The raucous croaking, squawking and/or barking of sea lions nearly drowned out the sotto voce comments of human adults as well as the less restrained voices of excited children at the Sea Lion Caves overlook.
After squeezing between two groups, I aimed the bulky 150-500-millimeter lens over the rail and focused on the crowded rock about 100 feet below.
I counted more than 60 sea lions through the lens as they lay on the rock ledge (to croak, squawk and bark), and dozens more lazed about in the rolling surf.
An average herd of 200 lives year-round in the Sea Lion Caves region, and I saw at least half that many from the overlook.
Then, as I pushed the shutter button a few times, I couldn’t decide if they were croaking, squawking and barking, or simply guffawing at us gawkers.
I did decide that more of the sea lions lay on the rock and floated in the water than did so on any of my other trips to the site.
My wife, Darlene, agreed. We watched them for awhile, and talked about camera lenses with an interested man and his wife (she went to Wa-Hi, and they now live in Connell).
Then we climbed back toward the gift shop and the trail down to the elevator that drops more than 200 feet to the famous cave.
A line of 20 people stretched up the walkway, so Darlene decided to check on Nora the Schnauzer in the car before examining the gift shop with great care.
I stood in line until the elevator went down and came back for a second load.
I didn’t mind, because I could see another lion-loaded ledge a hundred feet or so down the cliff, and more sea lions lolled about in the water.
They cavorted as if having fun.
With my 15-pound camera and lens hanging from my neck, I crowded into the elevator and barely allowed the door to close.
No one complained, though, and in a few minutes we reached the trail and a gentle decline to the viewing niche.
Management describes the cave as the world’s largest sea cave, and they’re probably right.
They say it began forming about 25 million years ago and now has a height equal to that of a 12-story building with a floor the length of a football field.
It’s a natural amphitheater in which sea lions and other wildlife spend much of their time during the fall and winter (and, apparently, late July).
Again, as I squeezed among the people watching from behind a wire barrier, the number of sea lions surely exceeded the number that I’d seen before.
It’s dark in the cave, even on a sunny day, and no flash photography is allowed.
I had a tripod in the car, but with the number of people at the site, I knew better than to take it into the cave.
So, I set the camera at a very low shutter speed, steadied the lens and snapped photos until I sensed people around me becoming uneasy at my persistence.
I walked up an incline, past a Steller Sea Lion skeleton display in the dirt, and one in a lighted case, to an overlook view toward the Heceta Head Lighthouse.
I took a few more photos, and headed back to the elevator.
With another wait ahead, I paused to photograph the skeleton in the dirt.
I read about sea lions as warm blooded animals that nurse their young and breath air.
They primarily eat bottom fish such as skate, small sharks, squid and various species of rock fish.
They now have an overall population of about 80,000, live about 20 years and can swim at 17 mph.
Back at the car, I could still hear the sea lions croaking, squawking, barking or guffawing, and I looked over the rail toward the ocean.
More groups of them floated in the water, and more lounged on a rock ledge.
I had plenty of sea lion photos, however, so we headed north.