Monday, June 22, 2015

Tsunami Warnings

The state of Oregon, as you may know, is situated along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where the Juan de Fuca geologic plate slides underneath the North American Plate at a rate of about 2 inches a year.  This has the potential to cause earthquakes when the movement builds up enough pressure, and earthquakes can cause tsunamis.  Now this is true along most of the west coast, but in Oregon they have decided to get serious about tsunamis.  In fact, to all appearances, Oregon has gone absolutely crazy about tsunamis. Every time the road approaches the ocean there is a sign telling you that you are entering a tsunami danger zone. When you drive up a hill 30 feet they thoughtfully put up another sign to let you know you are leaving the danger zone and can breath a little sigh of relief.  Every beach park and little town has signs indicating where the tsunami escape routes are. One would assume that tsunamis are a huge problem in Oregon. They must happen every other week or so. Out of the 10 leading causes of death in the state, you would have to guess tsunamis come in at about number three. So, when was the last earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone?  Well, it turns out it was at about 9 PM on 26 January, 1700.  Yes, you read that right, one-seven-zero-zero.  Seventy-six years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  So all of this huge brouhaha is in preparation for an event that none of us have ever witnessed, nor our grandfathers, nor their grandfathers nor theirs. The estimate is that this sort of thing happens about once every 500 years or so. So, what the heck happened here? Why are the citizens of Oregon living in constant fear of death by drowning?

What happened was the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia. The state government here started thinking about what would happen if a large earthquake did occur along that big subduction zone just off the Oregon coast. It would be horrific, with floods extending up every river estuary for miles.  And Oregon has a LOT of river estuaries.  The politicians decided they owed it to the electorate to do something about this potential catastrophe.  The solution, apparently, is to put up signs. When a 100 foot high wall of water hits the beaches, signs will take care of the problem. The people of Oregon can sleep better tonight knowing they have signs between them and watery disaster.  Of course, IF an earthquake DOES occur along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, it will take the resulting tsunami under 2 minutes to reach the Oregon coast, so you'd better read those signs pretty damn quick!

Now, in all fairness, the Cascadia Subduction Zone is not the only fault line on the planet and a tidal wave can travel a long, long way.  The reason we know something about the 1700 quake here is because the resultant tsunami flooded Japan on the other side of the Pacific Ocean (and they kept pretty good records at the time).  The Alaskan earthquake in 1964 flooded Newport Harbor and killed 5 people camping on the beach a few miles north.  So tsunamis can and do occur and having some sort of plan in place is not completely idiotic.  But there are many natural disasters that are more likely to find you during your lifetime and if you do happen to have the misfortune to be sitting on the Oregon coast the next time the Cascadia Zone slips, probably the only real plan is to kiss your butt goodbye.

We first visited the Alsea Bridge Interpretive Center in 2002 when Christopher was 12.  The museum had a bridge model made out of wooden blocks showing how, if you put them together just right they will form an arch that will support itself against gravity.  So he carefully placed all the blocks and - voila...

a bridge.

I did not interfere in this early engineering enterprise of his, but when Vicki and I returned in 2009 I decided to take a try at bridge construction.  I mean, my 12 year old did it, how hard could it be?  So I carefully placed all the blocks and - voila...
a pile of wooden blocks.  Hmmf... there must be some trick to it.

So this trip we decided it was Vicki's turn to construct the bridge.  It really is pretty exacting and I told her not to feel bad if it collapsed the first try or two.  She's not really very good at this kind of physical problem solving.  So she studied the problem for some time and then carefully placed each block in place, raised the structure and - voila, the bridge stood perfectly.

But only for a short while.  It turned out not to be structurally stable enough to withstand the environmental stresses it was subjected to.

