Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Adventure Begins

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Hallelujah!

Coquille River Light House, Bandon Oregon
This has nothing at all to do with my trip.
Taken 12/19/2006

After two weeks of unrelenting blue sky and sunshine, Tuesday, September 4th, brought overcast and rain to the coast. What can I say. Undoubtedly it has to do with photography and travel. Why else would beautiful weather turn to mush?

A year ago, in August, 2006, I was fortunate to be able to spend time with a professional photographer and Adjunct Professor of Photography at New York’s School Of Visual Arts, Richard Rothman. (You can see some of Richard’s work on his website, Richard is in the process of documenting Crescent City—its landscapes, its architecture, and its people. Last year I spent a few days driving Richard around the area while he fought the coastal overcast in his attempts to get the perfect image on his large-format film. This year Richard returned for his fifth visit to the coast, and I was privileged to have him in my guest room for a part of that time. Our morning and evening conversations and the wonderful dinners that Richard fixed and which we shared, sitting on the patio as the sun set slowly in the West (remember those Merry Melody cartoons, kiddies?) came to an end on Tuesday as Richard left to fly home from the Crescent City airport and I headed north in the trusty Volvo stopping at Brookings, Port Orford, Florence, Heceta Head and Depoe Bay, ending my day’s drive in Portland.

I had packed the car the day before, leaving only the computer, the camera, and my books for the last minute. Around 10:30, Gypsy and I hit the road, the odometer reading 98910 miles. As I noted above, the sky was heavily overcast, and it did not take long for the rain to start falling. I stopped in Brookings to send Richard’s exposed film home via FedEx, and then again to fill the Volvo’s tank at Fred Meyers: $2.92 a gallon for regular. Between Brookings and Gold Beach it started raining in earnest, and I had to turn the wipers on full to keep the windshield clear. This did not look to be an auspicious start for the 6,000 Mile Sunday Drive. As I left Brookings, I turned on the computer and hooked up the Verizon Air Card in a test to see how well the thing worked while driving down the highway. My test was to log on to and stream J. Maarten Troost’s Getting Stoned with the Savages. I also plugged in my trusty little TuneCast which attempts to send the computer’s audio to the Volvo’s FM receiver so I can listen to the book over the car’s sound system. What little I heard of Troost’s book was intriguing, and I’m really looking forward to hearing the whole thing, but the Verizon signal waned as I headed north, and went dead altogether by Pistol River. Wanting some audible stimulation during what promised to be a dreary day’s drive, I called up a work by my all-time favorite travel writer, Paul Theroux, which I had loaded onto my hard drive many months earlier. Dark Star Safari, the story of Theroux’s journey from Cairo to Capetown got me to Portland and Ethiopia at the same time. As I was looking forward to dinner at Mudai, my favorite Portland Ethiopian restaurant, I felt this was propitious.

The rain slowed north of Gold Beach, and eventually stopped altogether. Hoping for lunch at The Crazy Norwegian, I pulled into Port Orford only to find my favorite Norwegian Mexican restaurant closed. Having read about another Port Orford restaurant, the Paradise Café, I looked for that establishment as I drove through town. For lunch I ordered breakfast—corned beef hash and eggs with a glass of ice tea. Counting the tip, lunch was just over ten dollars. My hash and eggs was not the most expensive item on the menu; that would have been the shrimp basket at $7.75. My breakfast was fine, and I wouldn’t have any trouble recommending the Paradise Café AND Ice Cream (they’re proud of their Umpqua Ice Cream) should you find yourself in Port Orford needing breakfast or lunch. The customers seemed, for the most part, regulars, and the walls were covered with historic photographs of the sea and coast. For more about Oregon’s oldest coastal town, I refer you to my own writing at

As I left the restaurant, a woman noticed my Montana plates and stopped to talk. She was from Kalispell. And as I pulled back onto US 101, I saw a car with Ravalli County plates. (Montana license plates tell you the county in the form of a one or two digit number. Missoula County is “4” and Ravalli County, where my cabin sits, is “13.” There are fifty-six counties in Montana and the numbering system is based, as near as I can tell, on the political clout the county had in 1930. That may be the subject of another essay.) Two Montana experiences within 5 minutes on the remote Oregon coast helped bring home, once again, what a small world this is.

Driving north while listening to Theroux heading south, I passed through Bandon, Coos Bay and Reedsport without stopping. Over the past year I have made many photo excursions to these towns and have posted those photos in various places on the web. But as I approached Florence, I realized that I had never taken a picture of the US 101 bridge across the Suislaw River. Those of you who have been following my writing over the past year will remember my trip up the Suislaw, and if you’d care to revisit that trip, here is the URL: Stopping to take the picture also allowed me to put Gypsy on her leash and get her out for a pee and poop break.

