Charleston, Oregon and the Marine Life Center… A Delight

I am taking a brief break from the desert Southwest, today. Peggy and I just returned from a three day trip over to the Oregon Coast and explored the interesting town of Charleston near Coos Bay.

This toothy fellow greeted us at the Marine life Center in Charleston, Oregon. I think this was a smile, assuming moray eels smile. Maybe it was contemplating what I might taste like.

That we ended up in Charleston, Oregon was a complete happenstance. Peggy and I wanted to make a quick trip to Shore Acres State Park on the Oregon coast. The park puts on an annual Christmas display of over 300,000 lights that feature coastal themes focusing on Pacific Ocean wildlife. Normally we take Quivera, our RV, and camp at Sunset Bay State Park, which is just down the hill. This time we were motelling it and I found one named Captain John’s in Charleston. The town is three miles away from Shore Acres. It was just a convenience— until we went for a walk.

The Marina, that serves as both a center for sports fishing and a port for commercial fishing is quite attractive.
A seagull photobombed a picture I was taking of a ramp down to the fishing boats.
Calm waters made for excellent reflection photos.
The harbor was packed with boats.
Huge piles of oyster shells served as a reminder of how important the fishing industry is to Charleston.
And these cormorants, which were perching on the bridge across the bay, also make their living off of fishing! Peggy and I had watched this flock of excellent divers hard at work while we ate dinner the night before. (I liked the washed out grey backdrop. It creates a water-color effect.)
This mural was featured on a shed next to the Davey Jones Locker restaurant. Humorous, yes, but still a reminder that fishing is a dangerous business.
A powerful memorial to fishermen lost at sea in Charleston looks out toward the ocean.
The many fishermen from Charleston who have lost their lives at sea are listed at the Memorial. “To the sea they turned for life; to the sea they gave their lives.”
It was the beginning of crab season and the crab pots were lined up and ready.
Peggy shows how high they were stacked.
Crab fishermen have different colored floats to avoid confusion about who owns what.
The jewel of Charleston, however, is the Marine Life Center. It has the good fortune of being located next to and is operated by the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.
The giant head of a humpback whale resides outside of the Center. Peggy stands in front of a portion of the skull. I couldn’t help but think of Georgia O’Keeffe and her love of bones. She would be jealous.
A number of interesting sea creatures were living in salt water tanks inside, including this unique starfish. (Peggy took this photo with her iPhone.)
Another perspective.
A great volunteer was manning the desk at the Center. She loaned Peggy a magnifying glass that attached to her iPhone and Peggy dashed around taking weird photos such as the butt of a sea cucumber. So, here’s a fun question. Do you know what this is? And no, it isn’t the butt. We asked our grandkids the same question. I’ll provide the answer in my next post.
A sea anemone.
And a closeup.
I was fascinated by the eyes on this fish.
How’s this for weird? You are looking at a snail.
A beauty here. Why am I thinking ermine?
A pair of sea cucumbers share a moment.
Check out the camouflage of this rock fish.
And now for some serious bones. You can see why most sea creatures give orcas a wide berth.
Just look at those choppers.
A “belly of the whale” look.
And here’s another toothy fellow. This time a dolphin.
But when it comes to teeth, nobody can beat a shark!
One of my favorites. I love the feet on this seal!
And on this turtle.
This guy was crabby.
And this fish was scary. I had a nightmare that featured a guy pounding on my door that had a similar look. Most dogs would find the fellow exciting, however. If you have ever cleaned up your dog after it has rolled in dead fish, you know what I mean.
I’ll conclude with another photo of the smiling fellow I started the post with. Looks like a trip to an orthodontist might be in order.

NEXT POST: Back to Georgia O’Keeffe at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu in New Mexico.

Sunset Bay: A Hidden Treasure on the Oregon Coast… The North Coast Series

The setting sun illuminates the cliffs surrounding Sunset Bay, giving support to its name.

The setting sun lights up the cliffs surrounding Sunset Bay, providing support for the bay’s name.

The Oregon Coast is world-renowned for its combination of hidden coves, towering cliffs and crashing waves. Peggy and I are fortunate to live only a couple of hours away from this beauty and have resolved to spend much more time exploring the coastline in 2017. It should be one resolution that is easy to keep.

The Oregon Coast is noted for its crashing waves such as these at Sunset Bay near Coos bay, Oregon.

Towering Pacific Ocean waves crash on rocks just outside of Sunset Bay.

