When you’ve got a new van, you just gotta go on a road trip!
We got our 2004 Sienna in late May of that year, and in just about six weeks we pointed it north on a 1699.9-mile trip that would take us up the Oregon Coast, inland to Highway 5 and up to Sammamish. Not only a favorite spot to visit Oma and Grandpa, but just an all-around favorite spot in the Evergreen State. Being a bit optimistic about the comforts of our new vehicle, our first day was to be a long one, almost the longest. See, to get from Benicia to the California-Oregon border, you’ve got two choices. You can head up the coast on Highway 101-beautiful but a tedious road with curves a plenty. Or you take a straight shot up the well-known and well-worn Interstate 5. I-5 is fast. It cuts through rather boring farmland and grassland. A few orchards serve to break up the view, and it’s not until the last few miles before one leaves the Golden State that you start to climb up a healthy grade that leads into lower Oregon, the Siskiyou Mountains and greener vegetation.
However, we were treated to distant views of Mt. Shasta, to the right here, and even in waning days of summer, snow still covered the upper reaches of this 14,162-foot-high volcano. Quite an impressive sight, even if we are whizzing by, huh? And since this is volcano country, it wouldn’t be complete without a cinder cone apparently blocking the way. (To your left.) It’s about the time that you see these natural wonders that you begin that long climb out of California.
It seemed as if Sutherlin, which would signal our long-awaited departure from I-5 and a turn onto State Route 38 toward the coast, was unreachable during the last few hours of our drive. About now I was beginning to think my planning was too ambitious. But Route 38 is a nice drive, with lush forests and the occasional farm. In fact, it was reminiscent of our drive through the Willamette Valley and its watershed on Highway 58, during our Crater Lake-Mt. St. Helens vacation of two years ago, particularly as the highway began to parallel the Umpqua River, which empties into the ocean near Reedsport, our final destination for the day. Though we arrived late in the day, we walked down the main street (which is also Highway 101) to have dinner at a very quaint family restaurant with awesome prices. And at least the boys weren’t so tired that they couldn’t spend an hour or so in the pool and hot tub.
The next day we headed north on the wild and wonderful coast of Oregon. About 20 minutes later, it was time to pull off the road…at a very hazardous curve…for a visit to Sea Lion Caves. Ages ago, when I was just a little grasshopper, my family stopped here. Now it was my turn to take my family. Below, what looks like a bunch of slugs, is in fact sea lions resting outside the cave. Unfortunately, our flash wasn’t strong enough to capture an image in the cave, but I should soon post a video clip that is okay. Anyhow, if one desires to visit Sea Lion Caves, one suggestion – bring a breathing apparatus. The stink inside is pretty dreadful! But even wants to get away from the overpowering sea lion smell, the views from above and inside the cave are incredible. To the north is a lighthouse and keeper’s house, a beach extends to the south, while the Pacific Ocean stretches west. (When I was creating this page, I realized at this point that I have so many photos I would be nuts to keep up the fancy formatting, so the photos below are all related to our stop at Sea Lion Caves.)
Continuing north on Highway 101, we headed for Newport and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Though not as big as the Monterey Aquarium (in terms of shear quantity of acquariums), it is well deserving of a stop and offers a wide variety of displays that include birds and otters in addition to the fish. It was a quite well put together place, and we probably could have spent more time visiting, but rumbling tummies directed us to the town waterfront, where we dined on fresh seafood. After lunch, we watched a charter boat return with some tremendous salmon!
After our wonderful lunch in Newport, it was time for a serious leg of driving, as we headed to Tillamook. Surprisingly small town given that it is home to one of the better known cheese makers. (And a surprisingly limited number of restaurants!) We arrived later than expected, but just slipped into the Tillamook facility for a look around some cheese samples. All us boys were quite surprised at the “squeaky cheese” – it really does squeak! Though the Tillamook factory wasn’t the best tour we’ve visited, I think it’s worth a stop if you’re in the neighborhood. (The nearby Blue Heron Cheese factory is rumored to be better.)
Hindsight being what it is, I misjudged the drive from Tillamook to Astoria. It took quite a bit longer than expected, but was interrupted early in the morning with a stop at a coast-side diner. I do mean coast side…across the street (a two-lane section of Highway 101) were sand dunes that lead to the ocean. The drive out of Tillamook began smoothly enough, with mainly straight stretches, but soon closely followed the coastline, twisting and turning with every new beach, cove or river crossing. I found it to be one of the beautiful regions or Oregon, with lush greenery on the rugged coast.
I believe I had expected to arrive in Astoria (at the northwest corner of Oregon and near the mouth of the Columbia River) sometime in the early afternoon, but it was late afternoon when we finally pulled into the parking lot of the Columbia Maritime Museum. Why stop here? Well, long ago, when I was a young ‘un, we had a Time/Life series of nature and science books, one of which told of all thing related to the oceans. On one particular page was a phone of the ship to left, the Columbia Lightship. I heard that it was docked at the Columbia Martime Museum about seven years ago, and since that time told myself that I ever had the chance, I’d stop by to see it in person. No particular reason than a desire to see and touch something I read about all those years ago. It was pretty amazing, at least for me. What was perhaps more surprising was the fact that we spent almost three hours in and about the museum, with all of us finding something of interest. Another place worth stopping!
This is only the first page…come back soon for page two!