Covering 180 miles of Oregon coast travel: Astoria, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita, Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway, Garibaldi, Tillamook, Oceanside, Pacific City, Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, Wadport, Yachats & Florence.
It's Balmy on the Oregon Coast, So Where the Hell Are All the Tourists
By Andre’ Hagestedt
(Oregon Coast) – When it’s nice in the valley, it’s crummy on the Oregon coast. And vice versa.
That is a load of bull, and the weathermen and other knowledgeable folk know better, in spite of this bit of backwards country legend being something we all grew up with here in Oregon. It’s an old wives tale of sorts, for regulars to the beach, perhaps designed by uptight coastal residents who didn’t want any more tourists bounding around their hidden beaches and coveted secretive eateries and such – some 30 years ago.
This misnomer of meteorology no longer applies, and the truth – to paraphrase a famous TV show – is out on the coast. The reality is the metro meteorologists of P-town have even admitted to BeachConnection.net that they get the coastal forecasts wrong an awful lot. They’ve told us they predict the weather worse than it actually will be more often than not. It’s a matter of direct access to information about coastal conditions, they’ve confessed.
Well, they were half right today – a Saturday in early March. The forecasts were for the gloom and doom of drenching skies, then an OK break on Sunday. Appropriately, I wake to such drizzle and nozzle-letting in Newport on this somewhat bleak-looking Saturday, with the mission to zip down to Florence and take in a talk on coastal geology by the rather famous Roger Hart.
From Newport through Waldport, it pours. But it’s rather warm: warmer than it would be if I were in Portland. I notice my windshield wiper is coming loose, apparently trying to escape the bonds of its metallic home, with one stretch of black rubber squirming and squiggling like a snake across the rain-soaked windshield.
By the time I’m in Yachats, some 35 miles south of Newport, the air has turned to misty with occasional stabs of sunlight. Once I’m just outside of Yachats, the world has taken on this curious, swirling mix of sun and vapor.
It’s about 11:30 a.m. The ocean is roaring wild, with enormous waves pounding in from every vantage point. Not an inch of beach in that 25 miles between Yachats and Florence is left untouched by manic breakers.
The Sea Lion Caves is becoming busy, as the nebulous mists of the early day give way to sunnier surroundings. A light blue horizon stretches as far as the eye can see.
About noon, I hit Florence, and the sun is bright and warm. The town is basking in this cozy, diffuse glow that’s somewhat dreamlike. Lodgings and other buildings on the north end of town look like the “old Oregon coast,” as it’s been described, reminiscent of a more rustic time when beach towns tried to be more commercial but couldn’t really muster the marketing to the masses in the way many towns now do quite well. It’s a time I’m old enough to remember. It was the early 70’s: before the casinos, big malls, and glitzy, upscale designs of many lodgings we all know well. It was a simpler time before the cedar shingles or big, ornate constructs of bigger budget companies that now loom over Seaside, Lincoln City, Rockaway and Newport.
Roger’s talk – put on by the folks at CoastWatch - was more than slightly intriguing, showing how sands have been eroding along the entire coast in the last decade, and what this possibly means in terms of global warming. They move in mysterious ways, disappearing from most areas at alarming rates and piling up in a handful of others. It’s way more complex than it seems, and the history of this kind of action goes back tens of thousands of years, with some shocking revelations.
It turns out, Hart imparts, that the gargantuan headland of Yaquina Head in Newport was once part of an enormous sand dune, one which allowed native Americans a kind of ramp down to the shoreline. This enabled them to pick up shellfish, then drag them up to the hills overlooking the headland – shellfish that have been carbon dated to around 4000 years ago. Some 2000 years ago, these dunes disappeared, leaving the headland exposed in its current state.
It’s amazing the stuff that will smack you in the head about your surroundings, if you just take a few minutes to glance into the science of it.
He then – rather graphically and disturbingly – shows the kind of ever increasing erosion that’s happening on essentially Oregon coast beaches. Some places have eroded 50 feet or more in a five-year period. The future doesn’t look good for some beachfront homes, and it seems others may become beachfront in the next 20 years or less.
I emerge from the conference to joyful sunlight. I spend the rest of the afternoon armed with my camera and wielding it with reckless abandon at the natural elements.
