We flew into Portland from Vancouver. We’d been pre-screened so the arrival procedure was shockingly quick in its speed. One minute we were on the puddle jumper, ducking because of the low ceiling, the next we were standing with luggage in hand beside the belt realising we’d some how managed to get through in seven minutes!
Our shuttle from Portland to Lincoln City, Oregon was the once-a-day caravan shuttle which left at 2.15 pm from the airport, so we had a bit of time to wait since our flight had come in at 10am. We occupied ourselves by working on our laptops and lunch (Ange had the tuna salad and I had a burger) at the friendly airport restaurant, Beaches.
Portland to Lincoln City Shuttle
We’d booked our Caravan tickets online ($188 for two people for a return shuttle from Portland to Lincoln City), so all we had to do was ring up and confirm we’d arrived and then wait in the middle traffic island outside arrivals to be picked up.
When it arrived, the Caravan consisted of a small mini bus driven by Levi, a proud Puerto Rican giant, five retirement age passengers, and us. We proceeded to travel along the at first urban and then rural roads to Lincoln City in silence while the others kept up a constant chatter.
We’d had an early morning start (to ensure we’d make the shuttle) so I was happy enough to watch the scenery and drift off into a seated near-slumber. We ended up stopping half way for refreshments or toilet visits, and naturally enough some chose to refresh their nicotine systems.
Traffic was lighter than expected so we made good time and before long we were stopping at Lil Sambos Restaurant and getting picked up by Ric and Laurel Barton (www.ProjectEasyHiker.com, www.GoodDayRome.com, www.OurWeeklyPizza.com).
That night we went out to dinner at McMenamins Lighthouse Brewpub, one of the local Lincoln City restaurants, and I had the elk burger while Ange had the fish and chips.
We found out that there’s a herd of wild elk which are seen in the neighbourhood, along with the usual woodland critters and even a bear. Laurel said they hadn’t seen any of the larger creatures for a while, since the development of the new subdivision had begun nearby, so we lowered our expectations that we would see anything exciting while we were there.
The elk burger came with tater tots which were small barrel shaped fried potatoes, like chicken nuggets. We amused ourselves with pronouncing tater tots the way the locals did “tay-ter tots”.
An early night was welcomed and we hit the hay ready for some whale watching in the morning.
We were up at the crack of nine o’clock for a delicious home made breakfast casserole which was a melange of eggs, peppers , sausage, cheese and tater tots. Delicious!
Then it was off for a drive down the coast. Lincoln City, Oregon is smack in the middle of prime whale watching country so we’d decided to go south for today, Friday and north tomorrow, Saturday. The weekend was supposed to be great weather and so the southern towns would be swollen with day trippers from Portland escaping the heat where it’s cooler by the coast.
We headed through a few townships on the way and soaked up the history of the place. Lincoln City was actually six townships spread out along a narrow strip between beach and hills, along a 20 mile strip of land.
We headed out of Wecoma, south and inland tracing Siletz Bay and its Nature Reserve, before going flat out south, crossing over the Yaquina Bay Bridge which (funnily enough) spans the mouth of Yaquina Bay and the Alsea Bay Bridge which spans the mouth of the Alsea River.
We ended up stopping for a coffee in Yachats which I told our hosts I probably would only stop giggling at the pronunciation of once we left the U.S. It’s pronounced ya-haa-tz which Ange thought sounded like a sneeze, while I was adamant it sounded like a Yiddish expletive.
The best coffee in the area was to be found in the Green Salmon coffee shop, and we walked in to stand staring in wonder at the menu blackboards on the wall.
A vast array of coffees and teas were described on the blackboards. And a few additional notes nodded to the fact that marijuana is legal in the state of Oregon, indicating that hemp oil could be added to any tea or coffee and that CBD was great for relieving all manner of afflictions.
When it came time to order, I paused briefly to ask the waitress what “CBD” actual was. We’d seen that at Weeds, the local dispensary in Vancouver, and hadn’t asked them what it was. The waitress told us through her piercings that there were two effects marijuana had, a psychotropic effect and a full body high. THC was the substance which caused the first and CBD was that which caused the second.
