Cape Perpetua

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View of Pacific from Cape Perpetua

Cape Perpetua is a large forested headland on the central Oregon Coast which projects into the Pacific Ocean. The land is managed by the United States Forest Service as part of the Siuslaw National Forest.


Cape Perpetua is located about 2 miles (3 km) south of Yachats, Oregon along U.S. Route 101. It is a typical Pacific Northwest headland, forming a high steep bluff above the ocean. At its highest point, Cape Perpetua rises to over 800 feet (240 m) above sea level. From its crest, an observer can see 70 miles (110 km) of Oregon coastline and as far as 37 miles (60 km) out to sea on a clear day.[1]


Cape Perpetua Shelter and Parapet
Cape Perpetua West Shelter - Oregon.jpg
West Shelter observation point
Nearest city Yachats, Oregon
Built 1933
Architect Civilian Conservation Corps; US Forest Service
Architectural style Other
Governing body Local
NRHP Reference #


Added to NRHP March 17, 1989

For at least 6,000 years Native Americans hunted for mussels, crabs, sea urchins, and clams along the coast near Cape Perpetua. Evidence of their lives can still be found in the huge piles of discarded mussel shells that lie along the shore near the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center.[1][3]

The cape was named by Captain James Cook on March 7, 1778 as he searched for the Pacific entrance to a Northwest Passage. Cook named the cape Perpetua because it was sighted on St. Perpetua's Day.[4]

The area became part of the Siuslaw National Forest in 1908. In 1914, the United States Forest Service cut a narrow road into the cliff around Cape Perpetua and constructed a wooden bridge across the Yachats River, opening travel between the small community of Yachats and Florence, Oregon to the south. The wooden bridge was replaced in 1926 with a steel structure. The Cape Perpetua section of the Roosevelt Memorial Highway (now Highway 101) was built in the 1930s.[3][4]

In 1933, a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp was built at the foot of the cape just north of Cape Creek near where the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center is located today. The CCC constructed Cape Perpetua campground,[5] a network of trails, and the West Shelter observation point near the top of the cape. During World War II, the West Shelter observation point was used as a coastal watch station and a large coastal defense gun was temporarily installed.[1][4][6] An SCR-270B radar was installed at an undetermined location to take advantage of the height of the promontory.[7]

The Cape Perpetua Shelter and Parapet were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.[2]

