Monday, September 12, 2011

From Sea Level to the Rim of a Volcano

Day 16: Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011

Today was a day of many contrasts--the scenery and the weather. When we woke up in our campground a few 100 yards away from the seashore, it was cold and gray. Our trip to the Sea Lion Caves attraction, our first stop, was COLD! We bundled up in jeans, socks, and several layers of sweatshirts. Whatever happened to our warm sunny day from yesterday? It was buried in fog.

The Sea Lion Caves is a privately owned attraction a few miles north of Florence, OR, on the scenic ocean highway CA 101. It is the largest sea cave known, and is a shelter in the winter for Steller Sea Lions. In the spring, they have their babies there, and there’s a shelf along the ocean’s edge where the pups can be seen playing and growing. Unfortunately, our timing was not good for this one--it is obviously not cold enough for sea lions to want shelter, and it’s not the right time for them to have babies. I suspect that when it is really warm out, they can be found basking on the haul-out area at the ocean’s edge, just as they were all over the rocks and wharves yesterday in Newport. But today was really cold, and no sane creature would be resting out by the seashore.

The thing was, there were only four actually inside the cave, either. I have no idea where all the other sea lions could have been today--maybe still in Newport? The cave was actually pretty awesome and huge, but only those four sea lions were out on the rock in the middle of the watery part of the cave. The cave also had a short video telling about how it was found, its history since the 1930s as a tourist attraction, and all about the life cycle of Steller Sea Lions (named for the guy who did the research on them.) There is a view out one of the exits (there are three) toward Heceta Head Lighthouse, and I got a photo of it just as the light, the brightest on the Oregon coast, turned toward us. It makes the fogginess of the day quite plain.

So it was all interesting, but a little disappointing. I said to Joe as we were leaving, “Do you think maybe those were four animatron sea lions specially made just in case all the real ones were away?” And he said, he was wondering the exact same thing! We are both so cynical! I did take photos of them with my zoom, and I saw movement, but of course it *could* have been fake, LOL!

We continued down the coast a little farther, going first through Florence. There we got gas (the lowest price we’ve seen recently--$3.67) and a few groceries. Then we continued on, passing some of the Oregon Sand Dunes National Recreation Area. We knew we were there when suddenly I realized that just behind the row of single trees lining the road, was a sand dune about as high as a 2-story house! Then just ahead we saw one at the side of the road, just beginning to encroach, and it too was 2 stories high. We stopped a park day use area for lunch and walked up to an overlook. We could see that between us and the beach were a lot of large sand dunes (there was a young couple attempting to slide down the nearest dune using something like a snowboard.) We were at the sand dunes along Lake Michigan a few years ago, and this was very much the same thing. I don’t know of anyplace on the east coast that has dunes like this--ours are much smaller and more manageable!

We arrived at the town of Reedsport, and that is where we finally turned left and headed east again. I felt kind of sorry--as I said last night, it’s never as much fun going east as west. But we were driving along the scenic Umpqua River for miles, and it was gorgeous. In addition, the foggy cold overcast-ness went away as soon as we drove over the first hill--and there was the sun. We stopped at a pull-out and looked down at the river, to see several groups of people swimming. It looked like a lot of fun.
By this time, the weather had gotten quite warm, and the idea of swimming was definitely appealing. But instead we kept going. We followed the Umpqua in its valley, and then the Northern Umpqua. The latter was very reminiscent of the river along the Lolo Pass--very tumbling, with lots of rocks and cascades, and deep green pine trees lining the road which wound along the river. We stopped for gas and changed into shorts, as the folks at the station assured us that it was “very hot”, much hotter than usual.

As we got higher into the mountains, however, the air got cooler again, this time in that wonderful mountain-y way. At about 6:30ish, we arrived at the gates of Crater Lake National Park, waved our America The Beautiful pass at the ranger, and drove in. We had been smelling smoke for about 20 minutes before, and after we came into the park and had more scenic views, we could see that there was a fire off in the distance to the west. The sky was cloudy, but I don’t think it was truly overcast--without the fire in the distance, it would have been a beautiful late afternoon. But the smoke smell and a brownish smoky haze was very noticeable. Sure enough, when we got to the rim road of Crater Lake, and stopped at the first stop, we were somewhat surprised to see that the famous blue of the lake was not to be seen--the crater seemed to be filled with smoke, and the color was a sort of dull gray-blue. We could see how awesome the crater is, but the color was simply not there.
This being the case, I told Joey not to stop at the subsequent rim overlooks, and to continue on to Mazama Village, the only campground in the park. I’d been counting on getting a space here, because I don’t see any other obvious places to stay outside the park. Luck was with us, and we did find a nice space here in Loop C. Like the sites we had in Yellowstone and the one last night, there are no hookups, so we are dry camping again. No big deal, really, and we are fine here. We just had a delicious dinner of chicken wings on our new grill (which we’ve used every night since we got it), corn on the cob from the farm market we stopped at on our way to the beach, and salad. We are not suffering in the food department, for those of you who wondered! We’ve had steak, chicken with black bean sauce, hamburgers, thai curry chicken, spaghetti with meat sauce, and chicken burritos, to name a few of Joe’s dinner creations.

So anyway, I am hoping that the wind will blow in a different direction tomorrow, and we will see blue in the crater on our drive around the rim. And at some point we’ll probably peel off east again, toward Idaho.

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