Three years ago, I visited Cape Disappointment, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean in a roil of sandbanks, heavy tides, and ever-present fog that were responsible for many a sunken ship in the last few centuries (see photo at top of this page). The southern side of the river belongs to Oregon, and it’s where John Jacob Astor funded the first white settlement, which became known as Astoria.
The northern side belongs to Washington State, and it’s where two lighthouses reside: Cape Disappointment Light and North Head Light. The latter has been the primary navigation for the channel since 1898 and it’s worth the short hike to get to it and take the tour.
It’s the original building (and being renovated this year) so the brickwork shows the weathering from over a century of standing against the elements.
At the top is a modern light assembly, but in the museum nearby, there is an original first-order Fresnel lens and it’s a gorgeous, complex assembly of glass and metal. It was being cleaned, so I was able to stick my head and camera inside and take some images you don’t normally see of a Fresnel lens.
Every Fresnel lens was handmade and you can see why in this closeup. It is the exacting design as well as the glass shape and thickness that amplifies the light so it can be see miles farther away than a simple oil-burning candle.
I’ve seen several Fresnel lenses, most of them in lighthouse museums, and all of them, even damaged a bit, are beautiful things.
For those geeking out about the lens, here’s a simple diagram of how it works:
To read more about Fresnel lenses, you can click on this link.
To read about my visit to a second-order Fresnel lens, click on this link.
One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.