Thursday, March 28, 2013

Newport to Pacific City

Beach at Pacific City, Oregon
While the vampires are sleeping, or doing whatever it is they do when they are not sucking, we drive to Pacific City for breakfast. Although the town boasts barely 1,000 full-time residents, it features one of the world's finest breweries.

Fortunately for us, Pelican Pub and Brewery also serves food and opens at 8 a.m. Only an hour north of Newport, this place piqued my interest by winning several medals at the 2012 World Beer Cup.

I thought it might be worth a visit, but our friend Didi–who knows a thing or two about beer, food, and cool places to visit–insisted that it should not be missed. He was right.

Sandra orders smoked salmon Benedict, while I have the corned beef hash (prepared with MacPelican's Scottish Ale, sage, and homemade mustard). Both satisfy, as does the fresh-brewed coffee.

People take their coffee seriously in these parts. And their smoked salmon. And their glass blowing. There is no shortage of shops dedicated to each in every Southern Oregon beach town. Also a surprising number of Hawaiian food establishments. We passed two yesterday in Florence.

Pelican is nearly empty, drawing attention to the many awards that dot the walls. Our large table abuts a window looking onto the beach, which is also nearly empty.

We take as much time to enjoy the food, coffee, and view as we dare. Then we pay for our meal and a six-pack of 22-ounce bottles for the road (including one for Didi back in San Diego, of course).

Outside, surfers attempt to negotiate insufficient swells. White birds strut in the sand, searching for snacks.

The occasional stray human family sits in beach chairs. Mom reads a novel, dad reads the newspaper. Children build what pass for sandcastles. Maybe a 4 x 4 truck rolls past, parallel to the incoming tide.

A funky looking dog (Sandra calls it a “dingo dog”) retrieves a stick thrown by its owner several times, then lies in the shade beneath its owners truck to rest before getting back to work. A large rock breaks the ocean surface about a half mile out or so.

Does this happen here or am I remembering Newport? Or Heceta Head? Or even Harris State Beach? The days run together, the beaches run together. Each is beautiful and unique, but the ubiquity of such beauty and uniqueness overwhelms. We are becoming spoiled to the point that we cannot differentiate between one amazing place and the next.

As problems go, it is a nice one to have. You know what else would be nice to have? Some cheese.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Heceta Head Lighthouse to Newport

View from hotel balcony, Newport, Oregon

Our destination today is Newport, an hour north of Heceta Head. It is home to Rogue Ales, purveyor of many fine beers, including the decadent Hazelnut Brown Nectar.

We pull into town around 6:30 and, after a few wrong turns, end up at the boardwalk on Yaquina Bay. Its main road, Bay Blvd., is lined with restaurants and shops. Many towns along the West Coast have similar areas: Morro Bay, Monterey, Astoria (as we will discover tomorrow), to name a few.

Despite its overt commercialism, the place exudes charm. It is a place to hang out, relax, and enjoy. Friends and families roam the streets. Inside Rogue Ales Public House, our server is friendly and engaging. She smiles and chats, but not in a way that seems forced. We feel at home, which is welcome after four days on the road.

Sandra orders halibut and chips, I have Kobe chili with Tillamook cheese. The food is good, not great. The beers–a taster of Honey Orange Wheat from Tracktown Brewery in nearby Eugene, and pints of Hazelnut Brown and Amber Ale–are delicious.

Maybe the mind is playing tricks on itself, but getting a beer at its source always seems more satisfying. It could be that driving 320 miles to get here and being served by someone who seems genuine in her enjoyment clouds our judgment, but I doubt it.

Besides, these things count. And even though the food may only qualify as “good,” I would return here without hesitation.

On our way out, we buy 22-ounce bottles of Chocolate Stout and Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout for later, then wander around Bay Blvd. Sandra loves saltwater taffy, and boardwalks always have a shop that specializes in such things. Two doors down, we find Aunt Belinda's Candies and fill a brown paper bag with goodies.

After walking some more and taking in the cool bay breeze, we head over to our hotel on the ocean side of the highway. Our room at the Hallmark Resort is on the top floor and is a suite, complete with full kitchen and spa. The view includes a glimpse of Yaquina Head Lighthouse in the distance to the north.

The photo at the top is my favorite shot from the entire trip. Taken from the balcony of our hotel in Newport, it perfectly captures the spirit of our travels. The sun setting into the ocean after a long day.

The photo's quality isn't great–it's from a phone–but the essence of this place couldn't come through any better. A few people, some with dogs, stroll along the beach. We hear the gentle swoosh of waves as they reach sand.

The world is quiet, still, perfect, or so it seems to us. Which is good, because tomorrow we enter vampire territory.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Umpqua River Lighthouse to Heceta Head Lighthouse

Bridge near Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon

I once drove from San Diego to Cooperstown to watch former Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Along the way, I passed Gwynn Canyon in New Mexico.

There is also a Gwynn Island in Virginia and a Gwynn Oak in Maryland. Gwynn Oak is a suburb of Baltimore, whose long-time shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. was inducted along with Tony Gwynn.

Here, we cross Gwynn Creek south of Yachats (home of the infamous Smelt baseball team) and arrive at Heceta Head Lighthouse just after 5 p.m. The lighthouse is under construction, so we admire it from afar and imagine what it might look like without scaffolding.

We kick at driftwood along the beach and watch the glint of sun off water. A family sits in the sand. Little fluffy clouds roll over two rocks that jut out from the mainland.

Coastline near Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon

After 20 minutes, we head back to our car. A red convertible pulls into the parking lot. Two women emerge and look up to the lighthouse.

