While scouting out the remaining lighthouses left standing on the Oregon coast, I was lucky enough time my visit with two gray whales. There's a vintage whale watching station just across the parking lot at the Umpqua River Lighthouse and with a few quarters, I was able to see the action.
By flipping through my guidebooks, I learned that morning is the best time to scout for the views of the mighty whales, that like to hang out at the mouth of the Umpqua River where it empties into the ocean. In the morning light, the sun is at your back at the viewing station, meaning you can spot the whitecaps that the whales create (instead of the ones that the wind and waves create later in the day).
At the station, you'll find a sign with a few helpful suggestions to spot these magnificent creatures. You're instructed to look for puffs of vapor that seem to hang in the air, just above the water. Those spouts usually rise twelve to fifteen feet into the air and when you spot one, you're bound to see several in the same area. Soon, you'll be able to observe the head, back and flukes as the whales roll on the surface.