Ruth and I spent most of the past week re-exploring the north Oregon Coast between Tillamook and Wheeler. The essential magazine to have on such a journey is The Original Highway 101 Mile-by-Mile Guide, which is available all along this incredible coast. This guide rightly calls 101 “The Road Through Paradise”. It’s not fast but it sure is scenic
Ruth used to have a relative who lived in Tillamook. When we visited Aunt Cleta, there wasn’t much to do in this town that gets, on average, 88 inches of rain each year. Now there are about half a dozen places to explore within a short drive of this town named for a Native American tribe. The town itself has some traffic-slowing construction projects occurring and it’s incrementally improving. The big draw, however, is still a tourist lure that isn’t in many guidebooks or in the Mile-by-Mile Guide or on TripAdvisor–The Tillamook Cheese Factory. We stopped there twice. One of my favorite local lures is Cape Meares, where one of Oregon’s 11 lighthouses stands. We went there only once this time because it wasn’t opened, and it was both cold and rainy up there. Tours will be available and its gift shop will reopen in May.
The Cape Meares Lighthouse operated from 1890 until 1963. It stands on a promontory 217 feet above the Pacific Ocean but is short. In fact, the path down to it offers views of its Fresnel lens, not its white exterior. It’s only 83 feet tall. It’s lens is super-powerful and could be seen 21 miles out to sea. It’s light is permanently off until half a million dollars are raised to repair it.
In 2010 two drunk guys fired shots at Cape Meares Lighthouse, breaking 15 windows and damaging its rare bull’s eye lens. They were identified and arrested one month after their escapade that they admitted was the dumbest thing they had ever done. It was, at first, estimated that the cost of repairs would be $50,000. However that amount has risen to more than half a million dollars, so it’s unlikely that the lens will ever glow again. The 15 window panes were quickly replaced but the lens remains damaged. In court Zachary Pyle and David Wilks Jr. were ordered to pay $100,000 and serve 3 16-day jail terms over 3 years, but I don’t know if that sentence was carried out. I do know that the lighthouse was originally built for $60,000. The road up to it is closed beyond the lighthouse because the Cape Meares Scenic Route was damaged by a landslide in 2013. Road repairs are supposed to occur soon so that the route can be reopened in 2020. In 2015 the North Head Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment, which is across The Columbia River from Astoria, was also vandalized.
The many visitors to Cape Meares usually walk into the forest to see The Octopus Tree, a Sitka Spruce with an unusual shape. We didn’t, this time, because of the weather, but we did watch the murre colony for a while and read about them. Baby murres, white-breasted seabirds, have never flown when they leave the nest at 3-weeks-old. They leap from the cliffs and either soar or fall upon the rocks below. If they survive, their father takes care of them for up to 8 additional weeks as they learn about their environment. Murres live in crowded conditions but often soar above the lighthouse. They are an impressive sight as is the scenery at Cape Meares, which is 10 miles west of Tillamook.