Precariously perched on a rock in the Pacific Ocean, the
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse a mile offshore from Tillamook Head,
Oregon ... braved 30-foot waves and 100 mph winds during its 77
years in service.
June 10, 2014 - Tillamook Rock Lighthouse sits a mile offshore from
Tillamook Head, Oregon. (U.S Coast Guard photo by Lt. Paul A.
Garcia, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Fir)
The deactivated lighthouse still towers over a rock
island more than a mile offshore from Tillamook Head,
Oregon, about 20 miles south of the entrance to the Columbia
Construction workers toiled for 575 days to
build the lighthouse on the rock. When it was lit in 1881,
the Tillamook Rock Light was not only the most expensive but
also the most exposed lighthouse along the Pacific Coast.
Even at 130 feet above sea level, the protective glass
around the lantern room was occasionally smashed by incoming
Due to the
danger, difficulty and expense of operating the lighthouse,
it was closed and replaced with a lighted whistle buoy in
Listed on the National Register of Historic
Places in 1981, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is part of the
Oregon Island National Wildlife Refuge and one of nine
lights honored in the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in
Washington, D.C. Lighthouses from the Coast Guard's nine
districts have elevators named after them.
waters around the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse are covered by
the Seattle-based 13th Coast Guard District, which ensures
the safety, security and stewardship of Pacific Northwest
“The lighthouse looks just like the stacks
of a ship poking up from the horizon,” said Chief Petty
Officer Christopher Sheppard, who routinely sailed past it
when he served on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Cowslip
(WLB-277) in the late 1990s.
Sheppard currently leads
the Astoria, Oregon-based Coast Guard Aids to Navigation
Team (ANT) that maintains 316 Aids to Navigation (ATON),
including 291 fixed aids, 22 buoys and three lighthouses in
Together with the Coast Guard Cutter Fir
(WLB-213), the 225-foot buoy tender that maintains
navigational aids in the coastal waters around Oregon and
Washington and on the Columbia River, the ATON team helps to
keep mariners on course in the Pacific Northwest.
navigational aids are among the 48,000 buoys, beacons,
ranges, sound signal and electronic aids that the U.S. Coast
Guard maintains across the nation. Marking 25,000 miles of
coastal, intracoastal and inland waterways, the U.S. ATON
system enables the safe movement of $8.9 billion worth of
goods and commodities through U.S. waters daily.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Curtis S. Dewey, the officer in
charge of U.S. Coast Guard Station in nearby Tillamook,
Oregon, said navigational aids are critical in the waters
around the Pacific Northwest.
“Everything is weather
dependent,” said Dewey, a native of Corrales, New Mexico,
who has commanded the station for the last two years. “With
our coastal bars and the requirement for (search and rescue
personnel) to run our lifeboats during a great portion of
the year, weather dictates everything.”
weather more closely here in the Pacific Northwest than any
other place I've been stationed,” said Dewey. “Properly
working ATON saves lives and have saved mine, I'm sure. When
it is dark and the seas are large, knowing where safe water
is at is paramount.”
The cold, choppy and stormy
waters around Oregon and Washington are also well traveled.
In addition to military and recreational vessels,
Sheppard said Pacific Northwest waters are traveled by log
ships, container ships, car carriers, bulk carriers, fishing
boats, survey vessels, construction tugs and barges.
Originally from Fountain Valley, California, Sheppard
has served three tours in Oregon and calls the Pacific
The chief has seen the Tillamook
Rock Lighthouse from land and sea.
hiked through Ecola State Park up to Tillamook Head, an area
visited by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. About half a
million people visit the park every year and see the place
that U.S. Army Capt. William Clark described as the
“steepest, worst and highest mountain I've ascended” during
his storied 18-month expedition with Capt. Meriwether Lewis
to map the Louisiana Territory.
Of the view from the
top of the 1,000-foot cliff that overlooks the Pacific,
Clark said, “I behold the grandest and most pleasing
prospect which my eyes ever surveyed."
the brave and industrious construction workers who built the
Tillamook Rock Light demonstrated the same pioneering spirit
as the famous explorers who mapped the area.
always amazing to me what could be built with the available
tools and the conditions that the construction team had to
build with back in 1881,” said Sheppard.
By Walter Ham, U.S. Coast Guard HQ
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