Thursday, August 29, 2013

What a Friend We Have In Cheeses (Oregon Trip Part III)

This is the third in a three part extravaganza[i]  about our July 4th trip to the Oregon Coast. You may wish to read the first and second posts first, but hey, it’s up to you, I’m not the blog police.

Cape Mears Panoramic
Cape Meares Panoramic (raw)

Day 5
Day 5 is usually the point in a vacation where my grandiose dreams of getting up at the crack of dawn, strapping 40 pounds of photography gear to my back, and heading out into the morning chill start to give way to the allure of soft, warm beds[ii]. Not to be deterred, I dragged myself once more out onto the beach, but didn’t find much of consequence.

GullLeast (?)
SandpiperPocked Rock
Anemones, Western Gull, Least Sandpiper, Pocked Rock

The plan for the day was an excursion out of Cannon Beach down to Tilamook to visit the Tilamook Cheese Factory. I cannot emphasize enough how much a priority this was for my wife; she comes from a cheese-loving people. The drive south through the highlands had some fantastic views of the long stretch of the Oregon coast.   We passed through a half-dozen generic tourist towns on the way to Tilamook as the land gradually flattened to rolling dairy country.

Coastal Vista

The Tilamook Factory is seemingly the big tourist draw for northern Oregon. Even given that it was the 4th of July weekend, the crowds were pretty intense. We took the disappointingly short tour which was made gloriously worthwhile by the “free cheese bins” in the tasting area at the end. I had an unhealthy amount of cheese, and then bought a massive bag of cheese curds to go. The largest lines were for their ice cream, which apparently is a local fave. The ice cream, as it turned out, was not free like the cheese, but pretty tasty anyway.

IMGP5677Cheese Line
Ice CreamIMGP5688
Tilamook Cheese Factory, Cheese Line, Cheese Factory Floor, Ice Cream Line, Family with Ice Cream

On our way back we took the “three Capes” tour of some of the refuges and parks along the coast. I managed to find some sea lions basking far offshore, and vast flocks of Murres and other sea birds. We spent a little time at Cape Meares where they have a Fresnel lens lighthouse which is apparently a big deal. The 180+ degree sweep of the Pacific Ocean visible from the lighthouse was impossible to catch on film in a way that really conveyed its vastness.

Ecola State Park
Murre Colony
Cape Meares Coast, Cape Meares Raw Panoramic, Island (B&W), Fresnel Light, Lighthouse, Cape Cliffside, Sea Lions, Murre Colony

Before we left, we followed signs to see the famed “Octopus Tree”. Sadly, this turned out to pretty much just be a tree with a lot of branches, not a tree full of octopi. However, that utter failing was buffered by the chance to see my old field nemesis[iii], the Peregrine Falcon, making dramatic dives along the cliffside nearby.

So-called Octopus Tree.

That night there was pizza and more Agricola, during which my empire of sheep expanded nicely.

Day 6
On our last full day, instead of heaving my weary carcass toward the early morning shore like an aged Elephant Seal, I lifted a metaphorical middle finger in the general direction of the beach and opted to sleep in.
The whole family went for a long last walk on the beach, watching the wildlife in the tidal pools and got good views of some fairly complacent Pigeon Guillemots learning to fly and feed from a rocky outcrop. If the Peregrine Falcon is the Brad Pitt[iv] of the bird world, the Pigeon Guillemots are the Woody Allen.

Cannon Beach
Beach Wood
(B&W) Dave and
Cannon Beach Vista, Pigeon Guillemots, Beach Wood (B&W), Dave and Mom McColgin

Since it was our last leisurely morning, we went back to the Pig and Pancake for another ridiculously large brunch. One of the local delicacies is, I kid you not, the Marionberry[v]. Unlike its homophonic political counterpart, however, the Marionberry is a fine upstanding part of the local community.

We saw Kate’s brother and his wife off after breakfast, and then went with her parents up to Seaside, another nearby tourist town. It was about the time we rolled into Seaside that we realized our assumptions about the Oregon coast, based mostly on the over-the-top floral niceness of Cannon Beach, may not be entirely universal. Simply put, Seaside was like a particularly bad stretch of the Jersey Shore on a weekend where a booking error lead to Guidofest, the Gathering of the Juggalos, and some low budget Spring Break knockoff happening all at the same time in the same place. We gave it a fair shot, but the combination of ultra-touristy schlock and outright squalor had us returning to Cannon Beach fairly quickly[vi]

The rest of the day was devoted to bumming around the beach, reading, napping and other traditional beach cottage pursuits. We managed to snag some last minute reservations at the Irish Table, a very exclusive[vii] little restaurant we had been trying to get into all week long. The meal was fantastic; full of Irish food[viii], we waddled back to the hotel.

