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To the north and west is the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Named after a Greek sailor who explored the West Coast of the United States back in 1592 for the King of Spain. The strait is half in Canada and half in the United States. On a clear day, Canada's Vancouver Island is easily visible to the north. The island was named after British Captain George Vancouver who explored the Puget Sound in 1792. Vancouver named Mount Baker, Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, and the Puget Sound during his expedition. He gave this place the name Dungeness because it jetted into the sea like the city in England with the same name. This city then lent its name to the delicious Dungeness crab that crawls beneath the salt water on the United State's West Coast.
This is the beach that must be trekked in order to get to the lighthouse, 5.5 miles to the northeast. It is the longest sand spit in the United States and one of the longest in the world. This hike can actually be dangerous as it can take a couple of hours each way. The sand is deep enough to slow your progress and make you work a little harder. The beach is exposed to weather and high winds that can change very quickly. The westerly winds that help you get to the lighthouse, will fight you on your return, often blowing rain in your face. Since the hike is long, you should consider the Tide Tables
, as a high tide could swallow up the beach, leaving only a treacherous road of logs to be navigated. If that becomes the case, your hike will take much longer and darkness might become a factor. So bringing a flash light and extra clothes is a smart precaution. When we made the hike, the tide was about +8; which left just a narrow passage of sand between the waves and the logs. The thousands of seagulls that call this spit home laid on our sand path. As we got close, they would rise straight over our heads just long enough for us to pass and then go back down to their seat; creating a seagull wave as we walked.
This long sand spit, the calm Dungeness Bay to the east, and the protected wilderness area to the south provide refuge to 250 species of birds and 41 species of land mammals. The birds include some migratory fliers that camp here on their way from Alaska all the way down to South America. There are predatory birds that call this place home, like the Snowy owl and the Bald eagle. There are many signs along the half-mile wilderness trail that catalog the animals you might spot. The Dungeness Bay side of the beach is a protected area and is not supposed to be hiked on. Another protected area is the end of the spit, where Harbor seals are safe to rest and give birth. Below is a picture of some deer we came across as we left the wilderness trail.
Young Snowy owl.
Since the weather was poor and the hike was long we really hoped for a great lighthouse experience and that is exactly what we got. The lighthouse keeper home is rented out by unique vacation seekers for a week at a time. They are tasked with a little bit of easy lighthouse keeper duty and to provide free tours (although donations are appreciated). The family that was there gave us a relaxed tour and shared fresh baked cookies. I imagine it would be interesting to walk a week in a lighthouse keeper's shoes. Well, sort of; as the house has Wi-Fi, Internet, and a TV and the lighthouse lamp doesn't need to be topped off with oil every two hours. To many people's relief, there is a public restroom here.
"Welcome to Serenity"
The first Puget Sound pioneer's life-blood was lumber and they needed to ship it out to the Pacific Ocean. This stealth sand spit served as a dangerous obstacle for the ships, so this second lighthouse in the Washington Territory was erected in 1857. The black and white tower soared 100 feet in the air, to the chagrin of the lighthouse keeper who had to climb the vast stairs every two-hours to top off the oil-lamp. Being such a colossal structure, built on top of sand, the tower inevitably developed enough cracks that engineers were afraid it would collapse. So in 1927, the lighthouse was nearly halved in height and turned into the tower we see today.
University of Washington, Special Collections, A. Curtis 20155
To keep the light visible for ships, the lighthouse keeper had to consider a lot of detail in this little space. The light inside the spinning lens was the flame produced by an oil-lamp. A fire produces smoke, which can block the light and choke the keeper, so a ventillation system must be managed. The brass vents below the window could be adjusted to let the perfect amount of air to flow in; in order to feed the fire and discard the smoke. The vent at the top of this room, served as the chimney for the smoke to escape. Notice the rod hooks above the window. These held curtains to block the sun from reflecting in the lens. This was important because every lighthouse spun its lens at a different rate. This provided a unique signature for the ship Captain to identify which lighthouse they were looking at. If you had the sun also being magnified by the lens, this would confuse the signal. So as the sun and winds constantly changed, it was up to the light keeper to adjust the vents and the curtains; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Steep staircase to get to the top of the lighthouse.
Just below the lighthouse lamp room, is this space; where they used to store the oil that fueled the lamp. Today, it serves as a museum of interesting things that hikers have found washed up on the sand spit.
This is a Canadian Military Dye Marker. When someone needed to be found in the vast ocean waters, they would explode this shell, filling the water a bright yellow color.
These large bullet shells were collected under a 35-foot watch tower that was erected and manned here during World War II.
A lot of new refuse from Japan has piled up along the spit. In all likelihood, a lot of it is the result of the giant Tsunami that hit the eastern side of the island in 2011.
There are animal bones as well.
Since this lighthouse is so old, the technology it originally employed was unique to Washington Territory lighthouses. Since oil was not ubiquitous yet, they used animal fat to fuel the lamp originally. With such a poor light source and a primitive lens; no wonder they felt the need to make the original tower so high. When the fog rolled in, it made the light from the tower invisible to any captain; so an audible signal was required. Originally, a giant bell was manually rung to warn the ships. A sound loud enough to rattle the keeper's ear drum, but not very effective in spanning a great distance. So in 1874 the bell was replaced with a steam-powered fog horn. The coal to create the steam was delivered by boat, where a railway was created to transport the fuel from the boathouse to various fog-horn signal buildings. A list of ships that have wrecked on this spit sits above the stove.
This room remembers the lighthouse keepers who manned this post since 1857. Originally, there were two keepers with their families living in this building. The two men would switch shifts every six-hours, to keep a constant vigil; 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They had to be on the lookout for fog and make sure the flame was always visible. They had to refuel the lamp every two hours and make sure the curtain was blocking the sun. It must have been a peaceful, simple existence, but monotonous, as well. Pictured below is an old hand-made ladel that was probably used to scoop the lard or oil into the lamp.
The curtain that protected the lighthouse signal from the sun.
From when this lighthouse was first opened in 1857, until an electric line was layed across Dungeness Bay in 1934, the families that lived here had no electricity. They kept time by a pendulum clock. They warmed themselves with wood stoves. They illuminated the night with dim smokey candles and lanterns. To go to the bathroom they would have to leave the house and walk to a separate privy. Fresh water was scarce and often had to acquired by capturing rainwater, until a 665-foot deep fresh water well was drilled in 1930. As the world around them benefited from the Industrial Revolution, the people that lived here were stuck in a time capsule.
This is a virtual tour of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. Within, we will hike the longest natural sand spit in the United States and learn about the perils to be avoided. We will tour the second oldest lighthouse in Washington, that is actively maintained by volunteers and is open to the public. We will learn some history of this place. All the while being immersed in 360-degree panorama images. So please click the up-arrow just right of here to get started.