Nick & Sara’s Tour de West – 12

Wed, 16 Sep 09

Rain, rain, go away – I guess I couldn’t have expected it to stay bright and sunny the entire time I was out here, and Wednesday definitely proved that point. When I woke up in Wed morning, the sky was grey and overcast, and the rain was coming down hard. So hard, in fact, that I discovered on my way to breakfast that Sara has a bit of a leaky roof in heavy rain.. not terrible, but there’s a definite “drip” where the roof meets the windshield right above the driver’s side door. Oh well, I guess if I’d been driven the better part of 2000 miles in a week, I’d spring a leak or two, as well.

So, what to do on the Oregon coast when it’s raining? Well, I’d already spied the “Oregon Coast Aquarium,” in Newport, and what better place to spend a rainy morning?

Turns out the Oregon Coast Aquarium is a very nice, modern facility, one well worth seeing. When I get to the parking lot, there a number of cars there, and a number of people waiting in line at the entrance – I guess a few others had the same idea about how to spend a rainy morning – still, it’s not really crowded, and thankfully devote of the screaming hordes of school children that can often ruin museums and aquariums.

(An aside, before someone accuses me of being an old curmudgeon – I’ve got *nothing* against kids, and against kids going to museums and aquariums – of course the should go – it’s just that when you get, oh, 30 of ’em all following one or two teachers around and they’re all excited about a day off from school they can get, well, a little *loud*, and it can kinda ruin the experience for us older folk). I think public spaces like aquariums and museums ought to set aside one weekday for “no school tours” day.)

The aquarium, as the name implies, is really focused on the fauna and flora of the Oregon coastal area – to that end, they have a couple of sea lion and otter exhibits that are actually outdoors.. you can watch the sea lions and otters do their thing from above the water, and plexiglass windows cut into the sides of their tank let you watch them do their thing under water, as well. The sea lions in particular were impressive in size – until you get up close to them you don’t realize how big they actually are. And they move through the water with an incredible ease. Of course, it’s still raining so after standing outside getting wet for a while, I move inside to the main exhibit. The biggest, most modern exhibit is called “Passages of the Deep,” and features 3 large tanks with plexiglass tunnels through them – you walk through the tunnels, and the fish swim around, above, and below you.. It’s really an odd sensation to be staring at a large halibut (and they get pretty big), and watch it swim straight at you, then suddenly rise up and float, magically, as if through the air, over and above you.

I probably could have stayed at the aquarium all day and not been bored, but I did want to make some forward progress today – so at noon I walked out to the parking lot where Sara was patiently waiting. At this point, thankfully, the rain had pretty much stopped, though the sky was still overcast and grey.

The plan for today was to drive south (what a shock!) on 101 maybe as far as Coos Bay or Bandon – and perhaps get into the Redwoods area of N. California the next day. Today was Wed, and I’d pretty much given up all hope of reaching San Diego on this trip – just wasn’t gonna happen. 101 is too pretty a drive, and too slow a drive, to make that much forward progress in a day. I suppose I could have gone a little ways inland and boogied down I-5 – but what fun would that be? So, get down closer to the redwoods tonight, tour the redwoods on Thursday, then turn eastward on Friday – maybe going I-80 back through Nevada and Utah to Colorado. OK, I’ve tried to be as “agenda-less” as possible on this trip, but when you’ve gotta get be at work on Monday, sometimes you do need a plan.

There’s a couple of stops I want to make on my way down the coast, though, if the weather permits. One is “Cape Perpetua” which my guide book says is not to be missed. A little further down the road is “Hereta Head Lighthouse,” which is supposed to one of the most photographed lighthouses in the US.

Cape Perpetua turns out to be not that far to drive from Newport, only about half an hour, so I make it there in early afternoon. The big draw here is the rocky coast which has some unique features which interact with the surf to form dramatic wave action on shore. The first of this is “Devils Churn,” which is about a 1/4 mile long slot in the volcanic rock that covers the shore here, perpendicular to the shore and running inland. From a width of, oh about a hundred feet or so it narrows down to a few feet at the very inshore end. This allows the surf to crash onto the shore, get concentrated in this slot and create a huge whitewater area with crashing waves and churning water.

You have to walk down from the parking area to get to the shore, but there’s a well maintained path and a set of stairs that leads out on to the rocks near Devil’s Churn. I’m a bit surprised, frankly, that they let people wander onto the rocks like this – there’s no protection or anything stopping you from falling into Devil’s Churn, and if a big wave came along and caught you and pulled you in, you’d be toast – no way to climb back out and by the time anyone could get to you with a rope you’d be pummeled senseless against the rocks. To be fair, signs warn against the dangers of getting to close to the edge, and admonish you to watch the seas and to watch for rogue waves in particular (large waves formed by the occasional random piling on of several waves together before they hit shore – such waves can be several times the size of the normal surf and come without warning).

Today is a relatively calm day, and the surf is still impressive – I can only imagine what this must be like on a day with on-shore winds and truly rough seas. Today I do down from the bottom of the stairs and climb around on the rocks a bit (keeping my eye out for waves, of course) – on a rough day, I don’t think I’d bother.

The next stop is Hereta Head Lighthouse, another half an hour or so down the road. From a parking lot down by the shore, a trail leads up onto a coastal bluff, past the lighthouse keepers house (apparently now a B&B), on up the bluff to a point where the lighthouse itself is. The lighthouse, to my mind, is interesting, but not particular photogenic – I’m not sure what all the fuss is. In fact, from the trail and the lighthouse lawn, it’s hard to actually get a good picture – you’re too close and can’t get far enough away. Still, it’s a pleasant place, with a sweeping, panoramic view of the ocean beyond and on down the coast where 101 can be seen winding its way south.

After wandering around a bit, I walk back down the trail, jump back in Sara and head on up the same stretch of 101 I’d just been staring at from the lighthouse – and then the road comes to the next rocky point on the bluff that 101 is following down the coast – there’s a parking lot here, and from here one can look back at – Oh, now I get it.. The view from *here* of the lighthouse is one of those iconic kinds of images you see on postcards – with the lighthouse perched high on a rocky bluff, the waves crashing below, the lighthouse keepers house just off to the side, and of course the green hills of Oregon providing a pleasant background for all the elements. I stop and take my version of the picture that must be on cameras the world over, then jump back into Sara and continue my journey southward.

The original plan was to get as far as Coos Bay or maybe slightly further south tonight, but by the time I reach Coos Bay its only 5, the sun is still high in the sky, and I’m feeling pretty energetic still. There’s a big indian casino at the edge of Coos Bay so I inquire about rooms there – rooms are available but not particularly a bargain. The lady at the front desk tells me “depending upon how much gambling you do the rate could be a lot cheaper.” Great, so if I lose a ton of money in your casino you’ll give me a break on a place to sleep that night – not my idea of a real bargain.

So, Sara and I continue on down the coast – past the towns of Bandon, Port Orford, Gold Beach. Before you know it, it’s dusk and the sun is sinking into the Pacific Ocean – now, this is a treat. Growing up on the east coast the sun always rises from the ocean – but of course, who wants to get up to see the sunrise on a regular basis? On the west coast, one can watch the sun sink into the ocean at the end of the day – a much more civilized affair. I find a convenient place to pull off the road and watch, silently, as the sun slides into the ocean and disappears from sight between to rocky outcroppings in the sea.

Now, this is the life.