Monthly Archives: January 2015

Oregon Coast Lighthouses


Between 1870 and 1896 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed 11 lighthouses on promontories and at the entrances to major estuaries on the Oregon Coast to assist the fishing and shipping industries.  Today, 4 can’t be visited at any time, 4 are opened only part of each year, and 3 offer tours year round but on a reduced winter schedule.  Ruth and I arrived at Heceta Head, my favorite, on a grey, blustery day during the last week of 2014.

The northernmost lighthouse, Tillamook Rock, is one of the 4 that can’t be visited.  Nicknamed Terrible Tilly due to its location on a leveled island/rock 1.2 miles off Tillamook Head, it’s privately owned.  The best way to see it is from Ecola State Park.  The other no-access lighthouses are the southernmost one at Pelican Bay, Cleft of the Rock at Cape Perpetua, and Cape Arago at the entrance to Coos Bay.  The first 2 are privately owned homes, and Cape Arago is the property of 3 Confederated Native American Tribes–Coos, Siuslaw, and Upper Umpqua.

Cape Meares and Cape Blanco welcome visitors traveling along the coast only from April through October.  Umpqua River and Coquille River open in May and close at different times in October.  There are reasons to see all 4.   Perched on a sensational promontory at the end of a tree-lined path, Cape Meares, the shortest of the 11 at 38 feet, is in a park like setting that includes the Octopus Tree, Oregon’s largest sitka spruce.  Cape Blanco, the oldest lighthouse, sits on a remote, especially beautiful cliff 256 feet above the turbulent Pacific.   The lighthouse called Umpqua River is the 2nd to occupy the entrance to Winchester Bay near Reedsport.  The 1st lighthouse literally fell into the Umpqua in 1861.  Coquille River once helped mariners cross a dangerous bar like the one near Astoria.  It’s the only accessible lighthouse that I’ve yet to see.

Yaquina Head, Newport, Oregon’s oldest structure, is the tallest lighthouse at 93 feet and the most popular with 350,000 annual visitors.  Up 114 steps, it’s now fully automated Fresnel Lens still aids navigation.  The grounds open at sunrise and close at sunset year round, but the interpretive center and lighthouse are on a reduced schedule from November to June.  Just down Highway 101 at the north end of Newport’s major bridge is Oregon’s 2nd oldest lighthouse, Yaquina Bay.  It was re-lit in 1996 after being off for 122 years, which must be a record.  It’s the only one of the 11 with living quarters attached.

My favorite of them all is Heceta Head, where Ruth and I arrived just after 2 pm during a storm called a Pineapple Express in the Northwest.  On reduced winter hours, Heceta closed at 2; but Pam, who volunteers her time, gave us a tour anyway.  Closed in 2012 for extensive restoration, Heceta Head just reopened to the public and Pam loves to show it off.  It has the strongest light of the 11.  The only active British-made Chance Brothers lens of its kind in the United States provides illumination that can be seen 21 miles from land.  The detached assistant lighthouse keeper’s dwelling built in 1893 is now a b&b that’s a considerable bargain during the winter.  On a 1,000 feet promontory, Heceta Head affords a view of a Conde McCullough bridge and the Oregon Coast that is 2nd to none.


Boynton Beach or Baku?


There was a suggestion of spring and summer in a recent New York Times. The January 18, Sunday TNYT Magazine contained an ad for its Travel Show to be held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center during our first month’s last weekend.  I became immediately fascinated with the partial list of 2015 exhibitors (there were more than 500), a hint of travel trends.

Ten exhibitors represented Florida.  No surprise there.  A stern, loud VISIT FLORIDA was one of them.  A gentler Discover Daytona Beach was there too.

Four promoted African safaris.  I had to look up Fatarsh Tours to find that it’s in Tanzania.  Another, South African Tourism, reminded me of South’s Africa’s inclusion in a very recent blog about the world’s most dangerous cities.  The list had a North and South American thrust, but South Africa had 3 entrants, including Capetown.  Be careful.  I actually know a couple who is taking an African safari, a long-time dream, this year.

A few of the exhibitors represented scenically splendiferous Canada.  The photo above, one of the best I’ve ever seen, was taken last fall by Australian friend Trish in the Canadian Rockies, which reminds me that I must write to thank her for it.  Travel Show exhibitors included Gros Morne Gatherings. Gros Morne is a National Park on the western side of the island of Newfoundland, one of my favorite Canadian destinations.  In fact, Ruth & I hope to include Labrador in our summer 2015 travels.