Enemy aircraft during WW2 could freely bomb the Oregon coast with little chance of detection.  During the first part of WW2 there existed a blind radar gap between Cape Perpetua and Fort Brag California; the Japanese took advantage of this radar gap.     
    To close the gap General DeWitt, under orders from the war department directed the installation of radar units on the west coast.   This was a direct response to Chief Flying Officer Nobuo Fujita’s bombing of Mt. Emily near Brookings Oregon on September 9 1942 with a 170-pound incendiary device.  He flew a Japanese Yokosuka E-14-Y-1 “Glen” seaplane launched from the Japanese submarine I-25 on September 9 1942.     Nobuo is the only enemy aviator to have dropped bombs on the continent of the United States.  The Japanese objective was to counter the Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle raid with submarine operations on the Pacific Coast.   The 16 U.S. Army B-25 twin engine aircraft launched 600 miles from mainland Japan off the deck of the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942 to bomb enemy targets.  The Doolittle raid was the U.S. response to the attack on Pearl Harbor.    
    For years rumors and speculation have surrounded the Cape Perpetua radar mystery.    Cape Perpetua is a park managed by the Siuslaw National Forrest and is located three miles south of the city of Yachats Oregon at an elevation of 715 feet.  The beautiful 15-minute drive up the winding road to the top of Cape Perpetua is breathtaking.   At the peak of Cape Perpetua is a rock shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 and a short 15-minute walk from the parking lot.  The picturesque views up and down the Oregon coast from these heights are magnificent.  Visitors can see 37 miles up and down the coast line.  This is the perfect spot for a radar unit!
     Declassified documents show that radar was installed and used at Cape Perpetua during WW2.  Radar was also operational in other areas of the Oregon Coast including Tillamook, Siletz Bay, Cape Arago and Cape Sebastian. These radar units operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week according to the Pearl Harbor 1946 Congressional Investigation.  The regiment of soldiers who operated the Cape Perpetua Radar used the old skating rink on West Fourth St. in Yachats, Oregon as a barracks.  The Army used the grassy area in front of the current Adobe Resort as parade grounds.     
   The Army and Navy designation for the radar was SCR-270B.  The Cape Perpetua radar was long-range radar built by Westinghouse and used before the Pearl Harbor attack.  The company delivered approximately 112 of these radar sets to the department of defense prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.   The exact location of the Cape Perpetua radar is not known.       
         The fact that there was a secret SCR-270B radar unit operating from Cape Perpetua during WW2 was not known until recent research.  The Cape Perpetua radar was installed 200 feet higher in elevation than the radar at Opana Point, Hawaii giving the radar a better “view”.     
     The citizens of the city of Yachats hosted the Army personnel who manned and protected the Cape Perpetua radar during WW2.  The fixed version of the radar was designated as SCR-271.    The SCR-270B had a range of about 80 miles; however some units were successful at detecting aircraft at a range of 150 miles.   At Iba Field on Luzon in the Philippines in October 1941 Air Warning personnel detected aircraft at a range of 120 miles.    The range depends upon the elevation of the radar, therefore making Cape Perpetua a perfect location.    The radar rotates on a 360-degree arc so it is easy to conclude that the radar was not located near the CCC rock shelter at Cape Perpetua.    According to the Coast Guard in a 1946 after action report on WW2 beach patrols, the rock shelter was not used as an aircraft warning service site or a submarine lookout.  
    Transporting and operating the Oregon coast radar units required four trucks.  The stake body truck (K-33), Antenna Trailer (K22-B), primary mover truck to tow the trailer (K-32), power supply truck (K-31) and the K-30 operating truck. The operating truck consisted of the radar indicator which is a five inch oscilloscope for operators to view radar echoes and make approximate distance determinations of incoming targets.  Extra receivers and spare scopes were transported with the trucks.     
   The radar site at Cape Perpetua was an Army operation, and the mission at Cape Perpetua was to detect and report incoming aircraft.  Since interceptor aircraft were not available, the purpose of the radar was to alert forestry and fire fighting personnel.  Even selected high school students were being trained to fight fires.  At Eugene High School for example, students trained after school and had firefighting clothing in lockers at school.  They were not informed of the potential fire they were being trained to crew.    Luckily the Cape Perpetua SCR-270B radar never detected a single enemy aircraft.  
  The site at Cape Perpetua was used for detection of enemy aircraft and not submarines.  Submarine detection was the realm of  navy communication intercept stations at Crescent City, California and Bainbridge Island, Washington.  The SCR-270B radar was designed for air search.    Western Defense Commander, General DeWitt believed that by the end of 1941 there was no danger of large enemy landings along the beaches of the west coast.    This is why the mission of the Army contingent in Yachats was to operate and protect the radar from small enemy forces or saboteurs.  Since the radar was classified, civilians knew very little about the operation. Along the Pacific Coast to include sites in Mexico,  there were approximately 25 radar units.   With the help of the USGC beach patrols, the Army’s radar installation at Cape Perpetua was well protected.   
    According to the official website of the City of Yachats there was a gun installation located at Cape Perpetua.  There is no real evidence of any large caliber artillery installation at Cape Perpetua.  However, along the Pacific Coast the Western Defense Command under General De Witt did have 14 portable antiaircraft regiments.  The Cape Perpetua site was not easily accessible from the beach and this is why Army units prepared defensive positions along Ocean Drive in Yachats.   Priority locations for antiaircraft regiments were Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.  
   One local Yachats citizen, Mr. Kitchen, wrote an official complaint about all the soldiers at Yachats and Cape Perpetua.  Captain William Rogers of the Oregon Defense Council responded to the complaint in a letter to Mr. Jerry Whitlock, Coordinator of Lincoln County Defense Council:   “… Between us, I would advise Mr. Kitchen to keep pretty well away from that Yachats outfit unless they get definitely out of line as it is a secret installation and anybody that fools around there apparently runs a very good chance of geting (sic) themselves punctuated someplace between the knees and top of their head...”   
   The Oregon Coast mystery of the Cape Perpetua radar and the troops stationed at Yachats during WW2 is now solved.  During the early part of WW2 the Oregon coast was vulnerable from the air and sea.   Oregonians were issued food and gas ration cards and were required to obey Western Defense Command dim-out regulations.    WW2 was an era when fear was replaced by valor.  American WW2 veterans are passing away at the rate of 1,200 per week and all their exploits, including the important work at Cape Perpetua should be remembered and cherished for years to come.  reference 7, William b. Lewis WW2 Oregon Coast magazine 2009

