My work takes me to the Pacific Northwest in the US every year to visit with several clients I care for up there. A couple of years ago I decided to take a side trip out to the western tip of Grays Harbor in Washington state. My primary interest was to see the Grays Harbor Lighthouse which is located at the southwest tip of Grays Harbor in a little town called Westport. The place has really grown on me, so I decided take another trip to Westport last month.
Prior to this year, I have only been in the area in mid to late October. As one of my key client’s job situation has changed, I decided to make this trip happen in mid to late September this year. (The Pacific Northwest can be extremely rainy and wet by later October.) As it turned out, I ended up meeting one of my Seattle area clients over in Westport as he was looking for a little getaway himself.
So what makes Westport special? This is a small commercial fishing town with a couple of canning plants and a wonderful large, protected harbor. Additionally, Westport features miles of sandy beaches. Besides beach life, the town offers guided fishing tours, whale watching at certain times and even hosts a surfing contest in September, which I watched for a while. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my super telephoto out, so I don’t have any really great surf shots. Also, Westport is only about two hours from the Olympic National Park with its numerous mountains and incredible beaches.
Westport is located about 22 miles west of Aberdeen on the south side of Grays Harbor. Aberdeen is an old logging town which has gone through some really rough times as the logging industry has advanced so much technologically over the past 30 to 40 years. It is a city in flux, slowly changing from the older economy to a more recreation and tourist based economy.
Of course, besides the ocean and its associated multi-faceted recreation opportunities, one of the main attractions in Westport is the old Grays Harbor Lighthouse. The lighthouse was begun in 1897 by architect Carl W Leick. At 107 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse in Washington, and the third tallest on the US west coast. The base of the lighthouse sits on a 12 foot thick slab of sandstone. The tower is constructed of brick covered in concrete.
Interestingly, when the lighthouse was first constructed and lit in 1898, it was only 400 feet (about 120 meters) from the water. Today with all of the accretion partially due to the man-made jetty (about two miles in length) at the mouth of Grays Harbor, the light is now about 3000 feet from the sea.
The Grays Harbor light is one of the few lighthouses in the US which still holds its original Fresnel lens. This lens in particular is quite unique in that it is a rare clamshell design, and it is a third order lens. The clamshell design allowed the light to carry its unique red and white alternating beacon. Although the Fresnel lens was de-activated in 1992, it is still lit on special occasions. The original lens’ white beacon was visible for 23 miles out to sea, while the current “modern lens” carries a beam visible for 19 miles and 17 miles on the red flash.
The Fresnel lens is about 6 feet in diameter and originally floated on a bed of mercury as its bearing allowing it to rotate nearly effortlessly. The Fresnel lens still occupies most of the lantern room at the top of the tower. Unfortunately, I arrived at the tower just as the last tour of the day was wrapping up. But, I did get to spend some great time chatting with one of the tour guides.
However, as you will see in a minute, there is more to Westport than its lighthouse. The town is actually quite small with a few shops and restaurants along the main road next to the marina.
Fishing and tourism are the town’s lifeblood. In the later spring and early summer, one can book whale watching tours to see the grey whales and humpback’s as they make their way north from their breeding areas in Hawaii. This time of year, you will see a lot of the locals fishing for salmon.
Here are a few shots of the marina from the last couple of years. As you can see, commercial fishing is really why this town exists.
The Lady Washington was moored at the marina in Westport while I was visiting as she was waiting out the storms. I was quite lucky as I was able to take a tour of the ship. The Lady Washington is a replica of a two-masted sloop-of-war that is used for tours, movies and other recreational events.
The original ship of the same name was used in the Revolutionary War and was named for Martha Washington, our first President’s wife. It harassed the British fleet, and after the war it became the first US ship to sail to Japan, and then on to the Philippines. For a short time the ship was captained by Robert Gray for whom Grays Harbor is named.
Of course, no trip to Westport is complete with the ocean and beach. As I mentioned previously, the Westport area beach is rather unique in Washington as it is mostly flat and sandy with sea grasses rather than so rocky and jammed with driftwood and logs as are many other beaches in the state.
I hope you enjoy some of my photos from a few long walks I made up and down the beach.
I hope you all enjoyed my little tour of this lovely corner of Washington State, Westport. Thanks so much for taking the tour with me.
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