Cool weather. Green trees. Water everywhere. Coffee on every corner. Brewery every few blocks. Welcome to Portland!
Lucky me, I was here for a short time last August to hang with my good friend Lisa, while Lance’s last visit was in 2008. Portland can be addicting—we love exploring this weird, watery town. So, when Lance suggested that we find a suitable place to escape from the intense heat of June in Tucson, the Rose City was at the top of our list.
Besides the cooler weather another major draw is that several of Lance’s fellow Automatticians reside there. So, we found a little pad online, rented it for the month of June, and drove up at the end of May. Our temporary home is quite conveniently located on Belmont in the SE district. It is easy to hop on I-5 or I-84, frequent buses rumble by, there are dozens of shops, bars, restaurants and grocery stores within walking distance. Even downtown is walkable (weather permitting).
Since we are desert rats we headed straight for the water. Saturday we drove out to the coast. It was foggy. It drizzled. It was actually cold. And we didn’t care. It was invigorating to hear the surf and feel the cold, wet sand between our toes. Later the sun broke through and everything sparkled. It didn’t warm up much but it was enough sunshine to turn our faces red; we hadn’t thought to put on sunscreen. Yikes!
Our Seaside area species count was rather low with by far the most intriguing animal being a deceased sea lion. Gulls were doing their best to clean up the mess, they had picked the head clean and the skull shone bright white. Yes, I felt compelled to look closely at the carcass. Lance does not share my fascination with animal remains, so he kept his distance.
Later we learned that our sea lion might have been one of the twenty-odd dead ones that floated ashore recently. Ready for the disturbing part? They died of gunshot wounds! The deaths are being investigated and hopefully the killing will stop soon, especially since both California and Stellar sea lions are being targeted (Stellars are on the Endangered Species List). No one knows the motives behind the shootings, suggestions include misguided people just shooting to shoot and, far more plausible in my opinion, frustrated fishermen who view the sea lions as competition for the dwindling supply of fish. A long and intensely debated subject along the Pacific Northwest coast.
It wasn’t enough for us to walk the beach at Seaside, we decided we needed to make sure that Haystack Rock was still around. So we drove a little further south. Yep, it’s there. Our timing couldn’t have been much better since the tide was still receding. Lucky us, the ebb tides during the first part of June were some of the lowest of the year. We nosed around the tide pools looking at sea creatures, caught a glimpse of a furtive harbor seal, and spent time identifying birds including a busy Black Oystercatcher and some gorgeous Harlequin Ducks (and guess who left her big camera back in Portland?!).
Having checked on Haystack it only made sense that we proceed south to take a peek at the Cape Meares lighthouse. The headland that holds the light is included in the Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge which protects the old growth forest and a peregrine falcon nesting site among other treasures. The short and squat Cape Meares Light resides high up on a cliff that juts out into the ocean. We were happy to find things just as we remembered. Especially after learning of the damage caused by vandals in 2010. Two men used the lighthouse for target practice, severely damaging the original 1888 Fresnel lens. I’m not sure who undertook the tedious and expensive restoration work, from the outside it looked amazing.
As we stood at the railing and surveyed the sea we heard the distinctive bark of sea lions. There must’ve been a number of them down below but we couldn’t see them. It was reassuring to hear living ones, the sound went a long way toward erasing the image of the carcass we saw earlier. The low rocks along that section of coast are favored resting and breeding spots for California and Stellar Sea Lions as well as Harbor Seals.
It was late in the evening so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Well, it was just us, a Columbian Black-tailed Deer, Pacific Banana Slugs, and an obscene amount of birds. Offshore to the north were several sea stacks, part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The rocks are notable in that over 100,000 birds use them as nesting grounds. We saw thousands and thousands of Common Murres, Brandt’s Cormorants, and unidentified gulls. Watching the constant movement and listening to the cacophony was almost overwhelming.
Just when we thought we’d seen enough, things got really interesting. A massive Bald Eagle swooped over the sea stacks. Bird cries rose in alarm. As it wove in between the rocks the eagle made no attempt at hunting. Cormorants, Gulls, and Murres by the tens of thousands flapped away in fright. Then the eagle, seemingly supremely satisfied, landed on the tallest of the sea stacks and just stood there. The whole exercise looked pointless, it really did appear that the eagle did it just because it could. And once again I kicked myself for forgetting my big camera!
Five minutes later the eagle nonchalantly flew off and the frightened birds returned to their nesting and resting sites. Between the wildlife refuge we were standing on, the Oregon Islands refuge to the north, and the Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge to the south there was so much to look at. But we were losing daylight so we wrenched ourselves away and drove back to Portland.
The next morning was gorgeous and sunny as we headed east along the Columbia River and entered the Columbia Gorge. We admired the many waterfalls along the way and stopped off at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery to see Herman the giant sturgeon (he’s over 12 feet long and 60 years old). I’d call him a beauty except for the fact that sturgeon are so ugly! We drove sections of U.S. Route 30, also known as the Historic Columbia River Highway, preferring to wander along and savor the scenery.
After watching athletic souls brave the cold water to windsurf, paddleboard, and kiteboard in the town of Hood River, we were hungry. Thankfully Full Sail Brewing Company was nearby and soon we were satiated (yes, they serve food—it’s not all beer). With waning light we headed back west but switched it up by returning on the Washington side of the river. Driving over the Bridge of the Gods costs a dollar but it was more than worth it!
The bridge isn’t terribly exceptional in span or design but it does allow for a magnificent view of the river and surrounding cliffs and hillsides. The bridge’s name derives from a native term for a natural dam which existed in the area long ago. Though the exact date for the Bonneville landslide is undecided (estimates put it somewhere between 1060 and 1760) the resulting debris flow that dammed the Columbia River is well documented. The massive amount of displaced soil created a 35-mile-long lake. According to native legend the local inhabitants frequently used the dam, which they called the Bridge of the Gods, to cross over to the other side.
In the Klickitat’s version of the story, two sons of the god Tyhee Saghalie, came down the Columbia and found it to be a perfect place to live. One brother settled to the north of the river, the other to the south. Their father then built the Bridge of the Gods so the brothers could visit each other. For awhile things went well between the brothers. Then they met beautiful Loowit and they began fighting over her. Their fighting shook the earth, destroying the bridge and causing massive damage all around. This angered their father who turned them into mountains. To this day Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams are the two sons who still look longingly at Mt. St. Helens, the fair maiden they knew as Loowit.
Isn’t that a wonderful story?
Photos: View our photographs from First week in Oregon.
Dates: We made these trips on June 2 and 3, 2012.