I so love reminiscing about Oregon. I do hope I am fortunate enough to head back soon. While Yachats is a relatively small town and I didn’t meet as many people as I thought I might, those I did meet and got to know will hopefully be part of my life forever. One thing about travelling alone is that you really are forced to build relationships with those you meet and a great side effect of this is that you then have people to visit and reunite yourself with during future travels!
I have found it has happened already – but in the reverse. I was recently living with a girl I had met in Oregon; she had come over to work and travel in New Zealand for a few months. It was great! I got to know her so much more than I had when we’d caught up in the states. And in the not too far-away future an Oregonian visitor to WWS will be travelling to Auckland – it will be wonderful to see her again and show her around. I really hadn’t had meeting people as a main goal in my mind when going over to Oregon to volunteer, but I did eventually realise it to be a major positive aspect of travel.
The more I got settled into my little spot on the coast the more I was able to truly appreciate its utter beauty. It has got to be one of the most stunning places on the earth. I’d love to road-trip up from the bottom of the west coast to the top. From what I’ve heard it’s a beautiful drive, and there is so much to do along the way. I’d love to hear if anyone has done this or shorter trips through these areas! I’d love to see the Redwood National Park in California just before the Oregon border – home of the tallest trees on the planet. http://www.nps.gov/redw/index.htm Crater Lake is another incredible place that I want to see with my own eyes – the lake is the main feature of Crater Lake National Park and was created by the collapse of a volcano. The waters in Crater Lake are apparently crystal clear, blue and very cold. The water quality is supposedly relatively immaculate due to the fact that there are no inlets or rivers flowing into the lake. These are just a couple of the natural features within reasonable road-tripping distance of each other up the west coast of the USA.
Once settled in and after I got used to grocery shopping (having to look for ‘granola’ instead of ‘muesli’, and nobody understanding me when I asked for gherkins or capsicum), I spent a lot of free time ‘hiking’ and exploring the local beaches (which were endless). Getting familiar with Yachats was so much fun; it is such a vibrant area even for its relatively small size. The Drift Inn, as I’ve mentioned, was definitely one of my regular spots and everything about the town is welcoming. There are gorgeous little hidden shops full of treasures, a delicious icecream place and all in all it’s just fun to explore. I was taken pebble hunting (the beaches are full of perfectly smooth, rounded stones), we had fire-warmed s’mores on the beach, there are kite festivals and whale watchers and fishermen, and even through winter people come to experience storms from the coast, watching the massive waves crash against the crevices of cliffs.
“Where the forest meets the sea” describes this part of the coast perfectly. You can spend a morning enjoying the beach then in minutes be up in thick, luscious forest. I loved coming home in the evenings and going on a quick walk if it was still light, or spending hours of a free afternoon exploring a hiking track. The only wildlife I saw during hikes were birds, squirrels, chipmunks and huge banana slugs, but locals would always make sure travellers were aware of the larger mammals inhabiting mountainous forested areas – such as bears and mountain cats. I probably wasn’t cautious enough but luckily, as I said, I only met those smaller animals.
There is one track that took a couple of hours full circuit – it leads up to the top of a mountain then brings you back down to the car park. I did this hike once with a friend then felt confident enough to do it myself on another day without getting lost. And it was so accessible; I don’t have this kind of opportunity so close to where I currently live. Every chance I could I’d make my way through the scramble of blackberry bushes to the track and head up even a small way if I didn’t have a lot of time that day. It truly is something being surrounded by forested mountains with nothing else but the open sky in sight. In my local area there are a few bush walks but nothing that really takes you out of the range of traffic noises or the sight of rooftops. There’s certainly no opportunity to get well and truly lost.
I ventured out to Newport when I could, too. Getting to Newport was a bit of a scary drive – I was comfortable going from Ocean Haven to Yachats to Waldport because I did it every day on my way to the White Wolf Sanctuary, but heading up the busy coastal highway was intimidating after only being used to the twisty windy but casual-paced Alsea Highway to the Sanctuary. I wanted to get out and see as much as I could, however, so I started by asking around the Drift Inn to find out recommended places to visit in the small city.
Of course, the drive to Newport is also stunning and exciting. Going over the bridge from Waldport is fun, then after a way you come to Seal Rock. Seal Rock is a nice coastal community area named after the partially submerged rocks out to sea – not hard to guess. Driving through Seal Rock for the first time I remember making a vow that I’d come back to have a better look. Coastal Oregon is such a creative place – from the hand-made clothes to soaps to artsy blown-glass stores, delicate bead artists, crystal and candle shops… such a colourful visual indulgence! The whole atmosphere of areas such as Seal Rock really clicked with me, and it is where I made a few of my most memorable contacts.
Newport is huge in comparison to where I was staying, and I found it somewhat terrifying to manoeuvre through when I was only used to driving down one lane without any traffic lights or give-way situations to confuse me. I managed, though, although I remember after my first outing to Newport I came home feeling fairly flustered and wishing I had taken a better roadmap with me. I did find it tricky trying to find my way through the rather industrial areas to get to the places I was wanting to find. There are multi-cultural streets dedicated to delicious restaurants and eateries, and every now and then you’ll find a really neat bar tucked away somewhere. I found a gorgeous cafe that catered for vegans and had such a groovy interior, loads of shops just calling for tourists and a dock where I was invited out on a charter to see Newport from the marina.
