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Vistior’s Center at the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge near Newport, Rhode Island.

For my birthday this year (January 9), I took a cold & windy walk along the Atlantic seashore at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. The visitor’s center was closed because the government is shut down. No comment.

My five days in Rhode Island were to see my friend Will, who was my guide and chauffeur. Will and I picked a path and started, since one doesn’t need a visitor’s center to go for a walk. As soon as we struck the trail, we met a woman leaving who was excited to have spotted some wildlife. She told us we would not see the Snowy Owl, as though she suspected that was our specific goal.

Our goal was simpler: just to be outside and look at the landscape. For my birthday I asked Will for two of my favourite things: a walk in nature and seafood.

The Ocean Trail wraps around the peninsula and has stunning sea views at all times.

Looking back the way we had come, along a tidal strait called Sakonnet River.

We drove south from Providence to a large island in Narragansett Bay, that is officially named Rhode Island (also called Aquidneck Island), from which I must assume the state takes its name, since this is the location of the earliest settlements here. Sachuest Point NWR is “242 acres that provide an important stopover and watering area for migratory birds,” as it says on their trail map. I liked this place from among other trails in RI because it is surrounded by the sea. If I was traveling from one ocean to another, I  would spend at least one day at the Atlantic, to truly make the trip coast-to-coast.

More than 200 species of birds visit this refuge, and we quickly spotted ducks that were too far away for a photo with the lens I brought. They might have been part of the largest winter population of Harlequin Ducks on the East Coast, but we didn’t identify them for sure due to distance and the raging wind making me reluctant to hold binoculars to my face for very long. Harlequin Ducks are wonderful to see. Here’s a photo I took of Harlequin Ducks near the end of a different post from 2016. Sachuest Point hosts a bunch of different kinds of raptors (hunting birds – I love them!), but I didn’t spot any. Much of the time I had my head bent into the wind, with a foot behind me bracing myself so the wind didn’t blow me over! It was hard to spot birds under these circumstances.

Will spotted a dark animal in the underbrush that we couldn’t identify until another one ran across the trail in front of us later on. It was a mink! I have never seen one in the wild. It was black, and fat, and just exactly as I imagined them. We also spotted a small group of white-tailed deer. The deer were like my “pet” deer at home, in that they let us get very close to them and were unconcerned. They were unlike my deer in that they are a lighter, golden colour, and are bigger and fatter.

A view from Prince’s Neck Overlook. See the two people in the lower left?

Will spotted deer! I was too short to see them until I stood up on my tiptoes.

…but then we rounded a bend and came upon these two beauties.

It was early afternoon, and since it’s winter, that means the sun was setting. Not really, but the sun was low on the horizon for a long time, making it seem like we were experiencing a three-hour sunset. Despite the frigid biting wind coming at us from the sea, we gazed out over the water much of the time. We noticed massive swells rolling in and then crashing as waves once they got closer to shore. I made a comment about how exciting those swells would be if I was still surfing, and Will said there were probably surfers out today. I thought he was joking around with me, but when we left the point that day and passed a different beach (sans all the huge and deadly rocks), sure enough, the water was filled with surfers!

Sun is low over Narragansett Bay

Swells roll into Narragansett Bay

Look at that smile! What cold wind?!

It had been at least an hour out there in the ridiculous freezing wind, and I could no longer feel my ears. I took off my scarf and wrapped it around my head because I had neglected to bring a hat. That helped immensely. I was still very very cold and unable to enjoy the sights much anymore, so we stopped most of our lollygagging and trucked on down the trail back to the visitor’s center. The sunset just got prettier, and I stopped for a few more photos because I’m incorrigible. I did force Will to endure some extending whining about how cold I was. I have lived in places of deep winter and below freezing temperatures most of my life, but more than a decade of living near Portland, Oregon has wiped out all my tolerance for other peoples’ winters.

Light on the water was so beautiful I stopped for more photos, despite wind chill in the single digits.

On the last stretch of the trail I spotted a beautiful church in the distance. When we got back into the car, I asked Will to take me there so we could explore up close.

What I had spotted was St. George’s School, an exclusive, prestigious boarding school. Still in the remaining light of our long sunset, the buildings at the school were illuminated and needed to be photographed.