We have spent the last month staying at the Chinook RV park about 3 miles inland from Waldport along the Alsea Highway.  This is a beautiful little RV park with only about 25 camping sites, right on the Alsea River estuary.  They have a grassy/marshy area next to the river where various birds carry out their birdish activities for the amusement of the campers and your dogs are allowed to explore off leash (but we were warned that the eagles on the other side of the river had been known to try and carry off tiny dogs like ours).  Occasionally an elk could be seen in the marshland on the opposite shore.  It was fun to sit out with binoculars and watch the wild life.  The owners were friendly and very helpful with getting our mail delivered and what-not.  Overall it was one of the most pleasant RV camping experiences we have ever had.  If you are going to be spending time in this area, check it out.

From the time we arrived we kept hearing the constant hooting of an owl.  We couldn't figure out where he was exactly but he sure made a lot of noise.  Finally, last week we spotted him.  Here is our owl...It's a Mourning Dove.  They make a who-whoooooo-who call and are the most common "hooting" bird in America.  Oh well, what do we know?

On Saturday we packed up and headed north.  We are going along in baby steps because we are not in any hurry, but our eventual destination is the Olympic peninsula where we will stay for another month.  I leave you with a collection of Oregon Coast pictures to tide you over for now.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Random Tales from the Oregon Coast

Rocky Creek Bridge.  Old woman with dogs in foreground.
In the early days of the 20th century Oregon's road system was primitive and along the coast it was non-existant.  Up until the early 1920's there were only a few short stretches of north-south road along the entire coast.  The main priority for state transportation was completing the north-south road through the Willamette Valley that is now the I-5.  When coastal villages asked for connecting roads they were laughed off as "a bunch of clam diggers".  If you wanted to travel the Oregon coast, you did it by boat.

Finally, as more citizens and businesses appeared along the coast, plans were made for the Oregon Coast Highway in the 1920's.  The stock market was hot, money was flowing and Oregon enacted the first car fuel tax at 1 cent a gallon to provide funding.  An enthusiastic young engineer named Conde McCullough was appointed as the official bridge engineer for the Oregon State Highway Department.  Over the next 20 years he and his team built over 600 bridges throughout the state (part of the cost of having lots of rain and lots of streams and rivers to cross).  For the coast highway, he started by bridging the smaller streams in places like Bob Creek and Depoe Bay to get most of the coast hooked up.  By 1931 what would become the Oregon section of US Hwy 101 was mostly completed.  Only the 6 large river estuaries remained to be bridged, but in those six places cars still had to leave the highway and file onto ferry boats, slowing their progress considerably.

Yaquina Bay Bridge from the Newport side.
Unfortunately, the economic landscape was completely changed from the early 20's and the Oregon Highway fund was tapped out.  Things looked bleak for us new fangled automobile travelers, but we were saved in 1933 when FDR came up with his grand plan to spend the country out of the depression with public works projects.  The head of the federal highway department turned out to be Conde McCullough's old mentor from his college days in Iowa.  Together they pushed through the decision to make the Oregon coast a national showcase for economic recovery.  McCullough and his engineers designed his final six masterpeice bridges in just three months and built them in two and a half years.  The final link, the Yaquina Bay Bridge at Newport, was opened to traffic on Sept. 6th, 1936.

The Oregon Coast has no shortage of natural beauty, but a significant part of the experience of driving up 101 is admiring these bridges as you go.  McCullough's bridges display an architectural elegance that still impresses today.  Since the 1970's the state has been investing heavily in restoration projects to preserve these structures for future generations.  Unfortunately, the Alsea Bay Bridge near where we are staying in Waldport could not be saved and was replaced with a new one built with modern materials but with design elements recalling Conde McCullough's original.
Alsea Bay Bridge
Another interesting thing about driving up the Oregon coast is that when you gas up your car, you don't have to get out of it.  In fact, if you open your door the attendant runs over and immediately shuts it for you, hopefully without crushing your foot.  Heaven help you if you need to pee.  It is apparently still illegal to pump your own gas in the state of Oregon and the fellows who earn their living by way of this little economic anachronism want to make sure you don't forget it.  As you know, self-serve has become the standard in most of the country. Forty-eight states to be exact, the exceptions being Oregon and New Jersey.  Every few years there apparently is a discussion in the Oregon state legislature about whether they should join the 21st century or not, but they steadfastly refuse every time.  One legislator apparently rhapsodized over the foresightedness Oregon showed in not allowing "untrained people" to operate something as dangerous as a gas pump. Which got me to thinking. Exactly what kind of training do they give the people who man the gas pumps?  I assume they don't need to have U of O students spend a whole semester just learning how to pump unleaded (unless they are on the football team).  But if that legislator wasn't just blowing smoke, there must be some kind of course work involved.  I actually feel much more secure now realizing that my gas is probably being dispensed by somebody with an Associates Degree in Pumpology.  And it seems to have paid off too.  In the nearly four weeks we've been here, we have not heard a single news story about so much as one gas pump related catastrophe in the state of Oregon.

Among the numerous states parks and waysides you drive past on Hwy 101, there is one that is fairly unique.  It is dedicated to Oregon's only carnivorous plant, the Darlingtonia.  Study this informative sign carefully:

Now here is what these vegetable insectivores look like in real life.  Not really all that attractive, are they?  It would have been interesting to cut one open and see how many poor bugs were struggling to escape death by digestion down in the stems, but I understand this is frowned upon.  You should call your local florist today and send a few of these to your sweetheart.

View from the top of Cape Perpetua
Devil's Churn from the top of Cape Perpetua
Just a few miles south of Yachats is Cape Perpetua, a section of coast with steep cliffs overlooking the ocean reminiscent of the Big Sur shoreline of California.  It is a beautiful area with several stopping points worth mentioning.  We drove up to the top of the cape for the view which, as you can see, is stunning, even when a little hazy.  We spent a little time walking the footpaths up there before driving back down to sea level.  At the foot of the mountain is The Devil's Churn, a chasm in the rock wall that makes an impressive display of splash and foam when storms whip up the wave action.  This did not happen while we were there.  The Devil has a fair amount of real estate along the coast.  Devil's Churn, Devil's Lake, Devil's Punchbowl.  He has apparently spent a bit of time here and is remembered fondly.

The Spouting Horn
Another mile south is the Spouting Horn.  This is one of those places where a wave will occasionally hit the mouth of a tiny sea cave just right, blocking the entrance, creating pressure in the cave and pushing a high velocity spray of water and mist out a small hole in the roof.  There were a number of these in Hawaii when we lived there.  You can see a typical "spout" in the photo.  The interesting thing to me is that after watching for a fair amount of time, I found it nearly impossible to predict which of the incoming waves would fulfill the necessary criteria to cause an eruption.

Having temporarily had our fill of driving up and down the same section of coastline, we took a day and drove inland along the Alsea Highway.  The drive is gorgeous, following mostly along the Alsea River through farm and ranch lands.  We eventually ended up in the tiny town of Alsea where we had lunch at the best (read "only") place in town, Deb's Cafe.  I have no idea why they didn't name it Deb's Diner.  I can only assume they don't teach about alliteration in the Oregon Public Schools.  Anyway, it was a cute little place with a menu of about what you would expect for a small town cafe.  Vicki had a "Shrimp Louis" which was a regular salad with some shrimp shoveled on top.  I had the fried chicken basket, which was pretty good, but the chicken must have been half cornish game hen.  What I thought was a wing turned out to be the drumstick.  But after we finished with all that, we got to try some of this:

They had a great selection of fresh baked pies and cobbler.  Serve it up with a scoop of ice cream and it makes you forget all about the mediocre lunch you just ate.

From there we turned south onto the Alsea-Deadwood highway to visit a really out in the middle of nowhere park featuring the Alsea Falls.  This was a nice little waterfall reached by a quarter mile trail.  I had just gotten an adjustable neutral filter for my camera which allows for a long exposure even in bright sunlight, which you need to get that silky flowing effect on the waterfall.  I used a monopod to steady the camera.  Fortunately, Vicki can occasionally hold still for 0.3 seconds when I tell her to.  The dogs, not so much.

Alsea Falls with blurry schnoodle
We found another little roadside place that serves great french fries along side which ever fried seafood you prefer.   This is the South Beach Market located about a half a mile south of the Yaquina Bay Bridge on Hwy. 101.  It is basically a little gerneral/grocery store but thirty years ago they started serving fish and chips and boiling up live dungeness crab.  They are considered by many to be the best fish and chips place in Newport.  I had scallops and chips and the scallops were really excellent (chips were pretty good too).  Vicki had (wait for it...) oysters.  One track mind on that girl.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Oregon Lights

It has been a little while since my last post, the reason being that my brother and his wife left their palatial estate on Whidbey Island in Washington and drove down to Oregon to visit us on our travels.  Here you can see them enjoying smoked spare ribs and corn on the cob at our campground picnic area with our somewhat less than palatial estate parked in the background.  You can tell that I am playing the host because I have my jolly "entertaining face" on.
Jolly host shares BBQ with out of state guests.
Linda wanted to visit some lighthouses while they were here.  Lighthouse visiting is some kind of a thing in Oregon, I'm not sure why.  There are 11 lighthouses along the Oregon coast.  There are 30 in California, but no one ever says "Hey, lets drive out to California and look at the lighthouses!"  When we have come to Oregon in the past I have gone to lighthouses and been impressed but then we went and visited the Great Lakes.  There are over 300 lighthouses scattered around the Great Lakes.  Michigan alone has 150 of them.  Back there they are not impressed by Oregon's 11 lights.  But at least visiting the lighthouses of Oregon is something that is doable without investing half your life in it. 

Here you can see Lyle and Linda visiting the Cape Meares light.  It was named after Capt. John Meares who was the first European to sail into Tillamook Bay,  probably looking for cheese.  This is the shortest lighthouse in Oregon, standing only 39 feet tall.  Of course, it is built 217 feet up a cliff, so the building itself didn't need to be that tall.  What, you can't see them?  Look a little closer. 

There they are standing in front of the lighthouse's gigantic Fresnel lens.  The light had 4 red panels and 4 clear panels and a weighted mechanism just like a grandfather clock would rotate the whole thing producing 30 seconds of white light followed by 5 seconds of red.  Each light on the coast had its own combination of timing and color which allowed navigators to tell which one they were looking at in the dark.  A 200 lb. weight would rotate the light for 2.5 hours, then the lighthouse keeper had to go and wind it back up again.  Every 2.5 hours.  All day and all night, 365 days a year.  What a fun job.  The light originally ran on a big five wick oil lamp that was visible for 21 miles out to sea on a clear night.

This is the Yaquina Bay light that sits at the south end of Newport.  In the 1870s, this was the busiest harbor between San Francisco and the Puget Sound.  As you can see, the light is built right on top of the keepers house.  This is the only lighthouse in Oregon with this configuration, though it was not uncommon in other areas.  This light initially operated for only three years before the light at Yaquina Head, 3 miles to the north, made it obsolete and the light was turned off.  The house, however, continued to be used for years as living quarters for the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers before the area was purchased by the Highway Commission for a state park.  This lighthouse has been scheduled for demolition several times since 1946 but each time angry citizens rose up and blocked the move.  It is now designated as a National Historic Site and was actually re-lit in 1996 with a small electric light that is visible for about 6 miles.

Here's the Yaquina Head Light that made the Yaquina Bay Light obsolete in 1873.  It is the tallest light on the Oregon coast and is still in daily operation by the United States Coast Guard.  During WWII, 17  Navy personel were stationed here using the tower as a lookout for Japanese warships.  They never saw any.

We repeated our trips to Bandon and Tillamook with Lyle and Linda, then they got bored and went home to Whidbey.  We expect to see them again when we go to the Olympic Peninsula later this month.  In the meantime we will continue to explore the Oregon coast.



