Eagle watch

What’s not to like about staying next door to a national wildlife refuge? The New Dungeness Light Station borders on the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge that is visited by over 250 species of birds, 41 species of land mammals, and eight species of marine mammals. We regularly saw three eagles that ranged about on the south side of the Light Station grounds and I was told by one volunteer that sightings can range up to a dozen at a time. Not too shabby!

The wildlife seems to know the boundaries of the Light Station and generally kept well beyond the signs that keep visitors out of the 631 acre refuge. Our best sightings were airborne.

There are two favored perches beyond the boundaries of the light station, both of which made me envy the 400 mm. lenses of friends.

Up you go

I didn’t count them but I recall being told there were 74 stairs up to the light room at the New Dungeness Lighthouse. The Lighthouse sees about 5,000 visitors per year, many of whom walk ten miles roundtrip on the Dungeness Spit to get there. Two visitors who came during our stint ran the last mile and several were into their 60s and 70s. It helps renew my faith in the fitness of U.S. citizens.

This open ladder is the final ascent into the light room of the Station.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the Keeper’s Quarters.

The light

The Strait of Juan de Fuca is a busy shipping channel and the Dungeness Spit is a serious navigational hazard as ships head into and out of Puget Sound and the more northerly straits leading to Canada. The New Dungeness Lighthouse flashes a beam of light that can be seen for 17 miles in clear weather, 12 times a minute and 17,280 times per day.

The lighthouse tower was originally 100 feet tall and the light was fueld by lard oil and magnified by a third order Fresnel lens. The tower was lowered to 63 feet in 1927 because of structural damage. The current light is a rotating six-sided bull’s-eye prism and is completely automated. The U.S. Coast Guard still changes the lights inside while the New Dungeness Light Station Association (NDLSA) maintains the building, grounds, and infrastructure of the Station.

The environment on Dungeness Spit, where the lighthouse is located, is harsh. NDLSA has been replacing the unique, curved windows of the lighthouse. You can see above what time and the elements have done to them. The Association spends about $100,000 a year on upkeep and has a long to-do list. Funds come from keeper stays, donations, and grants. Despite its age, the Light Station remains clean and beautiful. As volunteer keepers we were allowed full access to the light and the exterior catwalk around the light room. Payback? My husband polished all the brass in the room and the stairwell, renewing a relationship with Brasso that he hadn’t had since his Navy days.

I’m a Keeper. . .

. . .A volunteer lighthouse keeper, that is. Alerted by our friends Miriam and Gene to a late cancellation, my husband and I scored a coveted weeklong stay at the New Dungeness Light Station in Sequim last week. There are only three ways to reach this beautiful and remote spot and none of them are easy: a five mile trek each way along the beach, tides permitting; by boat, landing by permit only; or, as a keeper, transported by the New Dungeness Light Station Association (NDLSA), with food, gear, and enthusiasm for a stint that includes greeting visitors, keeping up the lighthouse and keeper’s quarters, and other duties as assigned. Here’s the setting:

Completed in 1857, the lighthouse is one of the oldest in the Pacific Northwest and one of very few that allows the opportunity for a stay. After the U.S. Coast Guard withdrew its last keeper in 1994, the NDLSA stepped in to protect and preserve the Station and has continuously staffed the Station with volunteer keepers. It is an extraordinary place in an incomparable setting.

The Light Station property includes the Keeper’s Quarters, on the right above, completed in 1904 for the Officer-in-charge. Volunteer keepers stay in one of three bedrooms here, sharing a well-equipped kitchen, dining room, and comfortable living room. A 600-foot-deep artesian well provides water and a cable to shore provides power to the Station. NDLSA volunteer workers do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to site maintenance and they stay in quarters located in the original lighthouse building. The love and care poured into this very special place is evident at every turn.

I’ll post more pictures of the lighthouse, the keeper’s quarters, and its stunning environment in the coming days.

Point Wilson Lighthouse

The Point Wilson Lighthouse is located on the grounds of Fort Worden State Park and marks the convergence of the Strait of Juan De Fuca and Admiralty Inlet.

The lighthouse, activated in December, 1879,  was originally located on top of the lightkeeper’s house. It was moved to its current position in 1913 when the present structure was completed. The Coast Guard operates the lighthouse. It was automated in 1976 and is closed to the public.

If you’re interested in lighthouses, check back in a few days. I’ve just completed a week’s stay as a “volunteer lighthouse keeper” at the New Dungeness Lighthouse in Sequim and will post pictures and impressions from my visit.

Fort Worden Officer’s Row

Fort Worden, located next to Port Townsend in Washington, was established in the late 1890s. Along with Forts Casey and Flagler, its purpose was to prevent hostile fleets from reaching targets such as the Bremerton Naval Yard and the cites of Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett. Construction of the fort began in 1897 and continued in one form or another until the fort was closed in 1953.

The Fort Worden Officer’s Row housing looks onto an open parade ground. The buildings were constructed between 1904 and 1915. To the far left, at the end of the row, is Admiralty Inlet.