Posts Tagged ‘Cape Blanco lighthouse’

The Cape Blanco First Annual Country Music Festival

Langlois Market Prepares

Langlois Market Prepares

I took a little trip up Cape Blanco Road just before it  began (mid-August) to see first hand what this music festival had in mind. They claimed 15.000 people were going to be involved. I saw the beginnings of the stage construction and a bunch of little red flags to show the rows marked out for RVs in the sheep pastures. Really, not much else.

You know you're there when you see this

You Know You’re There When You See This

As one who was around for Woodstock, I expected the worst. The Whole of Curry County (that’s including Brookings and Gold Beach) is only 22,000+. So, the organizers expected to add about 75% extra to our area for three days. I could only think: sanitation (not enough), water (ditto), beers (too many) and brawls (ditto), ground fires for warming up (It was Cold) going crazy, igniting across the gorse. Another Port Orford/Bandon disaster. As in burning to the ground.

You know what? Nothing of note occurred in Port Orford (we are about six miles south). I guess more folks got drinking water and beer at Ray’s but honestly, there was no noticeable increase in traffic on 101, even if Ray’s aisles were blocked in with cases of brew. Other than that? Well some vendors told me it wasn’t perfect, and I can imagine the gale force winds were a surprise for many. But, for us townies it was as a passing breeze. I’m still not really convinced that there were 15,000 folks around that weekend. But that’s just me.

At the Port Orford Ray's Supermarket

At the Port Orford Ray’s Supermarket

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Last Saturday here in Port Orford we had the first winter storm of the year…on September 28 and 29.

With hazardous sea and high surf warnings (up to 24 foot breakers) we brought in the plastic lawn chairs and checked the windows and gutters. Sheltered behind the hill to our south, we watched the windswept pines flail and the rain come down in sheets.

Port Orford hoist courtesy of enjoyportorford.com

Port Orford hoist
courtesy of enjoyportorford.com

On Sunday afternoon  we decided to venture out to the port overlook to take a look. There next to the “dolly dock” (where giant hoists lift and lower boats in and out of the water, one of only two in the US) the big story of the first storm was unfolding.

Star of Siam photo provided by Emma Jones

Star of Siam
photo provided by Emma Jones

Bobbing in the port’s open water but jetty-protected harbor, a sail boat appeared to be almost foundering, not quite flipped totally by the successive waves of breakers. Later it was reported the ship was on a run from San Diego to the Columbia River, had run low on fuel, headed into port and decided to weather out the storm there. Although we couldn’t see them, the boat was anchored and, in an attempt to keep it straight, was also attached by ropes to the jetty. The crew of two had left the vessel Saturday night via inflatable raft which was hoisted by crane to safety.

The Star of Siam was not so lucky. Late Saturday night the 36 foot boat had broken its rudder at low tide. The ship managed to stay afloat until 6:00 pm Sunday night when a combination of weather and current changes caused the sailing ship to break its ties and drift toward shore where it went aground on the jetty rocks below the port office.

We got 3.62” of rain according to the gauge near the beach. Wind gusts of 64 mph were reported at Cape Blanco to the north. Many other Oregon locales reported record September rainfall. Most impressive was Astoria’s record-breaker, 10.25 inches, remarkably up from September’s average 2.14 inches and significantly beating out its previous 1906 September record of 8.66 inches.

Star of Siam photo provided by Emma Jones

Star of Siam
photo provided by Emma Jones

Here in Port Orford by Tuesday afternoon all remnants of the Star were gone, hauled away by a local contractor. And the sky and the ocean are again beautiful, calm, serenely blue.

Port of Port Orford circa 1910 courtesy of earth-sea imagery

Port of Port Orford circa 1910
courtesy of earth-sea imagery

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One of the many attractions on the north crescent beach of Cape Blanco is the tide pools, which are exposed at mid-to-low tides. A few weeks ago a sunny day and a low tide allowed us to examine up close some of the more amazing flora and fauna found between the tides. With my new, 21st century Brownie (completely and utterly Point and Shoot) I took some snapshots of what I saw. AME

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This has been a long few weeks of recovery from hip replacement surgery and cabin fever is setting in. So a few days ago we threw caution to the wind and took a picnic to the Coast Guard Station atop Coast Guard Hill.