They extracted the CBD and sold it as an oil or added to any number of their products. I ended up getting the non-CBD Kashmir Express which was a heavily spiced coffee complete with ginger, lemon, cardamon and cinnamon . While Ange, a non-coffee drinker, got a non-CBD hot chocolate which was topped with a peak of whipped cream.
Drinks over, we followed the coast back north a little ways and pulled into Smelt Sands Trailhead. I made enquiries about the name and Ric let me know it was named after the smelt fish. We walked along the beach aways, and marvelled at the height that the surf sprayed once it hit the rocky foreshore.
A high tide and onshore breeze combined to push the surf onto the rocks with quite some force. One of the glass fronted houses had twin armchairs on the third floor with great views along the coast, a perfect position for enjoying the sights.
A few brave or foolhardy souls had made their way to the edge of the rocks and Laurel let us know the monument we had just passed was named after a bunch of people who had done the same thing and had been washed out to sea, signs along the walk told us to be careful and to watch out for sneaker waves.
The next stop was the Lookout at Cape Foulweather, imaginatively named by Captain James Cook on his journeys of discovery.
There we find a whale watching station where Laurel had volunteered for a whale watching service. A gift shop shared space with chairs by the windowsill and binoculars as volunteers answered questions and pointed out where the whales were.
The whales weren’t leaping out of the water or standing on their tails and waving, so you had to be vigilant to spot the spouting (the puff of vapour they exhaled when taking a breath before diving) and differentiating that from the whitecaps of the waves.
We’d occasionally see the dark shape of their backs after their spouting as they dived beneath the waves, to return to the surface three or five minutes later. Apparently there was a trench just off the island a mile away from the shore which allowed the 45 foot long whales to dive to the bottom, fill their mouths with mud and water near the kelp beds, and then strain out the mud to retain the little critters which were feeding on the kelp.
Being out of the wind made the adventure much more civilised and we managed to see three whales feeding near the island. Being so elevated on the cliff made the island seem a lot closer, and the common theme of conversation amongst the other visitors to the centre was how they’ve found it hard to believe it was a mile away.
It was time for lunch so we headed the 16 miles north to Depoe Bay to Gracie’s Sea Hag restaurant. There Ange had the tomato shrimp which was like a mountain of shrimp was exploding from an enormous beef tomato, while Ric and I had the shrimp tacos and Laurel had the fish taco. Delicious!
We’d passed the Museum on the way into town and it had been closed, so we crossed the road to the Oregon Park Rangers Whale Watching Centre.
Again, being out of the elements made trying to spot the whales that much more enjoyable, and again binoculars and chairs assisted. The centre also featured an interactive children’s educational exhibit with supporting information about other wildlife they may be able to see including a seal skeleton, sea lion skeleton, bird recognition posters and part of the baleen of a whale so that the kids could see how they could filter the food.
There were two buoys out in the bay, one a mile out and one two miles out. Ange started to laugh and pointed, indicating that a seal had climbed onto the buoy and was rocking back and forth in the swell. Not long after that she spotted a spout and then we saw two more whales. Almost impossible to take decent photos of them without a good zoom though.
Now totally satisfied with our whale watching efforts, we headed back to Ric and Laurel’s looking forward to the next day when we would head north to see an historic lighthouse and to see if we could spot the pod of killer whales that had uncharacteristically been seen near the mouth of the Columbus River.
We wouldn’t be going as far north as Astoria where the movie Goonies was set, but if the orcas swam south then we might be able to see them.
We stopped off at Pacific City Beach on the way to the Cape Meares Lighthouse. Even at 10:00 in the morning a good crowd was building on the beach, with some people climbing the sand dunes and some in the water in wetsuits surfing. Some people had set up camp using their SUV as a caravan and the vibe was friendly summer camping, despite the blustery wind and overcast conditions.
As we left I noticed some guests of the local hotel in their balcony rugged up against the cold, taking in the comings and goings.
Cape Meares Lighthouse
By the time we reached Cape Meares Lighthouse, the second northernmost of the nine lighthouses built in Oregon in the late 1880s, the fog had rolled in and visibility was down to half a mile. We headed down the long path from the car park to the Lighthouse proper, admiring the atmospheric effect that the mist made.
