Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast

A few months ago, I shared a number of Great Spots to Watch Oregon’s Winter Storms. But winter storms are not the only thing that draws the crowds to our shoreline. Gray whales, which migrate farther than any mammal on Earth, can also be observed and volunteers all along the coast are eager to share their knowledge with you. Whale watching takes place almost year-round on the Oregon Coast.

Whale Migration

Each winter in the warm waters of Mexico, gray whales give birth, nurse their calves, rest and play before their long journey north in spring. They swim 5,000 miles along the Pacific coast from Mexico to the waters of the Arctic. The trip ends in the nutrient-rich feeding grounds of the Bering Sea in Alaska. In fall, they travel back to Mexico again to complete a round trip annual journey of 10,000 miles.

DepoeBayWe enjoyed a little weekend getaway this past weekend, driving north along Highway 101 to Newport. We stopped at numerous scenic points along the way to observe the waves crashing on rocky shoreline. In Depoe Bay, we visited with the Oregon Parks and Recreation volunteers who helped us to spot the gray whales migrating offshore.

The first phase (non-calves) of the northbound gray whale migration appears to have peaked and the second phase (moms with babies) is just beginning – just in time for Spring Whale Watch Week, March 19 – 26.

Whale Anatomy

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay was constructed during the postwar period designed to serve the rapidly increasing ranks of the motoring public, while taking advantage of a unique scenic vista—the world’s smallest navigable harbor at Depoe Bay.

While here, we also took time to enjoy the touch tables and pictorial history inside the center. What fascinated me most was the whale ear bone pictured here.

whaleearbone

In land mammals, the fleshy pinna or the outside part of the ear helps collect sound and funnel it into the ear. That works because the acoustical properties of the air and flesh are different, so sound  gets channeled into the ear canal where it vibrates the eardrum and the ossicles (or ear bones).

In water, the acoustical properties of flesh and water are pretty similar, therefore the fleshy outside part of the ear serves no function. Though hearing in baleen whales is not well understood, in toothed whales, instead of sound coming in through the ear canal, sound comes in through fatty tissues in the jaws which are attached to an acoustic funnel. Scientists believe that the ossicles vibrate this fluid-filled inner ear.

whalebaleen

Baleen whales like the Grey Whale do not have teeth, instead they have 130 to 180 baleen plates that hang down each side of their upper jaws, like a fringed curtain. The plates are made out of fingernail-like material called keratin, the same substance found in human fingernails and hair. It makes the baleen strong, but still flexible.

Baleen is a filter-feeder system inside the mouths of baleen whales. The baleen system works when a whale opens its mouth underwater and the whale takes in water. The whale then pushes the water out, and animals such as krill are filtered by the baleen and remain as food source for the whale.

Inside the center, there was also a display that discussed how man has hunted the whale in the past for oil and baleen. It provided a fascinating reflection of how man has impacted our natural resources and how times have changed.

depoewildlifeOther Wildlife

Whales are not the only wildlife one can observe here at the Whale Watching Center. In addition to the whales we glimpsed with spotting scopes, we also observed the following at wayside viewing center:

  • Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani
  • Black Turnstone Arenaria melanocephala
  • Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus
  • Several species of gulls
  • Ground Squirrel – species yet unidentified, but resembles Belding Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus beldingi)

Whale Watching Sites

Beginning north and traveling south along highway 101, the following locations are excellent view points from which to watch for whales.

  • Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Cape Disappointment State Park
  • Neahkahnie Mountain, south of Cannon Beach
  • Cape Meares State Park
  • Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint
  • The Whale Watching Center, Depoe Bay
  • Cape Foulweather
  • Cape Perpetua Stone Shelter
  • Sea Lion Caves Viewpoint
  • Umpqua River Whale Watching Station
  • Shore Acres State Park
  • Cape Arago State Park
  • Face Rock State Park
  • Battle Rock Wayfinding Point
  • Cape Sebastian
  • Klamath Overlook

For more detailed information on Whale Watching, download the brochure from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

Great Spots to Watch Oregon’s Winter Storms

Having lived in the Redding for the past four years (in the midst of a severe drought), we are delighted to be back on the Oregon coast. We’re smack dab in the middle of peak storm season and it is fun to catch the fury of the Pacific as the waves and wind crash into the shoreline.Great Spots to Watch Oregon's Winter Storms @WellTraveledFamily.net

On the Oregon Coast south of Depoe Bay, there is a rocky outcropping called Cape Foulweather. It was named by Captain James Cook as he searched for a passage to the Atlantic Ocean. Though his quest was not successful, winter storms on the Oregon Coast can be most certainly be foul. It is a perfect place to watch Oregon’s Winter Storms.

A little storm science

Peak winter storm season typically runs from November through March. While it doesn’t tend to get cold enough to snow here thanks to the warming influence of the Pacific, our mild winter weather is punctuated by spectacular storms featuring high winds and heavy rain that roll in from the ocean.

In the winter, the eastward-flowing atmospheric river of air known as the jet stream intensifies and moves south, pushing rain-bearing weather systems along with it. These storms form over the ocean, typically where warm and cold air masses collide.

Beginning this week, meteorologists have predicted a train of winter storms approaching our coastline. Varying in intensity and location, the storms will hit every one to three days with waves of drenching rain, heavy mountain snow and gusty winds.

Where to watch

Perfect high spots from which to view spectacular surf include Rocky Creek Scenic Viewpoint near Depoe Bay, the viewpoint at the lighthouse at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, multiple spots at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area south of Yachats, and Shore Acres State Park near Charleston.

  1. Seaside
  2. Ocean Front Cabins near Tillamook Bay (503) 842-6081
  3. Tyee Lodge in Newport (541) 265-8953
  4. Coos Bay
  5. Sunset Oceanfront Lodge in Bandon (541) 347-2453

If you choose to experience the full wrath of a winter storm, safety should be your first concern. Some storms are simply too dangerous for beach walks, so be sure to heed all safety warnings issued by the authorities. If you do venture out, stay up high out of the reach of sneaky storm waves. They can always reach further up the beach than you think and sneaker waves can be deadly.

If you prefer to watch frothy waves and horizontal rain as you sip hot chocolate by a wood fire, then snuggle up comfortably – here are our top picks for places to watch these storms in Oregon.

After the storm

One of the great bonuses of coastal storms is the exceptional beachcombing that can often be done after the storm has subsided. All kinds of fascinating debris is more likely to be found after a storm, including glass Japanese fishing floats, tsunami debris left over from the 2011 tsunami, and interesting biological specimens wrenched from the depths of the ocean.

I once found cigar-shaped egg cases on the beach near Depoe Bay. I brought them to the lab at Oregon Institute of Marine Biology and was able to watch the embryos of Pacific Squid develop.

Storm-watching season has just begun. Make your reservations now to catch an Oregon Coast storm from a cozy cabin or waterfront lodge.

Don’t forget your rain gear! ?

The Napa Rose Restaurant: A Review

NapaRoseThe Napa Rose is the flagship restaurant of the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim California. It is located in the Grand Californian Hotel. The Napa Rose is quality you can taste. They know how to make each guest feel special.

When I entered the Napa Rose, the smell of warm baguettes and French wine filled my nose. The maître d dressed in fine attire led me and my family to a table. As we walked through the dining rom, I listened to a great pianist play Beethoven and Mozart on a grand piano.

I liked how you could see the kitchen with the chefs cooking and preparing the food. There were chefs making desserts and pastries while others were cooking steaks and preparing main courses. Patrons were sitting at a bar encircling the kitchen and enjoying Chef Andrew Sutton’s nightly special selections.

The waitress brought us a basket of bread and took our drink order. As we looked over the menu, we enjoyed the assortment of breads. The outside was crisp and crunchy,  the inside soft and moist. I broke off a piece of bread and dipped it in some olive oil. It was delicious.

