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It was a beautiful day as I waited for Jim at the Portland International Airport. So beautiful that I waited outside under the covered approach lanes, instead of inside PDX.

In July I got to meet a friend in person that I have known for years online. Just over two years ago, I spotted a profile photo that I loved, on a dating website. It was of a man with red hair and beard, holding the outstretched paw of a statue of a red dancing bear. The man appeared to be dancing with the bear. Jim, who lives in Minnesota, agreed that we are not a good match for dating, but I couldn’t resist writing to him to tell him how much I loved that photo.

We’ve been writing to each other ever since. We’ve shared our dating woes and successes, our complaints about work, photos from our travels, stupid jokes we found online. We do not see eye to eye on everything, but we do recognize in each other that there is a person somewhere in the world with the same drive to be good to others, to have adventures, to poke irreverent fun at sacred things, and challenge the status quo.

Jim was about to take an Alaskan cruise with his family and they would be leaving from Seattle, two hours north of me. So he flew in to Portland early, and I hosted him until it was time to drive him to Seattle. On one day we explored Portland and on the other we went on a road trip.

One of the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean from Highway 101.

We stopped at Tillamook Country Smoker to buy jerky snacks and pepperoni sticks. Then we stopped at the Tillamook Creamery for ice cream.

For the road trip we went directly to the coast, because – duh, he’s from Minnesota. We left my house for Astoria, then turned south along the coast highway. We stopped for overlooks and we stopped for a train! An honest to goodness steam train parked in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. We snapped photos and asked questions and found out it’s the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, a tourist train that runs a 5-mile route between there and Garibaldi, the next town south.

A restored steam train in Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

The conductor takes a break.

The grate is real wood.

The other side. (You know you wanted to see the other side.)

Our goal that day was tidepooling, and I got so many photos that I’ll include them in a separate post, but at at the tidepooling location was the eye-catching Yaquina Head lighthouse that we explored when we were done pestering sea creatures in the tide pools. The lighthouse has a white 1000 watt bulb in its first order Fresnel lens, and the light pattern is 2 seconds on, 2 seconds off, 2 seconds on, 14 seconds off.

I thought I was being very clever: catching the sunlight through the Fresnel lens.

The evening weather was clearly more lovely than it was in the morning, making the tower glow.

View of Yaquina Head Lighthouse as we walked from the parking lot.

Look how happy I get when I see a lighthouse!

Upon leaving Yaquina Head we drove due East, inland, until we reached Interstate 5 and turned north, which took us home for the night.

Our day in Portland was mostly occupied with a tour of the Pittock Mansion. I’ve talked about it before. This is a beautiful old mansion on a hill overlooking the city of Portland that has been turned into a museum. I love this place so much that I go there about once a year.

The outside of the Pittock Mansion.

View from the second floor balcony.

Furnishings in the curved hallway.

Henry Pittock was born in 1834 in England but raised in the United States. He and his wife Georgiana came to Portland at a time when many news publications had been started and it was a competitive business. He worked as a typesetter for The Oregonian but the business was not thriving, and he eventually was offered ownership of the paper in lieu of back pay. Pittock kept the paper alive, and then some. Today, The Oregonian is the largest newspaper in Oregon and the oldest newspaper on the West Coast.

The success of the paper allowed Henry and Georgiana to build a remarkable home when they had reached their later years. The couple was able to occupy the residence in 1914, and sadly died four years later. Family lived there until 1958, when it was put up for sale. It sat empty, got damaged in a storm, and then slowly fell into disrepair until the community rallied and brought it back to life in 1965 as part of the Portland Parks and Recreation system.

Great efforts have been made to fill the house with original furnishings when possible, such as this photo of a Mansion party.

When people in the community discover they are in possession of a piece of Pittock furniture, they will sometimes donate it to the museum.

I really love this kitchen made to look as though it’s in use. I would recommend a remodel to open it up though. Talk about a galley kitchen.

I get a kick out of the bathrooms here. They are truly wonderful.

What the heck do you suppose this was for? Sitting in, I guess. My feet would get cold. I think in this curved tower room I would prefer a tub.

The medicine cabinet is stocked with period items.

Look at the crazy old pipes for this tub and shower.

Array of pipes in the shower.

A direct line to every room.

This is the dumbwaiter, and buttons for each of the four levels of the home.

After we were done wandering all over the house into every room we were allowed to enter, and that includes the basement, we then walked around the grounds. The old coach house is now the admission and gift shop, and the groundskeepers home has been restored and is open for touring as well. From this magnificent estate on a hill, we gazed out across the city of Portland at the peak of Mt. Hood rising as she does.

View of the valley from the Pittock Mansion.

I then turned the tables on Jim and enlisted his help with my own project. I needed to rent a car because my Jeep was scheduled for some repairs. I don’t often have a second driver in my home, but Jim’s visit was perfect timing. Before we went to the rental office, however, we had time for one more important stop: VooDoo Doughnuts.

The logo for VooDoo Doughnuts, a Portland original that has now spread across the country. A friend of mine posted this summer from VooDoo Doughnuts at Disneyworld in Florida!

The inside of the shop is so wild that you can stay entertained while you wait in line. There is always a line.

We then picked up a rental car, and each drove one of the vehicles to the repair shop. I dropped off the Jeep and Jim drove us both up to Seattle as it got dark. We found his hotel and said goodbye after two super fun days together.

Seven thousand military boots with flags representing each of the American service members killed since September 11, 2001.

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, Will and I visited Fort Adams State Park. The timing was serendipitous and we benefitted by being able to see a Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial, put on by Operation Stand Down Rhode Island. As we walked inside the walls of the fort, we saw a memorial display of military boots, each adorned with a name placard and an American flag, honoring service members killed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

I could not walk among the flags and boots for long.

As a result of the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan since the Trade Towers attacks, around 7,000 American soldiers have died. OSTDI is right to draw our attention in such a dramatic way to those who died. I would like to draw your attention to additional numbers, such as the estimate of around twice as many private contractors who also died while providing support to the Americans. Those private contractors don’t get the honor or the benefits that military people get, though they serve in the same theatres. And if we are kind enough to feel empathy for all of the people who died, then consider that of all nationalities involved, at least 480,000 people have died in these conflicts, more than 244,000 of them civilians. And “In addition to those killed by direct acts of violence, the number of indirect deaths — those resulting from disease, displacement, and the loss of critical infrastructure — is believed to be several times higher, running into the millions.” We could layer boots across the grounds of Fort Adams a couple feet deep, if we were able to honor everyone in this way.

I was drawn to the display immediately, and walked into the center of it, picking up cards attached to each boot, with photos and information about the service members from South Dakota and Kentucky and Ohio who gave their lives to their country and died at age 24, 27, or 19. It was suddenly too much and my chest heaved for breath as tears began streaming down my face. I marched out of the expanse of flags and over to the walls of the Fort. Will quickly followed and helped me get interested in Fort Adams history, in order to let the pain go.

Inside the walls of Fort Adams.

Is this a boiler? The remains of the Fort are very interesting and in my mind, beautiful.

Greenery takes over when the soldiers are no longer here to sweep and whitewash.

Fort Adams occupies a peninsula at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. The fortifications in the bay are the only ones in the area to have seen action against an enemy. The first earthen fort was built on this location in 1776 to protect the people who lived on and used the harbor, and also to prevent enemies from using the harbor as a base. Though there were fortifications and cannons placed all over the bay, it was not enough, and in December 1776 the bay was captured by the British. They successfully held off a major, months-long attempt by combined French and American forces to retake the bay in 1778. Then the British voluntarily evacuated in 1779 (like my cat, I guess, it just had to be their idea before they would leave), and the French took over. Put a pin in that, and I’m going to bring it up later. Major Tousard, a Frenchman who had fought there and lost an arm in 1778, was commissioned by the US Army and oversaw restoration of the defense structures. He reopened the fort in 1779 and christened it Fort Adams, after President John Adams. The current structure was completed in 1857.

Outside the Fort we walked to the tip of the peninsula and watched some college sailboat racing competitions.  It seemed too windy of a day for sailing but the water was filled with sails. The teams were 100% women and the racing was so fast it seemed reckless. After completing their loops, they hurtled their boats into the marina and practically skidded sideways up to the docks. I would have thought the speed and daring was dangerous, except that with only a little observing, I could see that these women knew exactly what they were doing. It was not reckless at all. I am impressed.

A tall ship replica.

A pet peeve of mine: when communities decide to approach the litter problem by removing trash barrels.

Will had been trying to introduce me to as much Rhode Island-ness as possible, and thus when we came across a stand selling Del’s frozen lemonade, we had to get some. Other RI traditions he ate while I was there included coffee milk, lobster rolls, and johnny cakes.

The beach at Kings Park. On a warm day with no agenda, I could have so much fun sifting through these shells for hours.