From Newport you can get to an inland area called Siletz. Siletz is home to the Siletz Reservation and since before I left for America I had wanted to get to a pow wow of some kind. I ended up heading to Siletz in August, and found there was a huge weekend-long pow wow coming up – perfect timing. A pow wow is traditionally a Native American council or meeting, or a celebration or ceremony with particular intent. The particular pow wow I got to experience was the Nesika Illahee Annual Pow Wow – held every August, it is a celebration of American Indian culture – for local tribes and otherwise. It is an amazing array of colourful dress and feathers, there are traditional food vendors, jewellery makers, speakers, drummers, dancers, related royalty… I remember feeling a little overwhelmed and hugely out of place, but I loved it! I was taught how to dance traditionally (although I don’t know if I’ll ever have any hope of being able to dance nicely no matter what the style) and got up and joined the intertribal dancing circle, feeling so welcome.
It also actually felt like summer! Siletz is about ten miles inland, and it made a huge difference being away from the immediate coast. It was swelteringly hot – I appreciated this after being blasted by wind and covered by grey skies for the majority of my journey. My plan to leave New Zealand around the time of June was particular as I had wanted to escape some of the winter. Well, it turned out that Coastal Oregon summer isn’t too different from Auckland winter. The temperatures are nicer but it partially has the wind, rain and gloom!
I had enough to keep me busy and amused until I realised about two-and-a-half weeks prior to my Oregon departure that I hadn’t journeyed very far southpast Ocean Haven. I had been swimming at a spot in visual view of the motel but aside from that my southern exploration had been fairly limited. There are an infinite number of attractions within day trip limits of Yachats – I had a host of brochures and pamphlets from different information centres; it was just a matter of choosing one and heading in the right direction.
To start off with, though, I thought I would just see how it went driving myself to the next town: Florence. Such a pretty name! It would take about 40 minutes to get there from Ocean Haven, so one late afternoon following a day at the Sanctuary I figured I’d just set off.
I remember it being a beautiful day, setting off in the little loan truck with my arm out the window not knowing what I’d find. Following the coastal highway was an easy way to travel – it wound around in places but I was more worried about Give Way rules so driving along one road across curving hills was fine with me.
After about a quarter-of-an-hour I passed through a tunnel. People were honking their horns, as they do, and I joined in. Going someplace new had a really exciting feel to it, and it made me smile knowing others were in good spirits on their travels wherever they may have come from. The road then curved to the right and continued up a hill. There was a large parking bay on the right-hand-side of the road and I wondered what it was for. Immediately after that I saw a huge colourful sign: “Sea Lion Caves”. Ooh! That caught my attention. Unfortunately it was too late in the afternoon for entry to the caves but I made a definite note to return on my next free day.
Continuing on, I couldn’t believe the stunning views. At one point I came up a hill and all of a sudden I could see miles and miles of coast stretching out before me with sand dunes cascading like flowing silk back from the sea. I had no idea about the dunes – they are a popular attraction at Florence but I had not expected them. Hugging the coast, they reached inland to Florence and even a little beyond. Very different to the scene outside Ocean Haven where the forest immediately meets rocks then the sea. Following the road, it led me down the hill, through some forest and voila – behold, Florence. It reminded me of Newport but to a smaller capacity. Lots of big shops, industry, a cinema – but then there were the dunes. I let some signs guide me to a popular stop and found dune vehicles stocked up with dune-goers. I watched them for a while zoom up and down the dunes in buggies – it looked like so much fun, but I would have had no idea how to drive something like that so I stayed put until I was ready to find dinner in Florence, do some grocery shopping then head home.
The way home was nice and cruisy, painted with the colours of the setting sun. By now I was used to keeping my eyes open for deer and elk on the road – it’s impossible to do so when coming around blind corners but luckily I never met one with the truck. I stopped here and there to take some photos then headed past the Sea Lion Caves. Suddenly, I swerved across the road and spontaneously parked in the parking bay. I couldn’t believe I had missed this on the way down – an absolutely stunning scene. Before me was the Heceta Head Light – one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world. It took my breath; standing majestically atop its cliff with the deep blue waves rolling up to a cove beneath it, I had no idea this had been just sitting there next to the vehicle tunnel. Sea lions were lolling in the surf, birds were pecking at the shore – from up on the cliff you could see it all.
Heceta Head Light became another of my – if not the most – favourite places on the entire earth. I kicked myself for not discovering it sooner. Almost every night from then on I would head up to the car park and – it sounds so cliché, but it’s true – sit under the starlight just watching the waves beneath the moon and the circling beam of the lighthouse. After finding it extremely chilly the first night, I began taking massive snuggly blankets with me and would reverse the truck with its back up to the car park barrier – I’d just sit in the back there and unwind. I find a huge sense of freedom being near the sea – you can look out at the horizon and no matter what you see there is possibility and the unknown. I love it.
The Sea Lion Caves are really good touristy visit, too. There’s plenty of information on local marine life and conservation, and several prime viewing spots to watch the sea lions. Again, I wish I had headed that way earlier in my trip – I realised there was so much to see and in the end I just couldn’t fit it all in! Old Town Florence – a small division of Florence huddled against the Siuslaw River – is gorgeous! I completely missed it when I swung through the city the first time, but luckily I had the opportunity to see it before I left. It’s really beautiful – very quaint and elegant, I found. The Merchants of Old Town are an organisation aiming to promote Old Town Florence by supporting tourism and local visits. It’s another spot to find nice little shops, cafes and different attractions such as the Rods n’ Rhodies car show (featuring a parade of awesome classic cars). I only got a brief introduction to Old Town – I look forward to visiting it in more depth sometime in the future.
All in all, coastal Oregon really surprised me in the best way possible. The people were so caring, friendly and quite like-minded to me. The natural landscape reminded me a lot of New Zealand, but of course was completely unique while still allowing me to feel really at home there. I remember thinking at so many points along the way how much I wish I could show it to others back home who I know would have really been able to appreciate. I’m sure I will, but until then I will keep recommending it to anyone looking for a relaxing yet option-filled break in one of the most stunning places in the world.