Crews Quarters © AME

Normally we head directly out to the headlands trails for the views south to Humbug Mountain and Cape Sebastian and north across Agate Beach and Garrison Lake, past Paradise Point and around the south side of Cape Blanco to the lighthouse about eight miles due north.

Crew Steps © SR Euston

Port Orford Bow © SR Euston

These are the original trails the Coast Guard surfmen used to reach their observation watch tower as well as their boats, stationed 280 feet below in Nellie’s Cove. The trails remain well maintained, in some places paved, in others bark dusted. But today is not a day for trails; they are still a little iffy for crutches.

The Port Orford © SR Euston

So we picnic on the old parade ground and explore what’s left of the Station: the remaining crews quarters (now the museum building); the “Port Orford” (one of the original rescue boats); the bell tower; and the paved path which used to lead down 280+ stairs to the Cove below and now leads only into a giant Port Orford cedar. The buildings are over 75 years old, beautiful with classic Craftsman lines and simple proportions, and (to us transplants) a definite New England look. There are others of identical design on the East Coast and Great Lakes but in viewing their photos it’s obvious that Port Orford’s choice to go with Pacific Northwest unpainted cedar shakes over the more traditional white clapboard was a wise one. Our station has weathered, it seems, much more gracefully and well.

Practice Righting the Boat @ 1940s: Photo Courtesy of Cape Blanco Heritage Society

Who can imagine being brave enough to race down those rickety stairs in a soaking gale and be flung out into the sea in what seems a way too tiny boat to rescue foundering mariners offshore? Still, from 1934 until the Coast Guard Station was decommissioned in 1970, that’s exactly what countless surfmen did. Their motto: “You have to go out, but you do not have to come back!”

For more information see: www.portorfordlifeboatstation.org/

Flags © AME

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The Blue Pacific © SR Euston

While the rest of the country has been snowbound, icebound, and in some cases freezing in the dark (paging West Texas!), we here in Port Orford have basked in near nonstop sun these last two weeks. With it the mood has markedly improved. Folks who are normally viewed ducking, heads tucked, hoods up, into the nearest building—Ray’s, or the library, or Siren, or the Post Office—have turned positively friendly. We’ve seen people stop and chat all around town, on the sidewalk or on the trail, as we discovered at Port Orford Heads where recently we had a delightful conversation with a local woman who asked if we were visiting. When we responded No, we’d moved here last fall, she hastily apologized, saying she’d been out of town for the last few months. After we’d all oohed and aahed over the view with Cape Blanco lighthouse blinking in the background, discussed the very clement weather, and talked about favorite hiking haunts and mutual friends, we moved into more important territory:


Pistol River Pasture © SR Euston

Rarely do first conversations arrive at discussions of errant punctuation. In this case we had discovered that in addition to being a ceramicist, our new acquaintance was also a retired English professor, poet and editor. We talked of grammar, fondly reminiscing about diagramming sentences, and critique, how important it is, how to approach it constructively, how devastating it can be if mishandled. About punctuation we all agreed: It would probably be better just to eliminate apostrophes all together than to be bombarded with their misuse on such a regular basis.

Silver Winter Afternoon © SR Euston

I love conversations like this. And the opportunity to have conversations, real conversations on topics from favorite authors (try the library most any day) to old disco hits (yes I’m talking about you Jeff), from that constant concern, tsunami preparedness (“150 gallons of water!?.” “Periodically I load up on grains.”) to where to buy bulk tea (check out under the counter at Seaweed or Hidden Treasures Antiques when it’s open), Port Orford is an ongoing kaleidoscope of fascinating people saying and doing fascinating things. Making art, catching fish, doing yoga, selling hardware, surfing.

And our new found member of the apostrophe police? I can’t wait to meet her for espresso. Who knows what other pieces of punctuation we’ll decide to eliminate.


Sun and Shadow Oregon Coast © SR Euston

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Thursday morning at Battle Rock City Park—overlooking the Pacific, the harbor jetty and the crescent beach—Clara’s ears served as our own personal weather vane. As she faced into the south wind, not only were her ears flattened to her head and pointing due north, her fur was too.