From the grounds of St. George’s School, looking back toward where we had just come from.

Photo taken by Will, looking down the hill to Sachuest Point where we had walked.

A building at St. George’s School.

The front of the school

And of course the classic gothic chapel, the tallest structure around, on top of the hill, and drawing me here.

Dragons!!!

Irish pub?

Our raw bar selection

It was time for my next request: Seafood! We drove into the town of Newport and had the place mostly to ourselves because of the season. I could easily see this is a tourist town, and must be packed with humanity on warm days. We made our way to the docks and saw that my birthday sunset just kept going on and on, and made a few more stunning scenes. We wandered for a little while around the characteristic old sea town, but could no longer resist the pull of a good meal, not to mention heated indoor seating. We walked into The Mooring, and were told that Wednesdays are half price on the raw bar. We couldn’t resist that, and chose a selection of raw oysters, clams, shrimp, and lobster claws. Will isn’t an oyster lover, so I greedily ate them myself, liking the Rocky Rhodes the best. This fresh food only wheted our appetites and then we ordered full meals. I finally got warm. We had a window seat and watched the sun finally set for real.

Streets of Newport are clear in January.

Black Pearl and Cook House, two seafood restaurants that called to us.

A view from the docks.

The longest birthday sunset I can remember, lingers over Bannister’s Wharf.

Sunrise and seagulls from Stonefield Beach

Sunrise and seagulls from Stonefield Beach

{Our trip begins with Day one.}

I had told Arno the night before that I wanted to be on the beach Christmas morning for sunrise photos. It helps to tell someone else when there’s a good chance I’ll blow off my own plans.

“Sunrise is at 7:52,” he announced as soon as I started moving. “We’ve got about 40 minutes. But first, I want you to open this.”

Arno handed me a Christmas gift and I sat perched on the high bed feeling excited about the gift and disappointed in myself. I had searched all over and found him just exactly what he wanted, wrapped it a week before, and left it at home. Darn it! (He has it now though: a GPS for his many many hikes into the mountains.) I opened a new lens! It takes my two old lenses (18-55mm and 70-300mm) and makes them one, 18-270mm. So convenient.

His organization was the opposite of mine: he brought multiple gifts, stocking stuffers (I forgot my stocking, too), and even a little decorated tree, which you saw in the previous post. I opened all my gifts and felt very spoiled. Glancing over the top of my pile of booty through the window, I could see the grey sky growing lighter over the ocean.

Coloured sky lights up the sand and water

Coloured sky lights up the sand and water

Seagulls stand in water from Tenmile Creek

Seagulls stand in water from Tenmile Creek

I couldn’t wait to try out my lens! We jumped out of bed and made coffee, washed our faces, pulled on coats and gloves and I added my new alpaca Christmas scarf.

The temperature was above freezing, but it was cold out there at the beach. Seagulls were in a group, standing in the mouth of Tenmile Creek as it spread out at the beach and then emptied into the ocean. We joked that it was probably warmer in the freshwater stream than in the salty ocean.

Our bellies reminded us that it was time to eat something amazing. We headed back up the hill to see what Sherwood and Stephanie had cooked up for us at the B&B.

After breakfast, our big plan for the day was to Take It Easy. I had checked the tide table and knew that low tide would be around noon, so after we stuffed ourselves on baked grapefruit and cheese croissants, we headed back to the beach to check out the tide pools. We played out there for a couple of hours. The sun prevailed, there was no wind, and for a little while I felt warm. Other people came out too. It felt silly and fun to call “Merry Christmas!” to folks on the beach in the sunshine.

Sea-green anemones

Sea-green anemones

After the beach, we wandered south again on Highway 101. The first thing that caught our attention was the Heceta Head Lighthouse run by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. We left the highway and drove out to it, to see if it was any prettier than the Umpqua Lighthouse from the day before. Oh my, yes it is.

Haceta Head lighthouse

Heceta Head lighthouse

There is a half-mile trail from the parking lot out to the lighthouse, but first we went out onto the beach to get photos of it from a distance.

A pretty romantic way to spend Christmas Day

A pretty romantic way to spend Christmas Day

Lighthouse on the bluff; Light Keeper's House to the right. The weather was perfect!

