“See the world’s largest sea caves and its resident sea lions!” - Though it sounds like a claim from a circus barker, Sea Lion Caves will not disappoint you. It is not the sort of place you travel to experience as you would Disney World. But, it is the kind of out-of-the-way-place that you do not want to miss if you are touring along the Oregon Coast. The Oregon Coast happens to be exactly where Ed and I have landed as we continue our “10,000 Mile Grand Tour.”
“Sea lions are unpredictable mammals. Today, most of the sea lions are in the waters outside the caves,” we overheard the young woman say to folks considering the admission fee. She set low expectations for the visit but we handed her our VISA card anyway – one adult $10, one senior $9.
Our self-guided tour took us from the main building on street level with Oregon Highway 101 to some stairs and a scenic coastal pathway. Looking south from the viewpoints, we could see stretches of sandy beaches. To the north, the flash of the Heceta Lighthouse caught our eye against the backdrop of a more rugged coastal terrain. From here, we could watch waves crash the shoreline and see the Steller sea lions frolic some distance out. Their bark sounded like a growl of a hungry belly loud above the pounding surf.
“I wish I could be a sea lion,” I said aloud to Ed. “I’d just love to bounce in those waves, feel the force of the ocean crash over my head, and live right here.” Always the pragmatic one, Ed reminded me of the ocean predators who would love to feast on a meal of sea lion. I hadn’t considered that point.
We later learned that survival of the sea lions can be threatened by killer whales. Chris, the watchman in the cave, told us “whales have turned the water red” when they feed on the seals. “It’s not a pretty site,” he added. Thankfully, we did not see that happen during our visit.
When we eventually descended the 208 feet into the Sea Lion Caves via an Otis elevator, we saw an extraordinary sea cave marked with rock and sediment layers formed millions of years ago. With the height of 12 story building and the length of a football field, it would be hard to dispute the claim that these sea caves are the world’s largest. The constant flow of waves kept ocean water moving across the cave basin and splashing against the rocky wall. The whoosh of the high tide echoed through the chambers in an unending natural symphony mixed with the occasional bark of the sea lions and call of a gull.
Only one lone sea lion floated in the cave during our visit. Most of the herd were out in the ocean feeding, “fattening up for winter” we were told. “Come back in November,” the watchman Chris advised. “That’s when the cave is full of sea lions.” If we are happen to be in Oregon, we may come back in November. If not, we were still be pleased, not disappointed, with our visit to Sea Lion Caves.
August 21, 2008
Mile marker 179.3 on Oregon Hwy. 101
11 miles north of Florence, Oregon