Clara in the Wind © SR Euston

The forecast for Port Orford was for gale force winds. Another winter storm was on its way. What that means is around town we lean into the wind as we walk, and hold tight to our steering wheels as we drive. The surf zone becomes a white frothy mass, the waves noticably steeper.

Gray Day © SR Euston

Gale force winds, while not exactly the norm, are an accepted part of life around here. From October through April, winter storms barrel up our edge of the continent from the south—bringing high winds, high surf, and all that rain for which we are so rightly famous. Come May the winds swing north but remain strong. As our friend Joyce observes, “they’ll blow the potato salad right off your plate.” Obviously we picnic in protected southern yards.

Still, most folks around here seem delighted by all this wind. In fact, by our weather in general. Sometimes it seems one of Port Orford’s biggest bragging points.

Ninety-mile-per-hour gusts? Aww, to local raconteurs, that’s hardly a breeze.  Many will tell you just six miles north at Cape Blanco, the lighthouse’s anemometer was broken at 184 mph by a wind gust. Cape Arago, another headland about 40 miles farther up the coast, is in the “top ten windiest” record holders.

But the rain doesn’t always rain and the wind doesn’t always blow. Maybe the biggest weather surprise here is that there are so many days, both winter and summer, when the sky is clear, the air is mild, the wind is still, the sea and lake are placid bath tubs.

So here’s what I know about windy days: They’re not the whole story. Just another ingredient in the wonderful, wild mixture that is the weather here in our new home by the sea.

Clara agrees. She seems to be smiling as her ears blow north.

Out of the Wind © SR Euston

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In our five weeks here, we’ve already managed to visit Oregon’s westernmost point, Cape Blanco, a 200 foot high promontory just north of town, five times.

The Lighthouse © SR Euston

Heading west off 101, we pass cranberry bogs and sheep ranches, through tunnels of Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce, to Cape Blanco State Park. As the road climbs, we look down into the Sixes River valley below. About six miles along, a panoramic view opens across the salal and grassland to the sea. We’ve reached our destination, the Cape Blanco lighthouse.

Windblown Spruce © SR Euston

Locals brag Cape Blanco is a one-of-a-kind place, one that can blow you away—figuratively (it surely is a breathtaking place of magnificent wild beauty) and literally, with record sustained winds of 150 mph, gusting to 176 mph! Some superlatives: It is Oregon’s oldest (1870) continuously operating lighthouse.  And the farthest south.  And it has Oregon’s highest focal plane (how high the light is above the water.) And it’s the only lighthouse to have had a woman lighthouse keeper.

And the only one where a visitor can enter the lighthouse, climb the 63 steps and see the octagonal working lens up close.

That’s what we finally got to do this month! After five winters of just seeing the outside—the lighthouse is only open April through October—on a clear October Saturday we finally made our way to the top.

Looking North © SR Euston

From the lighthouse, a great sweep of the Oregon coast curves south to Cape Sebastian and north to Cape Arago. Winter storms here can achieve astounding proportions—35 foot seas and 30 foot breakers smashing waves 100’ high against rocky promontories.

Looking South © SR Euston

Beyond, there’s nothing but Pacific for 5000 miles to landfall at Hokkaido. Inside, the thickly beveled, bullseyed, mechanically rotating Fresnel lens is a jewel box of refracted colors and light. Every 19 seconds the light is focused in the bright wink we saw from our Nesika cottage.

Pagoda Roof Against Tower © SR Euston

Looking at it straight on isn’t blinding (although it uses a 1000 watt incandescent bulb), and there are vantage points, especially close to the lighthouse and on the beach below, where the beacon seems to have been turned off.

But never so out to sea, where the light is visible up to 22 miles away. Even with high tech instrumentation, it still must be a comfort to mariners to see that 19 second interval blink shine through a midnight fog.


Cape Blanco Lighthouse © SR Euston

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We’ve greeted autumn in our new homeplace—Port Orford, Oregon.

