June 24 – July 26, 2021
We set out the next morning with just a three-hour drive, 126-mile drive from Gold Beach. On the way we stopped 11-miles north of Florence, about 25-miles south of the KOA we’d be lodging at in Waldport, to visit the Sea Lion Caves.
We’d been here once before, back in 1984 when we purchased a VW Rabbit Convertible and picked it up in Frankfurt, Germany. We spent three months in Europe that trip, two of them with the car before dropping it off at the dealer for its preparation for shipment to the U.S. We’d travel for another month, then fly to the East Coast and spend a few weeks with Jan and her husband Brian while we picked up the car in Delaware. From there we took two months crossing the country, meeting my parents who were just started out their own five year full time odyssey in a 32-foot fifth wheel trailer, visiting relatives (grandparents, cousins, and aunts) and friends. One of our last stops was in Eugene, Oregon with my Aunt Ruth and when we left there to drive to Kamp Angst, we did it by heading to the coast and the Sea Lion Caves.
As I mentioned in the last post, elements of this trip were these visits to memories we have of our younger years. What would be discover this time around? Hard to say as our recollection of that visits exists only as a hazy shadow when we try to retrieve the data. Early morning fog had cleared by the time we arrived and parking up the hill in a crowded lot, we walked across the street under cloudless blue skies to begin our latest experience.
You purchase tickets for entry at a kiosk in the gift shop and descend a set of stairs to a walkway that takes you out to a covered clearing with breathtaking views up and down the coast. From there you walk down hill to an elevator that will take you 200 feet down to the cave itself. The cave system is at sea level and the ocean continually washes into the main cavern which has a floor area of about 2 acres and a vaulted rock dome about 125 feet high. Southward from the main chamber, a low passage runs 1,000 feet to a sea level opening and is flooded at high tide and free of water at low tide. The western entrance is a short, high passage through which the ocean washes at all tide levels.
The sea level portion of this cave and the sea cliff rocks just outside the cave have become, over the centuries, the only known mainland rookery and hauling area (wintering home) of the Steller’s sea lion and—to a lesser extent—the California sea lion. The Caves currently ranks 10th among the world’s longest sea caves, and with a measured length of 1,315 feet, it is the longest in the United States.
The Caves were discovered in 1880 by a local seaman, Captain William Cox, who entered the grotto through the western channel in a small boat on a calm day. He purchased the land in 1887 from the State of Oregon and his family owned the property until 1926. Access to the caves from the hillside above was not even considered until after the land was acquired by R. E. Clanton in 1927, with the specific intention of opening the caves as a business.
In 1930, a 1,500-foot-long trail was excavated by hand into the face of the cliff and at the bottom, a 135-step wooden tower was extended down to the north entrance of the caves. Sea Lion Caves opened to the public in August 1932. Attendance was light at first but after Highway 101 was paved in 1935 attendance grew steadily. In 1961, the addition of an elevator, with a capacity of 23 passengers, resulted in a sharp rise in the number of visitors.
It’s easy to spend a couple of hours here, between the views, the sea lions, and taking in the information about it all that is conveyed through signage. We finished up our visit and continued north to Waldport/Newport KOA, our destination for the next two nights. It is a nice location with the one exception that all the tent sites are not far from the highway, meaning road noise is persistent. The other constant during our tenure was an unceasing wind, making the 65-degree days seem colder than they were.
We set up camp and a few beers in decided to head to Yachats, the town just south of Waldport, for dinner at the Sea Note Restaurant and Lounge, recipient of good reviews in Trip Advisor. Here is my review of the place:
“While camping at the KOA in Waldport we ventured south to dine at the Sea Note, based on its good rating. We weren’t disappointed. For the first time in over a year we grabbed seats at the bar enabling us to carry on friendly conversations with the bartender. Along with a cold beer or two my wife got the baked oysters (you have to like garlic to enjoy this one) and I the excellent fish and chips. All of it was reasonably priced.“
Some reviews of the place complained about the service, describing it as for locals only and I can see how that might have occurred, as many regulars were customers and their interactions with the staff was friendly and familiar. But our service was good, our bartender charming and nice to talk to. We finished up our meal and settled our tab of $51 including tip and drove back to camp, ready for another day of fun.
Sea Lion Caves: http://www.sealioncaves.com/
Waldport/Newport KOA: https://koa.com/campgrounds/waldport/
Sea Note Restaurant and Lounge: https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-sea-note-lounge-yachats