Lighthouse on the bluff; Light Keeper’s House to the right. The weather was perfect!

We were both grateful for the long trail to the light house. We needed the exercise to burn off some of the holiday food. Above the lighthouse are more trails that head up and along the ridge, which we also walked, just to keep moving. It paid off with new views.

Looking out to sea

A view of the beautiful first-order Fresnel lens

Heceta Head lighthouse is all by itself at the head, and so picturesque.

The 56-foot tall picturesque Heceta Head lighthouse

inside the tower

inside the tower

base of the light

base of the light

inside the lens

inside the lens

Back down at the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, people were whale-watching. It’s a great spot for awesome views of the ocean. Nearby, we admired the Queen Anne style assistant light keeper’s house (the light keeper’s house was torn down for the lumber) is now used as a Bed & Breakfast.

View from the tower. That misty bluff you can see is the location of Sea Lion Caves.

View from the tower. That misty bluff you can see is the location of Sea Lion Caves.

At first we assumed the place would be closed because of the holiday, but it soon became apparent that the OPRD volunteer there was taking people on tours. It was my very first time inside a lighthouse. This one is newly restored and having a tour is a good way to have things explained that I wouldn’t have known to ask. For example, I learned that all the lighthouses along the coast have a signature, so mariners can identify them. Heceta head flashes every 10 seconds, the one at Yaquina every 20 seconds, and the Umpqua lighthouse has a red glass pane, so every third flash is red.

Next we continued south to Sea Lion Caves, and that was closed, as expected. However, we peered over the edge of the cliff and spotted the main attraction anyway. Sea Lions were lounging all over the rocks below us.

Sea lions crowd the rocks below Highway 101

Sea lions crowd the rocks below Highway 101

Sea lion stretches to soak up the last few rays of the sun.

Sea lion stretches to soak up the last few rays of the sun.

After that it was time to dress in Christmas clothes and head to our dinner in Yachats. (We had to ask our hosts how to pronounce it. We never would have guessed it’s Ya-Hots, emphasis on the second syllable.) Our holiday dinner was lovely. I even found a little phone reception and called my 93-year-old Grandma to wish her a Merry Christmas before I went to the table.

View of the lighthouse from Sea Lion Caves

View of the lighthouse from Sea Lion Caves

A view of the B&B from the beach on a glorious Christmas morning.

A view of the B&B from the beach on a glorious Christmas morning. {Click any of these photos for a larger view in better resolution}

I’d like to take the time to talk about our Christmas lodging before I continue on the journey. If you are interested, click here for Day one and here for Day two.

Arno found the SeaQuest Inn Bed & Breakfast online for us, and reserved three nights. The closest town is Yachats, seven miles to the north. There are neighbors, but the location is rural and isolated, which is what we are often looking for in a vacation. It’s less than 3 1/2 hours from Portland whether you travel on I-5 or if you use Highway 18 and head out through McMinnville. Unless you’re like us, and stop at a bazillion neat sights along the way, and stretch it to two days.

Arno does a little whale-watching from the great room

Arno does a little whale-watching from the great room

Waves crash beyond the breakfast table

Waves crash beyond the breakfast table

This B&B is a large, comfortable home on the beach. Our room had a sliding glass door that opened onto a patio and the lawn you see in the photo above. We literally walked to the beach from our room. All rooms have a view of the ocean and the beds are positioned so that guests can watch the waves crash. During our stay I watched this amazing swell that made me think of surfing every single day I was there. Unfortunately, there are too many rocks to plan a future surf vacation.

Personalized door to our room

Personalized door to our room

Arno's little tree that he put up in our room.

Arno’s little tree that he put up in our room.

Hosts Stephanie and Sherwood make the place, however. Yes, it’s beautiful and yes it’s right on the beach and yes it’s a high quality place for a reasonable price. But we did that two years ago in Bend, OR at a different B&B, and it was not the same kind of vacation. This time, when Sherwood and Stephanie greeted us with a cheerful “Welcome Home!” it became obvious they meant for us to feel that way. Listen, I padded up the stairs to breakfast in my socks. That’s how comfortable I was.

