Sunday, May 22, 2011

Florence - Ti Amo!!!!

Leaving Bandon, we wandered a whole 70 miles up the coast through “Dune Country” - Oregon’s Sahara - traveling the entire 40 mile expanse of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which is part of the Siuslaw National Forest. This was really something to see - and experience! In order to find out all about it (including hikes, campgrounds, good places to eat up the coast, etc.) be sure to stop at the USFS Oregon Dunes Visitor Center in Reedsport.

These dunes have been formed by the natural forces of wind, water, glaciers and time and are like no others in the world. They are the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America, some towering to 500 feet above sea level. The desert-like landscape blends with lakes, rivers, ocean and forest creating a diverse ecosystem filled with plants and animals that changes daily. These blending ‘systems’ also create confusing pictures for the mind’s eye as you travel from desert dunes immediately into forests then back to the tumultuous ocean against the lava formed rocks. (You will see this in the pictures below - all taken in a 20 mile stretch!)

But - back to the dunes and their history lesson. It has taken about 55 million years for these Oregon Dunes to develop, starting with the building of the Coast and Cascade Mountain Ranges (via lava from the earth’s core). Then glaciers, wind and rainfall began to grind these peaks down to tiny grains of rock and carry them to the ocean. There currents push the sands back onshore, where winds sculpt them into dunes.

There are foredunes - low hills parallel to the ocean, which exist because European beach grass slows the wind causing the sand to drop out and pileup. (The European beach grass was originally planted in the early 1900’s to stabilize sandy coastlines and protect roads, railroads, water supplies, etc. But, now the grass has taken over and become a real problem changing the scape and the ecosystems.)

Followed (moving inland) by deflation plains - areas scoured out by the wind all the way down to the water table. These appear as small lakes.

Then there are transverse dunes - with wave patterns; oblique dunes - the largest and most spectacular dunes growing as tall a 180 feet; and parabola dunes - tangling with the forest to see who wins out!

These dunes provide miles and miles of opportunities for recreation including off-road vehicle use, hiking, photography and camping - to name only a few. We felt it necessary to take full advantage while in the area. First a hike to ‘get our feet wet’. So - a walk out the small path to the rear of our RV park, which had “dune access”. Silly me - I thought up and over the (approximate) 100 foot dune and we would be at the ocean!*#$ When we hit the top of the dune the expanse of sand before me took my breath away!! REALLY. And, as we walked a short distance and looked from whence we came - one had NO idea which direction might be the way home?!?!? So - lots of footprints - like dropping breadcrumbs. Maybe a sand angel or two. And the beginning of a sunset. AND, by the way, the ocean was no where in sight. Turns out, it is about a mile and a half away.

I hope the wind doesn't blow before we get back.

Sand Angel

Shady characters!

Well, after this little adventure, I just had to do the dune buggy thing. Sand Dune Frontiers provided the ‘buggy’ and a knowledgable driver that gave us a good turn on the rippled dunes - out to the ocean - AND safely found his way home!! What a BLAST!!

And awaaaaaay we go! (Aliens????)

Beach cruisin.

These dunes stretch 50 miles along the Oregon coast.

Our home away from home for the last four days has been just that. Florence - Oregon, that is - not Italy. And, we have fallen in love. This little town on the Oregon coast reminds us sooooo much of Park City. Especially since we just happened to be here for “Rhody Days”!! Perhaps not what you might be thinking - this is the celebration of the Rhododendron, which is in full bloom decorating the roadways, town, lawns, etc.

Namesake of the Rhody festival.

This is the Florence equivalent of Park City’s 4th of July. Everyone from all the surrounding area is in town for all the festivities, which include breakfast, BBQ’s and pie sales by the Elks, a vintage car cruise on Saturday night (I truly felt like I was in a scene from American Graffiti!!), a flower parade Sunday morning, a carnival at the foot of Main Street and the line up of Harley’s on Main Street through it all -

Bikes and bikers galore.

Carnival atmosphere.

Lots and lots of neat old cars.

Our “Road Trip USA” book says this about Florence:

“If first and last impressions are enduring, Florence is truly blessed. Entering the city from the south, travelers are greeted by the graceful Siuslaw River Bridge, perhaps the most impressive of a half-dozen WPA-built spans designed by Conde McCullough and decorated with his trademark Egyptian obelisks and art deco stylings.”

