The Cape Meares Lighthouse, an Octopus Tree, and the Three Rock Arches of Oregon

Cape Meares Lighthouse

At 38-feet tall, the Cape Meares Lighthouse is the shortest lighthouse in Oregon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Towering cliffs, abundant sea life, a lighthouse, massive rocks rising out of the ocean, the Octopus Tree, and an old-growth forest of Sitka Spruce… How could we resist? With the sun tentatively breaking through the clouds, Peggy and I grabbed our cameras, packed our raingear, and headed out to Cape Meares, which is located about 30 minutes away from Tillamook, Oregon.

But first, our stomachs demanded lunch, so we stopped at the Pelican Brewing Company in Tillamook for a hamburger and, of course, a beer. Peggy and I shared a pint of tasteful ale. The Northwest is noted for its great craft beers and Pelican has some dandies. Several have won national and international awards.

Pelican Brewing Company

Good things were brewing at the Pelican Brewing Company in Tillamook, Oregon.

Curt Mekemson enjoying a pint at Pelican Brewing Company in Tillamook, Oregon.

Cheers! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Having tamed our hunger and thirst, we headed out to the coast and were soon perched on an overlook admiring the Three Arch Rocks, so named because each one contains an arch. Of greater significance, the rocks are known for their large nesting colonies of Common Murres, Cormorants, Western Gulls, storm-petrels, auklets, Black Oystercatchers, Tufted Puffins, and Pigeon Guillemots. In 1907, Teddy Roosevelt declared the area a wildlife sanctuary, the first in the US west of the Mississippi. He did so on the recommendation of a pair of young conservationists, William Finley and Herman Bohlman, who had watched hunters decimate the sea lion population on the rocks, and even worse, observed local ‘sportsmen’ row out to the rocks on Sundays and use the birds for target practice, killing thousands.


Three Rock Arches near Cape Meares

Three Rock Arches as seen from an overlook just before the small town of Oceanside.

Three Rock Arches near Oceanside

Peggy used her telephoto to pull in the middle of the Three Arch Rocks. While you can’t see through the arch at this angle, you can see how big it is. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Three Rock Arches 1

A convenient pine provided a different perspective.

We drove on to the Cape Meares Lighthouse where a sign in the parking lot suggested a detour toward the Octopus Tree that sent our imaginations spiraling out of control. Was this a magic tree of fantasy lore? Would we be swept up in its tentacles? Naturally, we had to check it out. The tree turned out to be a Sitka Spruce with eight trunk-like limbs that once made it into Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The story behind its unique shape is that the local Tillamook Indians shaped it to grow that way, created a sacred site where elders could gather to make important decisions and Shamans would travel on their mystical journeys. A few yards away from the tree, a plunging cliff provided more views of the Three Arch Rocks, this time backlit by the sun. Peggy found a man operating a camera drone on the edge of the cliff, capturing pictures of the 200-foot drop off that we weren’t willing to lean out far enough to get.

Sitka Spruce forest at Cape Meares

We walked through a Sitka Spruce forest to get to the Octopus Tree.

Octopus Tree

The Octopus Tree is surrounded by a fence to keep it from eating people. Whoops, fake news. It’s surround by a fence to keep young and old kids from climbing on it.

Octopus Tree

The Tillamook Indians were said to place their canoes on the branches. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Three Rock Arches backlit

We were south of the cape looking north when we took the first photos of the Three Rock Arches. Here we were looking south with the rocks back lit by the sun. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Three Rock Arches backlit

This shot of the rocks gave the feeling of a lurking sea monster with the light showing through one of the arches serving as its eye.

Three Rock Arches

Two of the arches can be seen in this photo by Peggy. The rock on the left is the same one she took a close up of from the other direction.

Man with drone at Cape Meares.

The drone man who was capturing shots of the cliffs.

Walking back toward the lighthouse, we found more cliffs on the other side of the peninsula where the lighthouse sits. These featured a waterfall that tumbled down into the ocean. We also noticed white guano (bird poop) decorating the cliff sides, a sure sign that birds build their nests along the cliffs. Imagine being a young bird looking over the edge of your nest and pondering your fate.

Waterfalls 1

The waterfalls came tumbling down. The white spots on the opposite cliff show the sites of bird nests.

A sign at the site informed us that baby birds are either flyers or jumpers. Murrelet chicks, who are fliers, have been observed pacing back and forth in their nest for a couple of days, flapping their wings frantically, and nervously peering over the edge before they finally take the plunge. It’s worse for Common Murres. Their mom kicks them out of the nest when they are three weeks old… before they can fly! No Mom of the Year there.  They simply stand on the edge and jump, hoping that their stubby wings will guide them to them into the ocean instead of the rocks below. Dad patiently waits in the ocean where he will take over parenting responsibilities for a few weeks until the babies can fend for themselves. Meanwhile, a whole host of hungry predators are waiting below chanting “Crash! Crash! Crash!”

