Digest>Archives> June 2008

Washington Route 101: Seafaring by Nature

By Sarah Wyatt


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Point No Point Light. Photo courtesy of ...

U.S. Highway 101 runs north-south through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. Known at some points as El Camino Real (The Royal Road) due to its Spanish trading past, it merges at some points with State Route 1, nicknamed the Pacific Coast Highway.

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Point Wilson Light. Photo courtesy of Sarah ...

Highway 101 loops western Washington's Olympic Peninsula, where visitors can buy lavender grown the traditional French way, and coastal villages where fishermen still sell their daily catches dockside. Its natural wonders are punctuated by historic sites and coastal towns. Year-round temperatures range from the mid-40s to upper 60s and snowfalls are infrequent as are temperatures over 80 degrees.

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New Dungeness Light. Photo courtesy of Sarah ...

This route offers a host of choices to explore the Northwest corner of the Pacific Northwest. Much of its landscape is as it was when Captain James Cook explored the region in 1778, with coastal roads weaving past jagged cliffs and serene, island-flecked bays. And yes, there are lighthouses, nine of them on or near the loop. From the dramatic beauty of the famous lighthouse at New Dungeness to Grays Harbor's towering light, a few are highlighted below.

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Grays Harbor Light. Photo courtesy of Doug & ...

Visitors generally travel the loop in counter-clockwise pattern, beginning north of the Seattle at the Edmonds ferry. The westward 20-minute voyage across Puget Sound disembarks at Route 104, which merges into Highway 101 approximately 25 miles northwest. Before reaching 101, two notable lights, Point No Point Lighthouse and Point Wilson, are worth the side trips.

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North Head Light. Photo courtesy of Sarah Wyatt.

Point No Point Lighthouse is located where Admiralty Inlet meets Puget Sound. In 1855, a peace treaty ending the Indian wars in the Washington Territory was signed at Point No Point. Over a thousand Native Americans between the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound signed the treaty in

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Cape Disappointment. Photo courtesy of Sarah ...

the presence of Isaac Stevens, the first Governor of the Washington Territory. A bronze plaque at the lighthouse commemorates the event.

In 1879, the land owner agreed to sell forty acres on the point for $1,000, and work quickly started on the lighthouse, which became functional in 1880. A Daboll trumpet replaced the fog bell in 1900. In 1915, the lens was replaced by a larger fourth-order lens which remains in use today. Adjacent to the lighthouse are one-and-a-half miles of publicly accessible beach with dramatic views of Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and Whidbey Island.

Continuing westward to the Victorian town of Port Townsend, Point Wilson marks the west entrance into the Puget Sound. It is the turning point from the Strait of Juan de Fuca into Admiralty Inlet.

The current station was built in 1914, replacing the original tower. The 49-foot tower was built in an octagonal shape to reduce wind pressure on the structure. The light shines from a 4th order Fresnel lens, a white light on for 15 seconds, then off 5 seconds, with one red flash during the occultation. The light was automated in 1976.

Located near Sequim, New Dungeness Lighthouse, nearly a century and a half old, still guides ships past its treacherous spit in the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. New Dungeness Spit, a six-mile flat spit barely visible from a distance, is one of the largest natural spits in the world. Captain George Vancouver named it "New Dungeness" because it reminded him of Dungeness Point on England's southeast coast, where a light has guided mariners since around 1600.

Two or three couples serve as guest keepers each week at New Dungeness. Their duties include giving tours of the light tower (74 steps), mowing the lawn, and minor upkeep duties.

The route veers south near Lake Crescent, considered an overnight stop for many travelers. This picturesque glacier-carved lake offers swimming, boating and fishing along with diverse hiking trails. Waterfalls in the area include Marymere Falls, a one-mile walk from Storm King Ranger Station at Barnes Point; Sol Duc Falls, one of the most photographed spots on the Peninsula, is a mile walk from the end of Sol Duc Hot Springs Road. Nearby, Lake Crescent Lodge is listed as one of the best places to kiss in the Northwest. The Lodge's dining is exquisite, with Dungeness crab cakes, French onion soup, baked wild salmon and elk rib rack among the offerings.

In 1898, people gathered from the logging port towns of Hoquiam, Westport, Aberdeen and all the settlements in between for the dedication and lighting ceremony of the Grays Harbor Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest. By the time the lighthouse was built, at least 50 ships had foundered near the entrance to Grays Harbor.

Located adjacent to Westport Light State Park, the tower is open daily during the summer months, and on weekends during the remainder of the year. Lighthouse visitors often precede the lighthouse trip with a visit to Westport Maritime Museum, where a lit first-order Fresnel lens rotates inside. The nearby towns of Elma, with its legendary haunted cemetery, and Aberdeen, where a working blacksmith still plies his trade in the historical district, are good diversions before heading south.

Continuing south, two beacons guard the treacherous entrance to the Columbia River, known as “Graveyard of the Pacific”: North Head Lighthouse, circa 1898, and Cape Disappointment, the first lighthouse in Washington and one of the first on the West Coast, established in 1858. North Head, perched on cliffs in the north part of Fort Canby State Park, is open for tours on weekends beginning in May. Cape Disappointment, on Coast Guard land adjacent to the park just inside the river’s mouth, is near the area where Lewis and Clark first saw the Pacific.

The coastal portion of loop ends, appropriately, nearby in the town of Ilwaco, the gateway to one of the newest national treasures, the Lewis and Clark National & State Historical Park. The Port of Ilwaco is the Pacific Northwest’s premiere sturgeon, salmon, halibut, crab and tuna fishing destination. Visitors enjoy the Saturday Waterfront Market, antique malls, canneries, seafood markets and restaurants, fine art galleries, unique upscale shops and the award-winning Heritage Museum. Festivals, river tours and other attractions make Ilwaco a perfect conclusion to this remarkable sampling of the Peninsula.

This story appeared in the June 2008 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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