Visits to Darlingtonia, Newport, and Heceta Lighthouse

Florence, OR

The weather the past few days has been classic Oregon coast with fog, clouds, and cool temperatures.  But that didn’t stop us from getting out and about each day.   One interesting stop was a brief visit to the little Darlingtonia State Natural Site, just north of Florence along US 101.

Darlingtonia State Natural Site is a state park and botanical preserve dedicated to the preservation of a rare plant.  Darlingtonia californica (sounds like the name of a movie star) is a carnivorous plant, commonly known as the cobra lily or pitcher plant, which traps insects in its hollow tubular leaves. Its  top is flared into a hollow dome with a forked “tongue” that gives the species its common name.  Darlingtonia are found only in wet meadows and bogs with acidic soils low in nitrogen.

The park has a short loop trail through a peat bog area overlooking patches of Darlingtonia.  It is the only Oregon state park dedicated to the protection of a single plant species.

It eat insects!

One afternoon we drove north on US 101 to check out some of the scenic views along the coastline.  We tried to wait for an afternoon with some sunshine but the forecast for the next few days was not encouraging, so off we went.  While sunshine would have been better, the fog did make for some interesting views.

Alsea Bay Bridge near Walport

When we passed the sign in the photo below John remarked that US 20 goes right in front of his old junior high school in Erie, PA.  Then, he remembered that it was torn down about 45 years ago!  Sad . . .

We ended up in the coastal town of Newport, which has a historic old town section along Yaquina Bay.  As we walked along Bay Boulevard we could hear barking near the water.  OK, time to check out the sea lions.

Three part harmony!

After touring around town a bit we stopped for a great view of the Yaquina Bay Bridge before heading back to the south.

For our final adventure along the coast, we drove north of Florence for about 15 miles to visit the Heceta Head Lighthouse.  We intended to combine a couple of trails into a long hike by parking at the Washbourne State Park day use area a few miles past the lighthouse and hiking back on the Valley Trail.  But when we arrived at the park there was a sign at the trailhead stating that the Valley Trail was closed.  So we drove back down US 101 a couple of miles to a small parking lot along the highway.  There we got on the Lighthouse Trail for a 1.25 mile hike to the Heceta Lighthouse.  The trail goes through some beautiful old growth forest.  While not very long it goes steeply up and over Heceta Head,  then steeply back down to the lighthouse.


Where’s Waldo John? (he really is in the photo)

Going up a series of switchbacks

Ferns grow in every notch of the trees

Hobbit Beach to the north

Down a long series of steps

As we hiked down the south side of Heceta Head, the lighthouse came into view below us.

Looking to the east from the lighthouse we could see the Cape Creek Bridge.  US 101 goes through a tunnel at the south end of the bridge.

Built in 1894, the 56 foot tall lighthouse shines a beam visible for 21 nautical miles (24 mi). The first light came from a five wick kerosene lamp.  Today Heceta has the only active British made lens of its kind in the U.S. and is the brightest beacon on the Oregon coast.

While we did enjoy seeing the lighthouse, the best part of the visit was watching two gray whales feeding just off shore.

We hiked back over Heceta Head to the Jeep and headed south.  Just south of the tunnel there is a scenic overlook with a beautiful view north back to the lighthouse.

Well, that wraps up our impromptu 12 day stay along the Oregon Coast.  Now it’s time to head inland back to Coburg where we have an appointment at Cummins Northwest to have repairs made to the motorhome engine.

More on that later . . .

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Cape Perpetua

Florence, OR

Earlier this week we drove 23 miles north on US 101 for a visit to Cape Perpetua, a perfect example of a coastal headland.  A headland is land surrounded by water on three sides characterized by high, breaking waves, rocky shores, intense erosion, and steep sea cliffs.  Cape Perpetua was named by Captain James Cook in 1778 as he searched for the Pacific entrance to a Northwest Passage.  Cook gave the cape the name Perpetua because it was discovered on St. Perpetua’s Day.

