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Ryan's Great Adventures
Volume 26: Sat Dec 21, 2002
So there I was in Portland, starting my car, and I was on my way to Sunny California. The land of golden opportunities if all those stories are to be believed. This time around, I figured I'd drive out to Tillamook and follow Highway 101 all the way through to San Luis Obispo. Naturally, I made a few stops on my way....
I stopped several times for letterboxing, all of which had spectacular scenery but otherwise didn't have much to note. The Van Duzer Corridor letterbox had a dead cow in one of those large construction garbage thingys that takes a semi to pick up. Usually they're full of concrete, wood scraps, and whatever other construction stuff happens to find its way into one of them (they were tearing up the restrooms for some reason), but this one had a dead cow in it. *shrug* Or rather a very mutilated carcass. Who knows how stuff like that happens?
I stopped briefly at the Sea Lion Caves since several friends told me it was a bit corny, but worth checking out. There, you can ride an elevator down to America's largest sea cave and the only mainland rookery for the Steller sea lion. It provided everything as promised. I've seen sea lions before, so that wasn't really a big deal. It was an interesting cave to check out, and taking an elevator down to a cave is just a bizarre thing to do, it's worth doing for no other reason than that. It's like going down to the Bat Cave, superhero style. =)
Several of my stops were chosen from a book I have called Hiking Oregon's History which has all sorts of wonderful and wacky stories about the olden days of Oregon. As the title of the book suggests, I'd also be able to get some hiking in and maybe hide some letterboxes along the way.
Next stop: Shore Acres. I arrived out here around midnight, which isn't very conducive towards hiking or sightseeing, so I parked my car at a pullout for a trailhead and proceeded to get some sleep. Only one cop came by to let me know that I wasn't supposed to be sleeping there, but he'd let it slide. He asked me my name. "Ryan," I answered. Then he asked for a last name. "Carpenter," I replied. Then he waved goodbye and drove off. What kind of dead-beat cop was this anyhow? The nerve of the guy! He didn't even ASK to see my ID or anything like all the other cops that have bothered me while sleeping in my car in the past. Why, I was so darned upset about not being interrogated more thoroughly, I went back to sleep. Or tried to.
So anyhow, the sun comes up. I get up and notice what looks like hundreds of sea lions lounging on the beaches below honking and making all sorts of noise. Kind of scenic in a way, but I'd have appreciated it more if they hadn't been so loud all night honking and snorting away. I eat breakfast, then walk out to Shore Acres located not too far from Coos Bay, if you know where that is.
This area used to be part of Louis Simpson's estate way back in the early 1900s. He built a mansion with a formal English garden that he gave to his wife as a present. (Don't you wish you got presents like that?) The original mansion was destroyed in a fire. Louis rebuilt a new mansion that was later razed after he sold the land and the house to the state of Oregon. But the formal English gardens are still there. The whole history behind this place is fascinating, but I won't bore you with it here.
As it turns out—which I did not know when I arrived—the formal gardens are decked out with hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights for people to gaze on and admire each night for the holidays. Kind of like Zoo Lights at the Oregon Zoo in Portland for those who are familiar with it. Unfortunately, I arrived two days before it started. So I could see all the lights that had been put up for the event, but I never got a chance to see them all lit up. Maybe next year!
Moving on down the coast, I arrived at Cape Blanco. One guidebook I have says this about Cape Blanco: "Cape Blanco is considered—by Oregonians, at least—the westernmost point of land in the contiguous U.S." So naturally, I had to stop hear so I could brag about walking to the 'ends of the earth,' or at least Oregon as the case may be. =) I was a bit surprised at the qualifier that Oregonians "at least" considered it to be the westernmost point of land in the contiguous United States, so I tried looking for more information on maps and on the Internet. Looking at a map, it LOOKS like California boasts of having the westernmost point of land, but according to places I found on the Internet, Washington actually owns the land farthest west in terms of degrees latitude. What's the truth? I don't know, but I think there's a lot of "we have the westernmost land" envy going on in all of those western states!