Napa Rose Restaurant Review @WellTraveledFamily.netTonight was a special occasion. My mother was celebrating her birthday. I wanted tonight to be special. Before my main dish arrived,  we chatted amongst ourselves. We shared what moments of the day were most memorable to us.

When my food arrived I marveled at the presentation. I had ordered a filet mignon. It was served with a side of mashed potatoes and broccoli. The steak was juicy and tender,  the mashed potatoes were moist, and the broccoli was tender.

Our waitress surprised my mother with a delightful fruit tart and berry sorbet. Seeing the smile on her face made everything perfect.

The Napa Rose Restaurant is a five star establishment. The service, the food, and the decor are excellent. I would certainly dine here again. In the future, however, I would make reservations with the maître d so I can sit at the chef’s table.

A Day in the Islands: Channel Islands National Park

Located offshore, these five islands, known as the American Galapagos, inspire with wildlife viewing, hiking, sea cave kayaking, and world-class diving. Isolation over thousands of years has created unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth and helped preserve a place where visitors can experience coastal southern California as it once was.

Channel Islands National Park

These islands, on the edge of the North American continent, were never connected to the mainland. During the last Ice Age, when sea levels were lower, the four northern islands were joined as a single island known to geologists as Santarosae. When the sea rose again it created the four northern islands we see today.

Channel Islands National ParkWe had a chance to visit these islands and I delight in sharing the highlights of our trip with you.  We booked a tour with Island Packers, who visits all five of the islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary. Our tour included whale watching and allowed a full day of exploration on Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz Island

At over 96 square miles in size and the largest island in California, Santa Cruz contains three mountain ranges; the highest peak on the island (rising above 2000 feet); a large central valley/fault system; deep canyons with year round springs and streams; and 77 miles of craggy coastline cliffs, giant sea caves, pristine tide pools and expansive beaches.

Scorpion Ranch HarborAround Scorpion Ranch area, where we moored, volcanic rock mixes with siliceous shale made of mud and tiny sea plants and animals that lived when the island was part of the seabed. It was fascinating to walk along the shoreline and look for fossils. My daughter even braved the chilly waters for a short swim.

This area was once a lively ranch complex. French and Italian artisans, farmers, and workers collaborated here to raise sheep, roosters, and other farm animals. Residents had to adapt to the limited resources and barren landscape.

Remnants of the ranching era can be seen throughout the landscape.  Adobe ranch houses, barns, blacksmith and saddle shops, wineries and a chapel all attest to the many uses of Santa Cruz in the 1800 and 1900s.

We visited in May and thus the water was too cold yet to swim so we spent the day hiking along the many trails and roads that traverse the islands. We began on Cavern Paint Loop and connected to the North Bluff Trail out to Potato Harbor.

Santa Cruz Island FoxAnimals & Plants

Owing to millions of years of isolation many distinctive plants and animal species have adapted to the island’s unique environment. The Channel Islands are home to nearly 150 endemic plants and animals – species that are found here and nowhere else.

Dozens of species are endemic to the archipelago in general, for example: Island Western Fence Lizard, Island Gopher Snake, and Island Deer Mouse. The Santa Cruz Island Fox, Silver Lotus, and the Island Jay are found only on Santa Cruz Island. Plants include Santa Cruz Island Manzanita, Whitehair Manzanita, and the Santa Cruz Island Lacepod and Gooseberry, amongst others.

Channel Islands SucculentChumash People

The islands were first colonized by the Chumash and Tongva Native Americans 13,000 years ago. The Chumash made ingenious use of all the island’s resources. They depended heavily on the ocean – fishing, gathering shellfish, and hunting sea lions, seals, birds, and other animals.

They also harvested plants for food, medicine, bedding, building materials, and to make beautiful baskets. Rock collected on the island was used to craft tools for harvesting and preparing food, building plank canoes or tools, and making beads.