Bonus Pics

Cape Meares Light from ground level

Looking back at the beach from Yaquina Head

Friday, June 5, 2015


Yachats is a town on the Oregon coast just south of us with a population of about 500.  Arthur Frommer, the guy who writes the travel guides, listed Yachats number seven among his ten favorite vacation destinations in the world.  All I can say to that is "What has this guy been smoking?"  I mean, it's a nice little town but that's about all.  Number seven?   In the whole world?  He must have hit his head on something that morning.  Now maybe he was using Yachats as a stand-in for the entire central Oregon coast, which is still an over-statement but at least it's arguable.  However in that case what he's really saying is Yachats is nice because you don't have to stay there.  You can go to Florence or Newport or wherever.  But a week within the actual city limits of Yachats?  Dullsville.
Outlet of the Yachats River flows past the town
There is some disagreement over where the name comes from.  Several native tribes lived in the area but the words in the various languages that might have corrupted down to "Yachats" all have unrelated meanings,  So it's hard to say what the name originally referred to.  What  everyone agrees on is that it should be pronounced YAH-hahts.  Everyone except me that is. I've always pronounced it to rhyme with ratchets and will continue to do so until they remove the freakin' "c".  The town is built on sea shell middens which means it is basically a garbage dump left behind by the earlier inhabitants. They don't mention this in the tourist brochures.

One of the first nights we were here we drove down to Yachats because Vicki was Jonesing for seafood.  There is a little fish market and restaurant (by little I mean 4 or 5 tables worth) called the Luna Sea Fish House which is reputed to have some fine deep fried goodness inside.  Much of the fineness comes from the fact that the owner operates his own fishing boat and catches much of what he serves himself.  I had halibut fish and chips which was not quite as good as the stuff in Bandon but was none too shabby.  Vicki had fried oysters (aren't we all surprised).  We returned yesterday afternoon and I had a grilled salmon sandwich on ciabatta bread which was fabulous.  Vicki had oysters again but grilled this time.  She is non-commital which I suspect means she like the fried version better.

Yachats River Covered Bridge
In the middle of Yachats there is a road you can turn on that goes through the town's residential area then continues inland following the Yachats River.  If you follow this road for about 9 miles and do not get deterred when the pavement runs out at about mile 7, it will take you to another small covered bridge left over from the last century.  It was built in 1938 and refurbished in 1989 and is serviceable for one car going one direction at one time.  If you can't find the bridge, don't worry.  The drive is worth it anyway.

The drive is worth it.
Yachats farmer's market
On Sunday mornings Yachats hosts a farmers' market in their commons from May until mid-October.  We visited last Sunday and had better luck than when we did this in Minnesota a while back.  In addition to some fresh lettuce and green onions, we also scored some farm fresh eggs which were notable for the variety of colors they showed.  A few tables down a woman was selling goose eggs and I couldn't resist picking up a couple of.  They are huge and one should easily feed two.  At another booth I tried some "Brazilian Stew" which
Brazilian stew
contained beans and sausage and about 20 different kinds of vegetables.  It was quite good.  We picked up some fresh bread from a local bakery and got a couple of jars of jam made with actual fruit, not that weird basil and red pepper stuff they were hawking in Minnesota.  A pretty good haul for a Sunday morning.  Of course a farmers' market is probably the most expensive way possible to buy produce, but you figure you're paying partly for the entertainment value.

Yesterday I made us an omelet with one goose egg, some fake
Goose egg - meal for two
crab salad and half an avocado.  The interesting thing about the goose egg is that it seems to have an awful lot of yolk compared to the amount of white, but I couldn't really tell any difference once is was all omeletted up.  It definitely served two handsomely.

I'm sure we'll get back to Yachats a few more times in the next couple of weeks since we have to drive through it to get anywhere further south.  If anything else interesting is discovered I will be the first to let you know.