While I am on the subject of birds and food, I learned at Cape Meares that the Tufted Puffins have a barbed tongue that they use to spear fish. They can get three or so minnow-sized fish on their tongue at once. The first one is pushed up the tongue by the second and the second by the third. The barbs hold them in place until, I assume, baby birds wrest them free. I also found out that a pair of Peregrine Falcons were known to nest in the area. These birds are the fastest animals in the world. They fly high above their prey, fold their wings and literally fall, or dive, hitting speeds up to 250 miles per hour (402 KPH) before smacking into their dinner.

At 38-feet tall, The Cape Meares Lighthouse is known for being the shortest lighthouse in Oregon. Given that it stands on a 217-foot tall cliff, however, size probably doesn’t matter. The lighthouse was built on location but the first order Fresnel lens (pronounced ‘fraynel’) was wrestled up the cliff in 1899 using a wood crane built from local timber. The lens had been manufactured in France and shipped around Cape Horn and up the coast to Oregon. It was built with four primary lenses and four bull’s-eye lenses providing light that can be seen 21 miles out at sea.

Cape Meares

This T-Rex perspective of Cape Meares by the Fish and Wildlife Service provides a good view of the cliffs. The lighthouse is the white speck at the end of the lower ‘jaw.’ The Octopus Tree is on the upper end of the lower jaw. The waterfall was inside the lower jaw.

Cape Meares Lighthouse

The Trail down to the Cape Meares Lighthouse. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Fresnel Lens in Cape Meares Lighthouse

A close up of the Fresnel lens with its red bullseye.

Cape Meares Lighthouse 2

A final view of the Cape Meares Lighthouse.


NEXT POST: Peggy and I make our way through a rainforest to the highest waterfall on the Oregon Coast.



30 thoughts on “The Cape Meares Lighthouse, an Octopus Tree, and the Three Rock Arches of Oregon

  1. Wow. Could Nessie had moved to the Oregon coast? Heheh.
    Sometimes we are really hopeful for technology. In the sense that there is virtual reality where sportsmen can “hunt” and shoot without actually having to kill real wild animals.The effort is to convince these folks to use VR instead of going out there for the real thing

  2. Curt and Peggy, thank you for the splendid narrative and photos. Both bring back fond memories of visits to this area.
    I’m reading “Wilderness Warrior” by Douglas Brinkley. Lots of enjoyable passages and stories. A must read if you’ve not done so already.

    • Beer, yes! Wildlife sanctuaries can make a tremendous difference in protecting birds and other animals. The pioneer mentality was that everything was up for grabs, with the belief that you could always move on. –Curt

  3. Love that tree. The Puffin population in Northern Europe is rapidly declining and scientists don’t really know why. It seems that suddenly they cannot catch enough fish even with that barbed beak and tongue.

  4. Excellent photos, Curt. Peggy did a great job on the 3 Arches through the pines (my favorite). When I was growing up, we had a mimosa tree in the back yard that grew sort of like the octopus tree after being split by lightning.

    • Thanks, G. Peggy and I are having fun wandering about with our cameras in hand. I looked at the tree and thought of Japanese applying their bonsai skills to much smaller plants. As for lightning, it certainly has its own unique way of pruning trees. 🙂 –Curt

    • The answer is yes, Sue. A 16-foot canoe could easily fit between the limbs. I wondered about the reason for putting a canoe up there and all I could come up with was maybe it was to provide the canoe with special powers (luck) for hunting or staying afloat in dangerous seas. –Curt

  5. I love Cape Meares Lighthouse. Can’t believe I was in the area and never knew about the octopus tree….obviously need another visit!! Great photos….Oregon coastline is one of my favorites!!

    • I agree that it is special, Kirt. The lighthouse, cliffs, wildlife, old-growth forest, and sea rocks combine to create its beauty and uniqueness. As for the Octopus Tree, I totally missed that the park also includes the largest Sitka Spruce tree in Oregon, a fact I totally missed until I read about it later. Thanks. –Curt

  6. So — if you’d gone canoeing, and taken on water, would it have been “tipped a canoe, and Sitka, too”? (I know, I know…) I loved seeing those Sitka spruce. It’s considered the best wood for sailboat masts because of the long, straight grain, and I’ve spent plenty of hours vanishing one of those masts from a chair. I’m happy enough to be done with that now, but I’d love to see the trees.

    The thought had crossed my mind that a short lighthouse would probably do just fine if the cliffs were high enough, and so they were. It’s a lovely place, to be sure.

    • Bad, Linda. Tyler is disappointed to be left out.
      You may have an intimacy with Sitka Spruce that few people share. Sitka, BTW, also has great acoustic quality and is used for sounding boards in Piano, guitars, etc. Also, I’ve been to Sitka, Alaska, from which the tree inherited its name.
      My experience with lighthouses on the West Coast, in Maine, and on the Great Lakes suggests that most of them are found in lovely places! Don’t know about Texas? –Curt

  7. We love lighthouses, and this little short one would have definitely been on our radar if we were traveling in that area. But I also love your photo of Sitka Spruce forest and that Octopus Tree. My, my. That’s quite a creation!

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