Saturday, December 30, 2006

Whale Watching

Looking North
Cape Ferrelo Viewpoint
Curry County, Oregon

The experts say that now is a good time to catch sight of the whales as they migrate south. There are some 11,000 grey whales on the move, and chances are, if you're very, very lucky, you'll see a distant pouf of spray two fingers down from the horizon--or about 3 to 5 miles out to sea. Now as the Breton sailor's prayer goes, "The sea is so vast and my boat is so small." That vastness notwithstanding, a whale watchers group has had guides stationed all along the Oregon Coast this week, with 3 relatively close to me: Crescent City, California (and yes, I know that technically speaking, Crescent City is NOT on the Oregon Coast); Harris Beach State Park at the north end of Brookings, Oregon; and Cape Ferrelo a few miles on up the coast from Brookings.

Thursday morning, December 28th, dawned bright and clear. Since sunlight was streaming in my study window, I called my friend Carl to suggest that we take advantage of the sun, the whales, and the guides. As Carl had some matters that needed immediate attention, we did not get on the road until late morning, arriving at Harris Beach just after noon. The guide was very helpful, telling us that a couple of whales had been spotted very close in earlier in the morning. She also told us about the two fingers below the horizon clue for where we should be watching. While Carl chatted with the guide and I grabbed surreptitious glances at the cute guy with the beard and camera, no more whales chose to present themselves.

I felt somewhat guilty at the thought of having seafood while out watching for whales, but the lure of a bento box at Café Kitanishi was just too strong to ignore, so Carl and I headed back into Brookings to the best Japanese restaurant I've found anywhere--including in Japan. Fortunately for my guilty conscience, there was only one shrimp and two pieces of sushi in each of our orders. They were delicious, as was the beef teriyaki in my box. While we were eating, an older Asian-looking woman in an ankle length plaid skirt talked to the diners at a nearby table. "You know what 'Bento' means, don't you?" "Well, I used to....." "Lunch box! Bento means 'Lunch box'!" Meanwhile, I was convinced that our dark-haired waiter and his red headed wife really belonged in an Irish pub serving fish and chips.

Bento Box
Café Kitanishi
Brookings, Oregon

With our stomachs satisfied, we pointed the Volvo north and headed for Cape Ferrelo. At the overlook, we set up lawn chairs and tripods, got out the binoculars and Gypsy, and settled in for some serious whale watching. Soon a woman approached saying that we obviously knew what we were doing. She asked if we could confirm that she was seeing whale spouts and not just whitecaps. Amazing what having a little equipment along will do to improve your perceived level of expertise. Alas, we decided that as the white spots kept reappearing in exactly the same spot, they were most likely whitecaps caused by unseen rocks. We did have fun trying to visually separate sea lions from kelp, but gave up on sitting still and scanning the ocean through binoculars. Taking a short hike out to one of the many points at Cape Ferrelo, we decided that it was a fine day to be out on the Coast, even if the whales weren't being co-operative.

North of Cape Ferrelo, we stopped at the Arch Rock overlook where our cameras captured several more scenes, then turned back south stopping at Natural Bridges, Indian Sands, and finally Howonquet Cemetery. The main problem with driving the Oregon Coast is that there are so many wonderful places to stop and take in the sights, that you can't help but miss some spectacular views. The good news is that it doesn't matter. Wherever you stop, you'll see breathtaking vistas and crashing waves. Of course, a little sunlight and blue sky doesn't hurt.

Sunset over the Pacific near Howonquet Cemetery
Smith River Rancheria, California

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