Another example: We were too tired to drive into town for dinner our first night. Between our own cooler and suggestions from our hosts, we made a delicious little evening meal for ourselves. Even though we were too late for wine hour, they set out a bottle for us before they left for the evening. Arno and I had the entire great room to ourselves, with Christmas music playing and the lights from the tree. It was cozy and romantic and lovely.

One of the rooms. (not ours; it was too messy)

One of the rooms. (not ours; it was too messy)

The gourmet breakfasts are above and beyond. Often more than one course, and always plenty to eat. The presentations were so beautiful that one morning a fellow guest commented, “It looks so nice I don’t want to eat it.” But of course she did.

We ate our breakfasts in the huge and welcoming great room on the second floor, with stunning ocean views, a giant fireplace (with stockings hung!), couches and chairs and everything else someone could want in there, to include a piano and a Christmas tree. It’s beside an enormous kitchen that is open to the great room, so we could chat with Sherwood and Stephanie while they prepared food.

Cozy book room beside the guest kitchen.

Cozy book room beside the guest kitchen.

Even the guests were part of the appeal this year. I can’t help but compare it to other B&Bs I have visited, where the guests hesitate to open up, or even to show up. You may also know that my nature is to avoid social situations (I know I don’t show it, but I’m a good faker), and being around people is often very stressful for me. But there was something here that made me relax. I looked forward to gathering for breakfast or the evening wine hour. We met the most interesting people with great personal stories. The most exciting story of all was finding out that one of the guests knew about the products Arno’s company builds. It’s a small company, so most people, even local people, have never heard of it. The guest was prior Navy and had served aboard a ship that used the UAVs built in Hood River, Oregon. How cool is that?

Taken during our gorgeous Christmas morning on the beach. After breakfast we headed back out to play in the tidepools.

Taken during our gorgeous Christmas morning on the beach. After breakfast we headed back out to play in the tidepools.

Belgian waffle with walnuts and strawberries and cookie butter.

Belgian waffle with walnuts and strawberries and cookie butter.

Dinner reservations in town were a breeze because the hosts had thought of it ahead of time, suggested reservation times, and made the reservations for us. They graciously called and canceled for us one night too, when our sight-seeing kept us too far away to make it back on time.

We were a little more spoiled than the usual guests, I imagine, because it was the holidays. We were invited to a social gathering with their neighbors on Christmas

Baked egg croissant with fresh tomatoes and feta, salsa, and jams.

Baked egg croissant with fresh tomatoes and feta, salsa, and jams.

Eve evening. Stephanie was excited to have prepared all kinds of seafood hors d’oeuvres. The place was decked out to the max in holiday decorations that really added a feeling of festivity for me, particularly since I didn’t decorate at home this year.

You’ve seen me rave about things in the past, so I’ll try not to apologize for making this blog post more like an advertisement than a vacation story. It was a big part of our trip, so the special attention is warranted. 🙂

Sherwood, me, Arno, Stephanie. They are wearing their Christmas gift aprons. (I'm in my socks!)

Sherwood, me, Arno, Stephanie. They are wearing their Christmas gift aprons. (I’m in my socks!)

Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge, in North Bend, Oregon

Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge, in North Bend, Oregon

This is day two of our coast vacation. Day one is here.

We are staying at SeaQuest Inn Bed & Breakfast, and it is a story in itself…so you’ll have to wait and I’ll talk about that wonderful place and its spectacular hosts in my next post. I will say that our Christmas Eve gourmet breakfast was worth raving about. Stephanie and Sherwood prepared a two-course breakfast that began with a fruit and nut granola, orange juice and coffee. The main course was egg and cheese baked onto an English muffin (I do not recall the proper names for the dishes – apologies to the chefs.), with a potato pancake and caramelized bacon. It was totally delicious and I ate every last bite.

Unfortunately, our first plan of action for the day was to meet for lunch, and I was stuffed! My Great Aunt and Uncle live in North Bend, Oregon which is south of the B&B. We had been hurrying up the highway the night before, and didn’t stop. Christmas Eve was a good time to head south again and see all the things we missed in the rain and in the dark.

bridge

entrance of Siuslaw River Draw Bridge, designed by Conde McCollough

Climbing. Again.

