Our volunteer activity this summer was as Interpretative Hosts at Heceta Head Lighthouse Scenic Viewpoint near Florence on the coast of Oregon. On our way out to the coast we visited cousin Brad in Arizona, and Jane Roosen and her husband Harry in Arizona. We visited with Al’s former classmastes at his 50th college reunion in Pasadena. We visited four national parks: Saquaro, Channel Islands, Redwood, and Crater Lake. We saw whales, dophins, sea lions, seals, lots of birds, a lot of scenery, and, even, our first tornado.

On the journey west, we had an incident that made us wonder if we’d be able to complete the trip. Near Colorado City, Texas, a warning light came on in our truck and the engine dropped down into “Limp Home” mode. After we stopped and restarted the engine, the warning light had disappeared and the truck ran normally. We brought the truck to a Ford dealer anyway. After we spent two unplanned nights in Big Spring, Texas, the mechanics could find nothing wrong with the engine. We got back on the road. Happily, no engine problems disrupted the remainder of our travels.

Where to go to visit Heceta Head Lighthouse

ARIZONA Al and cousin Brad, with his winter beard, in Saquaro National Park
We were late in arriving at our first destination in Arizona due to the truck problems. Cousin Brad did his best to compress our sightseeing near Tucson into one whirlwind day. He took us first on a drive through in Saquaro National Park. Then we went up Mount Lemmon on the Sky Island Scenic Byway to Summerhaven. Back down again, we visited the Mission San Xavier. And finally, we ended the day with authentic western food and music at the Steakout Restaurant in the little town of Sonoita.

Brad suggested that we visit the Casa Grande National Monument on our way north. We did and were impressed by the massive 13th-century ruins. And we were delighted to find that two long-eared owls were roosting in the rafters of the roof that protects Casa Grande.

Our next stop was the Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, Arizona. We did not fall into the missing gold mine, but we did get together with Jane, who was Gail’s college roommate and the bride’s maid at our wedding 42 years earlier. Jane and her husband Harry took us to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. Boyce Thompson featured desert environments - Sonoran, Chihuahuan, Australian, and South American - but also had several other environments - a rose garden, an herb garden, a pine grove, a Eucaluptus forest, and a small lake. This variety made for a lot of interesting plants, and also for some good bird watching.

The Mission San Xavier, south of Tucson

The altar and ornate apse at San Xavier

Gail with Casa Grande and the shelter erected to protect it

One of the two long-eared owls resting in the rafters

Camped at Lost Dutchman State Park
in front of the Superstition Mountains

Gail and Jane on the High Trail
at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

A Costa’s Hummingbird at Boyce Thompson

Canyon scenery in the Boyce Thompson Arboretum


From Arizona, we went to Southern California for the 50th reunion of Al’s college class. We camped in the Frank G Bonelli Park in San Dimas, CA. When you think of San Dimas, think Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. We enjoyed sharing stories with members of the class of 1966 and attending the Blacker Tea, an annual reunion with the members of the house Al lived in.

Al with Ed, Rich, Jenny, and Mike at the Thursday luncheon

Gail with Ed, Rich, Jenny, Mike, Jerry, and Dave

After the reunion, we visited two of California’s national parks - Channel Islands and Redwood. Our visit to the Channel Islands was just a quick one-day cruise to Santa Cruz Island, but we did stay several days with the redwoods.

Humpback whales, dolphins, and a flock of sooty shearwaters
seen feeding during our morning cruise to Santa Cruz Island

A Channel Island Fox (they’re about the size of a cat)
who has become quite accustomed to the presence of people

At Cavern Point on the north shore of Santa Cruz Island

Yes, I am holding up this redwood in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Even after being hollowed out by fire, this tree was huge

Roads were often one-lane with wide spots for oncoming traffic

At the Boy Scout Tree, actually two trees that grew together

Look closely and you might see storm troopers chasing rebels in this grove

Castle Rock National Wildlife Refuge, 1/2 mile off Crescent City, CA


Heceta Head Lighthouse was completed in 1894 as an aid to shipping along the Oregon coast. It has seen a lot of changes, but still is in service as an aid to navigation today. It is 15 miles north of Florence, in the middle of the Oregon coast.

We arrived on May 31, and promptly went to work the next day. Our jobs included giving tours to visitors - explaining the history and functioning of the lighthouse - answering questions, taking people’s photos for them, and picking up trash. We worked four days each week and then had three days off to be tourists ourselves.

