There are 50 states in the U.S. Over my lifetime, I had visited 39 of them. That put me 9 states behind my parents, who are looking to wrap up their trip to every state next summer in Hawaii. Before they can reach 50, they have to get 49. And to get to 49, they had to find a way to get out to Oregon.
Personally, I’ve been excited to visit Oregon for a long time. The green, green rain forest, the rocky beaches, the gazillions of waterfalls… it’s basically a dream location for someone like me. So when my parents invited Elizabeth and myself to join them in Oregon for a trip to Crater Lake in October of 2023, we eagerly jumped on the opportunity. After all, this is why we got Southwest companion pass – to be able to fly to Eugene on a whim. Crater Lake is absolutely a bucket list national park. In a year where we’d only been to one new park so far, it felt right to check off another one as well.
Well, as they say about the best-laid plans…
Turns out, we could not go to Crater Lake on October 14. On that day, an annular solar eclipse would traverse the country from Oregon to Texas, and the path of totality intersected it. Prices skyrocketed to the national park and generally drove us away from being able to visit. We still had the cheap Eugene flights and I had a five-day weekend after mids though; can’t waste an opportunity like that. So my parents turned their attention to the stunning stretch of Oregon coast between Florence and Newport. They booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express in town for Friday and Saturday nights. My dad put together a coastal itinerary to drive from Eugene to Florence to Newport during the day on Friday. I turned my attention to the coast north of Newport for a Saturday itinerary that included beaches, waterfalls, arches, covered bridges, and mountain roads.
Then, on Thursday night, the realities of flying domestically in the United States struck. The flight Elizabeth and I had booked to take us from Oklahoma City to Denver to meet with my parents was delayed; the connection from Denver to Eugene would leave before we arrived. Coming off of 7 midnight shifts in a row, I was not charitably inclined toward taking a rational view of the situation. Instead, I grudgingly rebooked an extremely early flight the next morning from OKC to Denver to Burbank (???) to Eugene. And then I went back home to pout myself to sleep.
The next morning came brutally early. Elizabeth and I needed to be out the door by 4:30 to make it to the airport on time. After stopping to get her latte, I drove back to the airport we’d just left the day before… and we greeted the single longest TSA precheck line I had ever seen at OKC, an airport notorious for their 5:00 am lines already. It took 20 minutes just to get through the precheck line! I’m sure some general boarders who arrived an hour before the flight were having a very anxious time through the general security line. I thank them for their sacrifice: it probably was the difference between Elizabeth and I sneaking into the very last row to sit next to each other or not.
One flight up, one flight down; we landed in Denver not long afterward. Once everyone else had gotten off the plane, we shuffled up closer to the front and got a little more legroom. Then it was off again, this time on the much longer fly to southern California. The scenery below was a fun western landscape of snow-dusted peaks, barren wasteland, giant canyons, and finally coastal chaparral. Suddenly we were dropping on into the L.A. suburbs – technically the first time I’d ever been here. Even without the weird deplaning system (the little bridges that let you out on the tarmac in the front AND back of the plane), the Burbank Airport would be extremely weird. It’s like a piece of the 80s just resurrected itself in 2023 with $20 breakfast burritos. I was happy enough to take back off in a little bit, this time flying up the coast to where my parents were waiting for us in Eugene.
I’m glad that I can finally stop talking about a flight narrative now. The reality was that we would have gotten into Eugene late Thursday night, and our misadventure had only taken until about noon on Friday local time. In my opinion, we probably could have followed much if not all of our existing Friday itinerary down to Florence and up to Newport, but I wasn’t in charge of the day. We didn’t have any plans on Sunday anchored in stone, so my dad made the executive decision (sometimes someone just needs to do that) to just drive to Newport today. We could explore the downtown area in the evening, get something to eat, and get to bed early (something all four of us needed desperately) before our big Oregon Coast adventure the next day.
We said our hellos, gave some hugs, and loaded two new suitcases into the back of my parent’s rental car. I had (hiking) boots on the ground in state number 40.
(Apparently links to Elon Musk’s website are just, like, permanently broken on WordPress now. Cool.)
Newport lies an hour and a half northwest of Eugene, across Oregon’s Coast Range (it was a Coast-Range-heavy 2023 for Elizabeth and myself between this and Pinnacles). We stopped in the next town north, Junction City, for a quick Taco Bell stop before beginning the drive into town. Along the way from Eugene to Corvallis, I marveled at the beauty of the upper reaches of Oregon’s famed Willamette Valley. Everywhere we drove, there were big trees that were bursting out into brilliant fall yellows, there were pumpkin patches waiting to be harvested, and above all, there were hazelnut farms. It was vaguely midwestern – not at all what I expected from Oregon!