Saxipak’a ~ Once upon a time.

The Chumash also traded with communities on the mainland and other islands for things that were limited or unavailable on Santa Cruz. Shell beads, fishhooks, otter pelts, fish and shellfish were traded for products like acorns, bow and arrows, seeds, plants, and deer bone.

The native peoples were then displaced by European settlers who used the islands for fishing and agriculture. The U.S. military now uses the islands as training grounds, weapons test sites, and as a strategic defensive location. The National Park Service (NPS) lead the conservation efforts to maintain the islands’ endemic species as well as provide education for future generations.

Cavern Paint Loop TrailIntegrated Learning Experiences

The award-winning book, Island of the Blue Dolphins, was inspired by the true story of an American Indian woman left alone on one of the Channel Islands for 18 years in the 1800s. She’s come to be known as the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island and is thought to have been of Gabrielino-Tongva descent.

Though San Nicolas Island is closed to the public, you can experience island isolation and the natural resources described in the book by visiting the islands. The National Park Service and other partners have developed resources to guide those interested in learning more.

Students and teachers can explore the unique ecology and geology of the Channel Islands, learn about the marine and island ecosystems, their human history, and the challenges of managing and protecting these areas via the curriculum materials available from the NPS as well.

Santa Cruz Potato HarborWe would have loved to see more of the island but this was a day trip – we’ll be back! After a day of hiking and exploring (I believe we hiked about 5 miles), we returned to the mainland in the evening and enjoyed a Santa Maria style barbecue at Shaw’s Restaurant. It was the perfect way to conclude our day in the islands.

 

On Wind & Sail: Letterboxing in San Francisco

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility of our schedule. When Patrick has business meetings out of town, we are often able to accompany him. This works not only to his benefit – he has company on the long drive, we often share in the task of driving so the other can catch up on work, and he can take advantage of the carpool lane – but to ours.

While he is engaged at his conference, we hit the road to explore the city or surrounding area. This is just what brought us to San Francisco earlier this week.

We assumed that we would be staying in downtown or the financial district as we had in the past. Come to discover, this conference took place near the airport in Millbrae. Not exactly convenient for walking. Though the proximity to the BART would have been ideal – our plans for the day provided only a small window of time and we wanted to squeeze in as much as possible.

A las, I made the decision to drive back into SF proper myself and take our chances with parking. Our first destination was Golden Gate Park. In all our previous visits to the city, we had not previously explored this gem. My goal was to locate the Roald Amundsen or Gjoa Monument as well as two historic windmills.

On Wind & Sail: Letterboxing in San Francisco @WellTraveledFamily.netIn October 1906, Roald Amundsen and his crew arrived in San Francisco aboard the 69-foot Gjoa. Previously a herring boat from Tronso, Norway, she had been retrofitted for Amundsen’s quest to discover the famed Northwest Passage. The Gjoa took the small crew up and over Canada, east to west, finally arriving near Herschel Island, in arctic Canada.

To get word back to the outside world of his success, Amundsen left his men behind in the icebound ship and skied some 500 miles into Eagle, Alaska, where he telegraphed the good news home. As he and his crew arrived in San Francisco a few months later, they were hailed as heroes.

This epic quest was not Amundsen’s only feat, however. He led the Antarctic expedition (1910–12) to become the first to reach the South Pole in December 1911, an epic race against Robert Falcon Scott. In 1926, he was the first expedition leader to be recognized without dispute as having reached the North Pole.

We had visited the Gjoa ship at the Maritime Museum in Oslo. It was exciting to experience this full circle. Not far from the Norwegian granite stele is located a short distance from two windmills.
On Wind & Sail: Letterboxing in San Francisco @WellTraveledFamily.netBuilt between 1902 and 1908, the two historic windmills that overlook Ocean Beach at the far west end of Golden Gate Park were originally designed to provide water for the fledgling park at the beginning of the last century.