A monument to French nobleman and General Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau. Now there’s a mouthful.

At the waterfront of Newport in Kings Park, we found a statue of American gratitude to General Rochambeau, who led the French force that helped the colonies to win the Revolutionary War.

Trusting in a tourist map and a nearby information sign, we hunted and hunted for the next lighthouse. If anyone at home is still playing lighthouse bingo, this is #8! We couldn’t see a lighthouse anywhere, but for the hell of it decided to follow the maps even though it was clear we were only walking out along a pier to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. It was quaint and interesting, so we ended up wandering around and admiring the place and…guess what?! We found the light! The Lime Rock Lighthouse was renamed in 1924 for Ida Lewis, the lighthouse keeper who became famous for many rescues she managed while working at Lime Rock.

Never would have guessed it without seeing it, but the light is mounted to the back wall of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, above the dining room. I wonder how many Yacht Clubs can claim to also be lighthouses?

Since it was nearby, we also stopped at Goat Island, connected to land by a bridge. Goat Island was the first piece of land purchased for the purpose of building fortifications for defense of the bay. We did not see any remaining defense structures. Today it is a tamed location with a marina, restaurant, and condominiums.

We were after lighthouse number nine, so we went to Jamestown and visited Beavertail Lighthouse next. On the way we made a quick stop at Fort Weatherill State Park. There we got a great view of Castle Hill that we had been so recently standing upon, and a better look at Castle Hill Lighthouse, mentioned in my last post. My apologies for the blurry photos in zoom. For the entire two-week trip I relied only on my iPhone, having left my Nikon at home accidentally. I did remember to bring the Nikon battery charger, but alas, the gesture was entirely inadequate without the camera itself. 😦

Gorgeous coves at Fort Weatherill State Park.

View of Castle Hill Inn and the Castle Hill Lighthouse.

Poor resolution image of Castle Hill Lighthouse that we had spotted earlier in the day.

At the parking lot for the Beavertail Lighthouse, I examined a giant metal ball that looked a lot like a WWII mine. I’ll have to assume that someone has checked it out and it no longer carries a charge. Actually, it’s probably just a giant rusted float. Then we made our way to the lighthouse at Beavertail State Park.

Brave? Dumb? Actually, just convinced that a thousand other tourists stood here first, and if they didn’t trigger it, I wouldn’t.

Approaching Beavertail State Park and Lighthouse.

The Beavertail Lighthouse was first erected in 1749 and was the third lighthouse in the country. That wooden lighthouse burned down. Have you noticed how frequently I’ve mentioned that the first – and usually the second – lighthouses were destroyed, but then the current one has been sitting there for 150 years? I guess everybody figures out right away that to build a lasting structure on the coast, one needs to spare no expense or quality of materials. Anything less will be ruined. The sea isn’t mean, she’s serious, and you need to take her seriously. When you do, the lights are allowed to stand. Anyway, the one here was built in 1856.

Beavertail Lighthouse, built in 1856.

Remember how I said that the “British voluntarily evacuated in 1779” up above? Well, history of Beavertail Lighthouse website mentions that while the British were leaving the bay in in 1779, the lighthouse building was damaged. No further information. But doesn’t that make you wonder? Where is the rest of the story? If the British left their occupation of Fort Adams because they had made a strategic decision, then did that decision involve damaging structures on the way out? Were the Americans confused about what was happening and fire on them on their way out? Was there a battle? Was there an accident? Oh, History. There is so much you continue to hide from me.

The foundation of the original wooden lighthouse, erected in 1749, still stands.

Will and I kept noticing rocks and wished that Tara was with us so we could ask geology questions.

A fisherman stands alone and fishes off Beavertail Point, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

Then we found a classy restaurant in Newport for dinner and still the night was not over. Will had a surprise, but he wasn’t sure if I was still game. Should he tell me? No, I love surprises! Lead on! The last thing we did that night was private dance lessons, followed by an hour of group dancing with beginners. Oh gosh it was so much fun. I know nothing about dancing but I’ve always wanted to learn. Though one night of dancing is certainly not enough to know how to dance, I did discover that when put to the test, I still want to learn to dance.

Ok, seriously. Can you believe all that was in one day? My last post plus this post? Wow. Maybe I’m not old yet after all.

Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse at the end of the day.

We arrived in Gloucester in early evening: too early to quit the day. So we went to the beach in search of a lighthouse, and found two.

It is said that Gloucester has the oldest seaport in the U.S., with documented use by Europeans since 1616. I’m sure the Wampanoag tribes were using it before then.

