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.

1 comment:

  1. I think I'd go for oysters AND scallops. Looks like a great time, and the photos are beautiful!