Funny hat, Roy!
Last time we were here, we took highway 101 south from Florence, on the Oregon coast (we actually went via Eugene back then, but we didn’t stop here). Lynnette thought it would be a good idea to turn right instead of left at Florence and show us a bit of the coast north of Florence.
The trip to Florence is quite pretty, lots of hills and forest, and then the road follows the Siuslaw River towards the coast.
You can see how smoky the air is in the photos – but at least it gives a perception of depth and distance, as green hills fade to first dark then progressively paler grey.
I’m hoping that once we reach the coast there will at least be a slightly fresher onshore breeze. The smoke has affected my breathing a bit and over the last couple of days I’ve used Ventolin for the first time on the trip.
At Florence we turned onto the 101, heading north, initially with high sand dunes to our left. Even after five weeks here, more than three of them spent on the west coast, I still get confused about which way I’m heading. I have to keep forcing myself to picture the map – if the ocean’s on my left, I’m heading north!
Our first stop was the Darlingtonia Wayside Botanical Garden. There is a short, level trail under tall trees. It leads to a magnificent display of Darlingtonia Californica – carnivorous cobra lilies.
They are quite amazing plants (they really do look like cobras from some angles!) – and there are so many of them here! They grow in swampy areas in northern California and south-west Oregon – there must be a plentiful supply of insects in this spot because they’re both abundant and huge! Very impressive.
There were lots of other interesting shrubs, ferns and mosses along the trail too:
Back to the car to continue our drive along the coast (I love Route 101).
The water is grey under the hazy sky and the road tracks along the steep clifftops and rocky headlands – the remains of ancient underwater magma flows that crashed into the coast as the Juan de Fuca Plate moved inexorably east. (I know a lot more about this now, thanks to Dennis at the Oregon University museum.)
Some of the sedimentary rock that had settled above the volcanic eruptions was then eroded by the wind and waves, leaving the basalt exposed all along the coast. The dark coastal rocks are a striking sight for someone who comes from a place where the seaside cliffs tend to be golden sandstone! (It would probably look quite ordinary to a New Zealander!)
Next stop was the magnificent Heceta Head Lighthouse, one of the forty or so lighthouses that line the West Coast, from Washington State through Oregon and Northern California, where the water is wild and cold and the coastline and ocean floor rocky and treacherous for shipping.
Each light has a unique signature (Heceta Head is an amber flash every ten seconds) and these were formerly used for navigating – in fact they still are, especially by sailors of smaller boats, which don’t have the advanced technology of large commercial vessels.
The lighthouse stands high on the northern headland of a small bay, with two rocky islands jutting out into the bay and sheltering a sandy beach. It’s a beautiful sunny day (despite the smoke haze, which has persisted a bit, even here) but no-one is in the water. I’ll find out why soon enough.
But first we decide to take the trail up past the old assistant lighthouse-keeper’s house (which is now an expensive B&B) to the lighthouse.
Sadly, the head lighthouse-keeper’s house was sold in the early 1900’s for $10 (with removal to be at the purchaser’s expense!) It was dismantled, moved and repurposed as a restaurant in Florence (Oregon), apparently! During WWII, there were army barracks on the site – these too have since been dismantled and taken away, leaving just the original assistant’s house with a fabulous outlook over the cove, the beach and the ocean.
The trail itself is pretty – a mix of cool winding pathway under tall mossy trees, and open trails along the side of the headland, following the old concrete path from the keepers’ houses up the light, with what we’d probably call coastal heathland on either side.
There were colourful flowers as well as blackberry bushes with some ripe fruit, which Roy sampled as we walked.
The lighthouse tower is relatively small as lighthouses go, but the light itself is powerful. You can see why it needs to be, when you look out to the wild ocean, with its tricky currents and channels.
It uses the largest English-made Fresnel lens in the US.
All of the lights down the coast have a reach of about 21 miles, and they’re about 20 miles apart, to ensure some overlap for navigation.
We stayed to hear the guide’s talk about the light and its keepers over the years before automation. It would have been a rough life tending the light in those days before Route 101! The wagons bringing supplies often had to race the tide around the headlands, and the storms would have been quite terrifying, I’d imagine. The pay was good for its time, reflecting both the importance of the lights in saving lives and the isolated conditions of the keepers and their families.
I can also imagine, though, that despite the isolation and physical challenges of the job, the sense of doing something really important and the closeness to the forest, the ocean and the weather would bring a sort of peace and satisfaction to the life of the keepers, provided they were temperamentally well-suited for the role. I can understand the attraction to it… “Sometimes, I need a lighthouse of my own…”
We walked a little further up the trail (that goes for miles on up the coast), until we were level with the light itself, and watched it going around and around, catching the light as it turned. Lovely. On the way back down, I spent a bit of time (and money) in the little gift-shop, which had some high quality merchandise, including locally-made wood carvings and crafts. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for my finances) we simply don’t have the room to take much back with us. The usual fridge magnets will have to suffice!
We ate our picnic lunch at a shady table not too far from where we’d parked the car, and in view of the graceful bridge that crosses the creek between the headlands on each side of the bay. There are several of these bridges up and down the coast – I really like them. Simple, solid and elegant.
The sun was out by now but the onshore breeze was quite cool. The idea of swimming was not looming quite so large in my mind at this stage – but I thought that I should at least go down for a paddle, a token touching of this side of the Pacific 🙂
We walked down onto the beach – firstly over the river stones piled up near the mouth of the creek, then (after I removed my shoes) onto the crusty sand, a little courser than the sand of our Sydney beaches, and finally I stepped into the very shallow wash zone.