In 1933, a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp was built at the foot of the cape just north of Cape Creek. The CCC constructed the Cape Perpetua campground and a network of hiking trails.  In the 1960s  the Forest Service created the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area and built the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center near the remains of the CCC camp.

Cape Perpetua Visitor Center

After speaking with a ranger in the visitor center, we decided to take the St. Perpetua Trail, a 1.4 mile path that goes steeply up 700 feet to what the park describes as the “best view on the Oregon coast.”

St. Perpetua trailhead

Some old growth trees line the trail

As we gained elevation the trail went right along the edge of the cliff, giving us some great views of the ocean below and the end of the trail high above us.

Not there yet!

As we reached the top the fog thickened, giving the view an eerie glow.

Lunch with a view

Gravity was our friend on the return hike

Returning to the visitor center we crossed over to a trail that leads down to the ocean.  The path goes near the highway before it turns a bit and heads down to a tunnel.

Exiting the west side of the tunnel we passed a group of trees that give a graphic indication as to where the wind comes from.

We hiked a short distance south to where a creek enters the ocean.  From there we had a nice view of the bridge carrying US 101 over the creek.

There are three interesting spots along this area of the shoreline.   The first is called Cook’s Chasm, a narrow split in the rocks where water shoots up from waves during high tide.

Next to Cook’s Chasm is an opening in the rocks that is known as the Spouting Horn which send puffs of mist into the air.

Nearby is a hole in the rock known as Thor’s Well.  The hole is carved out of the basalt shoreline.  One theory is that it was initially a sea cave until the roof collapsed, leaving a hole on the surface level.  Because of its location right against the  ocean you get a constant flow of waves rolling in from underneath and filling the bowl from the bottom. Depending on the tide level, sometimes it just bubbles to the top, while other times it’s bursting out in a violent spray.




Up close full . . .

. . . draining . . .

. . . and up close empty

While hiking back we could see the observation point where we had lunch, although it was a bit obscured with fog.

The CCC built a structure called the West Shelter observation point near the top of the cape. During World War II the shelter observation point was used as a coastal watch station and a large coastal defense gun was temporarily installed.  The shelter is located up near the observation point where we enjoyed lunch earlier in the day, but we forgot about it when we were there.  So before leaving the area we drove back up in the Jeep to check it out.  Unfortunately, the view was totally obscured by the fog.

The Pacific is on the left, obscured by fog

While we would have preferred a clear day for our visit to Cape Perpetua, the fog did create some interesting views.  If you go there, try to make it at peak high tide like we did.  That’s when the Cook’s Chasm, Spouting Horn, and Thor’s Well are most spectacular.

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Florence, Sand, and Hiking with Friends

Florence, OR

For the first few days of our visit to the Oregon coast the weather would be foggy in the morning with sunny skies in the afternoon.  So after doing some exploring we would stop and get something to drink (Seattle based chain in a Safeway) and head down by the Siuslaw River to enjoy some quiet time along the docks.

One afternoon while sitting on the bench the nimble hiker spotted a harbor seal swimming in front of us.

She jumped up to get a photo, knocking her Kindle off the bench.  In a “one in a million” shot, the Kindle found the small gap between boards on the dock and disappeared!

Now this Kindle is a bit old by technology standards, but she likes its large screen.  So retrieving the lost reader became a vital mission.

Looking down through the boards to the Kindle below

It was a bit of a distance to the end of the boardwalk where you could make your way through the weeds to get under it.  Fortunately the tide was out so the area underneath was relatively dry.  But a volunteer was needed to set out on this possibly deadly mission.  Fortunately, someone stepped forward to undertake the task.  OK, it would be more correct to say that someone was drafted (for the second time in his life) for the job!

The Kindle was successfully recovered and, other than few bumps and bruises, is working properly.  Oh, and the leader of the recovery mission survived uninjured!

After the recovery mission we took a walk over to the nearby Old Town section of Florence.  Two years ago the Florence Events Center celebrated its 20th anniversary by sponsoring a Dancing with Sea Lions contest, a celebration of the sea lion and the Florence area.  The twenty colorfully painted fiberglass entries are now on display in various locations around town.  We spotted one sitting along Bay Street in Old Town.