Climbing. Again.

The weather cleared up and warmed up. We stopped for photos of bridges. Arno climbed one. I can’t take that man anywhere…

It was a perfect day for visiting, too. The best part of the visit was hearing some old family stories that I didn’t know about, and seeing photos of my Great Grandfather William Wells Haley (and realizing that Great Uncle Dwight looks just like him) and photos of my Great Grandmother Mabel Redman looking very Indian. I trace my Cherokee heritage through William.

We were treated to lunch at a favourite place of Great Aunt & Uncle’s, and the staff all came out from the back and said hello. That was pretty special. We managed the meal as gracefully as possible, and turned around once more to head north while there was still daylight.

Umpqua River Lighthouse

Umpqua River Lighthouse

Our first stop was the Umpqua River Lighthouse, which is a lovely old lighthouse but an active Coast Guard Station. So, as scenic as it is, it’s behind a chain-link fence and there are ugly military buildings packed right up next to it and that made it difficult to get a nice photo. A map of the coast showed how all the lighthouses are still in use and how their ranges overlap so that mariners can always have an eye on a lighthouse in the night. The Umpqua lighthouse is small, and not set very high compared to others, so its range is not as far as others.

An informational sign told us about whale-watching. Arno had his binoculars up and had already been gazing out to sea, when I began reading the instructions for spotting a whale. About the time I finished reading out loud, Arno said, “Oh, hey! I saw one!” He saw the puff of spray blown above the water as the whale came up for air, and he also saw the dark shadow of the whale’s body. It turns out that it is peak whale-watching time. I tried a few times to see something, but never did.

Memories were recounted along the highway. We were long overdue for a visit to this part of the country. Arno’s main memory was of a bicycle trip he made from Portland to Florence when he was 17 years old. Mine was dune-buggying with my dad when I was very young…perhaps 8 or 9. I remember reading the Wizard of Oz and Nancy Drew to my Pa and my brother around the campfire at night.

We continued along the road past the lighthouse, and came to a large parking area for a huge section of sand dunes. No one was there, which was nice. The sand dunes were remarkable, and beautiful. They rise as high as 500 feet above the sea and stretch for 40 miles along the Oregon coast. It’s a famous recreation area for off-highway vehicles (OHVs), and practically every square inch of dunes in front of us were beat down with vehicle tracks. But at least no one was there on Christmas Eve, so it was quiet. We hiked over a couple of sand peaks, wanting to know what was on the other side. The answer: more sand.

Unlike other images of dunes I’ve seen, this one is interspersed with clumps of pine and fir trees. The deep green oases of evergreens are an unexpected sight when everything else is suggesting Saudi Arabia.

Sand dunes and tree islands near the mouth of the Umpqua River

Sand dunes and tree islands near the mouth of the Umpqua River

A high dune beside the sea

A high dune beside the sea holds unexpected tree shadows

Sun sets behind a tree island

Sun sets behind a tree island

Too soon, the early winter sun dropped from the sky and things got chilly. We left the dunes and returned to the car and found our way back to Highway 101. It was nearly dark on the highway, which at this section is too far away from the beach to see the sea.

Arno wanted to find a beach from which to watch the sunset. I skimmed the map but didn’t see any obvious place to pull over. I told him there was nothing, and we should just head north. He began to get a little insistent. In my mind, I chalked it up to his sappy tendencies. Arno is such a romantic. I’m more practical: it’s late, it’s dark, let’s roll. He wouldn’t let up and I could tell it was important to him, so I took a good look at the map, and found a spot we could pull off. It was a small road from the highway that led out to Siltcoos Beach, which we had never heard of.

We parked behind a bluff, where the sky still looked dark. Arno hurried me up the sand dune so we could see the sea on the other side.

And I was astonished! “Oh! Oh! Oh my gosh look at the colours!” It was magical. It was a Christmas gift. I don’t know how close I came to not seeing this amazing sight out of pure unromantic stubbornness, but thank goodness it didn’t happen. I simply could not limit myself to one or two sunset photos, so you’ll have to endure a whole string of them.

This is what we saw when we hiked up the dune from the parking lot.