My guidebook also says, "People who keep track of these things say that tiny Port Orford is the 'Most Westernly Incorporated City in the Continental U.S.' as well as the rainiest place on the Oregon coast." I guess every town wants to be famous for something, but I've never heard so many qualifiers for The Most or The Best of something as that one. Next thing you know, you'll be hearing bizarre stuff like "Oldest Most Easternly Unincorporated City West of the Continental Divide But North of the Columbia River With At Least 500 People and 16 Dogs." Who wouldn't want bragging rights like THAT?! =)
Speaking of which, that reminds me of a sign I did see in eastern Washington which had the population of the town—in people, dogs, cats, lizards, and all sorts of other animals. I think Amanda took a picture of the sign because we thought it was so funny, but I don't know what happened to it. I'll have to find out.
But anyhow, I had to go out and visit the westernmost point in Oregon, if not the entire lower 48, just for bragging rights that I did so. So I drove through the last incorporated city in Oregon, through the last unincorporated city in Oregon, to the last road in Oregon, to the last parking lot in Oregon. I stopped to admire the view of the last tree in Oregon below the last lighthouse in Oregon (and it even gets the honor of being the "oldest continually operated lighthouse in Oregon"). I hiked out along the westernmost trail in Oregon to the westernmost lighthouse in Oregon where I threw rocks over the westernmost cliffs in Oregon. And then I realized: I was the westernmost PERSON in Oregon. Wow. What a humbling honor. I was nabbing so many "westernmost somethings" that I felt I might hold a record for the most-westernmost records EVER!
Of course, I had to hide the "most westernmost letterbox" in Oregon, which I did on my walk back to my car. Then I joined the rest of the real world and continued my journey down the westernmost highway in Oregon.
Now I was on my way to the Prehistoric Gardens. My guidebook describes this place as "one of the Oregon coast's tackiest but most enduring and enjoyable tourist traps." How can you say no to that?! Cheesy tourist traps are great, but TACKY ones are even better! The guidebook continues: "Standing out like a sore thumb on this otherwise unspoiled stretch of US-101, a collection of brightly colored, more or less life-sized dinosaur sculptures inhabits the evocatively lush green forest." Oh, man, I didn't know what 'evocatively' means, but I didn't care—I couldn't WAIT to see this place! =)
The place is hard to miss, because as soon as you turn a certain corner, there's a large 30+ foot Tyrannosaurus Rex overlooking the highway. "Yep, that's got to be the place," I thought as I pulled into the parking lot. I paid the entrance fee and walked into another time. The place is tacky—no doubt about it—but I loved every minute of it! =) It had a dozen or two enormous, life-sized dinosaurs including the Brontosaurus, Diatryma, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Pterodactyls, and many others I'd never even heard of before. Naturally, I had to hide a letterbox in this bizarre location, so I sat down and carved out at a stamp for the letterbox. You can read the clue at https://www.atlasquest.com/boxes/clue/index.php?boxId=50 if you're interested. I had fun writing it. =)
Then I continued down the coast, over the tallest bridge in Oregon, towards the "Last Town on the Oregon Coast Just Before Reaching California": Brookings. By now it was getting dark, and it was time to find a place to sleep. And I knew the perfect place.
This particular stop I also learned about in Hiking Oregon's History: A Japanese WWII bomb crater. It's not very well known—especially outside of Oregon—but the Japanese actually did bomb the mainland of the United States. Their target, as bizarre as it sounds, were the forests of Southern Oregon. Yes, trees. They thought they might be able to start some large forest fires which would give us Americans much trouble.
