South Beach State Park
February 10 – 13, 2018
I spent a couple of days at South Beach State Park in Newport, Oregon. I’m getting good at Oregon State Parks – I’m currently at my fourth! – and I’m very impressed with all of them. South Beach, like Bullards Beach, is huge. Huge and surprisingly packed for February and a damn cold part of February at that. And the beach, like Bullards Bay, is sadly devoid of rocks and tide pools. Another totally beautiful smooth sand beach with dunes and driftwood! Damn! Oh and sea lions, or at least one! I saw it when I was there the first night and took this terrible blurry picture, but I was far off. I am impressed with myself for noticing. There were a lot of people on the beach and I don’t think any of them noticed. At one end of the wide beach there is a big jetty and on my last evening there I walked out along it and took some pictures of the bridge over the river heading into Newport.
One of the coolest things about driving the Oregon Coast Scenic Biway, to give Route 101 its proper name, is the bridges. There are a lot of them; every little town has a bridge and most of them, it seems, were built by the WPA in the 30s. So they all have that wonderful Deco look to them and most have fabulous concrete heroic 30s pillars at the ends. I do not have any pictures of these pillars, which is dumb of me but I keep going through them in a truck towing a trailer and there never seems to be a good place to stop and get out and take pictures. I mean, I could, but the rest of the traffic would quite rightfully kill me. This bridge in Newport is scenic but not as scenic as some of the others. If someone would like to give me a grant, though, to go back along the whole Oregon coast and carefully and lovingly photograph each bridge, I would be all about that. And maybe someday I can!
The other totally fucking cool thing on the road to South Beach is the Sea Lion Caves! The Sea Lion Caves are not actually plural: there’s one cave. It’s a big cave, and one smart family bought it, or the property above it (I bet that was at some point a legal battle out of legend) long ago – about the same time as the bridges, I think – and turned it into a roadside attraction. I begin, by the way, to see why the Tom Robbins book Another Roadside Attraction is set in the Pacific Northwest*. Anyway, the Sea Lion Caves are an extremely simple thing: they are a gifte shoppe perched on top of a huge sea cave full of rocks which in turn are covered by piles of happy sea lions. Sea lions, I have observed, are extremely gregarious creatures who like nothing better than to lie around in a big pile. A cuddle puddle, if you will. Who could blame them? And just so they don’t get bored, they sort of constantly argue about who gets to be on top, so the puddles of cuddle are always shifting and moving as sea lions get demoted or promoted. It’s all very exciting.
The genius owner family of the Sea Lion cave simply walled off part of the cave and put in a partition with wire columns in lieu of glass or a grid between the sea lions and the humans. There’s an elevator down to the cave although it’s still a bit of a hike from the Gifte Shoppe to the elevator. Once you’re down there’s an educational video to watch and a couple of skeletons but otherwise it’s just hang out and watch the sea lions, who are completely free to come and go as they please. There is nothing else. I think it is about perfect, myself. And if you walk up some of the original steps at one side – the Sea Lion Caves were a damn athletic roadside attraction back in their glory days before the elevator – there’s a small waterfall to admire. Of course there is. Oregon! It’s actually pretty amazing.
Further along the road to Newport is Seal Rock, which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I went there to try to take more tide pool pictures – it was FULL of AMAZING tide pools – but I had the same reflection / shadow problem which is dogging me on this series. I am going to have to move here to get the pictures I want. Anyway, there were seals there as well! I mean, yes, that is the name of the place, but I just never expect the eponymous animals to follow the signs. By the way, do you know how to tell the difference between a sea lion and a seal? Sea lions have visible ears and seals don’t. Ha! I have learned much on this journey. I am pretty sure at least one small octopus also lives on the Seal Rock beach because there was a deep tide pool with a neat and large pile of empty mussel shells in front of a very promising looking small octopus sized cave. I tried to look in but I do not, alas, bend that way. The other thing of interest on Seal Rock was photographers. There were like five of them, all male, all with tripods, all with relatively small lenses – like, I don’t think they were fixed lenses but they sure as hell weren’t those super large ones you so often see on earnest tripod equipped photographers (like, for example, MOI) – and at least one had a very cool filter sort of thing. I meant to ask one if it was a class but they were all so focused I didn’t like to intrude. And maybe it is just a place where people go to take pictures of the sunset, I mean, IMAGINE THAT.
One thing I have loved about this trip is learning how many people actually do turn out to just watch the sunset. Even people you would think are not sunset aficionados, like young guys with tough haircuts and clothes, show up at the beach or near the beach just to watch the sunset. I had no idea this was a thing! It has made me feel better about humanity in general.
Newport, Oregon is a nice town. It has a wonderful aquarium with sea lions and seals and otters – they all have some reason why they cannot live in the wild, poor things, and so they live at the aquarium instead, along with a big Pacific octopus and innumerable large and vivid starfish. The Pacific, I am coming to believe, is just a more interesting ocean than the Atlantic. I feel we got ripped off in the ocean department over there on the other side of the country. They also have a really great aviary full of extremely tame birds who want to chat with you. Puffins! There are puffins living wild in Oregon and I have seen them! I always thought they were arctic birds like penguins and I would never see one outside a zoo but no! And they have a whole building where you walk in clear plastic tunnels under the water and the fish, which is just such a cool way to experience being at the bottom of the ocean. One lady lay down in the middle of the tunnel and just stayed there. Ahhhhh. And Newport also has a hippie co-op grocery store where I bought bulk nutritional yeast and tofu and felt soothed and at home. I like Oregon A LOT. So much.
* my favorite of his books, all of which except the last one I have of course read and loved and had my life changed by, except I’m afraid to reread them for fears that not only have they been visited by the Suck Fairy but certain problematic aspects of them which have always sorta bugged me would now be brought into high relief by my currently more woke status.