Some people dream of an idealistic life as a lighthouse keeper on a wind-swept coastline with nobody to bother them and nothing to do but watch the waves and that blinking light going round and round. Then they take a tour of a lighthouse and their tour guide drones on and on about the rigorous chores of a lighthouse keeper, like cleaning every bit of glass in that giant lens every day, endlessly polishing brass, and hauling kerosine up the tower several times a night. If you have volunteered as an interpretive host at Heceta Head Lighthouse, it is now your job to kill the idle daydreams of everyone who goes on your tour.
After a month on the job, this is my review of what it is like to be a volunteer tour guide at Heceta Head Lighthouse.
Hosts work four 3-4 hour days in a row, and then have three days off. Hubs works with me on Saturdays, but there are several single hosts, so it is not out of the question to do this solo. I leave our campsite and drive the three miles to the lighthouse parking lot, and then walk a 1/2 mile inclined trail (which takes me about 10 minutes, but some of the older hosts like to take a little longer) to the lighthouse and two small oil houses. Upon reaching the top of the hill, the hosts set up a few displays and tidy up the grounds a bit before giving tours for the day. Visitors that ask about a tour are organized into groups of no more than five or six, and hosts take turns leading groups up the lighthouse while talking about its history and function. There is no charge for the tours and no money changes hands. Some hosts take twenty minutes or more with a group, while others are in and out within ten minutes. There are 58 steps going up, and generally the same amount going down.
Encounters with the lighthouse ghost are infrequent, as she is actually a rattly window frame. Shutting down the lighthouse to go home involves sweeping, vacuuming, and other minor tasks.
We are provided with an ample site with a paved pad, full hookups (30/50 amp, water, sewer), access to a small (free) laundry room, hot showers, free firewood, and proper restrooms.
The Washburne campground is right across the street from a stunning day-use beach area. The beach is wide and sandy, and a great place to let dogs run off-leash. There are many trails that can be accessed from the campground, some of which go through rainforest. A wide variety of mushrooms (edible and non-edible) grow in the surrounding forest, but be aware that both mountain lions and black bears have been sighted in or near the campground.
Washburne Campground is almost equidistant between Yachats and Florence: about twelve miles to either town. Florence is the larger of the two towns and offers plentiful grocery shopping at Fred Meyer, Grocery Outlet or Safeway. The old town area of Florence is full of galleries, little shops, and mom-and-pop restaurants. We found the church situation to be unsatisfying after having visited a different one each weekend--we weren't able to find one that we could call home. Yachats is much smaller than Florence and doesn't offer much by way of groceries, though there are plenty of restaurants.
A drive north from the campground toward Yachats will take you past many interesting pull-offs, including picnic areas and day-use beaches. Cape Perpetua and the Trail of Restless Waters is worth a visit, with great tide-pooling at low tide and Spouting Horn at high tide.
South from the campground will lead you past the Sea Lion Caves (which, we were told, lighthouse volunteers can get in for free), and past some terrific viewpoints of the lighthouse and coastline.
Internet and Phone:
The campground itself is a dead zone. Across the street at the day-use area, there is a magic picnic table where we can get two bars of 4G (Verizon) and adequate cell reception (also Verizon). There are several pull-offs by the Sea Lion Caves where cell and internet are great. Fred Meyer and the library in Florence have free wi-fi.
The temperature here seems to be mild year-round. An electric space heater comes in handy for us during October, and I wish we had a small electric dehumidifier. The first half of October was dry and sunny, but the second half brings torrential rain, so waterproof shoes, a rain coat, and rain pants are highly recommended for the rest of the winter. The rain does not maintain a vertical pattern, so I am not kidding about rain pants. When working at the lighthouse, bringing a fly-swatter may be what saves you from insanity. The kelp flies don't bite, but they land all over and get tangled in your hair. Sometimes it rains so hard or gets so windy that lighthouse hosts go home early or have work cancelled for the day. There is not very much shelter from the elements at the lighthouse, so bring your rain gear!
We found the other lighthouse hosts and campground hosts to be delightful. When it isn't pouring, it is nice to gather around a campfire with our new friends. The rangers are friendly and laid-back, so it is a great environment to work in.
Would we do it again? Absolutely we would, and we intend to!
To see what positions are open in Oregon State Parks, check here.