Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cape Blanco Lighthouse

Cape Blanco Lighthouse 
Port Orford/Sixes, Oregon
Cape Blanco juts out one and a half miles into the Pacific Ocean along Oregon's southern coast.  At the end of the cape is a large headland rising over 200-foot cliffs along most of its perimeter.
Before construction began on the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, the site was covered with a dense spruce forest, but the trees had to be cut to prevent obstruction of the light, and to elliminate the chance of a forest fire destroying the light station.
My hiking buddies, Brian and Tyler-Marie, joined me for a day of adventure around the Cape of Blanco.  We first visited the lighthouse.
The conical tower stands at fifty-nine feet and has the traditional spiral staircase found in most pacific lighthouses.
Brian climbs the green lighthouse staircase to the lantern room, along the way the tour guide stops and tells us about the vent holes.  These vents allowed the fumes from the early day oil burning smoke to escape the lighthouse so the keepers would not be asphyxiated.
The Cape Blanco lighthouse was commissioned in 1870, but before the lighthouse could begin operation, a lot of obstacles had to be completed.  At the time, access to the cape was considered difficult due to its rugged and remote location.  Building a state-of-the-art lighthouse was going to be difficult.  The cut timbers from the cape were used in the construction, and the bricks were also kilned on site.  The brick maker was paid $25 per thousand bricks.  To complete the lighthouse, two-hundred thousand bricks were needed.  Things didn't go well for the brick maker, for his first batch was considered to be of inferior quality and the bricks were rejected.  He was fired and another brick maker was hired.  The inferior bricks were scattered across the cape and to this day can still be seen along the cliffs edge and grass grounds.  I was able to find one before the grounds were closed to the public.
Tyler-Marie is dwarfed by the impressive Fresnel lens that is housed in the lighthouse tower.  The lens we are able to get up close and personal with is not the lens originally placed in this lighthouse.  The original 1st order Fresnel lens was removed in 1936 and replaced for a slightly smaller rotating eight bulls-eye lens.  A mystery surrounds the original lens...for after its removal, it dissappeared from site and hasn't been seen since.
In 1992, two local teenage boys broke into the lighthouse and with a sledgehammer they smashed a bulls-eye and six smaller prisms.  The teenage vandels were eventually apprehended and convicted.  After a nation wide search, the company to repair the priceless lens pieces was found in nearby Bandon, Oregon at the cost of $80,000.
The Cape Blanco Lighthouse is Oregon's oldest operating sentinal.  The light is also Oregon's highest elevated above the sea with a focal plane of 256 feet, and the lighthouse is Oregon's most westerly lighthouse.
The Cape Blanco Lighthouse also holds a controversial title as being the most westerly lighthouse in the lower 48 states.  Currently the Cape Flattery Lighthouse in Washington state, seen below, holds this title.
The controversy surrounding which lighthouse is further west is all technical.  The Cape Flattery Lighthouse does sit further west but the lighthouse sits about one mile off the Washington mainland on the island of Tatoosh, therefore the lighthouse is techically not apart of the mainland.
The second half of our Cape Blanco adventure included trying to walk completely around the cape at sea-level.  This can easily be done at a minus tide.  While on the western flank of the cape we explored the calm tidepools.
Besides the common hermit crabs and sea urchins, sea anenomes were everywhere and so were starfish.
I have lived on the coast most of my life.  Seeing the tidepool creatures is nothing new to me, but for Brian and his dog Lakota, this was their very first starfish encounter.  Brian is from Montana, and starfish are not apart of the normal wildlife in the Big-Sky-Country.
Lakota wasn't sure what to make of a starfish.
The Curry County coast is known as the "Land of the Rock Arches".
This arch sits just off the western flank of the cape and cannot be seen from the top of the cape, some 200 feet above and behind us.  From the top you can see the rock, but not the arch.
Brian and Tyler-Marie and I spent several minutes in this area collecting agates and jasper.  The rocky shoreline is a popular spot for harbor seals to sunbathe...few people venture to this location due to its remote access.  This day, the seals fled long before we could get any good pictures.
Cape Blanco was named by the Spanish Captain Martin de Aguilla in 1603.  He named the cape for its steep sheer chalky cliffs that appeared white from the sea.  Cape Blanco means White Cape in Spanish.
Up close, the chalky "white" cliff is actually a yellow sandstone, but sitting against the dark black basalt does make the southwestern flank appear white from out at sea.
Geologically the cape seems to be a big quake waiting to happen, sitting on three faults and tectonic plates.  This arial photo shows one of these faults.  The center..."white" cliff, has fault lines on both sides.  The most obvious fault can be seen in the lower right hand side where the "white" cliff lays against the black cliff.
Lighthouse keepers noted earthquakes in their log books throughout the years, including one a few days after the Great San Fransisco Earthquake of April 18, 1906.  It was noted in the logs that the tower swayed for a minute on April 23, 1906.
Fossils abound in the "white" cliffs, and finding petrified wood is common along the cape.
On the south flank, near the colliding of the black and "white" cliffs, a sea cave can be found.  Brian took this picture from inside the cave looking south toward Humbug Mountain located in the distant left of this photo.
Many sea stacks litter the shore around the cape.  The lighthouse at this location was a very appropriate place to build one.
Needle Rock, on the south side of the cape, is the cape's most prominant and recognizeable sea stack.
Tyler-Marie stands next to the Needle.
If you appreciate late Victorian architecture, the Hughes House - built in 1898 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places is a must see.   The majestic Hughes ranch house is a two-story, eleven room structure built of 2x8 old-growth Port Orford cedar that covers more than 3,000 square feet and was originally constructed for a mere $3,800.
The house stands on a terrace on the north side of Cape Blanco. This location protects the house from the worst of the winter southwesters - storms that generate winds above 100 mph.  My mother and I enjoyed stopping by, but the place was not open for tours.
After we toured the cape and the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, dinner was in order.  The nearby town of Port Orford does not have many options to eat, but we did enjoy the eatings at the Crazy Norwegian's Fish & Chips restaurant, located in town right on highway 101.
With the "wild" Sixes River to the north and the "wild" Elk River to the south, the Hughes House, fossils, petrified wood, tide-pools, sea stacks, and the lighthouse itself, makes Cape Blanco a first class place to spend the day...or two.

1 comment:

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