Walking west along the river we passed under the Siuslaw River Bridge to get a view of the Oregon Sand Dunes on the south side of the river.  The dunes are part of the the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area which runs along the Oregon Coast for about 40 miles from the Coos River in North Bend to the Siuslaw River in Florence.

Looking back to the east we had a great view of the bridge.  The Suislaw River Bridge is a drawbridge completed in 1936 with funding from the Public Works Administration, part of FDR’s New Deal during the Great Depression.

The drawbridge section is flanked by two 154 foot reinforced concrete tied arches.  Four Art Deco style obelisks house mechanical equipment as well as living quarters for the bridge operator.  An informational panel near the base of the bridge had a great photo of the bridge with Florence to the north.

Florence is located on the north edge of the Oregon Dunes,  a unique area of windswept sand that is the result of millions of years of wind and rain erosion on the Oregon Coast. These are the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America.

Woahink RV Park is located right on the edge of the sand dunes.  In fact, there is a narrow little road in the park that leads right up into the dunes, making it a popular park for four wheelers who come here to ride in the sand.   One afternoon we hiked up the hill to check out the view.

From the top of the hill, the view to the west is nothing but sand.

The small dots in the distance are four wheelers

To the east is a great view of  the RV park below and Woahink Lake beyond it.

When we realized that our friends Hans and Lisa (Metamorphosis Road) were only about 50 miles south of us, we contacted them to see if they were interested in meeting up somewhere in between for lunch.  Lisa had an even better suggestion.  She was looking at a hike along Eel Lake, located right along US 101 almost exactly between our two locations.  Who could pass that up?

Lisa and Hans

We met mid-morning near the boat ramp in William Tugman State Park and, after a bit of “how are things” conversation, we set out on the trail.

Lisa hikes through the thick forest

The trail is pretty flat, with a few up and downs, as it goes around about half of Eel Lake.  We hiked for a bit over three and a half miles before running out of trail and turning around.

The area around Eel Lake is classic coastal Oregon, with soaring trees above and thick ferns carpeting the ground.  Along the way we saw a variety of interesting things growing and crawling along the trail.


Indian Pipe

One of the many slugs

After returning to the parking lot, we said our good-byes to Hans and Lisa, knowing we will be crossing paths with them again in the near future.

Next up is some coastal hiking north of Florence.  More on that later . . .

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Repairs and High Temps in Oregon

Florence, OR We left Long Beach, WA on a clear Monday morning and headed south into Oregon.  Our first obstacle was the Astoria-Megler Bridge, a 4.1 span crossing the Columbia River. We crossed the bridge a few times in the … Continue reading

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Cape Disappointment and a visit to Cannon Beach

Long Beach, WA

Cape Disappointment is a narrow, rocky piece of land on the north side of the Columbia River at the point where it meets the Pacific.  Located in the extreme southwest corner of Washington, the cape was named in 1788 by British fur trader John Meares, who was sailing south from Vancouver Island in search of trade. After a storm, he turned his ship around just north of the Cape and therefore just missed the discovery of the Columbia River.  Today the Cape is home to Cape Disappointment State Park.  The park has a large campground, two lighthouses, and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.  The center was our first stop when we visited the park.

The interpretive center sits on a cliff right at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.  The first thing you notice when you walk up to the cliff is a very strong odor.  An information plaque there explains the source of the odor, but a look at the rocks below also identifies the cause.

Shorebirds have “painted” the rocks below!

View looking west

View looking south – Cape Disappointment Lighthouse in the foreground, the Oregon coast in the background

Lewis and Clark arrive in this area in November of 1805 and stayed about a month before crossing over to the south side of the river where they spent the winter.

The interpretive center features exhibits that tell the story of the Corps of Discovery Expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific coast from 1803 to 1806 .  There are also displays about the park’s later history, including the lighthouses, U.S. Coast Guard and military activities, and the area’s maritime and natural history.

Why are there two lighthouses here?

After touring the interpretive center, we hiked the .75 mile trail to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse.

