A Trip to the North Country (Part 2)


A Trip to the North Country (Part 2)

 

Coos Bay is a great little town and we vowed to come back for another visit.  There are a lot of interesting antique and junk stores in the town plus a couple of restored fishing boats on the waterfront.  After visiting a few antique stores and getting Sue a beautiful ruby ring for her Christmas present (don’t tell her) we pulled out of town in mid-afternoon and continued our journey northward.

 

One of the many beautiful bridges in Oregon

One of the many beautiful bridges in Oregon

The Oregon Coastline

The Oregon Coastline

Highway 101 seems to meander through the countryside snaking around hills in many places rather than cutting through them.  There are a lot of beautiful bridges along the route.  They look like they date from the 1930s with a lot of art deco touches.  In many places it is hard to stop near them to get photos but we did find one we could walk to in Newport.

 

Shortly after leaving Coos Bay we came to the dunes area.  This is an amazing place with giant sand dunes extending for miles.  As the dunes extend inland near the highway they are covered with vegetation it is amazing to see so much sand, there are several places where you can rent off-road vehicles or take a tour in one.  We were running a little late so we did not stop to tour the area.

 

About eleven miles north of Florence we came to the Sea Lion Caves billed as the largest sea cave in the United States.  I can not argue, it is a big blasted cave, much bigger than any ocean cave I have see before.  I have always been an amateur spelunker so we decided to take the tour.  There is a large parking lot on the other side of the highway from the cave complex.  Being a highway there is no crosswalk but there was little traffic so we managed to cross without dodging any cars.

 

There is a visitor center and gift shop on the cliff overlooking the ocean.  From there there are walkways along the top of the cliffs where you can look for miles north and south.  This day we were treated to three whales swimming just off shore from the cliffs.  I was amazed as I thought they generally stayed more out in the open ocean.  We were told these were gray whales, which migrate up and down the coast.  There were also many sea lions swimming in the area.  Originally there was a staircase that would take you the 200 feet from the visitor center to the cave.  In 1961 an elevator was installed.  Sue is terrified of heights so the elevator was the only way she would have gone down to the cave.  She did get a little nervous as we slowly descended and a light panel clicked off how many feet you had descended.

 

Sea Lion Cave

Sea Lion Cave

Once at the bottom the door opened into a huge cavern, we were still about 50 feet above the water.  On the south side the cavern opened into an even larger cavern mostly filled with water.  You could see an entrance a few hundred yards to the south and another opening just to the right of the viewing area.  There was a large rock in the water that was covered with sea lions shoving and barking at each other.  On the north side there was another opening that could be reached by climbing some stairs.  It had a great view of the Heceta Head Lighthouse a couple of miles away. 

 

Inside the cavern there was a fossilized skeleton of a sea lion that was apparently discovered when the cave was first visited in 1880.   The sea lion population has increased here and the theory is that the sea lions that abandoned San Francisco’s Pier 39 have migrated up here to find more food.

 

The Sea Lion Caves are fascinating and if you are ever in the area I urge you to stop in and check them out. 

 

Looking north from the sea lion cave to the lighthouse

Looking north from the sea lion cave to the lighthouse

We headed farther up north and stopped in Depoe Bay.  There the highway runs right through the downtown area.  We dined at Gracie’s Sea Hag Restaurant.  I had shrimp scampi and Sue had king crab legs.  They were both excellent.  While we were there one of the waitresses entertained the patrons by playing a tune on the bottles in the bar.  It was a charming touch.  Apparently the original proprietor Gracie played the bottles and she trained another generation before she passed on.

 

We left town about dusk and headed for Astoria 121 miles away and close to a three hour drive.  Throughout the trip we generally pulled into towns early in the evening and had no trouble finding a room.  We arrived in Astoria around 11:00PM and could not find a room we stopped at the Best Western and the kind lady there called several places for us and finally found the last room at a nearby roadside motel for us.  I was concerned that we were going to have to sleep in the truck so we were relieved even though it was a little noisy with all the cars going by.

 

 

 

 

It was perfect, as we were less than a mile from the Columbia River Maritime Museum.  We headed there after breakfast.  The museum is fascinating, filled with artifacts and items from shipwrecks, military ships, and many models of vessels of local interest.  The lightship Columbia is docked at the museum and your ticket price includes a tour of the ship.  Columbia was anchored at the mouth of the Columbia River for many years as a beacon for incoming ships.  The crew was rotated ever twelve days or so.  This tiny ship was anchored in some very rough water and I can only imagine what it was like for the crew bobbing up and down constantly.  The bunks all had rails to keep people from rolling out.  There is a galley aboard but you wonder how you could cook and eat in the conditions the crew was subjected to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sue at the helm of a Square Rigger crossing the Columbia Bar

Sue at the helm of a Square Rigger crossing the Columbia Bar

The Lightship Columbia

The Lightship Columbia

 

 

We spent hours at the museum, just the model ships alone will keep you fascinated for an afternoon.  They even have a film they show about the river and it’s history that is well worth seeing.  There were several small craft that were used as workboats on the river; they were very interesting too.

 

We left in the late afternoon and made it to Salem that evening.  Salem is the capital of Oregon and a college town.  We had dinner at a Japanese restaurant in the downtown area and then walked around seeing the sights.  It is a pretty little city with a lot of friendly people. 

 

We continued heading down I-5 in the morning and stopped at one of my favorite spots in Eugene.  The Baron’s Den is a gun shop right along the freeway.  They have a large banner saying, “fire a tommy gun here.”  We drop by every time we are in the area.  For $50.00 you can rent a model MIAI Thompson sub-machine guns and fire 60 rounds.  It is a lot of fun and there is something relaxing about it.  You see in the movies the actors emptying a whole magazine while keeping the gun on target.  This is pretty hard to do as just by the design of the gun it tends to push the muzzle up when you fire even though this one had a Cutts Compensator to reduce muzzle rise.  In reality you should fire it in five round bursts to keep control.  Sue got carried away and put several rounds into the ceiling of the range.  It is always a lot of fun to stop there, they also have an inventory of interesting firearms, but alas they can’t sell hem to Californians. 

 

Sue cutting loose with a Thompson sub-machine gun

Sue cutting loose with a Thompson sub-machine gun

We were making good time so we decided to drive straight through back to Sacramento with a stop for dinner in Ashland and a fuel and candy bar stop in Weed California.  We arrived home at 3:00AM on Saturday morning after driving 1,500 miles in seven days.


About Bill Wells - A retired yacht broker, Bill is currently the Executive Director of the California Delta Chambers & Visitor's Bureau. He is an active member of the Northern California Fleet of the Classic Yacht Association. In their spare time he and his beloved wife Sue cruise their 1937 Stephens cruiser Ranger to boating events throughout the Delta. Bill is active in matters helping to preserve and protect the California Delta. He chronicles his adventures in the monthly Delta Rat Scrapbook column for Bay & Delta Yachtsman magazine.



2 Responses to “A Trip to the North Country (Part 2)”

  1. I love Coos Bay!!!! I used to go there with my parents long ago! I would really enjoy another visit for sure. 1500 miles in 7 days? I would need a motor home for that, at least my back would (-:

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