Thursday, August 6, 2015

Vagabonding on Dangerous Ground: Into the Realm of the Devil (and Sea Lions)

Ocean waves are powerful. Extremely powerful. Waves are one of the few erosional processes that operate within a time frame that can be perceived by humans. Gigantic rocks may be moved in one storm, and coastal cliffs can be eroded at rates that are measured in feet or meters per year. Rock can be extremely hard to erode, but if there is a weakness in the rock, it will be exploited by the impact of waves. I find it hard to believe that humans can survive the turbulence of the giant waves that experienced surfers love so much. This one fascinated me. I doubt my ride down Crystal Rapids, though the most violent non-automotive incident in my life, came anywhere close to the experience.

We were continuing our vagabonding journey through the northwest, driving north and leaving the sands of Florence behind. We almost immediately encountered rugged rocky cliffs. Although we didn't stop there on this particular trip, Sea Lion Caves provide a simply astounding example of what waves can do, given the right circumstances. A fault line cuts through the tough basaltic rock, and the wave erosion has produced one of the greatest sea caves in the Americas. Hundreds of Stellar's Sea Lions can be found hanging out in the caves or on the local beaches. It's one of the few places on the mainland where they feel safe enough to raise their young pups.

To visit the caves, you pay the somewhat steep entrance fee, walk down some steps and head down a paved path to the 200 foot elevator that drops you into the viewing area within the sea cave. From the trail,there is no view or sense of what lies below, given the steepness of the cliffs.

In a previous post, I looked to see if anyone has photographed the sea caves from the outside, and couldn't find any, so I used a Google Earth image. Since then, my own mom took care of the problem, and took a picture of the coast from a biplane.
Source: Geotripper's Mom, from a biplane! Sea Lion Caves are in the shadows on the lower right hand of the photo. The Heceta Head Lighthouse is on the prominent headland.
The cave has three openings and extends for 1315 feet, making it the tenth biggest in the world; very big, but not the biggest. The top nine are all in New Zealand, which tells me more than anything else that they've measured carefully in New Zealand, and that larger caves probably exist around the world.  In any case, the cave at Sea Lion Caves is impressive. The ceiling of the cave is 125 feet high. The little tan-colored dots on the rocks in the first picture are full grown sea lions. I don't have any idea how they climb up onto those rocks.

So, what about the devil referred to in today's title? There are a couple of connections, I guess. As I wrote previously, the noise is other-worldly, and if I were hearing it without the context, I would swear it was the tortured lost souls in Hades crying out for mercy. The vast opening echoes and amplifies the noise of around 200 sea lions.

One could almost imagine the dark cave leading to the River Styx.

But actually, as we drove north, I was struck by the parade of landforms named after the lord of the underworld, and which are marvelous monuments to the power of wave erosion. First, there was Devil's Elbow State Park, just a short distance north of Sea Lion Cave. It's a cove on the south side of the Heceta Head Lighthouse.  The cove fills with sand as waves lose their energy and drop their load of sediment. Additional sand and gravel is provided by the creek that flows into the cove.

We traveled a few miles north and found the Devil's Churn. The Churn provides a vivid example of how caves are eroded by wave action. There is a weakness in the rock, perhaps a fault or a joint, that has clearly been exploited by the vigorous wave action. Imagine that a more a stronger rock were on top of the churn, and one can visualize the formation of a sea cave.
Our next stop provided a fine example of what may eventually happen to some sea caves; they may collapse. Devil's Punchbowl near Depoe Bay is a hybrid sea cave-sea arch that formed when the ceiling of the sea cave collapsed. It has been termed a "littoral sinkhole".
The scale of this opening is hard to fathom in a picture. It's big. In the photo below note the person standing in the opening. I wish I could have had the time to hike down to the beach. The day I do, you can assume blog pictures will follow!
All of the emphasis on the prince of darkness threatened to become depressing. We headed farther north and visited the Tillamook Cheese Factory. It was a giant cheese factory with a dose of amusement park. It was kitschy, but drove the devil from our thoughts. And what great cheese samples!

1 comment:

Celia Lewis said...

Wow - fantastic images and discussion, Garry. I have driven down the coast, but missed this area due to time constraints. Another time, perhaps, now that I know more about this amazing area. Nice to have your mother take photos too! So cool.