Friday, August 12, 2011

Cooling it on the Pacific Shoreline Highway

A flight of brown pelicans works the shoreline at Ft. Lewis State Park, on the south shore of the Columbia River estuary.

The glaciers of Montana and the snow-capped peaks of British Columbia were relatively warm and snuggly compared to the damp chill of the Oregon coast. After crossing the Columbia River and turning west to Astoria, we camped at Ft. Lewis State Park out on the Pacific shore.

While David explored the local attractions, I worked on getting this blog up to date. We spent two nights in the huge, state campground, which was crammed with Oregonians, kids and dogs, all of whom seemed oblivious to the virtually permanent overcast.

One point of interest was the decommissioned shore battery, which a Japanese submarine had fired on one night in 1942 -- the only hostile attack on the mainland west coast. The American guns didn't return fire, refusing to give away their positions and the sub went away.

Another, was Fort Clatsop, where the Lewis and Clark expedition spent a miserable winter in 1805-6, waiting for the sun to come out before returning east to St. Louis.

Long stone jetties north and south of the mouth of the Columbia were built to contain the river's flow and maintain a channel deep enough for ships to navigate. The jetties also collected sand, extending the shoreline.

We made plans to meet my nephew Spenser, who lives in Portland and recently bought a new Suzuki V-Strom like ours, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, in Tillamook, Ore., famous for cheddar cheese and home to the Tillamook Air Museum, a collection of flyable vintage airplanes housed in a giant blimp hangar.

The blimp hangar at Tillamook is one of two built there to house a fleet of lighter-than-air vessels used to patrol for enemy submarines and escort convoys during World War II. Each hangar could hold eight blimps and the surviving structure -- the other burned down in 1992 -- claims to be the largest wooden building in the world.

The Air Museum blimp hangar, completed in 1943, is 1,072 feet long, 15 stories high and could house 6 football fields within its seven acres of floor space. It can be seen from miles away by south-bound drivers on US 101. Naval Air Station Tillamook was decommissioned in 1948.

Unfortunately, Spenser wasn't able to make it out to the coast to meet us, but we spent an hour or two wandering among the many airplanes on display, which ranged from a WWI Nieuport II replica to an F-14 Navy Tomcat fighter -- like the one in the movie Top Gun. Highlights of the privately owned collection include a twin-engine P-38 Lightning, a Spanish-built German Me-109 Messerschmidt, a PBY-5A Catalina flying boat and a Russian Mig 17.

We continued down the coast on US 101 and camped at Umpqua State Park at Salmon Harbor on Winchester Bay, which is a Mecca for dune buggies and ATVs. The RV parks were crammed with campers pulling trailers stacked with four-wheeled vehicles of many kinds and sizes, all shod with tires designed to grip the sand and orange flags on whippy antennae. Drivers ranged from four and five year olds to gray beards.

The park was nestled in a woody depression near the Umpqua Lighthouse. Except for a fog whistle that tooted faintly, but incessantly, in the distance the campground was quiet and protected.

I stopped to talk to the couple in the neighboring campsite, whose Mercedes Benz camper had a large sticker -- a white cross on a red rectangle. They were from Switzerland and had been on the road for six years, beginning in Europe and moving steadily east through Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, India, Malaysia and Australia. They'd shipped the camper from there to Los Angeles and had spent the last few months in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah before coming up the California coast.

The man asked where we were headed and I said we'd probably stop the next day near Eureka, about 220 miles south.

"Oh, we never go that far in a day," he said. "We like to take small steps."

Further down the coast, we stopped Wednesday morning to stretch and take some pictures at Pacific City, Ore., home of the Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, where the cape and dunes dwarf beachgoers.

"Haystack Rock" at Kiwanda Beach is one of several that share that name along the Oregon Coast.

Dunes along the Oregon coast, like this one at Cape Kiwanda, reach heights of 300 feet or more.

Seabirds cover a rocky outcrop above the cold Pacific waters.

We stopped at a scenic overlook a few miles south of the California-Oregon state line for our first look at some typical northern California coast.

We saw an electronic signboard on US 101 near Crescent City that warned drivers to be cautious crossing the Klamath River bridge because of pedestrians. We didn't pay much attention to it at the time but, sure enough, about 20 miles further south when we reached the bridge there were throngs of people parking at either end and hiking out to the middle of the span.

The bridge over the Klamath is decorated with four gilded, life-size California bears.

As we slowly rode across, over the bridge railing we could see a very large grey creature swimming in the river.

