Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area
Five miles north of Newport, rocky Yaquina Head juts out to sea. Tools dating back 5,000 years have been unearthed at Yaquina Head. Many were made from elk and deer antlers and bone, as well as stone. Clam and mussel shells from middens in the area evidence a diet rich in shellfish for the area’s ancient inhabitants.
Today, much of the headland is encompassed in the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (750 NW Lighthouse Dr., 541/574-3100, www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/yaquina/index.php, $7 per vehicle), managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management. “Outstanding” is indeed the word for this place; a visitor could easily spend several hours exploring all the site has to offer.
At its outer tip stands Yaquina Head Lighthouse (open daily, weather permitting), the coast’s tallest beacon. In the early 1870s, materials intended for construction of a lighthouse several miles north at Otter Crest were mistakenly delivered here. The 93-foot tower began operation in 1873, replacing the poorly located lighthouse south of here at present-day Yaquina Bay State Park. Walk up the 114 cast-iron steps for a spectacular panorama of the headland and surrounding coast.
Below, an observation deck provides views of seals, sea lions, gray whales, and seabirds. Of the half dozen varieties of pelagic birds that cluster on Colony Rock—a large monolith in the shallows 200 yards offshore—the tufted puffin is the most colorful. It’s sometimes called a sea parrot because of its large yellow-orange bill. Puffins arrive here in April and are most visible early in the day on the rock’s grassy patches.
The most ubiquitous species are common murres, pigeon guillemots, and cormorants. The murre’s white breasts and bellies contrast with their darker bills and elongated backs. The guillemots resemble pigeons with white wing patches and bright red webbed feet. The cormorants look like prehistoric pelicans.
Down a flight of steps from the observation area is Cobble Beach, covered with surprisingly round stones. At low tides, the tide pools at Cobble Beach are teeming with sea stars, purple urchins, anemones, and hermit crabs.
East of the lighthouse, the large Interpretive Center (541/574-3116, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily summer, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. fall–spring) features exhibits on local ecosystems, Native American culture, and historical artifacts such as a 19th-century lighthouse keeper’s journal. Other highlights include a life-size replica of the Fresnel lens that shines from the top of the nearby lighthouse, a sea cave simulation with a life-size mural of a California gray whale (accompanied by an exhibit detailing its migratory pattern), statues of birds and harbor seals, and information on tide-pool inhabitants.
Although the tide pools in an abandoned basalt quarry on the south side of the headland have now largely filled with sand, the short but steep paved path down to Quarry Cove has some great views of the headland, and frequently, good close-up views of sea lions.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel