Puffin Power

Sunday, Aug. 5th - Wednesday, Aug. 8th, 2007
Oregon Coastal Aquarium, Newport, OR
Lewis and Clark National Park, Astoria, OR

Very early into Oregon, Vance discovered a brochure for the Oregon Coast Aquarium picturing a Tufted Puffin. He got 'Hooked on Puffins' during our visit to Maine last fall. Since then, he's been lobbying for a stop at the aquarium when we pass it on our trip up the coast. Since we'll reach Newport, Oregon about lunchtime, this proves to be an easy request to accommodate.

It's a nice aquarium, with about half the exhibits inside and half outside. The Puffins, which Vance made a beeline for, are located in an outdoor aviary. The Tufted Puffin, unlike it's eastern cousin, has a distinctive yellow 'tuft', sorta like big, bushy yellow eyebrows. They are very cute birds, who love to show off. One little guy was constantly flapping and preening for the crowd, and they all love to dive underwater. The Puffins are excellent swimmers - like penguins, they glide for long distances underwater.

Vance is rapidly taking on his mother's love for birdwatching, and was excited to see the Pigeon Guillemot, another seafaring bird he has learned about. Best of all, the aquarium had an exhibit on Western Snowy Plovers, the endangered bird that we learned about on our beach nature walk outside of Eureka. Unlike our previous excursion, we got to see a Plover this time, which made Vance's day.

It's encouraging to see Vance actively research and lobby for stops at places other than the local video game store! He's become quite good at identifying birds (with his eagle eyes he's much better at it than his parents). This has been a good birdwatching week for him - he's seen Osprey, Bald Eagles, Tufted Puffins, Snowy Plovers and Pigeon Guillemots - a pretty good haul.

Word to the wise, if you plan to camp along the Oregon Coast during the peak summer vacation season, make your reservations for campgrounds well in advance. The State and National Forest parks are beautifully scenic and affordable...and highly popular. Initially we weren't sure if we would even make it to the Pacific Northwest on this trip, so we opted to wing it. It's worked out fine so far. There's no shortage of private campgrounds. I usually try to book something a day or two ahead of time so we don't have to worry about what time we arrive. Many public campgrounds are first come, first serve so there is a strong incentive to arrive early. With reservations, we don't have to worry about the time we arrive, which fits the 'moving slow in the morning, go to bed late' lifestyle we seem to naturally drift into on the road. Today, a call ahead to the Astoria KOA lands us one of their last open spots.

Our weather in Oregon has been sublime. In the Banana Belt region near Brookings there was a constant tug of war between the warm inland air currents and the fog from the Pacific Ocean. By mid morning, warm sunny skies prevailed with temperatures in the mid 60s. Along the Central coast we enjoyed even less fog, sunny days and pleasantly cool weather. Our luck is probably about to run out though. It's impractical to travel in the Pacific Northwest and not be prepared for a little rain. Indeed, as we get closer to the upper northwest corner of Oregon, the clouds start rolling in. This is a strange feeling, as we haven't seen any serious rain in months.

We visited Astoria briefly during our 2003 Oregon vacation. Situated at the mouth of the Columbia River, it's an interesting seaport town with some rough edges - the economy here swings back and forth depending on the bounty of the sea and the vagaries of the seafood markets. Due to our last minute reservations, we can only spend a couple of days in Astoria before having to leave the campground (it's booked solid). After taking a day to catch up on laundry and letting Vance play with the kids running around the campground, we focused our attention on nearby Fort Clatsop, part of the expansive Lewis and Clark National Historic Park. Fort Clatsop is one of seven sites that make up Lewis and Clark National Historic Park in the Astoria area, and there are 5 additional Oregon and Washington State Parks that are L&C related.

Fort Clatsop is the site of the winter quarters for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, after they had reached the Pacific. By all accounts, it was a miserable stay, raining nearly every day. Today, the Park Service offers a reconstructed fort, with frequent programs lead by 'in character' docents. For example, a local history professor presented a program on Sacajawea, the young Shoshone woman who, with her French-Canadian husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, joined the Lewis & Clarke expedition as guides. There are also a couple of excellent films documenting the expedition. The Jr. Ranger program here was top notch, and Vance received a good overview of the expedition and it's importance to the young American nation.

The second film was extremely interesting, as it told the story of the Corps of Discovery's stay in northwest Oregon from the point of view of the local Clatsop Tribe. In the film, a contemporary member of the tribe relates the oral histories of the visit passed down by her ancestors. Needless to say, the outlook is considerably different from what one normally learns about the Expedition's visit. Although the Corps is welcomed, the Clatsop bridle at the construction of the fort on their land without permission, and feel insult at not being allowed to sleep inside the fort, despite providing lodging for Expedition members. Members of the Corps are also accused of theft on one occasion by the Clatsop. It is an uneasy relationship between the two groups.

This is the type of education you just don't get in a classroom. Once again, we're truly thankful that we are fortunate enough to provide Vance a balanced look at the world. The more we travel, the less 'traditional' instruction I'm feeling is necessary for Vance. Other than some core subjects such as math, he is learning what he needs to learn in the 'real world classroom'. I saw a quote that I really liked about this method of homeschooling:

"I've had people tell me he won't get a good education, but he made a comment to me that now he understands the words "purple mountains majesty". He sees it every morning. He's hiked through the swamps of the Everglades and the desert southwest. So far we've been through 3 different deserts since November. He's seeing national parks, historical sites, and regional differences in culture. How are THEIR kids gonna get THAT education?"

-Vickie Swindling (Families on the Road)

Fort Clatsop is a small park, but very well done. The park has 'gone green', putting a focus on energy savings. The parking lot is set well off from the visitor center and recreated fort. Guests are shuttled via bus, which runs on propane. I wish more National Parks would do this, reducing congestion on the roads.

Vance: The surprise I promised in two blogs back is at the Newport Aquarium! It’s Tufted Puffins! One puffin was hamming it up for the cameras. Another bird in the seabird aviary is the Pigeon Guillemot. The chicks are so cute! The next surprise was a Snowy Plover area. I felt lucky to see to this tiny endangered bird.

We camped near Astoria, Oregon. Just down the road is Fort Clatsop. Back in 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition made winter quarters there and named the fort after the local native American tribe. Has anybody ever heard of Sacajawea? She was a Shoshone Indian but was captured by a Hidatsa raiding party. This native American woman traveled far on the expedition with a newborn baby all the way. She also was the translator for Lewis and Clark to the other tribes.


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