Monday, February 25, 2008

Traveling the Oregon Coast

Today we left Portland. I was sad to leave our kind and friendly hosts, Lisa and Greg, but eager to see some new landscapes. We were very lucky during our entire time in Seattle and Portland to see only sunny weather. Our friends joked that we must be carrying the sun with us. I feel like we’re not getting the real picture of the rainy northwest, but I also don’t mind having a three-week sunny vacation.

We drove west from Portland on Route 26, the same road we’d traveled to Timberline yesterday (but in the other direction). It was a pretty drive. We passed through farmland, where people sold salmon jerkey, dried fruits, dried mushrooms, and holiday trees at farmer’s markets. We passed by small, no-name coffee stands, another unique concept to Oregon. We drove in between thick forests. Bright green moss entirely covered some trees, making the branches look like creatures from a fantasy film. On a sadder note, amidst the dense and vast fir forests, we passed by several hillsides razed by logging. Near one of them was a town called Timber. The felled trees and branches fell every which way looked as though a razor had cut through stubble, leaving some forlorn hairs standing. As we emerged from Clatsop state forest, we looked up at an open, golden field and saw a coyote looking down at the road. Behind it, blue mountains covered with thick white grey clouds on the horizon rose up as backdrop.

We arrived at the coast in the town of Cannon Beach, a quaint little community. We drove around looking at the monoliths that emerged from the ocean waters, including one that looked like a haystack (appropriately called Haystack Rock). We drove along the coastal road, looking through tall green firs at the swelling ocean waters a little further out.

Driving down a random road, we traveled through thick, green tropical forest, passed a school tucked away in the natural world, and arrived at a few houses located along the coast. Every so often we passed signs reminding us that we were in a high tsunami risk zone. That was nice to know, but I didn’t know what we were supposed to do should a tsunami suddenly appear.

We stopped at viewpoints along the way to read about the local history and geology and to enjoy the views that appeared one after another. It seemed a little less dramatic to me than the coastline I’d seen south of San Francisco. But instead it appeared to possess a calmer beauty, more self-possessed and soothing.

A bit south of Cannon Beach, at Oswald West State Park, we took a 2.5 mile hike to Cape Falcon. We didn’t make it quite to the end. We were carrying baby and we were afraid of dusk overtaking us. But we did get most of the way through what our Portland friends described to us as their favorite hike. We walked along a path softened by pine needles, the terrain gently sloping, the view of dense forest, creeping moss, fern undergrowth, tinkling streams, a waterfall, and a gorgeous view through the trees of a rounded beach and rocks sticking up near the shore from the ocean waves. The air had the pleasant mixture of fresh forest green with salty ocean scent.

River slept most of the way there, but poopy diapers and hunger caused him to cry for much of the way back. As his cries rang through the woods and a photographer looked at us in silent disapproval, I thought of the biological function of a cry. It’s loud enough not only to alert parents to an infant’s needs, but also to announce to everyone else within earshot – defenseless young human in crisis, please help if you can. The help usually given is disapproving stares at the parents, which guilt them into doing whatever they can to stop the tears. There wasn’t much we could do in this case though, since it was too cold to change his diaper in the woods and stopping to feed him would mean possibly not making it back before dark. So we just had to endure it until we returned and hope that he’d understood.

We returned to the car tired, ravenous, and with headaches. Mark chose a roadside restaurant, The Lighthouse, for dinner. They served great fried halibut and grilled wild salmon in a simple, family friendly interior. Our local waitress told us about her husband who fishes as a hobby and brings back so many crabs fresh from the ocean that she’s sick of them. Each time the neighbors see his boat return, they line up with bags and he hands them out for free. A place where neighbors hand out fresh seafood sounds to me like an attractive place to live.

Our plan was to continue another 26 miles south to Tillamook. We’d look for lodging there and visit the local cheese factories tomorrow morning. Mark commented on how surprisingly empty of traffic the road was. We were tempted by a floating motel we passed along the way, as well as other options with a view of the water. We’ve got a long way to go to San Francisco though and it takes us a while to get going in the morning, so we decided to get as close to the cheese factories as possible.

Perhaps we should have stopped, because we were soon stopped by flashing lights behind us. A cop stopped us for speeding.

“I clocked you going 41 miles in a 30 zone and you passed two 30 mph signs while I had my radar on,” he said. We saw a 40 mph sign about ten feet in front of us, which very shortly thereafter changed to 45. There must have been a short stretch of 30 mph going through a town. The cop drove an unmarked truck and seemed to camp out in that stretch to catch unwary people. I thought it was rather tricky.

“Drive safely and slow down,” he said after giving us a citation. “We need revenue, but not that badly.” Then he turned around and went back to the slow area to trap more people. Funnily, our friend Greg told us we didn’t need to worry about cops in Oregon because the state didn’t have enough money to pay police. I guess they do need the revenue and going after cars with out of state licenses is a good way to collect it.

We found a bed for the night at a Best Western, located near the cheese factory we planned to visit the next morning. With two beds, a large, warm, comfortable space, and the opportunity to dip into a warm whirlpool before sleep, I got some of the best sleep I’ve had in nights, even despite getting up several times to feed River.

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