Once we turned west a little outside of Corvallis, the whole thing started to get a lot more Oregon-y very quickly. The road narrowed out, the clouds thickened and dropped menacingly toward the road, and trees began to grow in size toward the giant cedars of the Pacific Northwest rainforest. I do not envy my dad for the drive through this stretch of mountains, especially on a road as winding as that one was, and especially through occasional rain showers while following a truck whose trailer was loaded with boulders. I could feel his sigh of relief when the road leveled out and we got into the outskirts of Newport itself.
I’ve talked about this before on this blog – notably over the past three summers – but there is nothing more glorious than stepping outside after you’ve been used to the heat and it’s suddenly no longer hot. It was pouring in Newport, and it was probably like 55 degrees, and it reminded me of being in Iceland or San Diego after long hot summers. If we could keep it that way forever, it was going to be an insanely awesome weekend.
The temptation really, really was there for me to just lay down and doze off in our hotel room. After all, it’s always the first full day after mids that is the most exhausting to try to stay awake through, and that’s before you get up well before dawn to make 3 flights. But we were in Oregon! It was time to see Oregon things! So I made myself get the heck up for a trip to downtown Newport to get the vibe of the town.
On our way in to the hotel, we’d driven over a bridge on the Oregon Coast Highway. It had been hard to see in the driving rain at the time, but the bridge went high, high above the water below. This is the famed Yaquina Bay Bridge overlooking downtown Newport. Designed by this dude named Conde McCullough who basically just got to make all of the bridges on the Oregon 101, it’s much more Gothic than the typical American highway bridge which tends more toward functionality. Our first stop was at a boat launch into the bay near our hotel, where you could see the Bridge from the east.
The downtown of Newport sits across the bay from this boat launch. We had to backtrack around and over the bridge to get there. Then there was a whole unnecessary drama over where to park. But when we were done with that, the four of us were at the historic Newport downtown. Which, to be honest, I’m not sure if it needed the label of a “historic”, because while it’s a nice little street along the water, it’s not much more than a nice little street along the water. There is one main attraction that I was sure Elizabeth would love after our trip to San Francisco over Memorial Day weekend – a set of sea lion rafts along the wharf where you could basically look down onto the animals. Sea lions are among the funniest animals to watch. These ones are all males, and there’s limited space on the rafts for them to lay down and nap, so at this point in the evening there was a constant lowgrade battle ongoing at the fringes of the raft to secure and hold one’s position. You could have 8 sea lions peacefully sleeping in the center of the raft while a few feet away, three of them are loudly doing battle for an outside position. Hilarious animals. 10/10.
As the gloom continued to settle around the cold, misty evening, the four of us found ourselves looking for dinner. After looking around the downtown section for a bit (there were some nice gift shops to peek inside), we settled on Mo’s Seafood and Chowder – without knowing it, we’d actually stumbled into the original location of an Oregon specialty. We would see a Mo’s in every coastal town for the rest of the trip. While my parents (and Elizabeth!) got the chowder, I settled for a rainy-day pick-me-up: chili in a bread bowl. Fantastic, but not as good as the cobbler for dessert.
And then, though it was still “early” by Pacific time standards, the lack of sleep got up to all of us – none so more than myself, who had been burning it on both ends of the candle for a week (the previous weekend, I had worked a midnight shift, woken up in time to go to a friend’s for the Red River game, and then worked another midnight shift before getting sleep). We got back to the hotel room and settled into the deepening gloom. My dad worked on his Games Magazine. My mom watched her iPad. Elizabeth watched Tik Tok. And I watched the Colorado/Stanford game on TV until I gave it up as a lost cause with Colorado up 29 at the half and went to sleep myself (Stanford came back and won, just going to show).
Our first day in Oregon had been a bit desultory, but I think Elizabeth and I have learned a lesson about pushing too hard when exhaustion is setting in. Taking the evening as a bit of a relaxing reset was a good call, because it set us up for a long, epic day on the coast on Saturday. Beaches, lighthouses, seals, rock arches, kelp, panoramic views, whales, beer, covered bridges, suspension bridges, waterfalls – they were all coming the next day for these four snoozing travelers.