I called and made reservations to stay at Sunset Bay State Park on the Oregon Coast in November. Normally I wouldn’t bother with reservations during late fall, but the Christmas light show at nearby Shore Acres Park attracts up to 50,000 people annually. Odds were that a number of them would be staying at the campground.

I needn’t have worried. The park was under two feet of water when I called. A high tide had joined forces with a flooding stream. The park reservation company in California had happily collected its seven-dollar reservation fee and failed to fill us in on the little detail that we might need a boat to get to our campsite.

Peggy and I already had that experience. We had camped in our small RV at a private campground near Mendocino a few years ago and woke up to discover a seagull floating by our window. Water was lapping at our doorstep. We had departed quicker than a jack rabbit on steroids, not even stopping to pay our campground fee. They probably would have charged extra for the seagull. Besides, a warning in the night that the area was flooding would have been appreciated.

Fortunately we lucked out at Sunset Bay. We weren’t even aware of the flood until we arrived and the water had already receded. Apparently we had missed the flood by a day and a gang of prisoners had swept through the campground and cleaned up the debris. Other than the campground host, we pretty much had the area to ourselves.

Sunset Bay is a hidden jewel, snuggled in along the coast near Coos Bay. It is part of a 6000-feet thick geological formation known as the Coaledo Formation after the coal deposits found in the area. For a while, starting in the 1850s, coal mining was a major industry in the area. By 1904 there were some 40 active mines. The coal was used primarily for running steam locomotives. The appearance of diesel engines in the 1920s had reduced the demand for the Coos Bay coal, however, and the last coal mine was shut down in 1940.

Coal fired steam locomotives are mainly a footnote in history now, but Peggy and I ended up on a train being pulled by one just before Christmas. Our son Tony and his wife Cammie had purchased tickets for the family to travel on the Polar Express out of Essex, Connecticut. We arrived just about dark and the locomotive was warming up to leave. Manny Mistletoe entertained us on our way to the ‘North Pole’ where Mr. and Mrs. Clause greeted us and entertained our grandsons who were appropriately decked out in their pajamas. Hot chocolate was served.

Steam train rides are featured throughout the year in Essex, Connecticut.

The ‘Polar Express’ locomotive of Essex, Connecticut prepares to leave the station on its journey to the ‘North Pole.’

The sedimentary rocks of the Coaledo Formation, laid down in layers over millions of years, have been tilted steeply upward by the crashing Pacific and North American tectonic plates. Varying levels of hardness found among the sedimentary rocks have allowed for different levels of erosion and account for the interesting land formations found at Sunset Bay. I am going to do two posts on our visit. Today’s photos are focused on looking out toward the ocean. On Friday I will do a photographic essay on the fun things we found along the shoreline. (Wednesday’s blog returns to the Sierra Trek.)

Low tide at Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay.

Looking out toward the Pacific Ocean at low tide from the beach at Sunset Bay.

Seagulls and sunset at Sunset Bay near Coos Bay on the Oregon Coast.

Seagulls take advantage of the low tide to search for dinner.

A November sunset at Sunset Bay.

Shooting toward the sun provided this view. The sun is more centered on the bay during the summer months.

Tide pools at Sunset Bay in Oregon near Coos bay lit up by the sun at sunset.

I also liked the ‘black and white’ feel the sunset provided with these tide pools.

Early morning at Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay, Oregon.

Early morning light the next day and high tide provided a totally different scene at Sunset Bay.

Sun lights up small waves at Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay.

I liked the way the sun lit up these wavelets.

Backlit wave crashes over rock at Sunset bay near Coos Bay, Oregon.

And how it lit this wave as it crashed over a rock just outside of the Bay.

Waves crashing over rocks outside of Sunset Bay near Coos Bay, Oregon.

And a final view of the restless Pacific Ocean outside of Sunset Bay.

WEDNESDAY’S  BLOG: Part 2 of the Sierra Trek, a nine-day hundred mile backpack trip across the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

FRIDAY’S BLOG: The wrap up on Sunset Bay… a photographic essay.

 

A Truly Unique Set of Holiday Lights… The North Coast Series

Grey whale featured in Holiday Lights display at Shore Acres State Park in Coos Bay, Oregon.

Not your parents’ (or mine) display of holiday lights! This grey whale rising out of the ocean had to be at least 30 feet long. Over 10,000 lights provided a back drop.