A few of the attendees were mildly surprising.  The Jordan Tourist Board was one.  Like the center circle of a target, Jordan is in a hot spot with Syria to its north, the West Bank to its west, Saudi Arabia to its south, and Iraq east.  No wonder they’re trying to attract tourists.  Good luck with that. Troubled The Philippines and Sri Lanka are beckoning visitors.  I have a friend named Alex who just returned from The Philippines.  I’ll see and interview him in March about its travel potential.

But the biggest surprise of all was Azerbaijan.  I wasn’t even sure where it was.  Am I alone in that?  I researched and found it rather enticing.   In the Caucasus Mountains region, Azerbaijan has the Caspian Sea to its east, Russia to its north, Georgia to its northeast, Armenia to its east, and Iran south.   Probably the main reason why it’s exhibiting in New York is the fact that it, a country approaching 10 million citizens, is hosting the European Games this year.  Azerbaijan is part of the network.

Azerbaijan is the world’s first democratic and secular republic with a Muslim majority (95% of its population).    Tourism and spas are important industries.   It’s hoping to attract yet more health care seeking travelers and trying to establish itself as an elite tourist destination.  Its top attractions include Fountains Square, Maiden Towers, and the world’s tallest flagpole.

Its capital, Baku, has the distinction of being the largest city in the world below sea level.  Baku is 92 feet below the Caspian, seems culturally and historically rich, and has both Asian and European sensibilities, like Istanbul. Check it out.




Redwood National Park Plus


Redwood National Park is in a seismically active place.  In fact, the closest town to it, Crescent City, has recorded 37 earthquake-caused tsunamis since 1933.  That’s more than any other Pacific Coast community.  The 9.2 quake that rearranged much of Alaska in 1964 caused 4 surges in Crescent City. The last, a 21-feet-above-sea-level water monster, was the worst.  It inundated 60 Crescent City blocks, resulted in 12 deaths, and caused more damage than was experienced in Anchorage.  I read this in the helpful Redwood National Park Visitor Guide.  

Redwood is different from other National Parks in several other ways.  Its official name is Redwood National and State Parks.  The California State Parks system was 100-years-old when Redwood was declared a National Park in 1964.  It had already established 3 parks–Prairie Creek, Del Norte, and Jedediah Smith–in the area in the 1920s.  The 4 parks joined together to better protect the remaining 40,000 acres of old-growth redwoods, the world’s tallest trees.  As a result, there are several visitor centers, resident Roosevelt elk, and many miles of wild seashore west of the trees.

Redwood National Park’s tide pools and seastacks are impressive in pictures, but Ruth & I only saw them from a distance.  We had only one day to revisit this area.  Visitors with lots of time can take ranger-led tide pool walks, hike more than 200 miles of trails, etc.

We stopped at 3 visitor centers.  One of the better ones was actually in Crescent City, where the lady in charge tried to get us to drive what she called the best redwood experience in the area, the unpaved Bald Hills Road in the National Park.  The tamer and paved Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway through much of Prairie Creek State Park and the previously blogged Avenue of the Giants provided more than enough trees by day’s end.  Those who, like us, continue south along US 101 should also visit Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California’s best redwood experience, and hug a few giants.

A couple of the State Park visitor centers were not opened the day we drove through.  That was OK because we still managed to see the 3 that were. Kuchel in the actual National Park was traditional.  It’s 12 minute film, Land of the Giants, was packed with information about redwoods.  When we asked the ranger if we were likely to see some of the once-highly-endangered Roosevelt elk, she said that was likely but that “the elk are on to us.” She laughed knowingly but didn’t explain what she meant by that.  As you can see in the photo above, we succeeded.

If you remember drive-through trees being a part of the Redwood experience, be alerted to the fact that carving a road through a giant tree is no longer PC.  However, 3 drive-throughs remain along US 101 in the hamlets of Klamath, Myers Flat, and Legget if you want to give the kids a memorable thrill.   None are in parks.








Rosanne Cash, The River & The Thread


I guess I love Rosanne Cash because she’s a world traveler.  I also love her quiet integrity.  I first saw her live at a summer music festival in Calgary, Alberta, many years ago on a very cold, wet summer night.   I most recently saw her at the Krannert Center on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on September 13, 2014,  in a performance during which she did an unusual thing.  Before intermission, she sang all 11 songs from The River and The Thread, her latest CD, each preceded by witty, deeply personal comments about them.  My favorite lyric is the story of my life, “It’s a hard road, but it fits your shoes.”

