We are home and planning our next adventure because the compass never stops spinning. Check out my Future Adventures tab to see some of the possibilities! I’d love your feedback and ideas.
Pretty little Yaquina Head lighthouse at the mouth of the Yaquina River in Newport. Not to be confused with Yaquina Bay Light on the other side of Yaquina Bay. Lots of lights in this neck of the woods. Lots of rocks.
It was a long day with an itinerary covering 190 miles of spectacular Oregon coastline. We managed to check out of our apartment in Gold Beach by 9:00, which for us is amazing. But then we got hung up by the stunning wildlife at Port Orford, the friendly volunteers at Cape Blanco, the intriguing walking paths at Coquille Point, the delicious Sea Star Bistro and the worthwhile Washed Ashore gallery in Old Town Bandon, and then the unbelievable dunes between Reedsport and Florence. Then the rain set in, and it was growing dark. We don’t like checking in to a new rental in the rain and the dark. All that unseen mud! We’d just have to chuck the rest of the itinerary and make a run for Newport.
I always plan more stops than we have time for, and my motto is “No regrets.” We do what we can. This is supposed to be slow travel, relaxed travel. Ix-nay on the ess-stray. As we headed to Newport, I was trying not to regret missing Cape Heceta lighthouse, reportedly one of the prettiest on the Oregon coast.
I looked up to see a sign for the Sea Lion Cave. As much as I like sea lions, I didn’t regret missing what sounded like a cheesy tourist spectacle—an elevator ride down the face of a cliff to gaze into a cavern full of Steller sea lions. I wonder what they make of that. Oh, look! Here comes another cage of tourists!
We drove on. And there it was—the coziest little lighthouse you could ever imagine nestled into the side of a rocky point, its beacon sweeping through the misty rain and out to sea. Cape Heceta! I didn’t realize it’s visible from the Oregon Coast Highway. We pulled off the road onto a conveniently situated overlook.
We rarely travel at dusk, so I’m not used to actually being able to see a lighthouse beacon. They tend to disappear in the light of day. But the rain and the hour were the ideal setting and that rocky backdrop the ideal canvas. Thomas Kinkade would have been euphoric. I stood at the overlook wall taking it all in. And then I heard the barking. Dogs? No, it was coming from the cove below us. Sea lions!
There was still enough light to peer into the waves 300 feet below us, and there they were. Dozens of sea lions diving into the surf in search of dinner. Dawn and dusk are optimal times to see animals in the wild foraging for food. Our timing couldn’t have been better. We stayed until the light grew too dim to see, then got back in the car and drove into the darkness. We arrived at our rental and unloaded our stuff in the pitch black (the porch light wasn’t working), but we didn’t care. Sometimes you see the most extraordinary things when you step outside your comfort zone.
Is it possible to grow tired of these coastal views? I don’t think so. Next stop on our itinerary: Cape Blanco, the westernmost point on the Oregon coast. (You know I have to chase down those superlatives!)
According to Fodor’s, this lighthouse sits 245 feet above the ocean and is the longest continuously operating lighthouse in Oregon (another superlative!). Its beacon has been guiding ships since 1870.
I had to visit Ashland, not only because it is an adorable little town smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, but also because my sister went to college here 50 years ago. I remember going to Ashland with my parents to drop her off. We were about to move to Bangkok, and it was sad to leave her behind. How hard that must have been for her to leave home for the first time with her family so far away. At least she had friends from high school with her in this beautiful town.
Here we are in cute little J’ville. The town is so perfect we felt like we were on a movie set. Lots of cute shops, restaurants, galleries, wine-tasting venues, and even an impressive Halloween-themed show by the local art league. It was fun wandering around pretending like we lived here.
We hesitated to spend the $15 per person admission price for this museum just south of Bend. $15 is not much for a quality museum, but you never know how good a local museum is going in. (I’ve long ago given up trusting online ratings.) But there was this ominous note on my typed travel itinerary: “Do it!” In red font. With the exclamation point. Can’t remember what motivated me to add that, but you can’t argue with that kind of message, so we went. And it was worth every penny.
Here’s what we liked.
Outstanding exhibit on the history of Oregon’s High Desert, including the portion of the Oregon Trail that ran through it. This is where the oxen and mules started to die from exhaustion and lack of food and water. Families who brought more than one wagon had to consolidate their belongings into one. Out went the cast iron stoves, furniture that had been in the family for generations, and other large items they had hauled for thousands of miles. Some families had to dispense with even functional, daily items like pots and pans and clothing. The High Desert was where the Oregon Dream began to fall apart for many.
Rescued animal presentations. Tumbleweed, the porcupine, was happy to share his lunch hour with us, eschewing the non-seasonal apple to chew on the more autumnal choices of pumpkin and parsnip. Does he know something we don’t know?
The river otters were absolutely delightful! They began a dizzying game of Follow-the-Leader throughout their newly constructed habitat—under the water, into their den, out the back exit to their island, back into the water, rolling onto their backs, diving underwater, then heads back up to see if the wildlife presenter was ready to dispense with some of the smelt treats she had for them.
Roaming through the 135-acre property, we came across several High Desert habitats: desert (of course), cultivated farm, stream, pond, forest—each habitat diverse and beautiful in its own way.
Also loved the exhibit on prehistoric buzzsaw sharks (What???) Never heard of these guys before. Artistic renderings of these ancient fish, based on fossils of their buzzsaw-shaped jaws found in Idaho, Australia, and China, are incredible. The exhibit on the WPA art projects—architecture, paintings, sculpture, literature, and theater—was fascinating as well, especially to consider how deeply the people of Oregon were affected not only by the training and employment of artisans during the Depression, but also by the enjoyment derived from their works.
Dual sculptures, Blanket Stories, by artist Marie Watt emphasizes the importance of storytelling in past and current American cultures. First she stacked blankets donated by Oregon residents in a column almost reaching the ceiling, each with its own story written on a tag attached to the blanket. Fascinating to read about the people who created them or the mysterious circumstances by which they came to be in the possession of the donors. Then she carved a rendering of her blanket column in pine, reminiscent of a Native American talking stick used in council meetings.
Overall, a very rewarding experience. Do it!
You’ve got to love a town named Bend. There’s just something about the name that sounds so, well, flexible. Everyone we’ve talked to who has been here says they love it. We had high expectations, and were not disappointed. Here’s a slideshow that attempts to show why.
Much more interesting than The Dalles is Hood River, a town 22 miles west and also on the Columbia River at the mouth of the Hood River–surprise, surprise! Among its claims to fame are the invention of wind surfing (it gets quite breezy here on the Columbia) and several very noteworthy craft breweries. It’s also a cute town to walk around. Great coffee shops, independent boutiques, and restaurants.