Farm fresh rainbow eggs

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Say "Cheese"

The Pelican Pub
Our next major foray was exploring up the Oregon coast north of Newport.  Since we got a late start, our first order of business was food.  We blew through Depoe Bay and Lincoln City and stopped at the Pelican Pub and Brewery in Pacific City (which is not really a city but a tiny hamlet that barely shows up on the map).  This is a highly rated microbrewery with hundreds of awards from national beer competitions which they have won since they opened in the mid-nineties.  The medals are all hung on the walls and make for an impressive display.  A couple of years ago they were voted the best brew-pub in the state.  It seemed like someplace worth the visit.

We had an order of calamari and a couple of beers.  The beers were really good, all those medals are probably deserved.  Then Vicki had cioppino, which she thought was just OK, and I had a burger with roasted poblano peppers and mozzarella cheese which, as burgers go, was certainly better than average.  So, a nice meal.  But here's the thing,  the tab with tip came to over $100.  Now I know we went in with our eyes open and had the option of walking out and going to McDonalds instead, so we have no one to blame but ourselves.  Still, a hamburger and a bowl of fish soup shouldn't cost that much.  It was a good lunch but we can't afford to go back any time soon.

Derelict barn and low clouds
North of Pacific City the 101 runs inland about 10 miles and passes through some very rural farm and ranch lands.  The day was a constant battle between sun and clouds, overcast one minute, hazy sunshine the next.  I stopped for a few photographs of derelict barns and low clouds crawling over the hillsides.

Munson Creek Falls
We pulled off the coast highway to visit Munson Creek Falls which has its own state park maybe 10 miles south of Tillamook.  The 67 acres for the park were sold to the state in the mid-90's by the Simpson Timber Company for just half of its appraised value and then the purchase was paid for by Paul Allen, who was apparently looking for some way to dispose of some of the embarrassing amounts of money he had acquired as one of the founders of Microsoft.  The parking lot for the falls is at the end of about 5 miles of gravel road and then there is a not unpleasant 1/4 mile hike to get to the falls themselves.  These tumble 319 feet over a cliff side, making this the highest waterfall in the Cascade range.  The creek is apparently an important salmon spawning ground and in the fall you can see them struggling upstream as you hike along the trail.

From, there we headed up to Tillamook, famous primarily for
Cheese Factory
cheddar cheese which, if you are in the US, you can probably buy at your local supermarket.  The dairy business in Tillamook county began in 1851 and the wet grasslands proved ideal for raising dairy cattle.  Getting rid of the resulting dairy products was somewhat problematic.  The road system was almost non-existant and overland transport was too slow for a product with such a limited shelf life.  So the farmers in the area got together and built the Morning Star, the first ocean going vessel built in the state, and began transporting their goods to Portland by sea.  The Morning Star now sits out in front of the Tillamook Cheese Factory and is the boat depicted on Tillamook Cheese packages.  It's about the length of our motohome.  It's hard to believe they could make money running cheese back and forth to Portland in something so small.
Part of the self guided tour

Morning Star

The local farmers eventually figured out the advantages of larger scale production and banded together to form the Tillamook County Creamery Association in 1909.  Over 100 years later, the co-op is still owned by the member farmers and has grown to absord almost every significant dairy farm operation in the state.  Their main factory is still in the city of Tillimook and you can take a self-guided tour at your leisure, looking down on the production facilities from an overhead platform.

40 lb blocks of cheddar get sliced up
 They aslo make other dairy products including a premiun ice cream which we sampled at the ice cream parlour there at the factory which they funnel you through at the end of your tour.  It was good, but not as good as we remembered some of the ice cream we had in Maine tasting last summer.  The custard base was excellent but it was hard to appreciate the Blackberry flavor in the Blackberry ice cream I had.  You have to get east of Illinois to find it, but if you ever have a chance to try a scoop of Giffords Black Raspberry ice cream, do not pass it up. 

On the way back south we needed a few things, so we stopped in at a local grocery store and got some milk, eggs, bread, a couple of 9mm Berettas and an AK47.
Local business sells groceries and other useful items