A giant grey whale rose out of the water to a backdrop of ten thousand lights. It wasn’t quite what I had expected when Peggy and I drove over to Coos Bay, Oregon to check out the Holiday Lights display at the Shore Acres State Park. I thought we’d probably see sheep, cows, donkeys and a baby J or two. There might even be deer. They’ve become a common fixture on people’s lawns at Christmas. But frogs leaping into ponds, pelicans flying across the sky, a parade featuring an earthworm, turtle, grasshopper and snail— no way! And these were just a few of the sky, sea and land creatures on display, all created out of holiday lights.

This green fellow was part of a parade that included a worm, two turtles, and a snail, that was going the wrong way, slowly, I assume.

This green fellow was part of a parade that included a worm, two turtles, and a snail, that was going the wrong way, slowly, I assume.

This had to be one happy lady bug working three flowers at once. Aphids beware!

This had to be one happy lady bug working three flowers at once. Aphids beware!

There was a butterfly...

There was a butterfly…

Dragonfly at Shore Acres Park.

A dragonfly…

Holiday frogs at Oregon's Shore Acres State Park.

And frogs.

Seals dive int the water at Oregon's Shore Acres' State Park Holiday of Lights display.

Seals leaped into the water. They actually moved and made a splash. As did frogs, and whales.

Pelicans at Oregon's Shore Acres' State Park Holiday of Lights display.

Pelicans flew across the sky.

Pelican at Oregon's Shore Acres' State Park Holiday of Lights display.

A close up.

Crab and octopus at Oregon's Shore Acres' State Park Holiday of Lights display.

There was a crab and an octopus…

Flowers at Oregon's Shore Acres' State Park Holiday of Lights display.

And beautiful flowers…

More flowers at Oregon's Shore Acres' State Park Holiday of Lights display.

More.

Animals look over fence at Oregon's Shore Acres' State Park Holiday of Lights display.

A porcupine, raccoon, deer and rabbit peeked over the parks fence to check out the display.

It wasn’t all about the wildlife you normally find on the Oregon coast, however. Some 320,000 thousand lights decorated the hundreds of shrubs that turn Shore Acres into a floral delight during the spring, summer and fall. There were lots of Christmas trees. A choral group sang traditional carols. The historic garden house on the site reminded me of fantasy gingerbread homes. And Santa was there! So what if he happened to be taking a bubble bath with a tiger and a moose. Fortunately, he was wearing his long johns. Old men with round bellies that shake like bowls full of jelly shouldn’t be seen in public with their clothes off.

Holiday lights at Oregon's Shore Acres' State Park Holiday of Lights display.

A small pond at Shore Acres reflected some of the 320,000 lights.

Green lit arbor and Peggy Mekemson at Oregon's Shore Acres' State Park Holiday of Lights display.

Peggy was turned green by an arbor while the dragonfly hovered above her head.

Gingerbread house at Oregon's Shore Acres' State Park Holiday of Lights display.

The historic garden house looked like a gingerbread house.

Another view of the house. A pelican, instead of a stork, hangs out on the chimney.

Another view of the house. A pelican, instead of a stork, hangs out on the chimney.

The Shore Acres Holiday Lights display is a tradition that goes back to 1987 when Friends of Shore Acres decided to ‘string a few lights’ for the holiday season. It’s been growing ever since, both in number of lights and number of people who visit. This year, the visitors should top 50,000. Volunteers do all of the work. Lights are donated.

Shore Acres Botanical Garden

During the spring, summer, and fall, Shore Acres turns into a beautiful botanical garden, reminiscent of English gardens. This is the ‘Gingerbread house.’ All of the plants were covered in lights for the holidays. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Shore Acres Botanical Garden, Coos Bay, Oregon

Rhododendrons at Shore Acres State Park. Two of thousands of beautiful flowers.

Peggy and I discovered Shore Acres two years ago when we were staying at Sunset Bay State Park, which is located a mile down the road. The flower garden reminded us of England. As soon as I saw a newspaper article about its Holiday Light display, I knew we had to return. Peggy lives for holidays. Since we were heading back East for Christmas, she wouldn’t have the opportunity to break out her seven large boxes of decorations and turn our house in to a museum of Christmases past, present and future. I figured the lights provide a substitute. They did.

With Santa, Peggy and I would like to wish each of you a joyous Holiday and a very Happy New Year.