Siuslaw River Bridge, US 101, Florence, Oregon
Taken 9/4/07

Between Port Orford and Florence, US 101 is just far enough inland that you never really see the ocean. This hundred mile stretch of highway runs on the east side of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and passes several beautiful lakes. But for over a hundred miles, you catch glimpses of the Pacific only if you are very fool hardy, or if you get off 101 and head west a few miles. North of Florence, the road turns back to the coast, and you pass the Sea Lion Caves and Heceta Head.

My father was dead set against anything he considered a tourist trap. He would never stop at Frontier Town on US 12’s MacDonald Pass, even though our car was always stalled on the side of the road with vapor lock just at that “internationally famous” site’s entrance. I remember begging him to stop at the Ice Caves near Twin Falls, Idaho, but while he did stop the car, no one got out and the Ice Cave people made no money from us. But for some reason, he did stop at the Sea Lion Caves. I’ve stopped there several times since. They’re certainly worth a visit. Just eleven miles north of Florence, they are billed as the “world’s largest sea cave.” Next time you’re on that stretch of US 101, stop and see for yourself. Be sure and take your camera along. The sea lions are photogenic in their own right, and the coastal scenery is truly awe inspiring.

Heceta Head (with Light House on right side of photo)
Taken 9/4/07

Just north of the Sea Lion Caves is Heceta Head and its lighthouse. Were I to choose the quintessential coastal light station, Heceta Head would be my choice. Unfortunately, the view points are all on the southbound side of the highway, and almost all are located at blind curves for those of us heading north. If you, like me, are heading north, by all means stop at the Sea Lion Caves and use your telephoto lens to get the perfect lighthouse shot. I didn’t do that on this trip, but I did pull into the parking area on the beach below the lighthouse to get a few shots of the area.

The sun had come out between Reedsport and Florence, and driving north from Heceta Head I was driving past one picture postcard view after another. This stretch of coast is every bit as scenic as California’s Highway 1, and Oregon has put plenty of turn outs and picnic areas so that you have no excuse for driving on. No excuse, that is, unless you’re trying to get to Portland by seven p.m. and you got a late start out of Smith River. I drooled as I passed one photo op after another. In all the years I’ve been driving 101 I’ve never seen such blue sky and water. This was everyone’s dream beach vacation weather. Well, if your dream beach vacation includes needing a wet suit to be in the cold Pacific waters.

Depoe Bay Bridge, US 101, Depoe Bay, Oregon
Taken 9/4/07

At Newport I waved at my favorite seafood restaurant, the Port Dock, and at Lincoln City I saluted the Tanger Outlet Mall where I’ve spent many an hour and dollar, but ever mindful of my schedule, I kept driving, stopping only to get a few out of the car shots of the bridge over Depoe Bay. North of Lincoln City, I turned off US 101 onto Oregon 18, heading for Grande Ronde and its Indian Casino, McMinnville and its Aviation Museum where you can see Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, and Tigard where my friend T.J. Blakeslee built his first Fantasy for Adults Only outside of Missoula and Portland. Strictly speaking that is, for Tigard is just across the county line from Multnomah County and Portland.

I pulled into my hotel’s parking lot at 7, unloaded a bunch of stuff (including my faithful traveling companion, Gypsy), and headed down Sandy Boulevard for the Radical Rubdown at Steam Portland. After over eight hours on the road, I could use a full body massage, and the Radical Faeries do a truly blessed work every Tuesday evening. After my massage, and a stint in the steam room and hot tub, I was ready for bed. All in all, it had been a great day. A truly wonderful start for the 6,000 Mile Sunday Drive, and the odometer showed 350 miles for the day.

Stay tuned for more adventures on the road.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful "armchair" travel adventure material you've provided. Thank you, Bryan

trip_n_shrooms said...

That bridge is in Waldport about 40 mi S. of DePoe Bay.

dolly said...

I am researching the Spellman family also. My great-great grandfather William David Willis married Sybil Spellman July 18, 1824 in Coshocton Ohio. They had three children together. Nathan, Mary, and Honor. Sybil must have died, because he remarried in 1830 to Didama VanDusen. After the Civil War they came to Michigan. They had fourteen children. According to grandfathers Civil War papers he was born in New Castle, Delaware. Maybe the Spellman family came from Delaware.
Most of the Willis family is buried in Knob Cemetery in Coshocton, Ohio.