View of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center from the lighthouse

The lighthouse was constructed in the early 1850s.  When the first order Fresnel lens for the lighthouse arrived during construction, it was found to be too large for the tower. Rebuilding the tower took an additional two years. The first lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest was finally lit in October of 1856.  In addition to the light, the station was equipped with a 1,600-pound fog bell powered by a striking mechanism.

The lighthouse had several shortcomings. The fog bell was sometimes inaudible due to the roar of ocean waves. It was discontinued in 1881 and moved to a lighthouse near Seattle. Also, the light was not visible to ships approaching from the north.  This problem was corrected by building the lighthouse at North Head, two miles from Cape Disappointment. The first-order lens was moved to North Head and a fourth-order lens installed at Cape Disappointment.

Looking south from the lighthouse at the mouth of the Columbia River

We returned to the Jeep and drove north through the state park to visit the North Head Lighthouse.  As we walked the path to the lighthouse we passed the information plaque shown in the photo below.  The plaque contains a photo take at that spot in 1917 before the jetties on both sides of the river were constructed.  Ocean currents were altered by the jetties, causing a buildup of sand along the shore and creating over 600 acres of new land.

The view in 1917

The same view today

The North Head Lighthouse is usually open to tour, but we knew that it is currently closed while renovations are completed.

North Head wrapped in a nice, warm blanket

The day after our visit to Cape Disappointment we decided to cross the Columbia River and drive down the Oregon coast for a visit to Cannon Beach, home of the famous Haystack Rock, a 235 foot tall sea stack.

We timed our visit to low tide, so rock formations under water at high tide exposed numerous tide pools filled with sea life.

Giant green anemone

Ochre sea star surrounded by anemone

A blanket of anemones

View to the south

Well, that concludes our six week visit to western Washington.  We have certainly enjoyed our visit, but it is time to head south.  Today we’ll cross the Columbia River and head to Coburg, OR, just north of Eugene, where we have an appointment to have the motorhome serviced.   We had planned to stay in the Eugene for a week until we checked out the weather report for the area.


After six weeks along the cool coast of Washington, we are just not able to comprehend temperatures of 109!  So once the service on the motorhome is completed, we will head back to the coast for a week in Florence, OR, where the highest temperature for the week is one day at 80 degrees and low 70’s and 60’s the rest of the time.

More on that later . . .

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A Visit to Astoria, OR

Long Beach, WA

Astoria is a city of just under 10,000 located on the south shore of the Columbia River.  Situated near the mouth of the river where it meets the Pacific Ocean, the city was named after John Jacob Astor, an investor from New York City whose American Fur Company founded Fort Astoria at this site in 1811.  It is connected to Washington by the  the 4.1 mile Astoria–Megler Bridge.

Since Astoria is only 22 miles from our RV park, we headed there one morning for a visit.  But after crossing the bridge we first turned west and drove 10 miles to Fort Stevens State Park to check out the remains of the ship Peter Iredale, apparently a must do tourist stop in this area.  Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel that ran ashore in 1906 (no casualties).  Wreckage is still visible, making it a popular tourist attraction.

Wreckage of the Peter Iredale

We returned to Astoria and drove up on a hilltop southeast of town to visit the Astoria Column, another must do tourist stop.  The tower was built in 1926 with financing by the Great Northern Railway and Vincent Astor, the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor, in commemoration of the city’s role in the family’s business history.  The 125 foot column has a 164 step spiral staircase ascending to an observation deck at the top.

The murals that make up the column were refurbished in 1995 and a granite plaza was added in 2004.

The observation deck gives you a great view of Astoria and the bridge to Washington.

As we drove down from the column we noticed two deer enjoying lunch in a neighborhood front yard.

Astoria is built into the side of a steep hill, so the drive up and back from the column reminds you of driving in San Francisco.

We parked along the river and walked a few blocks to the Fort George Brewery to enjoy an adult beverage and some lunch.

The Burnt Umber Brown Ale was delicious, as was the chowder and the fish and chips.  We had never had fish and chips made with tuna and found it to be outstanding! Originally, we planned to try Bowpicker  (recommended by many) but found they are closed on Monday and Tuesday.