This is what we saw when we hiked up the dune from the parking lot.

through the grass

through the grass

Romantic enough for a Hallmark card

Romantic enough for a Hallmark card

Waves crash into the air in front of the setting sun

Waves crash into the air in front of the setting sun

A seagull contemplates the likelihood that I am holding something good to eat....

A seagull contemplates the likelihood that I am holding something good to eat….

....and when it turns out that I am only holding a camera, she leaves us.

….and when it turns out that I am only holding a camera, she leaves us.

Malaikahana Recreation Area, on the north shore of Oahu

V’s idea today was to give us a tour of the island and give us a sense of where we are on Oahu and the setup of the island. It was a very good idea. His condo is smack in the middle of Honolulu, and so we headed north-east-ish out the Pali Highway and began our counterclockwise loop of the island.

The Pali Highway (Hwy 61) on Oahu

ginger flower

Right away we were in the jungle forests I recall from my one other visit to this archipelago state. V chose the winding roads vs. highways when possible. In between drooping dripping vines, we spotted fog-topped peaks in the distance. The scenes kept reminding me of the movie King Kong. Ha ha! One constant delight through the day was the scent of ginger blossoms. We saw golden and white ginger, each with different but intoxicating aromas.

wild chickens

We stopped for a grand vista at the Pali lookout. In the parking lot we were delighted to find wild chickens pecking through the grass. I assume they were domestic birds at some point in their heritage, now the hens clucked to their chicks to keep out of the way of tourist children. The view from the Pali lookout was pretty awesome, and very windy. This was the site of a significant battle in Hawaiian history, in 1795.

View from Pali Lookout

At the Pali Lookout. It was windy!

Chinaman’s Hat

Our next stop was at the Kualoa Regional Park. The park sloped gracefully onto a wide empty beach and then opened up into a vast expanse of brilliant sun and sea. Not too far off shore is an island V calls Chinaman’s Hat, whose name is also Mokolii. Tara and I were equally eager to spend time walking this beach, splashing through the water, picking up broken pieces of coral for souvenirs. We eventually left the beach and walked to a nearby ruins of the Kualoa Sugar Mill, the first sugar mill built on Oahu. It was closed in 1871 when owners realized there was not enough rain in that spot to grow cane for sugar.

V and T on the beach at Kualoa Point

ruins of sugar mill

We drove through Kaaawa, and I was delighted to hear that one pronounces all three of those a’s in the name. After that we found our favourite beach of all on the north shore (photo at the top). We loved the Malaikahana Recreation Area beach so much we decided then and there to make it an actual destination on Friday, and spend hours there. The appeal of this beach is that it has all the stunning scenery and almost NO people! We walked a long way down the beach and spotted three people lying on towels, and one person in a vehicle parked for the view. Other than that, it was our beach. V said usually he didn’t see anyone at all there. It is truly mystifying to me that people are thrilled to be shoulder-to-shoulder on the popular beaches, yet leave this equally stunning beach to the sand crabs. Since we didn’t surf Monday, we made plans to try to surf here on Friday (which might also give our sunburns time to heal).

red-crested cardinal

We stopped for a great meal near the beach in Laie and I had fish and a banana daiquiri, in keeping with the vacation/island theme. Then we moved on to continue our tour. We came back through an island valley again, and the highway rises overlooked Pearl Harbor for a brief time, long enough to spot an aircraft carrier and several Navy ships docked. They looked so impressive. I wanted to take a look, but on the highway we were removed from the shore and traffic was a mess, so we drifted past. V took us up into the hills in hopes of a good view of Pearl Harbor itself, but houses understandably crowded the slopes, leaving no good views for us tourists.

crepuscular rays over Honolulu

Sunset over Waikiki

Our final stop of the day was on Round Top, which V had been lauding since even before we made the trip. A Must-See View! So we made our way up there, growing weary from our long day but still ready for continued adventure. The late day approach turned out to be a boon, since we hit the overview point right at sunset, and captured some truly stunning photos all along the shore: of Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Waikiki, and Diamond Head.

Diamond Head made golden by light

Another sunset photo from Round Top showing a plane leaving the Honolulu airport (sorry for all the sunset pics, but they were just so awesome!)

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