We discovered that on the ground floor of the Lighthouse was a gift shop complete with a park ranger who would take small groups up into the Lighthouse and tell them its story.
This consisted of how the lenses were stolen and recovered, about how the shipping traffic differentiated the different lighthouses and what replaced them.
The area was accessed around a very narrow spiral staircase and featured some low ceilings. Luckily they were well padded with high visibility tape because I could imagine a few dented foreheads from tourists failing to take heed of the many warnings.
Suitably informed and impressed, we headed back to the car park via the octopus tree. Normal trees have a trunk right? Not the octopus tree; this 250-300 year old Sitka spruce has branches which head towards the sky after up to 16 feet of horizontal travel.
Onto the touristy things that Tillamook is known for!
Blue Heron French Cheese Company
From the outside, the quaint barn of the Blue Heron French Cheese Company looks to be some sort of petting zoo with goats and sheep and peacocks and llamas and ponies penned inside wooden fences. But inside there was more, much more!
I expected to see an array of cheeses for sample and sale, but what we got was a celebration of every condiment known to man in every flavour, every colour and every level of spice from mild to omg everything is on fire!
Little sampling pots were everywhere accompanied by little pottles of pretzel sticks which allowed you to trial some of the offerings.
There was way too much there to be all from the Blue Heron company so I guess it was more a clearing house of local craft condiments. The actual Blue Heron stand was an impressive array of cheeses, samples of which were delivered on slices of baguette, one at a time by a girl behind the counter.
I could see why. It wouldn’t take too many cheese sandwiches to make a purportedly sampling trip into a meal…
After marvelling at the range and breadth of food on sale (though my favourite was the redneck cookbook), we headed across town to the Tillamook Creamery.
Tillamook County Creamery
The Tillamook County Creamery was a huge barn and was packed with people. The draw-card was definitely the free samples with a sizeable queue waiting to try all their ice creams and cheeses. Half of the aircraft hangar sized building seemed to be wasted on some quite slick displays illustrating the life of a dairy farmer. Wasted merely because nobody was reading or interacting with them, seemingly intent on getting their free samples!
Having been brought up on dairy farms in New Zealand, the discovery of how grass becomes milk wasn’t compelling and the queues didn’t appeal, so we decided to cut our losses and find something else to eat.
Ange hadn’t had the pleasure of McDonalds in the USA, so we found the local Golden Arches and had a meal there. I was impressed with the breadth of choice at the soda fountain.
We headed back to Laurel and Rics, a bit sad that this was our last night in Oregon, but glad we could take them out for a nice meal to say thanks for being awesome hosts and driving us around everywhere.
They’d made a booking at the Blackfish Cafe which was one of the Lincoln City restaurants to dine at in town. I could see why. Fish was obviously their speciality, and we each enjoyed our mains.
I had the mussels served in the Provençal fashion in tomato broth and accompanied with slices of baguette, Ange had the salmon, Ric the salmon salad and Laurel the scallops.
The eye opening part was the dessert: we decided to get two (mainly because we couldn’t decide on just the one) and share the plates amongst the four of us.
I felt quite virtuous, after all anything split four ways would mean that I would only get a bite or two – almost as good as skipping dessert entirely, but still getting a taste.
I hadn’t reckoned with the American serving sizes. Each portion of dessert was enormous!!
We’d got the Peanut Butter Pie and a Ding Dong (I must admit: mainly because of the name!) and even with all four of us picking up forks and gamely attacking, there was still remnants of desserts remaining when we finally pushed back our chairs in defeat.
We waddled back to the car, and back to the house for a digestif, and I finally got to watch Saturday Night Live, live on a Saturday night in the U.S.
It’s the little things which makes us happy I guess: growing up on imported American culture in New Zealand, being able to experience firsthand the same things (for me – Saturday Night Live, for Ange – McDonald’s) in-country made no difference to the actual thing – the burger and TV program was literally the same – but there was added poignancy enjoying them in the same way, at the same time, as the locals did.
The following morning Laurel and Ric dropped us off at Lil’ Sambos for our return Caravan shuttle from Lincoln City to Portland Airport. No Levi this time, just some harried driver looking for a missing passenger who never did show up. Maybe they slept in after a sugar coma from one too many bites of a giant Ding Dong…