The Red Beacon Of The River – Umpqua Lighthouse, Winchester Bay, OR
I do love lighthouses, which is a good thing considering we’re about to become bona fide tour hosts in a few weeks. There’s something about the bare isolation of the locations and the all-encompassing life of those who tended them that give lighthouses a wild and rather romantic aura, at least from a story-telling point of view. When we RV’d the North Coast last year we managed to visit majestic Yaquina Head and the stunningly pretty Haceta Head (our trifecta of perfectness day!). Our current spot is only a few miles from Umpqua Lighthouse which was actually a sister-build to Haceta (used the same plans no less), so I was mucho eager to go see it.
As luck would have it we awoke to yet another perfect sunshine day (man, are we having some good weather karma right now) and after a stiff espresso and hearty breakfast we loaded into the toad and took the pretty tree-lined drive to the park. The first surprise of the drive was that the lighthouse is so far inland from the beach.
Compared to other lighthouses on the coast, Umpqua Lighthouse was actually built to guide mariners through the entrance of the tumultuous Umpqua River rather than as a coastal beacon. The original structure (the first lighthouse ever built on the Oregon coast in 1857), was on a sandbank near the river, but was destroyed by the ever-eroding sand only 7 years later. The site went almost 30 years without a beacon (with quite a few shipwrecks along the way!) until the current lighthouse, built 165 feet above sea level on a hill further back from the river was opened in 1894.
The second surprising thing is the unusual red glow. Umpqua stands as the only colored signal on the Oregon Coast and it’s 2-ton 800-prism Fresnel lens (built in France in 1890) uses two white flashes followed by one red as its unique signature. And it’s still going too, one of only 5 remaining active lighthouses on the coast! Since it’s a working lighthouse the grounds around the structure are fenced in, but there’s a neat local museum and the tour ($5) is well worth it to see the inner room and stand inside the dizzying rotating red lens (oh yeah, most coolest thing ever!).
We roamed around the museum and lighthouse tour, admired the panoramic view (a good whale-watching spot too, no less) and then motored back to the RV to get Polly and head to the beach. Several days ago a local had given me the hot tip that you could beach-access just west of Umpqua Lighthouse off Salmon Harbour Drive, so we took the plunge and drove a mile down the dirt road to the water. Known as Ziolkouski Beach Park it’s the perfect spot and definitely a local hidden hangout for dog-lovers and hardy surfers (full wetsuit required).
We wrapped up the afternoon by driving back through Winchester Bay, the cool fishing port guarded by the lighthouse that is famous for its locally grown oysters (grown right next to Ziolkouski beach in a protected triangle) with cute downtown restaurants and hosting no less than 6 different areas to park your RV. There’s the full gamut from upscale county-owned Winchester Bay RV Resort ($42/night for manicured, gorgeous full water views) to laid-back Windy Cove (FHU for $23/night just across the street from the resort) to water-front “parking” right on the harbour (dry-camping for $14/night or $252/month -> possibly the best deal on the coast?). Talk about RV friendly!
A gorgeous day at yet another gorgeous lighthouse. Life is good at “the beast” today!
P.S. For those interested I’ve added 4 more cool dune shots to yesterday’s post. Check ’em out!