Oregon surely has plenty of nature, and we're having a beautiful trip appreciating its seacoast. Young elk
On the lookout for elk this morning, we soon spotted a pair of youngsters nibbling somebody's front lawn north of Gold Beach. A bit farther north we followed a friend's recommendation and turned east at Reedsport to an Elk Viewing Area. In the designated area the only sites to be seen were a couple of RV'ers returning from the restrooms, but at the end of the meadow, beyond the last sign, a large elk herd were complacently nestled in the tall grass, just too far away for our camera. They are significantly larger than deer, with broad chests and long legs.
Our next stop was the Oregon Dunes. Almost 50 miles of coastline is protected dune land and some of them are quite high - up to 300 feet. We learned that these sand dunes have been tethered to their location by the Oregon Dunes planting of European sea grass in the early 1900s. This grass can survive being buried, and keeps the sand closest to the sea from blowing away, thereby stabilizing the duneland. So in a sense, these Oregon Dunes are manmade. The dunes are a great playland; it's a wonderfully soft tan sand, good for sand castles, kids, sand surfing, hikers, and dune buggies. Both Oregon Dunes and Padre Island, in South Texas, are run by the National Park Service. To our way of thinking, Oregon Dunes succeeds better.
The Oregon Sea Lion Cave was discovered in 1880 and has been in private hands ever since. With all the bad press about tourist attractions, it's hard to remember that there are some fine ones. This has been operated by members of the same family since the 1930s, and it is educational and very well-maintained. Sea Lion Cave Even the gift shop is tasteful. An elevator was installed in the 1960s, which was OK with us, since it's 280 feet from the highway down to the viewing point, a hole in the top of the cave 35 feet above sea level.
There were well over one hundred Steller Sea Lions in the cave, and about twenty more sunning themselves on a large ledge outside the cave. Plus there were always a few in the water getting a bite to eat by diving down to the ocean floor. Steller was a naturalist who identified these large seals as a separate species and studied them for years. The old bulls (who were away in Alaska proving they could survive the winter there and hence be good mates in the springtime) can reach 1500 to 2000 pounds.
The adult sea lions have a light tan coat, while the pups - about eight months old - are darker. They have a loud hoarse roar, unlike the bark of the Heceta Head Lighthouse smaller California sea lions which occasionally come to visit. With binoculars we could watch the pups nursing, and catch the leaps of sea lions jumping from the rocks into the ocean breakers which slam into their rocky cave through a narrow passage. Coming off season, we didn't have to wait to get a space at the overlook.
We're trying to ignore superlatives, because every city and hamlet in the world seems to be the mostest at something-or-the other. But the Heceta Lighthouse is picture perfect, sitting out in lovely isolation on the side of a hill overlooking the rocky coast. There's another opening in the Sea Lion Caves that gives you a lovely view of the lighthouse, framed between the rocks. Bob always spots the Coast Guard facilities by their white buildings with dark red roofs -- right out of the old Paint and Color Manual, he says.