Here We Are © SR Euston

Although semi-native New Mexicans, we’ve spent the last five winters on the Curry County coast, always wondering if we could comfortably change from our high desert’s annual eight inches of rain, to the 80 inches the Oregon coast promised. A beautiful home in Port Orford, our favorite town, lured us north.

But unpacking has stalled as fall weather has played devil’s advocate, beckoning us out day after beautiful sunny warm day, onto the three beaches within walking distance.

Yesterday, we headed for what is known locally as Agate Beach—a long black sand strand just north of Port Orford Heads which offers views to Paradise Point and on to Cape Blanco six miles up the coast. Purchased by Oregon State Parks in 2003, it has been renovated and renamed Tseriadun State Recreation Site. Tseriadun was a finely made village of cedar-plank-sided homes occupied by Tututni, Athapaskan-speaking Native Americans, who prospered at this site for at least 5000 years prior to their forcible removal in the mid-1800s. Like so many other native settlements, only the name remains.

Under a brilliant blue sky, we oohed and aahed over the first giant waves of the season, some over 25 feet high.

High Surf at Agate Beach @ SR Euston

They arrived on the heels of our first brief winter storm which dumped slightly less than two inches of rain over 24 hours, mostly in series of downpours. Scores of gulls congregated at the wrack line, oblivious to the nearby crashing surf.

Sand Ridge between Ocean and Garrison Lake © SR Euston

Sand Ridge between Ocean and Garrison Lake © SR Euston

Behind the dune line is Garrison Lake, a remarkable shallow lake where freshwater “floats” on top of salt. It was created less than 100 years ago when shifting sand blocked the mouth of Garrison Lagoon. Thousands of rainstorms later, the heavier saline water has been topped by about ten feet of fresh.

As we watched, a bright yellow/orange-billed Western Grebe floated by, diving occasionally for dinner. Two Black-bellied Plovers foraged at the water’s edge in a mix of beach grass and seaweed.

Today is cloudy. Rain is coming. Still I hope we haven’t seen the end of the Oregon coast’s sunny autumn yet.

Agate Beach Looking South © SR Euston

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Tonight, as we leave for Oregon, I am reminded of a poem I wrote three years ago when we arrived at our “second home”—SandCliff House in Nesika Beach.

SandCliff Looking North ©SR Euston

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This week we sent in the deposit check for our Oregon winter cottage. We’ll leave early in January and stay through February. We’ve discovered that this is our perfect time: There is virtually no one else on the muddy Coast Trail, the high surf warning beaches, or the snow-dusted spruce-lined coast range trails. Winter on the Oregon coast has just what we city-dwelling desert rats need—solitude and ocean.

Before the Storm

And rain. Our first January, 2006, it rained over 20 inches in Curry County. For folks from a land where the average annual rainfall is 8 inches, this constitutes quite a change. Local friends often query, “The Oregon coast? In winter?” We just reply, “We’re getting our annual rain fix.” Arizona may have its Snowbirds. But Oregon’s got us, the Rain Birds.

That first January friends came to visit. Ever the genial hosts we took them to Cape Blanco to see the lighthouse and to stormwatch from the headlands. When we reached the end of the promontory Stan cut the engine and the four of us sat, dazzled, peering through the sheeting rain  at the churning sea below. Our little red station wagon shook as gale force gusts of wind came off the ocean.

Ever one to experience the elements at their most elemental (he brags that he went out on a subzero Wisconsin morning wearing only a teeshirt and jeans “Just to see what it felt like,”) Stan decided to get out for a breath of air. At first he couldn’t get the door to budge. Then, with a jerk, the wind threw the door open, with him clinging to it. We three inside watched with dull fascination, wondering aloud if he would make it back or be blown off, along with the door, toward Chicago. It took all his strength to get back in and slam the door shut again.

Except for the wind’s howling, silence reigned as we drove back toward Port Orford. Only over fish and chips at the steamy, wet wool scented, Crazy Norwegian could we laugh about what we had witnessed. Even my daring husband had to admit, it was quite the outdoor adventure.

HIgh Surf and Offshore Rain

Rain—Cape Blanco Lighthouse Parking Area

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