This mother gray whale, we were told, was chased up the river with her calf by killer whales. Naturalists were able to get the calf back out into the ocean after the orcas left, but the mother resisted their efforts and was still in the river, swimming in circles, presumably searching for her offspring.

A fully grown gray whale can be more than 45 feet long and is an odd sight swimming in a river. We were told the whale's predicament had been the lead news story locally for several days.

Our goal on Wednesday, Aug. 10, was Eureka, Cal., but we hadn't done much research about the place. Arriving at the Eureka KOA, we found ourselves next to an industrial area and busy US 101. The campground was devoid of trees, crowded and cramped.

At least we had cell phone service. Out came the iPhone and iPad to search for alternatives. The best option appeared to be a county campground in Ferndale, a few miles south of Eureka.

Along the way, we stopped at a Suzuki dealer for David to buy a front turn-signal bulb and a spare. With those in hand, we rode to Ferndale, where the county campground was located at the county fairgrounds. This wouldn't have been a problem, except that preparations for the county fair were in full swing, gearing up for the weekend, and the campground was buried under horse trailers, amusement rides and trucks.

The next option was Humbolt Redwoods State Park, where we found a pleasant, if dark, campsite on the "Avenue of the Giants," the road that meanders for miles through redwood groves along the Eel River.

The V-Strom looks very tiny next to a stand of redwoods.

Thursday morning, we mounted up early, bound for Leggett, Cal., where we'd have breakfast -- we thought -- before heading down the Shoreline Highway, Cal. 1, which splits off US 101 there. It was a 40 mile ride to Leggett, where we discovered everything was closed: the cafe; the grocery store; the gas station; even the "Drive-Through Redwood Tree" tourist trap.

There was to be no coffee, before we tackled California's Highway 1.

As we started down the twisty, two-lane track, a log truck -- riding empty with the trailer hoisted up on the back of the tractor -- pulled into a turn-out to let us by, assuming we'd be faster on our bikes. After about 20 minutes of hairpin turns, sweepers and esses, I glanced in my mirrors and saw that truck still breathing down David's neck. Those big rigs are damn fast on curvy roads.

Next town, some 25 miles from Leggett, was Westport. According to my GPS, there was food there at the Westport Inn, a small B&B on the highway in the middle of the tiny settlement. We stepped through the door into a sitting room, with the usual racks of tourist brochures and magazines. Just beyond was a dining are with two tables set for a meal. The place was empty, however.

After a moment, we heard someone back in the kitchen and an old man soon came out to greet us. We said we were hoping to have breakfast.

"Oh, I don't serve meals anymore, since my wife passed away," he said. As far as we could tell, he didn't book guests anymore either.

We thanked him and crossed the road to the town store, which sold David a cup of coffee and a cookie for $4 and me a frozen breakfast burrito and coffee for $6. The gas pump in front of the store offered 87-octane for $5 a gallon. Westport has its own economy based on scarcity -- a commodity provided by being 25 miles of challenging road from anywhere.

We were running low on gas. I asked what kind of services we'd find in Ft. Bragg, the next town.

"Oh, Ft. Bragg has everything," the storekeeper said. "There's a Denny's, a McDonald's -- everything."

We left without buying any $5 gasoline.

In Mendocino, we took the road out to the point and admired the expensive houses built on the cliffs overlooking the water. The fog layer drifted in and out as we moved south. When it was in, the temperature would drop 20 degrees.

We stopped at a cafe on the corner of Highway 1 and the road out to the Point Arenas lighthouse for a stretch and to warm up. The other side of this sign reads "First Cafe Since Hawaii."

A pelican flew by to decorate my photo of the Point Arenas lighthouse, hunkered down just under the "marine layer," as they call the Pacific fog bank.

We stopped at Jenner for lunch, where the Russian River empties into the ocean. A herd of fat harbor seals makes its home, hauled out on the sand bar waiting for the salmon run.

Our two-day run down the Oregon and Northern California coast began in Umpqua, near Coos Bay (A), with an overnight stop in Humbolt Redwoods State Park ( just south of B) and a taxing, but rewarding, 240 miles from there down the coast to Westport (C), Jenner (D) and Novato, Calif. (E). We're stopping here to stay with old pals, Jan and Rick, and to visit other Bay Area friends.

1 comment:

  1. I remember that ride we took, MANY moons ago, up to the Russian River, and curvey mountain roads and no guard rails, and so beautiful...