns that banded together to provide basic services to their citizens.   Lincoln City today is basically miles and miles of motels and strip malls and beach houses, but the history of the place — I was especially enchanted with the exhibit that told about the gathering of redheaded people that happened there every year, apparently for decades — was much more than that.

And I found a good motel in Lincoln City, too.

Two weeks ago yesterday, Day 6

Sorry, yesterday got a bit out of hand.  I’ll do today later on today.

I woke up early this morning two weeks ago today.  I always do that when I’m camping.  In the summertime this far north the sun rises pretty darned early.  The day didn’t start out all that excitingly.  I needed to do laundry.  So I got up and out and headed back to Florence to a laundromat I’d noticed the day before, which opened early, fortunately.

With clean clothes neatly packed back in my suitcase, I headed back to the public library, where I finished going through their local history section and attempted to look at some microfilm of the local newspaper for a couple of particular dates, but was utterly stymied, first, by the fact that the young woman who responded when I asked for help did not know, and made it clear she did not want to know, how to run the microfilm machine.  The machine in question made me realize how long it had been since I last worked as a librarian, too, because it was a fancy, newfangled variety attached to a computer, and it took me some time to figure out how it worked.  Once I did, however, I discovered that the roll I wanted to look at had been wound onto the spindle so that it viewed upside down and mirror-imaged.  Totally useless.  It could be fixed, but not on that machine, not by me.  So I made note of the name of the paper, and resolved to interlibrary loan the microfilm when I got home, so I could use it at my local library, where the librarians are much more helpful.

By that time it was lunchtime, so I found some lunch, then headed north, where my day improved drastically.

I was headed for Heceta (he cee’ ta) Head Lighthouse, my favorite place on the Oregon coast, and the setting for the new book, which is going to be a complete rewrite of a story I wrote a number of years ago — it won’t be recognizeable as the same book by the time I’m done with it, I suspect.

Heceta Head is named after a Spanish explorer, Bruno de Heceta, whose real claim to fame was that he was looking for the great river of the West way back when, and totally missed the mouth of the Columbia.  But he did leave his name behind on the headland, and when the lighthouse was built there it, too, took his name.

That lighthouse and I go way back.  My association with it started when I lived in Eugene in the 1980s and went through my first divorce.  The lighthouse was only a little over an hour from where I lived, and was my favorite escape hatch when things were getting too messy at home.  The keepers’ quarters, which are in the Victorian cottage near the lighthouse, are supposed to be haunted, too.  I didn’t know this when I saw something in one of the windows of the then-unoccupied house on one of my many trips there.  As it turns out, what I saw might have been the result of a prank.  But then again it might not have been.  I’ll never know.

But that’s the basis for the story I’m going to write.

I spent most of the afternoon at Heceta Head, touring the keepers’ quarters, which are now a very expensive bed and breakfast, and visiting the lighthouse.  I was too early for the re-opening of the lighthouse itself to tours, after a two-year renovation, by a week, alas, but I did get to see what I needed to see.  And I also got to see lots of shorebirds on the seastack nearby, through a telescope set up by volunteers at the foot of the lighthouse.

Heceta Head Lighthouse and keepers' quarters, from a viewpoint on Hwy. 101.
Heceta Head Lighthouse and keepers’ quarters, from a viewpoint on Hwy. 101.
The lighthouse from the viewpoint, with the zoom.
The lighthouse from the viewpoint, with the zoom.
The keepers' quarters from the viewpoint, with the zoom.
The keepers’ quarters from the viewpoint, with the zoom.
One of two sea lions basking on the rocks below the viewpoint.
One of two sea lions basking on the rocks below the viewpoint.
The Cape Creek Bridge and the beach below Heceta Head.
The Cape Creek Bridge and the beach below Heceta Head.
The trail to the lighthouse.
The trail to the lighthouse.
A closer view of the keepers' quarters.
A closer view of the keepers’ quarters.
The lighthouse from the porch of the keepers' quarters.
The lighthouse from the porch of the keepers’ quarters.
The parlor in the keepers' quarters.
The parlor in the keepers’ quarters.
A closer view of the lighthouse itself.  You can't see the lens because the renovators are still working on it and keep it covered till they're done.
A closer view of the lighthouse itself. You can’t see the lens because the renovators are still working on it and keep it covered till they’re done.
Cormorants and seagulls through the telescope at the lighthouse.
Cormorants and common murres through the telescope at the lighthouse.
Westward, the next stop is Japan -- from the meadow at the base of the lighthouse.
Westward, the next stop is Japan — from the meadow at the base of the lighthouse.

And I spoke with the man who runs the bed and breakfast, who gave me some photocopies of some research he’d collected, and spent the better part of an hour with me, talking about his experiences there and the history he’d learned.  Which was extremely helpful.

After taking far too many photos (research, I tell you!), I walked back down to the beach, where I noticed that there are caves at the base of the headland.  Thinking they might end up in the book, I went and checked them out, too.  You never know…

It was getting on late in the afternoon by the time I left Heceta Head, but I had one more place I wanted to visit before I stopped for the night, Cape Perpetua (pronounced like perpetual without the L).   It’s one of the highest points on the Oregon coast, and there’s a winding, narrow road leading to a viewpoint at the top.  The view is one of those curvature of the earth things, where you’d swear that you were seeing more than 180 degrees from horizon to horizon.  I’d somehow managed never to go up there before, but I’m glad I did this time.

The southern view from Cape Perpetua.  The highway below is 101.
The southern view from Cape Perpetua. The highway below is 101.
The northern view from Cape Perpetua.
The northern view from Cape Perpetua.

By the time I got back down to Highway 101 it was getting late, and while I was only going as far as the tiny town of Yachats (ya’ hots, not yach’ ets as my father teased when we were here when I was a kid), it was time I got there and settled in.  To a nice little mom and pop motel, where I spent a very comfortable night.