There’s a new hidden trail to the beach I hadn’t spotted before, found on one of the last turnouts above Florence, where the last of the giant cliffs overlooks the dunes and lakes on the northern edge of town. This one traverses hundreds of yards down a grassy slope, starting at the paved turnout and ending up in a soft dune that dumps you onto this beach that dead ends at the bottom of the last cliff.
Along the way north, I notice a chunk of headland here is still for sale – a good nine years after I spotted it for sale the first time. Someone is selling some prime real estate here: eight acres of clifftop magic that overlooks some of the most spectacular scenery on the entire coast. For some unfathomable reason, it hasn’t sold in eight years or more.
Not that I want it to, mind you. These mini-headlands should
remain untouched by human hands.
Well, it’s not exactly dead out here on the central Oregon coast. There are a good helping of cars and traffic. It’s not bad for a Saturday, I suppose – if you were just counting on running into locals recreating on the roads. Instead, there are not many touristas scurrying about this area. For a Saturday that feels like late spring and should be crammed with motorists - it is dead.
The weather reports killed things. There’s a sort of conspiratorial, accusatory opinion of the weathermen and women of the Portland area by coastal locals, who sometimes actually believe just a little bit that the meteorologists might have it out for the Oregon coast. Perhaps they want to keep the region to themselves on their day off, some residents will say. This kind of getting it all wrong doesn’t help that viewpoint.
I continue my sojourn northward back to Newport. Spots I’d zipped past before that had plenty of mist surrounding them now have stark sunlight beating down on them. Heceta Head is bathed in the bright and blue beneath it. Sea Lion Caves still has a somewhat deserted parking lot, but it is basking in the sun. Ocean Beach Picnic Area, with its little blob of a headland and a large dent that is almost a sea cave, is deserted but in pleasant conditions. A handful of people are wandering the beaches around Big Creek, with its small but raging stream and mix of stones and fluffy dunes.
Near Heceta Head, I wander up some mysterious, unexpected road that has a sign about a horse trail. Apparently this trail must start at the top, as I traverse some two or three miles of winding, twisting road cloistered by a tightly woven, somewhat primeval forest. I never actually hit the top. I don’t care. I’m just exploring – and somewhat hurriedly.
Just before Yachats, Cape Perpetua and its Devil’s Churn are especially alluring. The blue sky and lack of clouds belie the tidal conditions, which are causing a definite raucous below.
By the time I’m in Yachats, I’m starved and on the verge of fainting. I stop in for a quick late lunch at Yachats Wine Trader, which provides me with an incredible gourmet experience with its antipasto plate. Pieces of tender smoked salmon come with a red onion confit that is pickled and intriguing. Artichoke hearts are accompanied by two different kind of charred mushrooms that send my mouth into heavenly territory.
From there, it’s back to Newport, a fab dinner at Mazatlan, and a whole host of crazy partying that goes well into the wee hours for some.
Not me. I get to bed relatively early – 2 a.m. – so I can explore some more the next day.
Indeed, this Sunday is around 60 degrees, windless and feels and smells like spring. This has to be the first day of spring on the coast – if not officially or scientifically, then certainly symbolically.
My beautiful friend Melissa and I spend the day exploring weird sea caves and other geologic oddities at Fogarty Creek State Park. We explore the hidden beach accesses behind the neighborhoods of Gleneden Beach, just south of Lincoln City. There, we see firsthand the kind of erosion and depletion of sand levels Hart talked about the day before. One poignant example was an access I remember eight years ago as having a long sand dune ramp from the road down to the beach. Sand levels are so low and the sea has taken such a bit out of things that a sheer four-foot drop exists now where before there was only sand.
It was, to say the least, disheartening.
Yet with Hart’s talk I was able to walk around these beach spots and recognize more features than before. I could see the history written in the cliffs a little more clearly: the thousands of years of recorded geologic conditions and situations embedded in the rocks.
Sadly, I was also one step closer to understanding the standing distrust my fellow coasties have for the weather pundits. It is, after all, my job to get the tourists out here. It doesn’t help if the weather reports are shooting out gloom, doom and pounding rain willy nilly.
I often look around me at these coastal surroundings, empty roads and deserted beaches, at all times of the year, and I think “Where the hell are you inlanders? Don’t you have a clue what you’re missing?”
Still, I guess I take some solace at the mere existence of these vacant sands: it is nice to be in on a little secret, or have the whole place to yourself.
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