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We woke up about 07:30 and finished the second box of cereal for the trip so far. We left Coos Bay and drove north again on 101, with the long Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area between us and the ocean on our left. We saw glimpses of impressively tall sand dunes breaking through the pine forest.
We took a small detour off 101 to the Umpqua Lighthouse, which was closed, but had a small lake near it that gave us a reflected view of the trees around it. The lighthouse was closed, unfortunately, but we stopped for a bit at the nearby whale watching point to see if we could spot migrating grey whales, but without luck. We continued on through the small town of Winchester Bay and then Reedsport without stopping.
The next stop was the Oregon Dunes Scenic Overlook, which gave us an impressive view of the dunes. I walked out on to the sand to get some photos. The sand was very fine, almost powdery, and blown into ripples about 5cm apart by the wind. After strolling around a bit, I returned and we drove on.
At the town of Florence we stopped to check out the historic Old Town section along the waterfront of the Siuslaw River, which was very quaint and charming - definitely worth a look. Michelle bought some Kookaburra licorice, imported from Australia! I was getting hungry so decided to get something from a place recommended in the Lonely Planet guide - a place called Paisano's Pizza Deli. It said the calzones were good value, so I ordered one. At $7.75 I began to wonder exactly how good the value was going to be. 15 minutes later, having expected to walk out with a single handful of a stuffed pocket about the size of a meat pie, I left with a large, foil-covered tray that weighed a ton, two paper plates, and two sets of cutlery. Investigating at an outdoor picnic table in a park on Florence's riverside revealed a huge baked turnover the size of a largish pizza, a good 30cm long, and folded over a thick filling of meat, cheese, and veges, plus a cup of hot pizza sauce with chunks of mushroom, tomato, and celery in it. It was huge! Very good though, with a hint of fennel flavour in the filling.
Having demolished that, I vowed to have a small dinner tonight. A plan that backfired. While eating my calzone, Michelle wandered and browsed various shops. A woman in one told her about a new English tea place in town that served tea and scones and said she might like it.
When I'd finished eating and while Michelle was still wandering, I went down to a floating dock on the river and took some photos of the riverfront and the nearby historic bridge. I was just admiring the view when I saw a seal swimming in the river, straight towards me! It started near an old paddle steamer (done up as a tourist ride) about 50m away and swam half the distance straight towards me on the surface while I desperately changed camera lens to telephoto. Just as I got it ready, the seal dived. I waited a couple of minutes and it surfaced again only about 3 metres away! Unfortunately by the time I had refocused and was just about to take a photo it dived again - just as Michelle appeared. I told her there had been a seal right there just a second ago and she didn't believe me! We waited about 5 minutes for it to reappear, but it didn't surface within our sight again.
We continued walking along the waterfront stores and checked the docks and short boardwalk before finding the Lovejoy's English Tea House. Michelle was craving a scone, so we went in hoping for a simple take away. We were greeted by a waitress who began explaining the concept of afternoon tea to us, at which we explained we were Australian and knew what tea was. She gave us a menu and it turned out they only did sit down teas with full on scones and sandwiches. So we left and checked a sweet shop where I got a very tempting cup of marionberry sorbet, which was similar to gelato, and delicious, a sort of blackcurrant flavour. Wandering the streets some more, we saw a lot of beautiful flowers out - azaleas, tulips, cherry blossoms. The gardens and streets everywhere looked gorgeous.
Finally leaving Florence, we headed up 101 to the Sea Lion Cave just outside town. This was a touristy-looking stop right on the highway on a cliff overlooking the sea. We pulled in to a packed car park and managed to get a spot close to the main building. As we got out of the car the smell of fish hit us and we knew this was going to be interesting. We paid the $7.50 entry fee each and descended in the lift some 208 feet straight down into the rock, emerging in a large natural seacave - America's largest apparently - where we could see wild sea lions in the cave, resting on rocks, and swimming in and out. They were a bit noisy, but the smell wasn't as bad as at the top of the cliff. We also walked through the cave a bit to the northern entrance from where we had a view north to the Heceta Head Lighthouse. Back at the top of the cliff we could see the sea lions in the sea below, and black cormorants that nested on the rocks nearby.
After leaving the cave, we drove north again, planning to stop at Cape Perpetua for the lookout view. We turned off 101 into the Cape Perpetua visitor's centre and looked for the road to the lookout mentioned in the guide book, but to no avail. We found a map sign at the otherwise closed visitor's centre that indicated the relevant road was off 101 just north of the visitor's centre turnoff, so we set off. At the turnoff, however, signs indicated that the viewpoint was closed for refurbishment. Disappointed, we drove on.
The next stop was Newport, where we stopped at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. This was a great place, with outdoor enclosures for sea otters and seals that were cool, as well as a giant Pacific octopus, which we only glimpsed squeezed into a gap between rocks in its tank. There were indoor tanks with walk-through clear tunnels in three different tanks full of different types of habitat - tropical, coastal, and open sea. The last had several small sharks and rays. There was also a men-in-the-sea display with various diving suits and capsules, including an old brass hard-hat diving helmet on a wooden stand so that you could stand under it and poke your head up into it - very claustrophobic! Outdoors there was also a walk-in aviary, with seabirds such as puffins. Indoors again we walked through displays of several different ocean environments, with some very cool tanks full of jellyfish that looked beautiful in the tank lighting. There was also a touch tank where I felt some sea anemones, starfish, and sea urchins. The anemones were sticky, like they were grabbing on with tiny velcro hooks or something.
We left the aquarium right on closing time of 5pm, and drove north again, intending to make Tillamook by nightfall. We drove straight through Lincoln City and onwards until we turned left on to the Three Capes Scenic Route, to see more scenery than the inland 101 route. We hugged the coast and stopped only at Cape Lookout, where there was a spectacular view north, and a beach front picnic site where I got out of the car and walked on the beach for some photos in the late afternoon light.
Continuing on, we took a wrong turn on the scenic route and ended up having to backtrack a bit to finally reach Tillamook. We filled up with petrol (with full service, since it's illegal in Oregon to pump your own petrol!) and asked the station attendant where we could find a motel as we hadn't noticed any on the way in. He pointed us to 101 north of town and we found a place called the Western Royal Inn, which looked like a chain motel. We checked in and then went just next door to a restaurant called The Locomotion, which had a 50s rock'n'roll theme. Michelle had a veggie burger and I chose a prawn salad as a light option - except it turned out to be far too much to eat, even if I hadn't had a huge lunch. While attempting to make a dent in this enormous meal, we couldn't help overhearing a middle-aged woman trying to sell insurance to a couple of prospective clients over their own meal. They were still haggling by the time we called it quits on our barely excavated dinners. Then we walked to the other side of the motel to Safeway to get milk and cereal for breakfast.
The weather today again started cold and overcast, but warmed up and became sunny in the middle of the day, before clouding over again at night. We noticed a lot of different scenery today - the sand dunes for one, but also as we drove north the pine forests have started to give way to what I think is beech forest.
Tomorrow we hit our first big city since San Francisco - Portland!
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