Driving north on U.S. 101 along the Oregon Coast, you really can’t miss Heceta Head Lighthouse. You round a bend at about mile marker 179, and there, maybe a half-mile distant, silhouetted against the sky, is the lighthouse, tucked into the steep slope of the rugged headland, 205 feet above a picturesque cove and the Pacific Ocean. It demands to be photographed, and the state of Oregon has obligingly provided pullouts that give you different but equally captivating views.
From the southernmost viewpoint, you can also see a gabled two-story, red-roofed, white frame house with a picket fence around it. A hundred years ago, there were two houses. The head lightkeeper’s home was removed in 1940. The remaining one, once the living quarters of two assistant lightkeepers and their families, is now a bed-and-breakfast, under a concessionaire contract from the U.S. Forest Service.
If you’ve ever been charmed by lighthouses and perhaps romanticized the keeper’s lonely vigil; if you’ve ever tapped your foot, mentally or otherwise, to the jaunty, “I want to marry a lighthouse keeper and live by the side of the sea;” if you can watch for hours the “wrinkled sea” crawl up the shore, you’d be tempted, perhaps, as we were, to spend a night at a lighthouse. And so it was, with some trepidation, that we booked a night in The Mariner’s Room.
The view was everything you’d expect from a location high above the ocean: a crescent beach below, storm-tossed driftwood, powerful Pacific rollers crashing against 100-foot basalt sea stacks and engulfing lesser rocks in spectacular slow-motion sprays. At one time, the assistant keepers’ quarters also may have been thought as grand as the view. Nowadays, the house will have to settle for the much-invoked “charming.” Still, on page after page of a journal displayed in our room, previous guests not only extolled the view, but also praised the room itself and applauded the seven-course breakfast. We felt more than a little ungracious and mean-spirited when we couldn’t respond in kind. Our room was “snug” taken to the extreme; the breakfast was tasty, but the ceremony with which it was served became tedious long before the cook was introduced for congratulations.
Well, view we wanted, and view we got. As a bonus, in the dark and somewhat stormy night, we armed ourselves with the flashlight found in our room and trekked through the mist up to the lighthouse itself. Below us, the luminous surf curled up the beach; offshore, a few lights from passing ships or fishing boats dotted the horizon. As we looked up from the base of the reliable 117-year-old light, we could see its refracted beams, rotating slowly like the spokes of a wheel and radiating far out into the night.