Digest>Archives> Nov/Dec 2016

Be the Caretaker at the New Dungeness Lighthouse in Sequim Washington

By Jed Vaughn

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View from the lantern at New Dungeness Light ...
Photo by: Jed Vaughn

A 5.5-mile hike to the end of the longest sand spit in the continental United States, the Dungeness in Sequim Washington is where you’ll find the New Dungeness Lighthouse. Miles of beach, sea, and the Olympic Mountains as a southern backdrop make for a peaceful and remote place where one can reflect and shed the burdens found in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. This immaculately kept historic lighthouse is encompassed by a well-manicured grass lawn, and sits between the shallow waters inside the spit and the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Inside the spit, you’ll find endless wildlife viewing in one of the best crabbing areas anywhere on this coastline. When the season is open, a plethora of buoys attached to crab pots can be seen just offshore. Outside are the Straits, serving passage for cruise ships, ocean going liners, and sailing vessels making their way in and out of the Port of Seattle and points beyond, including Tacoma, Olympia, Vancouver, and the San Juan Islands.

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View of the New Dungeness Light Station from the ...
Photo by: Jed Vaughn

This is a light station where you can be the caretaker for a week. Being a modern day “keeper” is extremely popular with lighthouse lovers, and, at the time of this story, the waiting list extends out to November, 2017. The caretaker house accommodates up to nine people with three bedrooms, each having three queen beds and three twin beds. The typical occupancy is 4-6. You can reserve the entire house if you wish. If you’re reserving just one room, chances are you’ll be making some new friends during your stay, as the available vacancies are rarely unfilled. Some of the duties as a keeper are mowing the lawn, polishing brass, and providing tours to lighthouse enthusiasts who make the trek to the tip of the Dungeness spit. Pertinent details can be accessed at the lighthouse website: www.NewDungenessLighthouse.com.

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Exhibits at the New Dungeness Light Station.
Photo by: Jed Vaughn

Cindy and Gary were two of the “keepers” I met on my visit. As I approached, Gary was perched in the lantern room with the storm panes slightly ajar. Cindy greeted me at the door and offered a tour. We began by ascending the 74-step spiral stairs where Gary was enjoying the morning with panoramic views of Vancouver Island to the north, the Olympic mountains to the south, the stretch of the Dungeness spit to the west, and the tip of the spit to the east. The pristine condition of the interior is impressive, with brass fixtures throughout, and the panoramic 360 degree views enjoyed from the lantern.

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The keeper’s office at the New Dungeness Light ...
Photo by: Jed Vaughn

The tip of the spit currently stretches about 1/4 mile to the west of the light station. It was originally about a 1/16th of a mile from the beacon, but the sand bar grows approximately 15 feet a year. It was created over hundreds of years by sand and the current from the Dungeness River and bluffs meeting the current of the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

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The Fresnel lens exhibit at the New Dungeness ...
Photo by: Jed Vaughn

Continuing the tour, we descended to the main house area which consists of several rooms, two of them depicting and documenting a detailed history of the light station. One of the rooms houses a beautiful brass 1913 Fresnel lens that was manufactured by the Macbeth-Evans Glass Company and is on loan from the U.S. Lighthouse Society. A third room serves as a small office with an antique roll top desk and a typewriter from the same era.

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The New Dungeness Light Station.
Photo by: Jed Vaughn

George Vancouver discovered the Straits and the Dungeness spit in 1792. He named the sandbar after Dungeness Point in England. The lighthouse, built in 1857 and originally standing 103 feet tall, is now just 63 feet above sea level due to a remodel which addressed deteriorating brick on the tower. A new keeper’s house was added in 1904, and fresh water is supplied by a 665-foot-deep artesian well. A cistern was installed shortly after the well was capped in 1930 and sits just a few feet west of the lighthouse.

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The lighthouse tower stairs at the New Dungeness ...
Photo by: Jed Vaughn

The New Dungeness Lighthouse resides amid the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge and is home to over 250 species of birds and more than 40 types of land mammals. Bald eagles, marbled murrellet, western snowy plover, and brown pelicans are among the endangered. Multitudes of waterfowl, blue heron, ducks, geese, hawks, harbor seals, elephant seals, and whales can all be viewed from the spit. The ocean life also includes salmon, crab, clams, halibut, lingcod, and oysters.

Sequim is positioned in a unique geographic location referred to as the Olympic Rain Shadow. It experiences significantly dryer and brighter weather than surrounding locations. With 127 mostly sunny days a year as compared to 88 in nearby Seattle, this area has become a popular retirement community.

Tours of the lighthouse are provided daily. Making the nearly 6-mile hike to the light station is about a 5-hour endeavor roundtrip and is not appropriate for those having mobile disabilities. If you are planning a visit, be sure to take that into account. It’s a beautiful protected area and is well worth the journey for a unique day trip. Vegetation includes American dune grass, pacific seagrass, beach morning glory, yarrow, and sea rocket. Washed up driftwood, sand, sea, and fresh ocean air make for a pleasant and peaceful stroll. Boating to the lighthouse is an option, but has strict guidelines; a call to the refuge office prior to landing is required. Be sure to review the tips and details of the lighthouse tours if boating or hiking.

To get to the New Dungeness Lighthouse at Sequim, follow Highway 101 west once you’re on the Olympic Peninsula. IF you are traveling by car there are two ways to get on to the peninsula from the Seattle/Tacoma area. You can take a scenic Kingston ferry ride from the Seattle water-front, or drive south to Tacoma and cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Allow 1 &1/2 to 2 hours from Seattle. Wait times may affect the ferry route. Either way, you will be amidst beautiful sea landscapes on your way to and from the historic New Dungeness Lighthouse.

This story appeared in the Nov/Dec 2016 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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