Eastern Point Lighthouse on Gloucester Harbor is operated by the Coast Guard and today is not open for visitors. You are allowed to park in a nearby parking lot and walk the beach, however. It is photo-worthy and worth the visit. The Eastern Point Lighthouse also has an interesting history.

In the 1820s, to protect mariners and their interests, the community at Gloucester Harbor lobbied for a lighthouse. In 1829 President Andrew Jackson tried to block construction (the lighthouse friends website notes that Gloucester had not supported Jackson in the 1828 election), but Congress overruled and work eventually went ahead. So many costs were cut in construction that the original 1832 structure was poorly made. It was soon battered and decayed in the harsh conditions of the seashore, and appeals went out for it to be replaced.

The next lighthouse was completed November 3, 1848. The current tower was built in 1890.

Originally the Eastern Point Lighthouse had a fixed white light. For a time it had a fixed red light, then a flashing red light. Today it has a white light that flashes every 5 seconds. For those who aren’t familiar, lighthouses employ different strategies to differentiate themselves from each other in the night or in a fog, such as colours or the seconds in between flashes of light.

Looking back at Eastern Point Lighthouse from Dog Bar Breakwater.

Since we were there anyway, we walked out along the huge granite stones placed along the Dog Bar breakwater. A few people were out there fishing from the breakwater. We walked to the very end and that’s where we found Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse, which doesn’t look like more than a shack with a light on top, but in the fog, it’s really all you need.

The breakwater was constructed over Dog Bar Reef. It is 2,250 feet long and constructed of local granite blocks. Built to further protect the harbor, construction lasted from 1894 to 1905. So many ships crashed into the breakwater during construction that it became obvious that another light was needed to help ships avoid it. Before automation, the lighthouse keeper had the additional duty of attending to the breakwater light, which could be a treacherous journey under crashing waves and icy granite boulders in the winter. Yikes!

Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse.

The fishing boat Still Kicking approaches, with the Boston city skyline visible on the horizon.

Still Kicking makes her way safely around the end of the breakwater.

From shore we looked back across the water, lit up in the sunset, to the breakwater light you can pick out on the left.

We watched a golden sunset and made our way back to the beach and called it a day.

The next morning we had planned to spend all morning on the sea for a whale watch. The weather was cold and raining and windy, so that was perfect. Not. But at least the weather was not so bad that the whale watch was canceled. I put on the warmest clothes I had, put a fushia raincoat over the top of that, and off we went!

Cape Ann Whale Watch does a pretty good job of taking care of their passengers. They provide safety instructions, informational talks, educational talks, and updates on what’s going on. They guarantee a whale sighting on every trip, and we definitely saw whales. But for the first 3 1/2 hours, we saw a whole lot of rain on the waves, each other, and nothing else. One really awesome thing is that this was my very first trip on the Atlantic Ocean!

Cruddy weather notwithstanding, the group of about 100 passengers on board was excited. While we waited to leave the dock, most people were outside on the deck, smiling, joking around, taking photos of the sights in every direction. While waiting, we watched a ship dropped from dry dock into the water. I was interested because I had never seen that happen before. I think working sea vessels have a great look about them, and I enjoyed all the sights of the shore.

We looked at all the activity around us while the boat was still docked.

I thought this old mill building was really pretty.

Thatcher Island Twin Lighthouses. If a ship puts sights on both towers, they point to true north, so that sailors can check and/or adjust their compass.

When we were finally underway, there was no lollygagging! We headed out to sea quick, quick. For a solid 90 minutes aboard the Hurricane II, we left solid ground behind us. The Hurricane II claims to be the largest and fastest whale watch ship in the area, and can cruise up to 30 knots! Speeding along out at sea in that weather drove almost everyone indoors.

A few of us tried to stay outside and make the most of our whale-less morning.

I was soon soaked through and went indoors to warm up and to buy snacks because we had skipped breakfast. We sat indoors and read information placards on the walls that provided whale information. Did you know that since whales have to actively remember to breathe, they can never actually go to sleep? They go to sleep with half their brain, while the other half reminds them to surface and breathe, then the active half goes to sleep and the rested half wakes up and takes over. Did you know that the white and black pattern on the tails of Humpback Whales are unique, so that’s how they can be identified?

The woman providing annoucements also told us about the mysterious sea serpent believed to be in the area. The first recorded sighting is dated 1638, and sightings continued through the 1800s. There were many sightings in 1817 near Ten Pound Island, just offshore from the city of Gloucester. Possibly the “sea serpent” was a whale.

