Coast of trees and sea lions

This past Sunday we had one glorious day of sunshine and I was determined to make the most of it!  So I decided to drive north up the coast to see the famous Sea Lion Caves near Florence.  It is America’s largest sea cave and is about a 3-hour drive from Gold Beach (one way).

Just south of Bandon I made my first stop to look at this large display of various chainsaw sculptures for sale.

Bigfoot is a mythological creature of the Pacific Northwest, a hairy and ape-like “wild man” also known as Sasquatch, derived from a Native American word.  He is a popular character of modern folklore and feels right at home next to the two-headed dragon and giant alien!

I loved this alien in combination with the RV and the little red sports car!  I think I’m in an episode of The X-Files!  E.T. had already permanently linked the forests of the Northwest with extraterrestrials, so if this sculpture would be anywhere, it would have to be here!

Unfortunately, I didn’t think to photograph the name of the establishment and made no mental note of it either.  I figured I’d just look it up online later, but as it turned out I couldn’t find anything about it except for recognizing the property on the satellite image.  Perhaps they’re “off the grid”?

The skill with the chainsaw is quite impressive.  Personally, I liked this fantastical rocking chair!  The nearby town of Reedsport actually hosts an Annual Chainsaw Sculpting Competition.  I’m thinking about having a look at that this year.

Highway 101 takes you along the waterfront in the city of Coos Bay, where there are huge mountains of logs awaiting shipping and processing.  Oregon is the largest producer of lumber in the U.S.  Nearly half of Oregon is forestland.  Clear-cutting is apparently still widely used as I often see the fresh fields of total destruction.  It is all part of the painful theme of humans devouring the earth.

This Douglas Fir was 423 years old when it was cut down in 1973.  This was rather proudly displayed by the Menasha Corporation Land & Timber Division in Coos Bay, but it made me feel mostly sad.

Canada geese and Roosevelt elk are peacefully grazing side by side at the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area near Reedsport.

Finally I arrived at my destination:  Sea Lion Caves just north of Florence.

This is 300 feet above sea level and offers a grand view all around.

Down the walkway in the small tan-colored building is the elevator that takes you down into the sea cave ($14.00 fee).  In the distance is the famous Heceta Head Lighthouse and in the upper right you can see the street signs along Highway 101.

After paying the $14.00, you get to this point where there is a better view of the lighthouse than from the viewpoints along Highway 101.  It was named after Spanish explorer Bruno Heceta, who sailed along this coast in 1775.

Heceta Head Lighthouse makes the claim to be the most-photographed lighthouse in the world.  Hard to say if it’s true, obviously – but one thing I can say:  It’s the most photographed lighthouse by me!  My third time.

So now let’s go down into the cave where the sea lions hang out!  There are only two buttons in the elevator, up and down.  You come out of the steel doors on the left and arrive to the surreal echoing sounds of a mixture of barking sea lions and crashing ocean waves.  The rock surfaces look so fake, like something out of Star Trek, but this is real ancient rock, I assure you!

And there it is, a peephole into a strange other world!  The wild sea lions obviously have grown accustomed to the human gawkers and politely ignore them.

There must’ve been 100 or 150 animals resting in this tremendous, cathedral-like cavern.  It was high tide at the time and periodically gigantic waves came thundering into the cave, splashing the sea lions and threatening to wash some off their rocks.  But somehow they manage to stay put.  According to the extensive information provided on site, these are mostly Steller sea lions and this is the only known mainland home where they permanently reside.  The big bulls swim 4000 miles north to winter off the coast of Alaska and return in spring for breeding season right here.  The smaller California sea lions, both male and female, winter in the cave and go down to California in the spring for breeding.

I spent much more time here than anticipated.  It was spellbinding to watch these graceful golden creatures and how they can be so at home on these rocks while being pounded by the raging sea.

To see these magnificent wild beauties in such a dramatic setting is really a wonderful experience!  They seek shelter in the cave from severe weather and rough seas in the winter.

The youngster on top of the rock had been lying there awhile and seemed to be sleeping.  Here mom has emerged out of a splashing wave and is somehow defying gravity and climbing up a very steep rock.

They tenderly touched noses and the bond between them was unmistakable.

The cave also has an opening to the north which allows another excellent view of the famous lighthouse.  It was built in 1894 and the one-million-candle beacon flashes every 10 seconds and can be seen as far as 21 miles out to sea.

I sure don’t want to be in it … but sea water is so beautiful!

A slight argument over rights to the central rock was eventually won by the party on the right.

I have seen photos with 20 or more sea lions lounging on this rock, but that must be at low tide.  At present, it seemed there was only room for one secure perch amid the onslaught of waves.

Or maybe two!

My return trip was a race against the oncoming darkness, but I stopped to get this overview showing some fingers of Tahkenitch Lake, north of Reedsport.  That is a railroad bridge but I believe this line is no longer in service.

Travel tip:  There is absolutely no shade available anywhere when parking at Sea Lion Caves, an important consideration for dog owners.  However, Blanca was very comfortable with a towel suspended from the sun visors for shade, some water and partially open windows.

Click on pictures to see larger in new window.


  1. John Hayes January 14, 2016 at 5:19 am #

    Wonderful pictures and narrative. Thankfully there’s enough light down there for photographs. I would put that on my list of places to visit except that I don’t do elevators. 🙂

    • Claudia Kuenkel January 16, 2016 at 9:34 pm #

      Thanks, John! That’s too bad about elevators as there is absolutely no other way to get down there unless you’re a sea lion! I often curse my heavy camera gear but it really paid off in the sea cave where it was actually very dark and you had no chance to get decent pictures with a cell phone or point-and-shoot. Blanca says hi to Tzuri! 🙂

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