We stayed in Washburne State Park, about three miles north of the lighthouse. It was a wooded, clean, and quiet park with several miles of beach across US-101. What was most surprising was that there was no cell phone service in the campground, not even for smart phones. We had to walk to the beach to get even one bar. Initially we thought that there was no FM radio service either, but after a week Al found that re-orienting our antenna brought in a weak, but usable signal.

Typically the nighttime temperatures would drop to 48 to 50ºF and the daytime temperatures would rise to 60ºF. The wind often was powerful, in the campground, but even more so on the shore. On our second workday, it blew Gail’s Oregon state visor over the cliff at the lighthouse. Some sea lion is probably wearing it now. We only had a few rainy days.

We were never bored. We ran out of time before we ran out of things to do. There was plenty to do and see in our immediate vicinity - trails in the park, beach combing, a preserve of carnivorous plants, the Sweet Creek Falls trail, fresh water lakes where we paddled in our inflatable kayak, Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area, and Cape Perpetua, where Captain James Cook reached the North American continent three years after Bruno de Heceta mapped the coast for Spain. And we took side trips to Newport to the north, Bandon to the south, Eugene to the east, and to Crater Lake National Park.

Heceta Head seen from the Sea Lion Caves Viewpoint
The lighthouse is on the left, the lightkeeper’s house on the right

The lighthouse with its 6-foot wide, 8-foot tall, 1st-order Fresnel lens.
Click on the photo to watch the rotation of the 8-sided lens

Pyramid Rock and Sea Lion Caves Headland, our scenery at work.
Sometimes we would see a whale spouting in the water below

Back of a whale swimming past Heceta Head

The Moving House at Washburne State Park
Click here to see CJ’s 1987 concept for our Moving House

Some of Washburne State Park’s beach with Heceta Head in the background

On a foggy morning at Washburne’s beach,
a harbor seal peered at us out of the surf

Darlingtonia - Cobra Lillies - a 2 to 3 foot high carnivorous
plant in a preserve just north of Florence

Getting ready to kayak on Sutton Lake

Cook’s Chasm at Cape Perpetua

In Sweet Creek’s gorge below the falls

Gail with Gracie and some of the other hosts

We hit the jackpot on one of our off days. The 122-year-old lighthouse keeper’s house had been converted into a Bed and Breakfast. We had been told that, if the Bed and Breakfast had a cancellation, they would invite volunteers from the lighthouse to stay in the room - for free. One Monday morning, Gail sent an e-mail that we were interested in doing this. Before we were done eating lunch, she got an e-mail back that we could stay that night. We rushed home, packed an overnight bag, and checked into the B&B. We got a luxurious room looking at the lighthouse, a bathroom with a tub, and a seven-course breakfast the next morning. Not bad!

The old keeper’s house, now Heceta Bed & Breakfast

Our room in the Heceta Bed & Breakfast

Face Rock (on the left) and Cat and Kittens Rocks at Bandon, OR
In Oregon, US 101 is the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. Oregon has done a terrific job of providing access to the coast with state parks, scenic viewpoints, pullouts, recreation sites, and waysides. Between Florence and Newport, you can hardly find a mile of road without some way to see or walk the coast. And you rarely see the coast without seeing at least one person walking on the sand or rocks.

RVs travel up and down US 101. There are state, commercial, and federal campgrounds everywhere. US 101 is also the Oregon Coastal Bike Route, and you often see long-distance bicyclists on the road with their paniers stuffed and, sometimes, pulling a little wagon. But US 101 here often does not have shoulders so it is scary for a bicyclist to share the road with the big motorhomes and trucks, especially the logging trucks.

The devil seems to have taken a fancy to Oregon’s coast. Among the place names, you can find Devil’s Lake, Devil’s Punchbowl, Devil’s Churn, Devil’s Elbow, and Seven Devils. And inland at Crater Lake, the Devil’s Backbone has a place.

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport
Its signature is 2 seconds on, 2 off, 2 on, 14 off, and then repeat

Looking up Yaquina Head’s spiral staircase.
At 93 feet, the tallest lighthouse tower in Oregon

The Umpqua River Lighthouse near Reedsport
Built at the same time as the lighthouse at Heceta Head

The inside of Umpqua River’s 24-sided, 1st-order, Fresnel lens
The signature of Umpqua River is two white flashes, one red flash, and repeat

The Yaquina Bay lighthouse, superceded in 1874 by Yaquina Head,
but now back in operation with a steady, unblinking light

A fifth-order Fresnel drum lens, just under 15-inches in diameter,
like the one used in the Yaquina Bay lighthouse from 1871 to 1874

Here are three striking birds we did NOT see in the wild, but in the aviary at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. We were unsuccessful in finding nesting Rinoceros Auklets in the Sea Lion Caves and nesting Tufted Puffins at Face Rock. Seeing them in the aviary isn’t as good as seeing them in the wild, but better then just reading about them in Peterson’s or Sibley’s.