It was just past low tide and the beach is very flat here, so there was quite a wide section where the waves were just ripples, really, and the water that was only 2-5 cm deep. It was COLD! But not too bad, so I ventured further out to the next section, also quite wide, where the waves had a little more volume and the water was over my ankles.
OMFG!!!!! It was like wading into an ice bath! I walked in a little further – O Jaysus, it was SO cold it actually HURT. I stood there for a perfectly respectable 10 seconds or so and then turned to make my way out. Roy called out “stop, stop!” – Lynnette was taking a photo – oh please, please take it, be quick, please, before my feet FALL OFF….
It was a relief to get back to the very shallow water, which felt like a warm bath in comparison. I marvelled that anyone who fell overboard or even fell off the shore into waist-deep water could survive. It was just paralysingly cold. The shock of immersion alone would probably do me in! So. That’s why no-one swims in the ocean on the Oregon coast. 😛
Back to the car, with feet pretty much thawed out and reclad in warm socks and shoes, we headed further north to Yachats, to check out one of Lynn’s favourite coast walks, near a hotel that she and Barbara regularly go to for short breaks.
The walk is fantastic – right along the top of the rock platforms that line the shore here. The surf is fairly calm today – but I can imagine it being terrifying in rough weather!
They have king tides and storm tides that come right up over the path at times – the waves would be wild indeed.
The huge driftwood logs that have washed up on the shore are testament to the power of the angry sea.
There is a memorial to two young men who drowned here when swept by a “sneaker wave” (what we’d call a freak wave – the kind that claims rock fishers in Australia) into a fissure between the rocks. The signs along the shore are a constant reminder of the danger. I suspect the bidding to “Enjoy your walk” is American politeness, rather than black irony.
I shudder at the thought of such a terrible end, especially with my newfound respect for Oregon seawater. (I’ve always respected the ocean and its risks, having been brought up with it – but even at its coldest, the surf of the NSW coast is nowhere near the numbing harshness of what I felt today.)
In one spot, the rock has eroded to form a channel with an arch over it, turning into a “blowhole”. The thump of the water as it works up to a big “blow” reminds me of the one at Kiama, which (on a good day) you can hear from the nearby camping ground – it rolls and crashes like thunder. Watching this one gives the same sense of anticipation (will the next blow be a good one?), awe (at the power of the relentlessly moving water) and vague unease (it’s so wild and unpredictable). We watch it for a while – I did my best to get a shot of a decent “blow”, but the tide is probably still a bit low for the full effect.
Back on the road, we drove a bit further up the coast to a much bigger inlet called the Devil’s Churn. This is much deeper, longer and narrower than the first one, and lies between two steep headlands. It gives a very clear illustration of the power of moving water to beat its way through any weakness it finds in the rocks on its shore, pushing deeper and further into the gaps between the higher ground on each side. It’s probably a glimpse of what the first one will look like in a few more thousand years!
I think Lynn was a bit disappointed in the fact that it was a relatively calm day and so this particular attraction wasn’t performing to its full potential. Never mind – I still found it incredibly impressive to watch the heave and churn of the water along the whole length of the chasm, and noting the pools of water above it that show just how high the spouts can go when there is more volume and movement behind them!
Across another bridge to our northern-most stop: the Spouting Horn. This was amazing for two reasons. One, the Spouting Horn itself, which is another blowhole, but unlike those we’ve seen today, it “blows” through a hole in the rock platform, under which the water has eroded a cave. The “blow” can be a spout of actual water spray, but more frequently takes the form of spray so fine it appears as water vapour, reminiscent of the “blow” of a whale! It’s pretty awesome!
We followed the trail down to the next viewing spot, but we were all getting tired and decided not to venture further down to the rock platform.
There were several people down there, though (way too close to the edge for my liking), some with cameras on tripods. There is another formation at the edge of the rock platform that causes interesting water flow patterns.
Lynnette assumed that they were watching and photographing that, but Roy wondered why they seemed to be looking out to sea. He started looking out there too, and sure enough, there was the second amazing sight: a whale!
Unfortunately it was a bit too far away for iPad photography. We saw it blow several times, and caught glimpses of its head and back as it swam close to the surface. Then it dived and disappeared for a while, but popped up again a little closer to the shore and swam around near the surface again for a few minutes. Fantastic! Again, a few great plumes from its blowhole and then another dive… we watched it repeat the whole sequence four or five times before heading back to the top of the trail, as it was getting late and Lynn wanted to be home before dark. What a wonderful way to finish our mini-tour of the Oregon coast!
We returned to the car and started the drive home, very satisfied with the day’s adventures and sights. I have all sorts of plans for our *next* trip, including camping and road tripping Routes 101 and 1, all the way between Washington (State) and Southern California…
There were plenty of leftovers from last night for dinner when we arrived home, supplemented with a few bits and pieces we picked up at the supermarket on the way back. It was a wonderful day, but we were very conscious of our time together coming to an end soon, so we stayed up quite late talking and just keeping company together. I will be so sad to leave here, and I’m fighting off the signs of the “going home” anxiety – going back to the same old stuff, going back to work, going back to the confined spaces of a house in Gladesville. I am looking forward to seeing Lou and the family though, and our choir friends. There are good things ahead too!