It poured rain the week before so the large blazes never materialized, but it leads to one of the funniest WWII stories I've ever heard. The army covered up the bombing in fear of the news getting out causing a mass panic on the west coast. The small floatplane responsible for the bombing, launched from a Japanese submarine near Cape Blanco, was spotted by lookouts, and fighters were sent out to intercept it. The plane was spotted near the coastal town of North Bend, Oregon, but the fighters flew off to Bend, Oregon, a city 150 miles inland in search of submarines. They didn't find any. After another bombing near Cape Blanco, the FBI concluded that the plane may have come from a secret Japanese airbase in the nearby wilderness, so they spent the autumn hiking to remote lakes where they found no traces of an airbase.
The guy who did the bombing, Nobuo Fujita, was hailed as a hero upon returning to Japan. The story doesn't end there, though. Twenty years later, Fujita was invited back to Brookings in an attempt to bury old grudges. By that time, as William Sullivan writes, "...his initial pride in the aerial attack had changed to regret and then shame. He suspected the invitation might be a ploy to put him on trial as a war criminal." He went anyhow, and was welcomed as an ambassador of good will.
Thirty years later, he was invited to Brookings once again to dedicate a trail to the bombsite for the fiftieth anniversary of the attack. He planted a redwood seedling in the bomb crater as a token of peace.
And finally, the story ends in 1997 when Nobuo Fujita died and his daughter scattered some of his ashes at the bombsite, fulfilling Fujita's last request. Isn't that just a wonderful story?!
So of course, I *HAD* to visit this bombsite. With such a wonderfully hilarious and touching story behind it, who could pass it up? Reaching the trailhead requires driving up a slow, bumpy, gravel road about 13 miles. I figured the trailhead would be a great place to camp, since it seemed highly unlikely any cops would drive that far out of their way to wrestle me from my sleep. The narrow, windy, bumpy road took me an hour to drive up by the light of my headlights, but I made it and promptly went to sleep. Not only didn't any cops bother me, but neither did anyone else by driving past me that entire night. Best night of sleep I've ever had in my car! =)
Bright and early I hiked out to the bombsite to discover that the bomb "crater" wasn't much of a crater at all after 60 years. I had my hopes on seeing an actual crater where I could point and say, "THAT'S where the bomb detonated!" I figured after 60 years, there probably wouldn't be much left of it anyhow, but I was hoping. The tree that Nobuo Fujita planted was alive and well, though, which is supposed to mark where the crater once was. I did my patriotic duty by hiding a letterbox here, then hoofed it back to my car once again for the long drive back to civilization.
Back in Brookings, I topped off my gas tank knowing that just four miles away in California the gas prices would be a good 30 or more cents higher per gallon. Then I continued my drive south on Highway 101 passing through an agricultural stop where I was questioned about any fruit I happened to have with me. At the time I didn't think I had any and told the man as much, although a few days later I discovered that I accidentally smuggled an orange into the state. Not knowing the penalties for smuggling an orange across state lines, I quickly ate it in an attempt to ditch the evidence.
There aren't many letterboxes on the Northern California coast, and as you might expect, Hiking Oregon's History didn't have many stops along the way either. So it was my intention to spend most of the day driving the 400 miles or so down the coast to the San Francisco more-or-less non-stop. Then I'd find a place to spend the night and spend the rest of the next day looking for letterboxes before finishing my epic drive to San Luis Obispo.
As it turned out, by the time I reached San Francisco, I was itching to get back to San Luis, and decided right then to forget about the letterboxes and keep on going. I had to stop briefly for gas (my car has trouble going much more than 400 miles without a fill-up) and continued south to San Luis Obispo.
In all, I ended up driving about 700 miles that day alone, but I made it to San Luis at around midnight, where I surprised my mom since she wasn't expecting me until the next night. =)
Which is where I've been hanging around ever since. More or less. Visiting old haunts, checking up on old letterboxes, and the usual. Even a day trip to Santa Barbara. But as you can probably guess, I don't stay still for very long, and it wasn't long before I found myself wandering the streets of Las Vegas, which you'll hear all about in my NEXT Great Adventure. =)
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