Rinoceros Auklet

Tufted Puffin

Horned Puffin

We brought a small tent with us so we could take side trips from our summer location without moving the Moving House or staying in motels. Our first use of the tent was during a proof-of-concept visit to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. We camped at Waxmyrtle Campground in the Siltcoos Beach area, just a few miles south of Florence, and hiked on the soft sand of the Waxmyrtle and Oregon Dunes Trails to the beach.

Our final excursion in Oregon was to Crater Lake National Park. Wow! The scenery was awesome. We hiked to see the Phantom Ship, Plaikni Falls, mountain flowers, mysterious pinnacles, and more. We drove to overlooks for a “Pumice Castle” and for the lake as a whole. But more awesome than the scenery was the idea of how the lake came to be ... in the eruption and collapse of the Mazama Volcano 7,700 years ago. It is impossible to imagine what it must have been like for the Native Americans who survived the event.

During our visit to Crater Lake, we camped in our tent at the Forest Service’s campgrounds at Diamond Lake, Oregon. Did we sit around the campfire every evening while letting the mosquitoes feast on our blood? No! Therefore, were we not really camping? Certainly not like we did four decades ago, but it worked for us.

The Siltcoos River meets the Pacific Ocean

A Snowy Plover and a Western Sandpiper on Oregon Dunes Beach

Here’s looking at you. A nutria in the Lagoon near Siltcoos River,
a South American native descended from escapees from a fur farm

Penguins? No, Common Murres at Yaquina Head
They fly and are found on rocky islands all along the coast

Morning at Crater Lake, bluer than the deep, blue sea

This photo proves that Crater Lake is a magical place
where trees really can grow out of people’s heads.

The Phantom Ship, the remains of an ancient eruption
of Mt. Mazama, seen from Sun Notch

Pinnacles, the fossilized remains of steam vents
from below a pyroclastic flow from Mt. Mazama

Lewis Monkeyflower at the Castle Crest Trail

Gail forgot her credit card at the Visitor Center register;
two stops and one hour later, Inga found her and told her about it

Pumice Castle: deposited by earlier eruptions of
Mt. Mazama and revealed by its collapse 7,700 years ago

Late afternoon at Crater Lake

Here is our trip by the numbers. We travelled through eighteen states, and visited four National Parks. In 93 days on the road, we pulled the Moving House 7,035 miles and drove the truck an additional 2,852 miles.

Al saw and photographed 40 species or subspecies of wild birds that were new to him. This is the largest number of new birds he has seen in such a short time. He is happy with this! We even saw a roadrunner run across a road (what else?) in front of us and disappear into a suburb near Apache Junction, Arizona, but no photo was gotten. We did get a photo, however, of the coyote!

Another exciting happening occurred during our final rush home. We were driving east out of Omaha on I-80 in the late afternoon when, in our rearview mirrors, we saw a tornado several miles behind us. It was tall and very thin. This was the first tornado that either of us had ever seen, and we kept driving away from it. The next morning we heard on the news that it had been a water spout, and that it had caused no injuries.

Here are a few more scenes from our summer.

Happy is the land
where thimbleberries grow
Circling Fish, sea lion artwork celebrating
the 20th year of the Florence Events Center
Looking up to the redwood tree tops
Lady Bird Johnson Grove

In Fern Canyon
Redwood State And National Park

Pacific Ocean view
from the Heceta Head Trail

Umi No Nami, sea lion artwork at
the Siuslaw River waterfront, Florence

Eco and the Ecosystems of Oregon,
sea lion art at the library in Florence

Green-Eyed Sue, sea lion art
on Bay Street, Florence

Plaikni Falls,
Crater Lake National Park

Descending into Annie Creek Canyon

Blackberries at Heceta Head

Thalassa, sea lion art at a Florence business

It's a Wild Thing, sea lion art on the
boardwalk on the Siuslaw River in Florence

Salal berries, mild tasting and plentiful,
at Heceta Head

Feeling Fabulous, sea lion art
at the Banner Bank in Florence

Al Holm, 10 Aug 2016; updated 20 Jan 2019