Coquille Point, Bandon

We heard there might be sea lions, so we stopped at Coquille Point. Didn’t see any, but loved this little beach. Even better than the many sea stacks in the water are the walking trails and benches along the bluff. Wish we had more time on our way to Newport….

sea stacks make the Oregon coast so dramatic

Sea stacks make the Oregon coast so beautiful.

 

Love these trails, benches, and views!

Love these trails, benches, and views!

Cape Blanco

view south from Cape Blanco

view south from Cape Blanco

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!)

Cape Blanco lighthouse

Cape Blanco lighthouse

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.

Port Orford

view from Port Orford Headland

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

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

gray whale off Port Orford

There's the fluke!

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?

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.

Canadensis roosevelti?

Cervus canadensis roosevelti?

Nope! Mule deer.

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.

Gold Beach

looking at Gold Beach, across the Rogue River

looking at Gold Beach, across the Rogue River

Gold Beach, the town we are currently staying in for a couple of nights, is on the south bank of the mouth of the mighty Rogue River–a certified Wild and Scenic River. You may remember we hiked above the Rogue in Medford (Lower Table Rock).

the Pacific Coast Highway bridge over the Rogue River

the Pacific Coast Highway bridge over the Rogue River

Unlike Florida, where they spend considerable money to keep the inlets dredged for commercial and pleasure fishing boats, sand builds up across the mouths of several rivers we have seen. It’s not until the Fall rains or the Spring snowmelt flood the river that there is enough volume to overcome the sandbar and go out to sea.

the sandbar that separates river from ocean, for now

the sandbar that separates river from ocean, for now

You have to love a town that provides shelter for its homeless cats and dogs.

03-homeless

Ashland

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.

Crater Lake

We had a stunningly gorgeous day to explore Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake is in the caldera of a volcano, Mount Mazama, that erupted 7700 years ago. Once the magma chamber inside the volcano was empty, the mountain top collapsed into the chamber creating the caldera. Rain and snow filled the caldera over the centuries to form the lake; there are no rivers, streams, or springs that flow into it. At 1943 feet deep, it is the deepest lake in the United States and the ninth deepest in the world. The extreme depth accounts for the sapphire-blue water.

Here’s a tip: When you enter the park, whether it’s from the north or southwest entrance, drive along the East Rim Drive first. For some reason, everyone wants to see West Rim Drive first, despite heavy traffic backups. We had the East Rim almost to ourselves.

Here’s a sampling of what we saw.

Into the desert

We left the gorgeously green Columbia River Gorge to head south into the desert. Yes, Oregon has a desert. The Cascade Mountains serve as a barrier to all that wet on the Pacific side (west) of the mountains and creates a “rain shadow” over eastern Oregon. In all our travels to Oregon, we have never ventured into the desert, so here we are.

into the desert

into the desert

 

Mt. Hood from the east side

Mt. Hood from the east side

 

Mt. Adams in Washington

Mt. Adams in Washington

 

Rafters on the Deschutes River

Rafters on the Deschutes River

 

This is Oregon???

This is Oregon???

Hike

For our first hike this trip, we climbed up to Tom McCall Point in Mayer State Park. (Tom McCall, governor of Oregon from 1967 to 1975, was a champion of Oregon’s environment.) Mayer State Park is located on the river midway between Hood River and The Dalles and allows for fabulous views of the gorge and Mts. Hood (in Oregon) and Adams (in Washington) from the upper elevations. We hiked up to the Point from Rowena Crest, on the Historic Columbia River Highway, gaining almost 1000 feet in altitude. Great exercise. Great views. Perfect weather.

The Columbia River Gorge

We began our five-week tour of Oregon with a trip into the Columbia River Gorge from Portland. The Columbia River is the state line between Oregon and Washington and was the destination of Lewis and Clark back in 1805 when they were searching for a water passage from the United States (east of the Appalachian Mountains at that time) to the Pacific Coast. They knew of the Columbia River–the mouth had been discovered by Europeans in the 18th century. They were searching for a way to get to the Columbia from the Mississippi River.

This is my first time exploring the Gorge since reading about Lewis and Clark’s expedition in Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, and I am excited. The river is a lot calmer now than when the expedition navigated it. Gone are the multiple rapids and waterfalls they had to contend with. The many dams built during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration make the river appear more like a lake.

The topography is exceptional. The melting glaciers in Idaho and Montana (Missoula Floods) during the last ice age have carved out an incredible gorge in the layers of basalt left by erupting volcanoes prior to the glacial period. Interesting that the Oregon side is so much greener than the Washington side. Turns out the southwest orientation of the layers of rock cause the Washington side to erode into the river. They lose valuable layers of topsoil, while the Oregon side stays pretty much intact. Beautiful country!

Gateway to the Columbia Gorge--Troutdale, just east of Portland.

Gateway to the Columbia Gorge–Troutdale, just east of Portland.

 

The Gorge, looking east from Chanticleer Point.

The Gorge, looking east from Chanticleer Point.

 

The Bonneville Dam, the first of FDR's New Deal dams on the Columbia.

The Bonneville Dam, the first of FDR’s New Deal dams on the Columbia.

 

Lunch at Thunder Island Brewing in Cascade Locks. All that history and gorge-ous scenery works up a thirst!

Lunch at Thunder Island Brewing in Cascade Locks. All that history and gorge-ous scenery works up a thirst!