Monday, May 14, 2018

Toes in the Pacific

The next morning dawned surprisingly sunny (for a little while), so Jackie and I set off west to visit  the Pacific Ocean, the one thing I wanted most to see on the trip. Until then, I had never been farther west than Teec Nos Pos in the northeastern corner of Arizona, and what little else I had seen of the west was primarily comprised of Colorado and the Four Corners area (not that I'm complaining because that part of the country is astonishingly and heart-achingly beautiful). Having lived in Georgia for 15 years, I did get to see the Atlantic Ocean a few times as a kid on trips to Savannah and parts of Florida, but that coast line is pretty tame compared to the rugged beauty that is the west coast of Oregon. 

Albany, OR, is in the lush Willamette Valley, and though it was a little chilly in March, spring had definitely begun to bloom. (I happened to be reading The Postman by David Brin on the airplane flying out to Seattle, so I was amused that we drove through Corvallis that morning.)

The Coast Range in the distance

Up we go!

The drive over the Coast Range was quite pretty. The mountains (foothills?) are heavily forested and little streams and rivers seem to flow through all of the valleys.

I was particularly fascinated by the giant trees that stand almost twice as tall as the "normal" trees around them. Some kind of fir or sequoia, I think?

Our destination was Newport, OR, at the mouth of the Yaquina River. It's exactly what you want from a tourist town---small, friendly, terrifically artsy, and with an abundance of amazing scenery.

My first glimpse of the Pacific!
The bridge over Yaquina Bay
Our first stop was Seal Rock State Recreation Area. You can tell which way the prevailing winds tend to blow...

Looking north up the coast
Big spray
Looking south

Panorama from the beach
Happy little seagulls
I successfully dunked my toes in the Pacific. (A little more literally than I had intended as my boot had a hole in the sole I had been previously unaware of.)

We stopped in an antique store along the coast because that's what model horse collectors do no matter where they travel. You never know what fabulous finds might be waiting! And then Jackie asked if I wanted to stop in a glassblowing shop. I collect pottery, not glass, so I thought that would be pretty safe entertainment. Hahaha, how wrong I was!

Ocean Beaches Glassblowing & Gallery is a fantastic gallery of exquisite hand-blown glass by a variety of local artists. I was absolutely blown away by the artistry of everything on display.

I was completely unaware of the old fishing practice of using glass floats with fishing nets until we visited this shop---I guess that's what comes of living in primarily landlocked places. But I was fascinated by the proprietor's stories of how collecting floats that washed up on the shore was a time-honored tradition for Oregon beach combers. They have become scarce since most floats these days are plastic, but the local glass artists continue to make beautiful decorative ones instead.

Not surprisingly, I was unable to resist the allure of art and history lesson all in one, so I came home with this exquisite float by Joe Novello, a local Newport artist.

The gallery features a working shop where customers can watch artists at work. It's utterly mesmerizing to see a piece of glass made from start to finish.

From there, we headed back up the coast to the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area which boasts Oregon's tallest lighthouse. It stands on a picturesque point of land that extends about a mile farther out into the Pacific that then rest of the coastline. Before checking out the lighthouse though, we descended several flights of stairs from the parking lot down to Cobble Beach to see the tidal pools.

The beach is made up almost entirely of these rounded greys rocks (cobbles) that are apparently the results of an ancient lava flow splashing into the ocean. Because there is no sand or soil between them to hold them in place, they're unstable and a tad treacherous to walk on. They picture below is blurry because just as I took it, I slid on the loose cobbles and landed on my butt.

The rocks right along the shore are covered in California mussels, and the tidal pools are full of fascinating sea life, like anemones...

sea stars...

and more anemones. Visitors are allowed to gently reach in to touch them. They feel sticky.

Back up the stairs and on to the lighthouse!

A memorial to those lost at sea
From a lookout point by the lighthouse, we were delighted to spot seals on the beach below.

Our next stop was Agate Beach just down the coast from the lighthouse. The tide was out but, but from the right angle, you could see how saturated the sand was. It kind of looked like walking on water.

I am a rock hound and have been all my life, so interesting rocks are very often the sort of souvenirs I like to bring home with me when I travel. There's something about the tactile nature of them that brings the place where I collected them back to mind vividly. That said, visitors are not allowed to take cobbles from Cobble Beach, but the rangers on duty said we were free to collect shells or driftwood, so I did. At Agate Beach, I found a cobble-like stone and some pumice to add to my little souvenir hoard. (The horse and skull are from the model horse show of course.)

The afternoon was winding down by this point and the rain was picking up, so we headed back into town to poke around the various galleries on the main street by the bay. We followed the sound of barking and grunting to find these sea lions lounging around near the marina.

The lovely Yaquina Bridge again
This sign is posted prominently in and around Newport. Not something I've ever seen before!

Back over the mountains after an excellent adventure
More PNW travels to come! And more Colorado on the horizon!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Shamelessly playing tourist in Seattle

In March of 2017, for the first time in my life, I went somewhere for Spring Break, and what's more, I went somewhere I've never been before, the Pacific Northwest. I was invited to judge at the BreyerWest model horse show in Albany, OR---most of my travel seems to be model horse show related these days---and I was excited to see a part of the country that was entirely new to me. I had originally planned to fly into Portland but my travel buddy Jackie suggested that since we'd be renting a car anyway, we ought to fly to Seattle and check out the Space Needle. A totally brilliant plan!
Somewhere over the Cascades
Approaching the Seattle airport
When the Space Needle was built as part of the 1962 World's Fair, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Now it's only the 8th tallest building in Seattle, but it still presents an unmistakable  silhouette against the skyline.

Downtown Seattle
Having lived almost 20 years in Chicago with a population nearing 3 million, Seattle felt like a pleasantly laid back (almost) small town in comparison. I was only there for a few hours, but I loved it. In typical PNW fashion, it was a little drizzly at times, but we got little patches of sunshine here and there that afternoon, too.

Quite an impressive silhouette from below
The entrance to the Space Needle has an interesting exhibit about the development and design of the building.

There was a short wait for the elevators, but the view from the observation deck was totally worth it!

Water, water everywhere

Panorama from inside
Obligatory souvenir
Not long before my trip, I watched a program on my local PBS station called 10 Parks That Changed America, and I was delighted that we got to drive under one of them, Freeway Park, on our way out of town. The design of the park is rather too Brutalist for my tastes, but it still presents an interesting solution to creating useful urban green spaces. My photo does not do it justice.

After lunch and some poking around in local shops, it was time to head south to Oregon. We got stuck in fairly heavy traffic all the way down through Tacoma, but it did enable me to nerd out along the way:
Yep, that's how the band got their name!
The coastal range in the distance
It was just barely spring, but the lush green was a welcome sight!
Columbia River
Approaching the bridge into Portland

The Columbia River again
The Oregon Convention Center is hard to miss
The bridge across the Willamette River
Sideshow Bob says hello!
Sunset behind the coastal range
I can hardly wait to go back to Washington and explore more of it! I want to see Olympic National Park, Mount St. Helen's and Mt. Rainier, I want to drive down the coast, I want to cross over the Cascades and see the eastern part of the state, and I especially want to drive through the Columbia River Gorge along the WA-OR border, just to name a few things.

One thing I did check off my bucket list was a trip to see the Pacific Ocean, but much more on that in the next post!