With Santa and friends, we wish each of you and your families a Joyous Holiday and a very Happy New Year. —Curt and Peggy

NEXT BLOGS: I jumped ahead in our recent North Coast travels to include the Shore Acres display for Christmas. My next three posts will serve as a wrap up for 2016 featuring some of our favorite photos from the year. Twelve of them we used in our annual family calendar. In January, I will return to our drive up Highway 101 to be followed by our visit to Sunset Bay State Park in Coos Bay, which, in its own way, is as special as Shore Acres.

Sunset Bay, Oregon… A World of Whales, Waves and Wacky Roots… Plus Flowers

Rododendron at Shore Acres State Park, Oregon

Rhododendrons and azaleas add splashes of color to the Oregon Coast in Spring. These beauties are found at Shore Acres State Park near Coos Bay, Oregon.

Peggy and I just returned from a five-day trip to the coast. One of our goals as new residents here in Oregon is to explore the state. We’ve gotten off to a slow start. Little things like trips to Europe, Mexico, Burning Man, Las Vegas and Hawaii, not to mention settling into our new home, have gotten in the way. (Grin)

We bit the bullet on Wednesday, packed up Quivera, and hit the road.  Quivera, BTW, is the 22-foot van we wandered in for three years. The name derives from a lost Indian city that never stays in the same place. I think it is somewhere out in Kansas now with Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. (We named our first van Xanadu. Peg and I like exotic.)

Our 22-foot van, Quivera, waits patiently for us at Cape Arago, just south of Sunset Bay, Oregon.

Our 22-foot van, Quivera, waits patiently for us at Cape Arago, just south of Sunset Bay, Oregon.

Our destination for this trip was Sunset Bay State Park near Coos Bay, Oregon. Our objective was to see whales, the massive Grays that make their way north along the Pacific Coast each spring. We weren’t disappointed. Likewise, as always, we enjoyed the scenic beauty of the Northwest’s famous rugged coastline. I’ll blog about both on Friday. (Next week I will return to Florence and Barcelona.)

For today and Wednesday, I want to write about two surprises. The first is some drop-dead gorgeous flowers. The second is tree roots. Be prepared to enter a fantasy world on the latter. Heck, be prepared to enter a fantasy world with both.

We can thank a lumber baron for the blossoms. Louis Simpson built a mansion on the bluffs south of Sunset Bay. Then he built a flower garden. He lost his fortune during the Great Depression and Oregon had the foresight to acquire both. Eventually, the mansion had to be torn down, but the flower garden still stands as part of Shore Acres State Park. Some 5000 annuals/perennials bloom between May and September.

We arrived at the height of rhododendron-azalea season. (The Internet informs me that all azaleas are rhododendrons but not all rhododendrons are azaleas.) Enjoy!

Shore Acres Botanical Garden

A small section of the flowers at Shore Acres State Park Botanical Garden on the Oregon Coast.  (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Shore Acres Botanical Garden, Coos Bay, Oregon

Rhododendron at Shore Acres State Park.

The Rhododendrons and azaleas were in full bloom at Shore Acres State Park on the Oregon Coast

The rhododendrons and azaleas were in full bloom at Shore Acres State Park on the Oregon Coast.

These Azaleas/Rhododendrons displayed one of many colors and shapes on display at Shore Acres State Park.

These azaleas displayed one of many colors and shapes on display at Shore Acres State Park.

Rhododendrons at Shore Acres State Park in Oregon.

Azaleas at Shore Acres State Park in Oregon.

Peggy caught the riotous colors of the Rhododendrons in this photo. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy caught the riotous colors of the rhododendrons in this photo. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Rhododendron at Shore Acres State Park in Oregon

I loved the delicate colors and blushing pink of these rhododendrons.

Rhododendrons at Shore Acres State Park in Oregon

Rhododendrons in mass at Shore Acres State Park.

A bouquet of red. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A bouquet of red. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Violet Rhododendrons at Shore Acres State Park in Oregon.

Violet rhododendrons at Shore Acres State Park in Oregon.

Blue Rhododendrons at Shore Acres State Park, Oregon

A touch of blue.

Almost white... (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Almost white… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Monkey Flower on Oregon Coast

Flowers were also in abundance outside of the Shore Acres’ gardens. I found this bright yellow monkey flower at Sunset Bay State Park.

Rhododendrons at Sunset Bay State park in Oregon

And these pink beauties with their sprightly green leaves were living in our campsite.

NEXT BLOG: Some absolutely wild tree roots on the Oregon coast. Meet the Dragon!