Off the Reservation : Oregon Coast

I had plans to backpack with a friend in Olympic National Park, but he had a run-in with a log splitter that deflated his finger and his annual leave.  (Ouch!)

By the time I reached Colorado, traveling solo, my plans had already changed.  I picked up the Oregon Trail in Loveland, Colorado and followed it as well as I could up to Oregon.  Baker City, Oregon was my first destination.  I visited the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center (Oregon National Historic Trail website) and then spent some time learning about the region’s gold rush history.  I saw an 80.4 ounce fist-sized piece of gold called the “Armstrong Nugget” that I’d like to add to my rock collection, visited the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area (Dredge closed for the winter), and drove along the historic Powder River.  Back on Interstate 84, I continued to follow the Oregon trail through La Grande, Pendleton, and the Columbia River Gorge.

I took the Interstate south to Salem and headed out to the Pacific Coast.  I had planned to drive the Roosevelt Highway (U.S. Highway 101) up the coast from Yachats to Astoria, and then maybe spend some time along the Washington Coast.  That didn’t happen!  There is just too much to see and do along the coast in Northern Oregon.  I spent the next several days within only a few miles of where I started.  I stayed in and visited Oregon State Parks where possible, and found them exceedingly well maintained.  An out-of-the way area maintained by the State Park system is Munson Creek Falls, near Tillamook.  This 266-foot high waterfall is the largest falls in the Coast Range.  Just up the road, the Tillamook Cheese Factory offers free tours.  The experience for me was a downer, as the “tour” is nothing more than walking along a series of windows that overlook the cheese packaging process.  The cheese is made in opaque vats and the curds are processed inside a “CheddarMaster” machine that eliminates the need for humans in the entire cheese-making process.  I enjoy watching a human cheddar master craft a quality cheese, and love eating fresh warm salted curds fresh off the line.  Instead, at Tillamook, you get to purchase machine-made cheese in their gift shop at a price higher than it sells for at the local supermarket!  I had a better experience south of town at the Tillamook Air Museum, housed in a 210-foot-high timber-framed blimp hangar.  (“The largest wooden structure in the world”)  I like airplanes well enough, but love the old airships.  This is a nice place to get an idea of what went on during that brief period of time that lighter-than-air craft plied the skies.  The museum is filled with period airplanes and related exhibits, all dwarfed by the scale of the hangar.

I have an interest in maritime history, but Oklahoma isn’t a prime place to be educated on the topic.  Oregon is.  Lighthouses, shipwreck stories, and ominous names such as Cape Foulweather and Cape Lookout all allude to the turbulent nature of the Pacific Ocean in this area.  The U.S. Life Saving Service (fore-runner  to the Coast Guard) has a rich local history.  Several museums in the area highlight every aspect of the ocean from social history to natural history.  I especially enjoyed the Lincoln County Historical Museum, which stayed open late for me (Thanks!) and has a gift shop book selection extensive enough to be a research library. The Oregon Coast Aquarium is a good resource for understanding marine wildlife.

On exhibit around the Oregon Coast Aquarium are several fascinating art pieces created from beach trash by the Washed Ashore program of the Artula Institute For Arts and Environmental Education.  Also located at the aquarium and at other local attractions are wood sculptures by Brian McEneny of the Woodcarving Gallery in Seal Rock, Oregon.  Sea Lion Caves is a popular tourist destination in the summer, but like most places in February, I had it nearly to myself.  The Steller’s sea lions come inside “The World’s Largest Sea Cave” during the winter, and about 200 were there during my visit.  Guests are taken down 200′ by elevator and then observe the inside of the 120 foot high cave from a side tunnel. 

My trip coincided with the full moon, which led to fantastic overnight imagery.  One night I sat on the beach until midnight watching the tide come in.  When I had to drive at night, the moon lit up the snow on the cedars and made truly fantastic scenes that I could only etch in my memory, being unable to capture them in a photograph.

Although the list of places I wanted to visit kept getting longer, my time ran short and I finally had to head home.  My drive back to Oklahoma seemed to be snow and ice from Cape Disappointment, Washington to Denver, CO.  I know there must have been a dry spot or two in there somewhere, but I don’t recall them!