Irish Table
The Irish Table

All week long I had been trying to get one of the fire pits on the beach outside the hotel for an evening on fire. People held on to them like they were gold mines…several times I left a chair or two down there, only to find them discarded and someone else squatting at our fire pit. On this last evening we were finally able to fend off the flip-flop-clad wolves and get our own fire going. As the evening dwindled on I noticed some folks down the beach with large lights along the beach near their fire. As the lights started to ascend, I realized they were launching fire balloons. The sight was a great way to end the trip, sitting by myself in the dark by a fire watching fire balloons rise into the midnight sky above the crashing waves[ix].


[i] Italian for “long-winded, rambling diatribe”.
[ii] It’s also about the time when I start getting tired of taking pictures. I usually end up with hundreds of pictures from the first day, and then am lucky if I feel like taking any by the last day. First day photos are perfectly composed and artistic creations from my best gear. Last day photos are likely to be half-assed phone camera pictures of food.
[iii] I hike in areas where the Peregrines are fairly common, but had never seen one in the wild before. The sheer chance of never having seen one had grown to such an extent that they were officially upgraded to nemesis status. As nemeses go, I suppose a falcon is a more impressive than having to say your primary nemesis is something like a Tufted Titmouse.
[iv] Think Brad Pitt in Troy as opposed to Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys.
[v] They use it in about everything. Marionberries in the syrup, in the milkshake, in the crepes, etc etc ect. Literally the first and last meals, and most in between, had marionberries which are pretty much just Dark Blackberries.  However, much like other things with dark versions (chocolate, Phoenix, etc.), the Dark version is inherently superior to the boring normal version.
[vi] Even the wildlife there was cut-rate. Instead of the regal Western Gulls and seabirds of Cannon Beach, Seaside mostly had actual pigeons and Ring-billed Gulls, the Ringo Starrs of the Gull family.
[vii] Their exclusivity was in part due to the populartity of their food, but also the incredibly tiny size of the restaurant; essentially the back room of a large coffee shop.
[viii] Which apparently consists of more than just steak, potatoes, soda bread, and whiskey. For instance, there was also a parsley garnish on my whiskey-potatoes steak. 
[ix] Though part of me was thinking in less poetic terms about the potential forest fire danger of launching burning things toward dry timber. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In the Footsteps of Lewis and Clark (Oregon Trip Part 2)

This is the second in a three part extravaganza[i]  about our July 4th trip to the Oregon Coast. You may wish to start here, and then procede here after reading this post, but hey, it’s up to you, I’m not the blog police.

Canon Beach Landscape
Cannon Beach Landscape (B&W)

Day 3
As dawn cracked over the ocean on the third day, I was already up and out again while the rest of the clan hibernated on. Unlike the bright and sunny day before it, this morning was a proper Oregon coastal gloom. I spent a bit of time wandering the beach and bumming around taking landscape shots in the surf (involuntarily[ii]).

Sea Stars in Tidal
Cannon Beach
Canon Beach Landscape
(B&W)Windblown Tree
Canon Beach Landscape
(B&W)Western Gulls in Tidal
Canon Beach Landscape
Starfish in Tidal Pools, Beach Texture, Beach Rabbit, Cannon Beach Landscape, Cannon Beach Landscape (B&W), Windblown Tree (B&W), Cannon Beach Landscape (B&W), Cannon Beach Landscape, Western Gulls in Tidal Pools, Cannon Beach Landscape, Cannon Beach Landscape (B&W)

After I was sufficiently soaked and shivering, I meandered back to the hotel to meet everyone for the day’s sojourn[iii] to Ecola State Park[iv]. Located on the north end of the beach, Ecola is dominated by high promontories yielding expansive coastal vistas. It was prominent in latter adventures of Mr's Lewis and Clark, including a tale of a massive expedition to Cannon Beach to get oil from a beached whales. Fun times. 

Ecola State Park
Family at Ecola State
Park Ecola State Park
Vista with Tree,
Ecola State Park Vista Panoramic, Family at Ecola, Ecola State Park Vista, Vista with Tree

Many of its offshore sea stacks and rocks were dominated by overwhelmingly vast colonies of Common Murres[v], and its highlands are covered by dense coastal forests and wildflower stands.

Common Murre
Foxglove Yarrow (Achillea
Common Murre Colony, Foxglove, Yarrow

Along with having craggy cliffs and dense Pacific forests, the park hits the rugged coastal hat trick with views of an austere-looking lighthouse on an outcrop offshore[vi].  It was one pirate ship and a couple old-timey words[vii] away from being a Decemberists song.