Siuslaw River Bridge in Florence, Or.

As “Road Trip” continues, the best part of Florence is Old Town, along the north bank of the river. Just like Main Street Park City, Main Street Florence is filled with cute little shops, galleries and lots of restaurants. We sampled it all!!

Downtown Florence.

The activity and scenery do NOT end at Florence. Hopping in the car, we headed 10 miles up the coast to discover the Sea Lion Cave, America’s largest sea cave and the only mainland rookery for the Steller sea lion. The formation of these caves began over 25 million years ago. They are the height of a 12-story building and the length of a football field. The Steller sea lion makes its home in these caves in the winter and moves to the rock ledge just outside the cave in the spring and summer. These dudes are BIG! The bulls weigh up to a ton when full grown (and are VERY territorial) - the cows are about half as big. We saw them outside the cave sunning themselves on the rocks (unfortunately, wrong time of year for them to be in the cave) -

At the Sea Lion Caves.

While touring the cave, we met a marine biologist (who also ran a whale watching business a little further up the coast). She suggested we stop a few miles up the coast at Strawberry Hill, where sea lions, with their pups, were on the rocks just off the beach - good photo ops. So - we were off on another adventure to Strawberry Hill. Sure glad the tide was out -

At Strawberry Hill searching for more sea lions.

There they are.

The old Heceta Lighthouse also beckoned (or maybe beaconed?!?!). Purported to be the most photographed beacon in the US, this lighthouse was built in 1893 and named for the Spanish mariner who is credited with being the first European to set foot in the region. Originally, this lighthouse was manned by three ‘keepers’ who rotated their watches. In 1893 this was a VERY isolated spot - so, the houses for the three were part of the facility as was a school for their children. All supplies and materials to build all the structures were brought to Heceta Head via the ocean and carted up the hill to the building sites. A distance view can be captured from the Sea Lion Cave - or an up close and personal from a tour at the lighthouse.

Haceda Lighthouse from the caves lookout.

From a little closer vantage point.

Big glass!! My Nikon has lens envy.

Next stop - Cape Perpetua. Absolutely beautiful area that you don’t want to miss if you are traveling anywhere close! Early explorer Captain Cook observed this magnificent headland in 1778 and named it after Saint Perpetua. In 1933 Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservation Corps and Cape Perpetua became a base camp for the young men to learn skills. Many of the campgrounds, trails, and plantings are the work of the young men of the CCC. In 1966, 2,700 acres were set aside as the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area for the unique ecological characteristics found where the temperate spruce rainforest transitions to the sea.

Trails lead in all directions from the Siuslaw National Forest visitor center at Cape Perpetua - so stop there for information and to watch any number of short videos about the area and its wildlife. Then start out in any direction for any length hike you want to get the most stunning views. We headed first to Devils Churn - a wild alcove where the ocean crashes in on the volcanic rock -

Devil's churn.

Then, 700 feet above Devils Churn and the road to the “Best View on the Oregon Coast”!! This is the highest point accessible by car on the Oregon Coast and provides views of 75 miles of coastline and 20 miles out to sea - on a clear day (sadly - this was not a clear day as there was a lot of fog;-( ). Still - some stunning views -

Bird's eye view of Devil's Churn.

Great viewpoint. I'm sure even greater on a clear day.

There was also a morning of golf at a wonderful, Rees Jones link design course - Sandpines -

Sandpines Golf Course was lots of fun.

And, a delicious Thai dinner at Best Thai - a recommendation from the Ranger at the Visitor Center in Reedsport.

So - Florence, I love you!! But, it is time to say good bye and move on up the coast to more adventures and new experiences.

We also wonder: We have encountered bridges built by the CCC in Sabino Canyon at the very beginning of our trip - to the bridge into Florence built by the WPA and the lookout at Cape Perpetua built by the CCC - and many projects in between. As we enjoy and write about these ‘projects’ of the WPA and the CCC and are so happy about what they provided us to enjoy today - will our grandchildren enjoy and write about the ‘projects’ of the Economic Recovery Act in the same way in the future???? Hum??

Well, this has been a very busy three days. Hope you have not been too bored by this long dissertation - but, maybe at least enjoyed the pictures. Hopefully, the next posting will be a bit shorter - as this has taken all of Sunday to get written.

Ponder the projects - Elizabeth and Gary

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