2001: Oregon

Oregon Dunes & Inland


Florence, Oregon. Strolling in the dunes.

We've moved on to the Oregon seacoast town of Florence, most notable for the nearby Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area -- 42 miles of sweeping, rolling, soaring sand dunes. The dunes are the only visible manifestation of a coastal sand dune sheet that stretches from southern California to Washington; most of the dune sheet is covered by vegetation or human development.

Dune buggy heaven. A big slide!

The Dunes are a mecca for ATV and dune buggy riders; our RV park, right up against the dunes, is filled with enthusiasts and their chariots. We took a bumpy ride in a guide-driven buggy, and enjoyed a slip-sliding stroll in the acres and acres of warm sand. After that, Oregon showed us her true character with a drizzling rain for two days. But the good news is that it kept the sand from blowing around!

Another interesting feature of this area is a succession of small freshwater lakes which dot the coastline, just across from the dunes. As you drive on highway 101 in this area, you can often see a saltwater estuary bordered by soaring dunes to the west and a sparkling freshwater lake to the east, separated only by a few dozen yards of roadway.

We took a pleasant hike to one of the lakes, thru a strange forest where the trees all had dozens of stunted limbs and everything was covered in moss.

We took a drive sixty miles inland to Eugene, where Interstate 5 bisects the central Oregon valley. While here we took a driving tour of the covered bridges surrounding Cottage Grove, a small town just south of Eugene. Oregon has the largest number of covered bridges west of the Mississippi, historical remnants of the thousands of Eastern settlers who survived the Oregon trail and built structures mimicking their former homes. Fittingly enough, when we returned to the trailer, "The Bridges of Madison County" was on HBO.

Traveling exposes you to unfamiliar names; creek names seem to be the most inventive. Just north of the Oregon-California border we crossed Hooskanaden Creek, which I thought should be running through St. Olaf, the mythical hometown of Rose Nyland on "The Golden Girls". Amazon Creek, just outside Eugene, is a pitiful brown trickle named with delusions of grandeur. Chickahominy Creek? That would be a supper dish where I come from!

We took a tour of the Heceta Head lighthouse (that's ha - SEA - ta), named for the Portuguese captain who first recorded the landmarks of this coastline. This lighthouse went into operation in 1894, using gallons and gallons of kerosene to fuel the lamp; electricity came in 1934. No longer needed now for navigation, it is kept in operation by the U.S. Forest Service as a museum. Its most notable feature is the original two-ton Fresnel lens with six "bull's-eye" prisms, a beautiful and inventive work of nineteenth century craftsmen. The lens still rotates 24 hours a day and seafarers as far as 21 miles away can see its 1,000,000 candle-power beam (powered by a single 1,000 watt bulb -- what a lens!) flashing every ten seconds. Why only 21 miles? Something I had forgotten from science class -- the curvature of the earth!

Another tour took us to Sea Lion Caves, the largest sea cave in the US (125 feet to the ceiling) and the only mainland habitat for sea lions on the west coast. The cave has been turned into a bit of a tourist trap, with ticket sales and gift shop on the road above, and a long staircase down to the wire-mesh fenced cave below. California sea lions share the cave with enormous Steller sea lions, whose bulls can reach 2500 pounds in size. That's a lotta bull!