The usual strong afternoon wind was blowing in from the west and we found it interesting to look up river and see cargo ships all lined up at anchor facing into the breeze.

We walked along the Astoria Riverwalk, a paved path that runs the length of the river, giving great views of the Columbia River and the bridge to Washington.

Looking north toward Washington

Sweeping turn where bridge traffic drops down to street level

Years ago much of Astoria was built out over the river.  In 1883, and again in 1922, the downtown was devastated by fire, partly because it was mostly wood and entirely raised off the marshy ground on pilings.  Even after the first fire the same format was used and the second time around the flames spread quickly again, as collapsing streets took out the water system. Frantic citizens resorted to dynamite, blowing up entire buildings to stop the fire from going further.  All along the waterfront old pilings are evidence of the city’s history.

One of the most prominent buildings in the city is the John Jacob Astor Hotel.  Formerly called the Astoria Hotel, it opened in 1924 and initially was the city’s social and business hub  But it was soon beset with a variety of problems and struggled financially for years.  Condemned by the city for safety violations in 1968, it reopened as an apartment building in 1986 with the lowermost two floors reserved for commercial use.

John Jacob Astor Hotel

Astoria is an interesting town with enough to see to warrant a visit.  If interested in Lewis and Clark, a reconstructed Fort Clatsap, where the Corps of Discovery spent a winter, is just a few miles to the west.  We toured the fort during a visit years ago so we skipped it this trip.

Next up is a visit to Cape Disappointment State Park at the southern tip of the Long Beach Peninsula.  More on that later . . .

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Welcome to Long Beach, WA

Long Beach, WA

Early this week we left Forks and headed south on winding, two lane US 101 for a 200 mile drive to Long Beach, WA.  The route provides some beautiful scenery as it moves from the coastline to inland forests and back again.

Long Beach Peninsula is on the north side of the mouth of the Columbia River.  The peninsula is known for its continuous sand beaches on the Pacific Ocean, 28 miles in extent, claimed to be the longest beach in the U.S.  There are a number of small communities on the peninsula, the largest being the town of Long Beach (pop. 1,394).  We are staying at Anderson RV Park, north of Long Beach and just across a sand dune from the ocean.

The beach is just over that dune

Looking back at the park from the middle of the dune

The view west from the middle of the dune

The Discovery Trail is a biking/walking paved trail that runs from just north of Long Beach (26th street) south along the sand dunes to Cape Disappointment State Park at the end of the peninsula (about 7.5 miles).   We parked the Jeep in the Breakers Motel lot (an area designated for trail riders) and road our bikes down to the park entrance.

26th Street entrance to the trail

The trail twists and turns as it goes through the grasses along the dunes, with some nice ocean views along the way.

At one point along the trail there is a marker commemorating a visit by William Clark and a group from the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition.  Clark and the small group first saw the Pacific Ocean from this area in November of 1805.

On the back of the stone marker is an inscription quoting Clark telling about an encounter with a Sturgeon along the beach.

John’s mother’s maiden name was Sturgeon so he had to share that information with Lt. Clark, who was standing next to the Sturgeon near the marker.  Clark did not appear to be impressed by this information.

Various other sculptors and carvings are placed along the trail.

The wind seems to blow constantly around here and it was at our back on the way south, making for a very pleasant ride.  But the return trip?  Not so nice!

We returned to the Jeep, put the bikes away, and headed into Long Beach to do the “drive on the beach” thing.

The tide was coming in so there was not a very large area of packed sand, but we did enjoy the experience.

As we headed off the beach on the hard packed road we encountered one poor guy who turned off the road a little to soon.  He was trying to push the car forward on to the packed sand while his very unhappy wife drove.  The two little children in the back seat (ages 2 yrs. and 4 mo.) were no help at all.

John stopped to help and, after cleaning a path ahead of the front wheels, they were able to get the family to safety.

Tomorrow we’ll head across the Columbia River to visit the town of Astoria.  More on that later. . .

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