2001: Oregon

Oregon Coast



After getting out of Dodge, er, Grant's Pass, we made our way west to start our exploration of the Oregon coastline. We stayed in an exceptionally pleasant campground called the Ramblin' Rose, tucked in among the giant redwoods, about six miles north of Crescent City. (OK, technically we're back in California, but only a few miles from the Oregon border.) There's a scenic viewpoint about every 100 yards here, so it took all of one day to drive about 90 miles north of the border and back. Expansive beaches, rocky shores, plunging cliffs, driftwood boneyards, thousands of birds -- and a rare day of sunshine instead of fog.

We stopped for a beach jaunt at the mouth of the Rogue River, where dozens of boats full of salmon fishermen hovered just outside the jetty. Someone told us the anchovies were running, which explained the frenzy of brown pelicans and gulls roiling on the surface of the water. Each time a boat came through, the carpet of birds rose and parted, only to settle quickly back over the wake. We watched a Coast Guard cutter steam out of the harbor, her orange-clad crewmen standing stiffly at attention on the bridge like some robotic fire brigade.

While driving up the coast, we came across the West Coast Game Park Safari. From the outside, it had all the earmarks of a real tourist trap; it was billed primarily as a petting zoo, and we almost didn't stop. But the multiple photos of adorable tiger cubs hooked me, so we paid our ten bucks apiece and went in.

The place was actually a small, well-kept if somewhat rustic zoo, with dozens of goats and different types of small deer roaming freely, begging for food. The male deer were particularly notable for the coating of velvet on their still-growing antlers.

Among the various penned animals were a few surprises: I finally got to meet my high school mascot. The Ballinger Bearcat of my football-mad Texas town was always pictured on our football posters and t-shirts as a fierce, snarling, lynx-like cat. The bindurong, or "bear cat", is actually a relative of the wolverine, and the snoozing version in the zoo hardly lived up to the old pep-rally fantasies!

But I digress. The real draw of this park was exactly as promised: a leopard cub, a cougar cub, and twin Bengal tiger cubs, all about seven weeks old, which we got to meet, up close and personal. Three families at a time are allowed into a small pen, where the cubs crawl around and suffer the indignities of tourists cuddling and cooing over them. The cubs were all born at the park and will be introduced into breeding programs or sent to other zoos. While my common sense told me it wasn't necessarily healthy for these little guys to have so many people pawing them, my overwhelming attraction to any kind of kitten won the day. When we returned to the trailer, it took my cat Chelsea about an hour to finish sniffing every square inch of our clothing.