April is a good month to explore the Oregon Coast

Walla Walla U-B columnist Don Davis enjoys less crowds and popular attractions at the Oregon Coast.

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Sea nettles dazzle visitors at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

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A rising tide creates action at the Devil's Churn on the Oregon Coast.

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A sea lion follows orders at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

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Nora climbs a dune at the South Jetty near Florence.

Editor's Note: Part 1 of this report from the Oregon Coast appeared in this space last week.

NEWPORT, Ore. - April is the coolest month.

It's a time of wind, rain and sunshine, with modest crowds at the popular attractions on the Oregon Coast. And that's cool.

So, wind buffeted the car as we tooled south on Highway 101. Yet, frequent sunshine broke through the scudding white and black clouds, and the traffic flowed smooth as hot mocha.

My wife Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I headed toward Florence, but without a specific destination or schedule.

We meandered.

We stopped at Seal Rock and walked on the beach, all of us sniffing the cool sea air. We walked alone. Sand squeaked beneath my boots.

At the Devil's Churn we strolled the loop, took steps down to the beach and studied clear tide pools.

At the churn, Nora and I descended stone steps to where crashing waves went "Whomp" against the black rock walls, and tall plumes of cool spray glistened in the sunlight.

We stopped at Sea Lion Caves, and we had our choice of parking spaces at the entrance and gift shop.

No sea lions lay on the cliff-side haul out, but 350 barked and groused in the cool, smelly cave, 200 feet down by elevator.

I spent an hour there, jacket zipped, and observed a shoving battle between two bulls for the top spot on a rock throne. The big one won.

Finally, at Florence, we drove to the South Jetty where dune buggies with colorful flags revved their engines and scooted up walls of sand.

We drove down the Siuslaw River and walked to the beach in sunshine and a cool breeze.

A man rubbed a surfboard and eyed the tall waves running up the river from the Pacific. Unseen, Nora touched his leg with a cold nose. He levitated and whooped. Then he laughed and said, "Hi, puppy."

I apologized, then Nora and I scaled a 50-foot, grass-covered dune between the river and the sea for a wide panoramic view. It's a cool, windy view.

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The day after we meandered to Florence and back to Newport, we rested.

Well, almost. I walked with Nora on the beach at dawn. Then I sneaked off to visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

I arrived at 9:39 on a cool, windy morning.

The aquarium opened at 10 a.m.

As I cooled my heels, yellow bus after yellow bus unloaded pint-sized students. One bus had Silver Falls, S.D., on its side.

I ground my teeth at the noise level. Waves of 4-foot-tall people swirled around me.

Some of us ended up at the Turkey Vulture Exhibit and listened to an expert. He said that unlike keen-eyed raptors (such as eagles and hawks that pursue live prey), turkey vultures hunt by smell and dine on carrion (road kill, etc.).

"Turkey vultures fill an important role in preventing the spread of disease," he explained. "They have a digestive tract that kills diseases on the carrion they eat as it passes through.

"It comes out clean," he said.

In addition, the bird's red face and legs are bald to help prevent spreading disease from touching a carcass.

Turkey vultures have a 6-foot wingspan and soar with great grace.

The exhibit reminded me that on the drive to the coast, we stopped near Sheridan, in a heavy rain, to photograph a turkey vulture on a fence beside the highway. I thought it was just a plain ol' buzzard.

Apparently, there's a difference between a vulture and a buzzard. Buzzards may hunt live prey.

See, it's possible to learn something if you keep an open mind.

Next, I discovered that the aquarium's Odd Water exhibit no longer exists. A new one will replace it in May.

Yet, cool exhibits remain: Passages of the Deep, Jellies, Sea Otters, Seals & Sea Lions and Sea Bird Aviary.

I ogled colorful fish, the star fish and the mesmerizing sea nettles.

Sharks, rays and halibut swam beside, under and overhead, inches away, at Halibut Flats. One frenetic munchkin yip-yapped at the top of his lungs and pointed to fish after fish.

Then I craned to see over kids' heads to watch the otters and sea lions at feeding time.

Next, mobs of kids and I visited the aviary and watched the tufted puffins, pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets and black oystercatchers for almost an hour.

Finally, when I left the aquarium, plenty of time to rest (or to go beachcombing again) lay ahead.

And that was really sweet.

Editor's Note: Part 3 of this report from the Oregon Coast will appear in this space next week.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com.

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