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area[edit]

Devil's Churn near Cape Perpetua
Thor's Well

The Forest Service created the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area and built the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center in the 1960s to highlight the unique beauty of the central Oregon Coast. The scenic area includes 2,700 acres (11 km2) of old growth spruce, Douglas-fir, and western hemlock.[1]

Camping, picnicking, hiking, sightseeing, whale watching, and a visitor center with daily programs are all available within the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. There are twenty-six miles of interconnected hiking trails in old growth forests which lead to Pacific Ocean tidal pools.[1][8] One of the trails leads to a 600 year old Giant Sitka Spruce known as the Silent Sentinel of the Siuslaw. This tree stands more than 185 feet (56 m) high, and has a 40-foot (12 m) circumference at its base.[9] On September 15, 2007, this ancient spruce was designated an Oregon Heritage Tree by the State of Oregon to recognize its exceptional age and size and ensure its protection.[1]

Along the Cape Perpetua coastline there are several unique features as well. The Devil's Churn is a long crack in the coastal rock that fills with each ocean wave, occasionally exploding as incoming and outgoing waves collide. The Spouting Horn at Cook's Chasm and Thor's Well on the plateau nearby are both salt water fountains driven by the power of the ocean tide. Thor's Well is at 44°16′42″N 124°06′49″W / 44.278421°N 124.113499°W / 44.278421; -124.113499 (Thors Well). Spouting Horn is at 44°16′39″N 124°06′47″W / 44.277497°N 124.112994°W / 44.277497; -124.112994 (Spouting Horn). Both Thor's Well and Spouting Horn are best seen approximately an hour before high tide to an hour after high tide. How spectacular the sights are is a function of the height of the high tide and the direction and size of the swells. The wind can also be a factor. Devil's Churn, Spouting Horn and Thor's Well are popular with visitors; however, all three can be dangerous especially at high tide and during winter storms.[1]

The Cape Perpetua Visitor Center is located two miles (3 km) south of Yachats. The visitor center offers spectacular views of the ocean and coast from its deck. It is also a popular place to watch migrating gray whales. The visitor center has comprehensive natural history and cultural exhibits, an interactive children's science area, a theater with nature films, and a bookstore. An SCR-270B radar was installed on the site in 1943 in response to the bombing of Mt. Emily, Brookings, Oregon.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, USDA Forest Service, Siuslaw National Forest, February 12, 2007.
  2. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  3. ^ a b Sullivan, William L., Hiking Oregon’s History, Navillus Press, Eugene, Oregon, 2000.
  4. ^ a b c "Yachats History", City of Yachats, Lincoln County, Oregon, January 12, 2008.
  5. ^ "Facility Details - CAPE PERPETUA, OR". Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  6. ^ "The CCC Camp at Cape Perpetua", Yachats Area Chamber of Commerce, Yachats, Oregon, 2008.
  7. ^ Lewis, William B. (February 2009). "World War II Mystery Solved". Oregon Coast Magazine (Northwest Magazines). 
  8. ^ Travel Oregon, Oregon Tourism Commission, Salem, Oregon, 2008.
  9. ^ Eberly, Laura, "Silent Sentinel of the Siuslaw named Oregon Heritage Tree", Newport News-Times, July 21, 2006.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 44°17′14″N 124°06′50″W / 44.2872°N 124.114°W / 44.2872; -124.114