Roasanne has been very busy.  I highly recommend Composed, which is not a song but her excellent 2010 memoir/autobiography.  In it she talked about what it was like to gain maturity and make her own way as the daughter of a music legend, Johnny Cash.  As she told Elizabeth Quill in Smithsonian magazine (a November, 2014 article), “Her job…is not to maintain the Johnny Cash legacy; it’s to write and sing her own songs.”  Her career actually got underway in Germany, not Nashville, and she lives in New York City.

“I went to Barcelona on the midnight train.  I walked the streets of Paris in the pouring rain….And I ended up in Memphis, Tennessee,” she sings on “Modern Blue”, one of the 11 songs she wrote the lyrics to on The River & The Thread.  Her husband, John Leventhal, composed the music.  I assume these words refer to the series of trips they took together that resulted in both The River and The Thread and the restoration of her father’s childhood home.  On one trip they journeyed from Memphis to Oxford, Mississippi, where they toured William Faulkner’s home Rowan Oak (see 2013 blog Mississippi’s Yoknapatawpha County) and went on to Money where she and John threw a guitar pick off the Tallahatchie Bridge and John took the cell phone photo of Rosanne that became the cover of The River and The Thread.

Several trips were necessary when Rosanne and the Cash family became involved in the restoration of Johnny Cash’s childhood home in Dyess. Listed by an Arkansas historic preservation group as highly endangered in 2006, it was bought by Arkansas State University in 2011, and the family agreed to help raise funds to restore it.  Four music festivals later, it opened to the public on August 16, 2014.  Rosanne was at the grand opening one month before I saw her perform in Illinois.  I didn’t know that until today.

I also didn’t know until today that The River and The Thread was nominated for 3 Grammies on December 8, 2014.  Rosanne’s previous CD, The List (sensational), only received 2 nominations.  I predict The River and The Thread will win all 3.  “The river rises…she sails away.”



Don’t Prejudge the Oregon Coast Aquarium


Almost all of the stuff I read about Newport’s Oregon Coast Aquarium called it one of the 10 best in the United States, but for the 1st half hour we were there Ruth and I were both underwhelmed. Perhaps this was because we had recently been to the magnificent aquarium in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. OCA seemed to suffer by comparison. I paused to write in my notebook “slick & impersonal…too big for its own good”, and I asked Ruth what she was thinking. She said, “Tired.” Not her, the place. But then.

The Oregon Coat Aquarium, now one of the Oregon Coast’s biggest attractions, opened in 1992 on an abandoned industrial site at 2820 SE Ferry Slip Road. Almost half a million people pass through its doors every year. As I was watching a really ugly, spotted shark scrounger for far too long, a little boy joined me in fascination. We cringed together until he had to go find his father to show him this….creature. I went on to seahorses, those delicate looking, suspended floaters. A bit later I saw my shark scrounger friend digging in some sand while his Dad was totally fascinated by his cell phone.

I joined a couple of other children who were watching a really strange wolf eel floating half way out of a hole like a fat, stupid worm waiting to be grabbed. We watched it together until they lost interest, which took about 2 seconds. By this time I was changing my mind about a place completely engaging to children, and I hadn’t even gotten to the best parts.

When you live in the Northwest, king and coho are on dinner plates year-round and salmon is talked about like Texans discuss barbecue, southerners compare notes on grits, etc. One sign explained that there were 5 other salmon species–chinook, sockeye, chum, pink, steelhead, and cutthroat. Hmmmmm. I thought the last 2 were trout. I asked David Daus, an aquarium interpreter who was busy helping squealing children explore a touch pool, to explain. He told me the sign was correct. However, a week later I was still getting emails from diligent Dave who was doing marine research and deciding that trout and salmon do share similar lives but are different species.

That’s what happens when anyone steps into the Oregon Coast Aquarium. They get involved as long as they forget about their cell phones. But that could be said of any aquarium. So how does OCA earn a top 10 ranking? Almost every aquarium has a walk through tunnel like its acrylic Passages of the Deep. But here people stare in wonder at 100 sharks cruising over their heads and soon find that there are actually a series of tunnels showing underwater landscapes peculiar to the Oregon Coast. It’s different from others in additional ways. Those interested in becoming shark bait can sign up to snorkel among Passages’ diverse residents. There are multi-level outdoor displays of local otters, seals, sea lions, etc. The Oregon Coast Aquarium has the largest walk-through seabird aviary in the United States. A unique outdoor nature trail features 100 native plants seen only on this coast. And so on.