Will is better at being cold and wet, but I am sensitive to cold, so he followed my lead on indoors vs. outdoors. When I thawed out, we went back on deck. Every 45 minutes or so, we would get an update over the loudspeaker that went something like, “Well, we saw whales here yesterday, but now we don’t see anything, not sure why. We’re gonna head up north and check it out there.”  And later, “We haven’t spotted any whales here, so now the Captain’s gonna take us over to this one place where there are usually whales.” And finally, “As you know, whales are wild animals, and they don’t come when we call. We are glad that these whales are free to live in their environment without restraint and we can continue to learn about them. We are heading back in folks.”

Grumpy, cold, wet people (many of whom had been drinking for three hours with nothing else to do), complained about the absence of whales. And then, viola! Whales everywhere. In the next 30 minutes as we headed toward shore, the crew spotted six whales and some dolphins. It was still raining and the visibility wasn’t awesome, but we definitely saw them. The whale pics are all Will’s photos, because my fingers were frozen and I kept my gloved hands in my pockets for extra warmth.

Here’s me, demonstrating my balancing skills as the boat tossed around on the waves. {photo Will Murray}

A whale tail! You can see the white markings on the black skin. {photo Will Murray}

The crew spotted six humpback whales with their binoculars, but we only followed one at a time, and the passengers got to see two of them up close. {photo Will Murray}

This is what the whales looked like diving. {photo Will Murray}

With great relief, the crew did not have to go back on their word about guaranteeing a whale sighting on every trip. They handed out little cards as we got close to shore. The cards were brief surveys. Apparently there was supposed to be some kind of environmental education during the trip, because the final question was, “What changes will you make in your personal life to support a safe and healthy environment for the whales?” Since I didn’t know what they wanted to hear from me, and since I already try to minimize my carbon footprint and protect the environment, I didn’t know what to write. Will suggested “Eat less whale.” So that’s what I wrote on mine. I am fairly certain I’ve never eaten whale, but I’ll continue to avoid it.

The incentive to get us to fill out our cards was that all completed cards would be submitted to a drawing for a free whale watch. Guess who won a free whale watch!! I laughed out loud and was convinced that  someone must have got a kick out of my promise to eat less whale. The whale watch was a $45 value and transferrable and had no expiration. Though I doubt I’ll want to repeat this experience, I have lots of Boston friends who might.

Back on shore I wanted to ride around in the car for a long time with the heater on, to dry my jeans out. Will drove and I rested my hands on the heater vents and finally I got warm again.

We explored the Gloucester seashore, and found that it is a city that loves its monuments. We found a bunch of them in a short amount of time.

A monument to Ten Pound Island lighthouse.

We saw a plaque for the Ten Pound Island Lighthouse, which the Hurricane II passed close by earlier in the day. Though the website for Eastern Point Lighthouse claims that Winslow Homer lived there, it looks rather that the famous painter lived with the Ten Pound Island lighthouse keeper in 1880. While there he painted harborscapes that remain famous today.

Along the Gloucester beach there are many monuments, such as this one that acknowledges the mariners that have died at sea here since 1716.

“In honor of an intrepid son of Gloucester, Nathanial Haraden, sailing master of the US frigate Constitution, commended for gallantry in action at the seige of Tripoli, August 3, 1804.”

Fishermen’s Wives Memorial with the family poignantly looking out to sea.

Gloucester’s most famous memorial, the Fishermen’s Memorial.

The Fishermen’s Memorial commemorates the many lives lost at sea. It includes a quote from the Bible, “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. Psalm 107 23-24.” And also: “Men known to be lost at sea and honored here: 5,386.” The total is lives lost from 1716-2001. Think about that: 5,386 lives lost. As of 18 years ago. The people honored at this monument include the crew of the Andrea Gail, lost at sea in 1991, whose story was told in the book and movie The Perfect Storm.

Photo from

When we had our fill of monuments, we hopped in the car, said goodbye to Gloucester, and made our way toward Boston. On the way we drove past Hammond Castle. It was closed, so we just looked at it from the parking lot. This place was built in 1926-1929 as a private residence. Whoah. Today it’s a museum and hosts events like medieval festivals and halloween parties – of course! Lots of people have their wedding photos taken there. I’ve included a shot of the other side of it that I grabbed off the interwebs.

Our view of the back of Hammond Castle, through the trees. Not impressive in a photo, but it was cool to see it in real life.

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

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.


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.

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