New Dungeness Lighthouse

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 11 miles – Time out: 6 hours

Degree of Difficulty: 1 – Pet Friendly: No

December 6th 2011.

I was disappointed that the day I chose to walk to the New Dungeness Lighthouse in Sequim was so gray, but in the end, that day ended up being a lucky choice. This was my second try at reaching the lighthouse. Recently I took a late autumn walk along the Dungeness Spit but had to turn back because of storm tides. Above the beach, the spine of the Spit is crisscrossed with piles of drift logs. Too high a tide and you have to climb over slippery logs – dangerous business guaranteed to end your journey. This time my friend Joel and I checked the tide chart – no abnormal high tides, so we set off on the five and a half miles to the lighthouse.

New Dungeness Lighthouse 2011

We walked the length of the Dungeness Spit on beach rocks and hard packed sand. The salt air smelled clean. Seagulls cried. We saw waterfowl and a seal swimming in the distance. We met a birder searching for a snowy owl that she said lived on the spit.

It took us a couple of hours to reach The New Dungeness Lighthouse. We left behind dry sand and brown grasses when we passed through the gate. In the center of a lush lawn rose the stark white lighthouse. It loomed into the slate sky. This would be a perfect photo if today was a sunny day, I thought once again. Where was the famous Sequim Blue-Hole? I was still cursing my bad luck with the weather when Marcia Bromley bounded over and introduced herself.

Arrived at the lighthouse

Arrived at the lighthouse

“This is your lucky day!” Marcia exclaimed. “You are about to see something that only happens once in a hundred and fifty years!”

It turned out that The New Dungeness Lighthouse Association along with the US Coastguard were replacing the corroded vent ball, the structure that sits on the very top of the roof of the lighthouse. The vent ball is a hollow cast iron chimney designed for expelling moisture from the lighthouse galley. The glass windows and roof were enclosed in scaffolding and men in overalls and coastguard uniforms were milling about the lawn. Everybody was taking pictures.

Joel looking at the old vent ball up close

Joel looking at the old vent ball up close

Marcia is a member of the Board of the New Dungeness Lighthouse Association. She showed us the old cast iron vent ball. It weighed 250 pounds. Rugged sailors from the Coastguard Cutter Henry Blake had carried it down earlier that morning. We examined the new, shiny-black vent ball, recently cast at a Georgia foundry, before the sailors wrapped it up in a sling and prepared to carefully cary it up the narrow, circular stairway.

Marcia’s husband David, a rugged paramedic with the Seattle Fire Department and Lighthouse Association volunteer, took us to the top of the lighthouse. We examined the cut glass prisms of the Fresnel lens where the light originated. David said the beam could be seen twenty miles away. It was exciting to be surrounded by a functioning navigational aid that contained so much history. David said that this lighthouse has been helping ships find their way through the Strait of Juan de Fuca since 1857. The first light was from a lard-oil lamp. We stared into Fresnel lens as the light rotated and shined into our faces.

“Is it on?” Joel asked.

David looked at us like we were turnip heads. “Of course it’s on. Can’t you see the light?”

“But it doesn’t seem bright enough to shine so far away.” Joel insisted.

David Bromley and the light

David Bromley and the light

David pointed to the ridges or prisms on the glass lens that enclosed the electric bulb. He said that the prisms focused individual shafts of light into one big beam that could be seen for miles. The unique Fresnel design allowed for a relatively thin lens that was lit by a single 100 watt bulb. Pretty clever, I thought.

David pointed to the hole in the roof where the new vent ball would be bolted. “The lighthouse is just a big chimney” Said David. Suddenly, we realized that somebody was shouting at us. With embarrassment we realized we were holding up the Coast Guard. We ran down the stairs and as soon as we passed, brawny sailors hefted the sling with the new vent ball and started climbing up the staircase.

Outside, Joel and I looked up to the top of the lighthouse. The young sailors had muscled the vent ball out the window, onto the scaffolding and finally up to the top of the roof. As we were leaving we looked up once more. The sailors and volunteers were bolting the vent ball in place where we hoped it would be secure for another one-hundred and fifty years.

Bolting the new vent ball in place

Bolting the new vent ball in place

If being a lighthouse keeper on the tip of Dungeness Spit sounds like a good time, you’re in luck too. The New Dungeness Lighthouse Association rents out the lighthouse keepers quarters year-round. But act now because there’s a waiting list. If you’d like more information go to The New Dungeness Lighthouse Association

To get to the New Dungeness Lighthouse from the Holiday Inn Express in Sequim:

  • Head west on Highway 101
  • Right on Kitchen-Dick Road
  • Right on Lotzgesell Road
  • Left on Voice of American Road into Dungeness Recreation Area
  • Park at end of road – It costs three bucks to enter the National Wildlife Refuge

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