I guarantee this thing is haunted by ghosts and/or Colin Meloy.

After a hike along the coastal trail, we lunched at a small rocky beach where I had a run in with one of my all time favorite rodents[viii], the California Ground Squirrel.  Equally fascinating were the Goose-neck barnacles, which demonstrated some sort of phototropism…if you blocked the sun from a group, they would begin to slowly shift their orientation. There were also scenic views, tidal pools, blah blah blah.

Family at Ecola
BeachFamily at Ecola
(B&W) Wood-framed
Barnacles Sea
California Ground
Family at Ecola Beach, Ecola Beach Lunch Stop, Kate at the Beach (B&W), Wood-framed Stones, Goose-neck Barnacles, California Ground Squirrel!

 Later that night we grabbed a casual dinner at a place that would have been fairly forgettable if it had not been that A) they served local beer in massive 32 oz glasses, and B) their fish and chips was made with fresh-caught Halibut[ix].

Sunset Day 3

Day 4
Ever the masochist, I dragged myself out of bed once again the next morning but the gloom of the previous day persisted, accompanied by a foggy shroud, so photography was limited but interesting.

Foggy Haystack
Heerman's Gulls Pigeon
Guillemot Black Oystercatcher
Chick Harlequin
Cannon Beach
Foggy Haystack Landscape, Heerman’s Gulls, Pigeon Guillemot, Black Oystercatcher Chick, Harlequin Ducks, Cannon Beach Vista

 The ladies had booked a spa trip for the day, so the gentlemen took off for another hike. On the south side of the Beach lies Oswald West State Park which, as you can guess from the fact that it’s about three miles away from Ecola, is very similar. That being said, we had a great hike through some massive coastal forests and along a crabshell strewn beach of odd rock forms.

Above the
Pacific Northwest RainforestBridge Lava Flows
Dead Crab
Unidentified snake
(garter sp?) Leaves
Ghost Pipe (Monotropa
uniflora) Waterfall
WaterfallOn the
Above the Beach, Pacific Rainforest, Bridge, Lava Flows, Garter Snake, Leaves, Ghost Pipe (Monotropa uniflora), Waterfall, Waterfall, On the Trail

We finished with a trek up to a waterfall in the cliffs above the beach before heading back to meet the ladies for dinner. Finally, we settled in with a little wine and an incredibly long round of Agricola[x].

It’s Farming! It’s Sheep! It’s Agricola! (Picture courtesy


[i] Italian for “long-winded, rambling diatribe”.
[ii] Soemtimes getting the good shot means getting a little wet. If you see some of the shots of sea stacks with water swirling around in the foreground, you may say to yourself “how can he possibly get that shot without being in the water?” The answer is, “he can’t”. Thank goodness for weather resistant gear and fast-drying shorts.
[iii] Since it was Fourth of July in a tourist town, the only sensible option was to get the hell out and as deep into the woods as we could.
[iv] Part of the beauty of the Cannon Beach location is that it’s sandwiched in between majestic coastal parks of the robust Oregon state park system.
[v] A type of seabird. Think, “weapons-grade mini-penguins”.
[vi] Which apparently isn’t an actual lighthouse anymore, but a repository for cinerary urns. The proper term for this is a columbarium. I could only remember this with the pneumonic device, “what do you do when you have some ashes you want removed?” “Call ‘em, Bury ‘em.” Ok, so it’s not perfect, but I will never ever forget what a columbarium is now, a fact which I’m sure will serve me well. 
[vii] Of which my favorites are “balustrades”, “consumptive”, “barrow”, “wastrel”, and “parapets”.
[viii] If the fact that I have a favorite rodent, let alone several favorite rodents is a surprise to you, you may have mistaken me for Brad Pitt and are understandably confused. It’s ok, it happens all the time. Despite the obvious similarities, you can tell us apart by the fact that one of us is dashing, charismatic, and naturally appealing and the other is named Brad. If you are a long time reader and were surprised that I have favorite rodents, you just haven’t been paying attention.   
[ix] As I’ve mentioned before, I am a fish and chips connoisseur. I have had fish and chips fresh off the boat (the fish, that is…I’m fairly sure the chips were not wild-caught) in remote reaches of Canada, etc. These weren’t the best I’d ever had, but I was pretty impressed that it was made from halibut. As it turned out, despite being about $12/pound at home, halibut was a pretty common cheap fish there.
[x] Think Settlers of Catan, FFA style. Surprisingly fun. “Sheep and a Food!” became a rallying cry for the rest of the weekend.