“Is it closed?” one of them asks, as if my having been here 20 minutes makes me an expert.

“I'm afraid so,” I reply, startled at my own expertise.

She stares at it in the distance, then turns to her friend, who says nothing.

“I used to love this lighthouse,” she says. “I haven't seen it in 30 years. We came down from Alaska.”

Sure enough, those are Alaska plates on the convertible. I don't have the heart to ask if they came to see things other than this lighthouse.

“Oh well,” she says.

It's a fatalistic admission that hints at defeat. But when one's fate rests with the highway that traces the Oregon coast, victory is almost always just a turn or two away.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Port Orford to Umpqua River Lighthouse

Umpqua River Lighthouse, Oregon

A deer bolts out in front of us on the highway. We see it in plenty of time and wait for it to cross. Still, the jolt of adrenaline lingers.

At the lighthouse we learn that Amos Rogers was the first postmaster of Umpqua City Post Office, established September 24, 1851. This is useful information to know if, for example, you wish to write the preceding sentence.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area lies just beyond the lighthouse grounds, making this one of the few places along the coast where peace and quiet are scarce. If you like your views accompanied by the rumble of dune buggy engines, this is a great spot.

We do not enter the lighthouse–it belongs to the U.S. Coast Guard and is off-limits to civilians–but mill about the visitors center and learn many other facts that we soon forget. Even the wreck of the Tacoma in 1883 grows fuzzy in our minds as we continue along the coast.

Those who perished in the wreck are buried at nearby Gardiner Cemetery. We are not aware of its existence eight miles north and will pass it unnoticed just across the Umpqua River from Reedsport as we drive toward the next lighthouse, which we will also be unable to enter.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Harris State Beach to Port Orford

Port Orford, Oregon (via Wikipedia)
Food is on our minds as we cross the Klamath, Smith, and Pistol rivers. We also cross the Thomas Creek Bridge, highest in Oregon at roughly 350 feet, en route to Port Orford.

An unassuming town of a little more than 1,000 people, Port Orford was founded in 1856 and later became a shipping port for cedar. In 1941, mayor Gilbert Gable attempted to create an independent State of Jefferson comprising several counties in southern Oregon and northern California. From that proposed state's Proclamation of Independence:

For the next hundred miles as you drive along Highway 99, you are traveling parallel to the greatest copper belt in the far West, seventy-five miles west of here.

The United States government needs this vital mineral. But gross neglect by California and Oregon deprives us of necessary roads to bring out the copper ore.

If you don't believe this, drive down the Klamath River Highway and see for yourself. Take your chains, shovel and dynamite.

Then Pearl Harbor was bombed, and folks' priorities shifted.

The southernmost of Oregon's lighthouses, Cape Blanco Lighthouse, is not far from here. It opened in 1870 and looks like a nice place to visit on our next trip, when we have more time.

Port Orford's motto could be underpromise, overdeliver. Lunch is a prime example. We stop at RedFish because we are hungry and it sits atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There might be better methods for finding a place to eat, but “ooh, pretty” has served us well so far.

It's best not to expect much from small-town restaurants, and we don't, which makes the quality of our meal a welcome surprise. Sandra has crab cakes and clam chowder, while I have a carnitas sandwich. The carnitas is tender, moist, and flavorful. Yeah, it's on the greasy side, but isn't that the point?

We share a Pin-Up Porter from Southern Oregon Brewing Co. in Medford. After a brief rest, we continue north. Our plan had not called for an hour stop here, but the food and the view make it difficult for us to leave.

This place is worth a return visit. I don't know what other hidden treasures the town might hold, but RedFish would not be out of place in many large, cosmopolitan cities. It has the added benefit of not actually being in a large, cosmopolitan city.

Soon, restaurant and town are behind us. The road continues winding along the coast, pregnant with the promise of future lighthouses.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Crescent City to Harris State Beach

Harris State Beach, Oregon

The chief, and perhaps only, complaint that can be lodged against the Oregon coast is this: There are too many places worth stopping at and not enough time.

It would be easy to spend the day lamenting all the spots we must drive past in order to get where we are going. But that requires us to spend time and energy not enjoying everything else, which doesn't sound like much fun.

A half hour out of Crescent City, Harris State Beach appears. We pull off the highway and into a parking lot atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. Should we pause to admire the view?

But wait, there is a road leading further down the cliff. Maybe we should try that instead.

A second lot awaits at the bottom, and it is almost empty. This will be a recurring theme in Oregon: pristine beaches with nobody around to enjoy them. A guy could get spoiled.

We descend a series of zig-zag ramps onto the sand. There are a few families, kids running around while dad reads the paper in a lawn chair. The occasional dog. Driftwood lines the beach, gulls wade in the shallows.

Sandra trades her shoes for flip flops and dips her toes into the water. It is very cold, which is one of the reasons I don't join her. Also, I don't like water.

The sky is clear blue, dotted with a few white clouds. Rock formations peak above the ocean surface maybe a half mile out or so.

Rocks closer to the shore serve as a breakwater... almost. Water shoots through a gap between two large rocks at irregular intervals, forming a pool. Starfish and mussels cling to the rocks. Sometimes the water slips through like syrup on pancakes; other times it crashes against the rocks and spits upward like a busted fire hydrant.

The constant whooshing soothes. Its calming effect could lull us into staying here forever. Mesmerized by the sound of water, we would forget to eat and perish, our remains being absorbed by the earth.

It sounds romantic, in an Old Testament sort of way, but we won't forget to eat. Getting the taste of fast-food “chicken sandwiches” out of our mouths remains a top priority. Becoming one with the beach will have to wait.