Umpqua River Lighthouse, Oregon
Lighthouse tour? Why heck yes! We were honored to be given a private tour of the Umpqua River Lighthouse by their RV resident volunteer, Fred. In exchange for giving tours, he gets free RV lodging - such a deal. The tour is well worth the time, as the guide has a plethora of information about the history of the lighthouse, the bay and even how the inner-workings of the navigational aid. Oh, yes, that’s right, the lighthouse is still operational, and recently the lights were switched over from bulbs to LEDs for less maintenance.
This Lighthouse, The Umpqua River Lighthouse, was the first lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, commissioned in 1857. The rebuild and relocation off the shoreline occurred in 1894 - this version has a first-order Fresnel lens that flashes two white beams followed by one read beam, giving it a 24 mile range. The Umpqua remains one of the few lighthouses you can climb to the top.
The highlight of the tour, however, is climbing the spiral staircase that takes visitors to the top of the 65-foot lighthouse.
At each landing, there is another story about how the lighthouse operated back in the 1800s and even a display case with some of the equipment used.
The best part of the tour, however, is at the very top of the lighthouse, where visitor are invited to look inside the working light. Seeing the red and white prism spin and how the light reflects off the hundreds of panels gives you an appreciation not just for the job the lighthouse has, but the craftsmanship that went into the design.
The unique quality of this lighthouse is it's Fresnel lens. It is a type of compact lens developed by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel for lighthouses. Technically speaking; A Fresnel lens can capture more oblique light from a light source, thus allowing the light from a lighthouse equipped with one to be visible over greater distances.
Looking through the inside of the light rivals a view through a stained glass window in a Gothic cathedral.
Today, Douglas County leases the lighthouse from the Coast Guard, and it is on the National Registry of Historic Places. It is one of the few you can drive right up to, and at night it is impressive, watching the powerful light illuminate the dunes and sea. With the new LED lights the house can be seen all the way to the horizon.