Fresh water was essential to transform the sand dunes of the Sunset district into the green that it is today.  The ground water inland was insufficient, so the coastal winds were harnessed to pump deep water closer to the ocean shore.  The windmills were in use only until 1913, when they were replaced by more efficient electric pumps.

The North windmill, known as the Dutch Windmill, was the first, built in 1902 to fill the artificial ponds within the boundaries of Golden Gate Park. The South windmill, known as the Murphy Windmill, was the largest of its kind in the world, with gigantic 114 foot sails, each cut from a single log. These sails turned clockwise, unlike traditional Dutch windmills which turn counter-clockwise.

While in Golden Gate Park, we also enjoyed one of our most favorite pastimes, Letterboxing – the ultimate scavenger hunt. Hunting letterboxes in San Francisco is always enjoyable – the boxes tend to be well maintained and the stamps are amazing! Often, intricately carved or multiple stamps that “stack” within one another.

We hunted three boxes (Aphrodite, Artemis, and Breathe) and were delighted to find all three with ease. My girl has become quite adept at locating the boxes – often without the complete set of clues .. a real sleuth.

We also picked up a hitch-hiking stamp and hope to be planting it in Ashland next week. :)

To learn more about letterboxing, visit AtlasQuest.

 

Exploring Capitol Reef National Park & Canyonlands

Of all the national parks we visited last month, we spent the least amount of time in Capitol Reef and Canyonlands.  We just didn’t have the time and had to make a decision.  Each park was en route to our overnight destination and we thereby had time only to see the highlights and complete the Junior Ranger books.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef’s rich cultural history dates back to early hunters and gatherers and more recently Mormon pioneers who settled the area in the 1800s. Around 500 CE, Fremont Culture changed from food foraging groups, to farmers of corn, beans and squash. Petroglyphs etched in rock walls and painted pictographs remain as sacred remnants of the ancient Indians’ saga. Explorers, Mormon pioneers and others arrived in the 1800s, settling in what is now the Fruita Rural Historic District. They planted and nurtured orchards of apples, pears, and peaches.

If you visit Capitol Reef National Park and have the time, I would suggest checking out their Family Fun Backpack available at the visitor center.  The pack is full of pioneer games and tools to read a contour maps, identify night constellations, and improve your bird-watching skills. The Ripple Rock Nature Center is open in the summer months.  Here kids can explore spin wool, make cornmeal on a prehistoric grinding stone, and learn to identify fossils.

Our Highlights at Capitol Reef

  • Stopped at the visitor center and watched the park movie
  • Toured the the historic Gifford Homestead
  • Enjoyed a fresh baked fruit pie
  • Drove the Scenic Drive
  • Took the Junior Ranger pledge
  • Visited the petroglyph panel and historic schoolhouse

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park was impressive.  I think we were more in awe of the canyon here than we were of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  The pictures don’t even do it justice.  The park is divided into four districts by the Green and Colorado rivers: the Island in the Sky, the Maze, the Needles, and the rivers themselves.  Canyonlands National Park preserves one of the last, relatively undisturbed areas of the Colorado Plateau. Carved out of vast sedimentary rock deposits, this landscape of canyons, mesas, and deep river gorges possesses remarkable natural features that are part of a unique desert ecosystem.

As The Island in the Sky is the most accessible district, offering expansive views from many overlooks along the paved scenic drive, this was the only district we had time to explore.  The Needles District offers more of a backcountry experience, requiring some hiking or four-wheel driving to see the area’s attractions and The Maze is a remote district requiring considerably more time and self-reliance to visit.

Like Capitol Reef, Canyonlands National Park also provides families with the opportunity to borrow an Explorer Pack. These packs contain binoculars, a hand lens, a naturalist guide, a notebook and more.  In addition, the Canyon Country Outdoor Education program has developed numerous curriculum packages for grades 1-6.

Our Highlights at Canyonlands

  • Stopped at the visitor center and watched the park movie
  • Drove the Scenic Drive
  • Took the Junior Ranger pledge