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My Story

Mike & Carol’s Lighthouse Travels: Lighthouses are fascinating to us!

By Mike McKinney


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Carol and Mike McKinney posed for for this photo ...

Some are beautiful. Some are ugly. They all are historic, intriguing, and different. Some are very easy to visit. Some are very difficult, frustrating, and expensive to visit. But they all provide us with an uplifting feeling of accomplishment when we arrive.

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Carol and Mike McKinney at New York’s Little Gull ...

Lighthouses mean something different to every person. For Carol, it’s an opportunity to climb a tall winding staircase or experiencing the way our early settlers lived in lonely isolation during brutal weather. For Mike, it’s a “Kodak Moment” taking pictures of breathtaking scenes on rugged Maine shorelines or frozen Lake Michigan. For both of us, it’s a reason, or a chance, or an excuse to travel these United States and see the beauty, culture, and history that makes this the greatest country in the world.

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Carol enjoys a warm drink at Alaska's Sentinel ...

It hasn’t always been this way for us. We saw our first lighthouse, Portland Head Light, in 1974 when we moved our young family of Terry 9, Timothy 8, Kathy 7, and Kelly 5 to Portland, Maine from Houston, Texas because of a business opportunity for Mike. We grew up in Ames, Iowa and spent all of our lives up to that time “land locked” in the Midwest. When we arrived in Portland on a cold day in January, there was quite a culture shock. There were no “Galleria” shopping malls or six lane highways, just a quiet, laid back fishing community. Since we were fairly young and raising a family, we didn’t have time to enjoy the fabulous setting that Maine possesses. We did manage to visit Portland Head Light and Cape Elizabeth Twin Lights but didn’t realize the important role that they would play in our lives many years later. We left Portland after a little over a year and finally settled back in the Midwest in Dallas, Texas in January, 1980 after stops along the way in Cambridge, Ohio and Knoxville, Tennessee. Shortly after moving to Dallas, we visited Port Isabel Lighthouse in August, 1981 on a vacation to South Padre Island, Texas.

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Mike and Carol McKinney having fun in the snow at ...

Our next exposure to lighthouses did not come until July 9, 1994, Kelly’s 25th birthday, when Carol, Mike, and Kelly were on vacation on the West Coast. Mike is a stamp collector, and the U.S. Postal Service had recently issued a block of five stamps commemorating lighthouses. One of the stamps on this issue is Amiralty Head in Washington. We visited Admiralty Head so that Mike could send a postcard with that stamp on it back home with a postmark documenting one of our stops on the vacation. We became very excited about lighthouses after our visit to Admiralty Head and naturally wanted to visit all of the lighthouses on the stamp issue.

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Carol and Mike snowmobiled to Michigan's Grand ...

While we were on one of our lighthouse trips in the New York City area, we went to ABC’s “Good Morning America” show on March 6, 2002 and were interviewed about our lighthouse experiences.

Most recently we accomplished our most challenging goal to date - “See all Alaska lighthouses in two weeks”! This took a lot of planning. All of the thirteen Alaska lighthouses (See “mike-carols-lighthouses.com/gallery/Alaska”) are on islands, most very remote, and to complicate matters there are no roads to get from one town to another. All of our travel had to be by sea or air. We used Alaska Airlines, Skagway Air, and the Alaska Marine Highways ferry to get us from Cordova to Gustavus to Juneau to Petersburg to Ketchikan. We chartered private planes, boats, and a helicopter to take us to the lighthouses. All of our experiences in Alaska, including our trips to the Alaska National Parks, are now in our website.

The rest is history. In the last thirteen years, Carol and Mike have visited close to 700 U.S. lighthouses (depending somewhat on what you call a lighthouse). Some may say that there aren’t that many, but we include ruins in our total. Our goal is to see them all. We drove to the “easy to get to” ones, hiked for 3.5 miles each way in the wind and sand to Punta Gorda Lighthouse in California, rode the Amtrak train past Point Arguello on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, kayaked to New Dungeness Lighthouse in Washington, thumbed a ride on a four wheel drive across dunes to Cape Pogue Lighthouse on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, snow mobiled 40 miles round trip to Grand Island North, Michigan, hiked in the rain and snow, gone on many scheduled lighthouse cruises sponsored by lighthouse organizations, taken numerous ferries, private charter boats, and private air charters. Our specialty, if there is such a thing, is to photograph lighthouses from the air on private charters. We are also trying to stay over night at all of the lighthouses that operate as a Bed & Breakfast. Staying over night is very rewarding; because it gives us a chance to relax and enjoy all the little details of the lighthouse that would otherwise be missed, see it at different times of the day and night, and meet other lighthouse lovers. We have been to many lighthouses two, three, or four times at different seasons of the year. Hopefully, we will see the remaining twenty or so in the near future.

We have visited all fifty states and are very much into National Parks and National Landmarks. Although this is a lighthouse website, we plan to document our travels to other sites around the U.S. In the meantime, we wish to share our travels and experiences with other lighthouse lovers. As of now we are way behind uploading our travels into our website. Please be patient! If anyone wants pictures or information from a specific lighthouse in the meantime, let us know by

email – mcttkk@yahoo.com. We hope that the information in our website (mike-carols-lighthouses.com) will make it easier for someone else to visit these lighthouses.

This story appeared in the July 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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