Our morning drive took us to Florence, Oregon, on the coast, where the Suislaw River meets the Pacific Ocean. The most noteworthy structure in Florence is the Suislaw River Bridge, a concrete arched piers and finials near the center with arches between, providing an interesting design we have not seen before.
The west bank of the river was a dune of sand that stretched for miles, which we followed until we found a parking lot that allowed us to climb the dunes. From here we watched a sea lion romp in the water near the river’s edge.
Just north of Florence we paused for a brief walk at the Darlingtonia State Park, a bog with insect eating carnivorous plants. Why go there you might ask, but it was on our list, so why not. The Darlintonia California also called the cobra lily because of the resemblance of its tubular leaves to a rearing cobra, complete with a forked leaf that resembles fangs or a serpent’s tongue thrives in the bogs of Northern California and Oregon.
The plants nectar hidden under its hood attracts insects and the use of lubricating secretions and downward-pointing hairs force their prey into the trap. The slippery walls and hairs prevent the trapped prey from escaping. We did not see the cobra lily eat a bug but wished those plants had eaten more insects as the area was filled with insects along with the unique plants.
The Sea Lion’s Caves located about 11 miles north of Florence, Oregon is a privately owned sanctuary for sea lions and birds. A steep walk down a path took us to an elevator that dropped us 200 feet further into the cave.
The cave is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest sea cave in America and is the year round home of the Stellar Sea Lion with the height of the cave is equivalent to a twelve story building and the length of a football field. The cave also served as a museum of facts and skeletons of sea lions and seals.
While a bit smelly we were able to learn the difference between a seal and a sea lion is that the sea lion walks on its large flippers and have visible ear flaps. Seals have small flippers, wriggle on their bellies on land, and have indentations instead of ear flaps.
The sea lions use the caves along the Oregon coast to rest, molt, and mate in the rookeries during the breeding season. The months of May and June are the time for the bulls to meet females. Behind a grated fence, we stood to see the sea lions lying on a large rock within the cave.
The elevator took us up to the top of the cliff again where we walked the trail to the other side of the grounds to a viewing point. Below the cliff we saw a hundred or more sea lions lying on the rocks at the ocean shore.
A cow sea lion lying on the rock seemed on the verge of giving birth. This lying cow snapped at all sea lions that came near her. Meanwhile, bulls pecked at each other and there was a lot of activity among the sea lions and seals on the rock.
A bonus was a whale further out in the ocean that surfaced blowing water from its spout.
A short drive away, follow by a steep half-mile trail lead us to Heceta Head Lighthouse. A volunteer from Florida who was training at this park gave us some history about the lighthouse and the area.
The lighthouse was built in 1892 and still works today. At 205 feet above the ocean, the lighthouse is one of the most photographed on the coast. The light at top of the 56-foot tower was illuminated in 1894 and the beacon can be seen 21 miles from land; it is rated as the strongest light on the Oregon coast.
We climbed up a trail behind the lighthouse to peer into the lantern at the top of the lighthouse. The view was spectacular.
Afterwards at Devil’s Churn, we scrambled over rocks to see tidepools at the rocky coast. We wanted to see Spout Horn, a spot where the waves bursts through the hole of the rock creating a loud noise like a whale spouting. We waited for a while but did not see the waterspout but it gargled and churned continuously with some small bursts.
A stop at the Blue Whale Cafe in Yachats, Oregon provided lunch of fried fish and shrimp for us. The name Yachats comes from the Siletz language, and means “dark water at the foot of the mountain.” Then we were off to see the Alsea Bay Bridge Center to learn about the 3,000 ft. long bridge. The Alsea Bay Bridge is a concrete arch bridge that spans the Alsea Bay on U.S. Route 101 near Waldport, Oregon. Oregon has a number of beautiful old bridges along the coastal route.
The Yaquina Head Lighthouse stood on the cliff that overlooks one of the largest murre (sea bird) colonies on the coast. The birds sit upon the top of a huge rock. The lighthouse is 93 feet tall and was built in 1873. Its area is swamped with birds.
Down the trail is access to the beach with lots of tidepools filled with sea life, monitored by a park ranger who gave us guidance on where to look and what to look for. We saw hundreds of urchins, anemones open and closed, crab, sea stars, barnacles, and more. It was fun identifying these creatures in the tidepools among the rocks. The rocks tested our balance while walking on barnacles and slippery seaweed. In addition we saw an eel in a tidepool. The beach was covered in black smooth stones that shifted with each step we took.
Next stop going north was the Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area, a hollowed rocky basin surrounded by tall round rock walls. The Devil’s Punchbowl is partially open to the Pacific Ocean allowing waves to enter and churn sometimes violently inside the bowl. The bowl is thought to have been created when two caves carved by the ocean collapsed. As we walked around the area, we saw strange large squirrels that looked like a mix of a squirrel and a groundhog. Even better we were able to observe a whale blow its spout out in the ocean.
Further up the coast we came to Otter Rock and Depoe Bay for more whale watching then down to the World’s Smallest Harbor. Depoe Bay is a 6-acre harbor that the city promotes as the world’s smallest navigable harbor. This harbor is also the fishing trip scene from the 1975 movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Finally we checked into our hotel, the Pelican Shores, in Lincoln City for the night then went to the Chinook Winds Casino for dinner in hopes to find a spot to eat and watch the Stanley Cup finals. It took a little convincing to get the staff to turn on the hockey game and allow us to sit in the non-dining room to watch the game. It was a bit surreal sitting in this large dining room by ourselves watching a small TV, but the wait staff was very accommodating; made even better as the Pittsburgh Penguins won against the San Jose Sharks by a score of 2-1 in overtime. We were happy with our dinner and the game so we splurged for dessert.
Our room’s balcony provided a pretty view of the ocean and again we saw a whale swim by spouting water.
We went for a walk on the beach and on the way back we met a couple sitting on the beach at their campfire. Their fire was not a pile of logs but a heavy round stump with four slits cut like a pizza. The center hole of the slits was doused with lighter fluid. The couple dropped a lit match into the center and the stump smoked for a bit before burning from the inside out. Streams of light from the fire in the center beamed outward through the slits. Fire and smoke rose through the center hole creating its own chimney. We talked with the couple for a bit who said the fire burns slowly and makes enough light from the burning embers for almost two hours. The fire glowing through the slits of the stump had a really wild look.