view from Port Orford Headland
Very aggressive itinerary on our relocation from Gold Beach to Newport. 185 miles on the Oregon Coast Highway (US 101). It takes approximately four hours just to drive it, but we had stops to make—important stops. This is one of the most scenic stretches of the Oregon coast. Only the most serious players qualified.
First stop: Port Orford Heads State Park. Now, don’t laugh at the State Park title. In Florida, a state park is any scrub palmetto with a fire ring next to it. Oregon state parks are worthy of national park status by a Floridian’s standards. In Oregon, you can pitch your tent next to the Pacific Ocean, or a waterfall, or a volcano, or the Cascadia Subduction Zone. (Just kidding. In Oregon it’s illegal to camp where tectonic plates collide. Some environmental thing, I guess.) State parks in Oregon are very cool.
Nellie’s Cove from Port Orford Headland
So, back to Port Orford. The headlands alone are worth the short hike, but as we gazed out at the Pacific from our incredible vantage point we spotted gray whales frolicking in the kelp beds below, getting their fill of krill. That alone would have made my day. I have never seen whales without paying a minor fortune, dressing up in a very unflattering one-piece neon-yellow suit, and getting bounced around in a 26-foot Zodiac for three hours. Yes, the orcas were amazing, but that was one step above Sea World compared to discovering whales on your own.
gray whale off Port Orford
There’s the tail!
Then we saw the seals, or sea lions. I would like to know the difference, but the Oregonians I have asked can’t tell me. They mumble something about the color. All I know is there are two varieties of each: harbor and elephant seals, and California and Steller sea lions. So we saw some of those, just lying around on the rocks in the sun like slugs. I’ve felt that way after a very large meal, only instead of a wet, slippery rock, I prefer an overstuffed sofa. But I get the sun thing. I only wonder if their dermatologists know how much time they spend on that rock.
seals or sea lions?
And then Marcus spotted a ginormous four-legged mammal grazing on the ridge a quarter-mile away, its profile so perfectly silhouetted against the sky that I expected to hear David Attenborough describing the autumnal dietary habits of Cervus canadensis roosevelti, the Olympic elk often seen in these parts. It had to be an elk for us to be able to see it so clearly on the ridge at that distance. We hurried down the trail, hoping to get a closer look. And we did! It was a common mule deer. Dang! Must have been a light and mirrors thing. I think I saw her snicker as we moved on.
Cervus canadensis roosevelti?
Nope! Mule deer.
So a short hike on our itinerary turned into a wildlife display that took half the morning because, frankly, I had a hard time tearing myself away. Some of the best things happen when you least expect them. Just be ready to abandon the plan and go with the moment.