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, Waldport, Yachats & Florence.
Surrealism, Wonders Emerge on Oregon Coast at Night
By Andre' Hagestedt
(Manzanita, Oregon) - When the night comes, Oregon's coast becomes an entirely different creature. This is often my favorite time to hit the beaches, as they are deserted of travelers and tourists, and somehow a little more unnerving and filled with a sense of slight danger - increasing the adrenaline of this experience, adding some new, indefinable element. Somehow, the waves looking more ominous and threatening at night, as if one of those big ones 100 feet from the tide line may be a tsunami.
Other wonders seem to occur at night on the Oregon coast as well, which aren’t always seen during the day. Plenty of natural occurrences happen during daylight hours, but at night they take on new dimensions when seen at in the lack of regular light.
Like one particular and peculiar evening in January of 2006, where I wandered onto the beaches of Manzanita around 1 a.m. The stars are bright and resplendent, with Orion standing out, his figure looming larger and more brightly than that of ancient, all-knowing Neahkahnie Mountain in this dead of night. In fact, Neahkahnie is dwarfed not only in size, but by the fact it’s a mere shadow figure in the distance.
I park the car on the road above the beach, and quickly notice something odd in the dark. A long line of mysterious foam stretches along the beach, standing by itself, close to the vegetation line, yet hard to see in the opaque of night. Like the dim horizon in the distance, it’s another great but fuzzy line extending along the length of the beach.
As I approach, I’m startled to notice that it’s moving. It turns out there are TWO such lines across the beach’s length. One is a line of foam left there by the crazed tide, perhaps only minutes before, perhaps longer. The other line of foam IS the tide itself: a totally surreal sight of moving white bubbles – almost materializing then disappearing again and again.
This night is a weird mix of low, low minus tide and stormy waves. So what you get is a surf that tends to lurk farther out there than you’re used to, yet can pull some awful, tidal gymnastic surprises and abruptly jump up close to the bluffs connecting the road with the beaches. The tide line spans the entire width of the beach: it's anywhere between where you'd normally find it at low tide and all the way up to the vegetation line.
I feel like I’m on that wacky island in the TV series "Lost." I know Manzanita and its "Wheeler Moments" legend of strange, serendipitous moments very well. It's notorious for things you can’t really put your finger on. But this is weirder than usual. I fully expect to see a horse traipsing past me, a bird that seems to say my name, or a vision of some lost loved one. (You gotta be watching "Lost" to understand what I’m talking about).
As I tread in the dark, I see the tide is far away, and things get weirder the closer I get. Huge chunks of foam are breaking up like ice islands of the arctic North Pole. Abruptly they change direction, coalesce together and create giant walls of suds that approach me, sometimes even chasing me. Beautiful. Extremely strange. Certainly surreal.
In the midst of running around and observing all this, the stars continue to shine brighter than they ever have in my former life in the Willamette Valley. I think to myself about the greater population of this state: why the hell aren’t you people out here more often??? I mean, I’m here all the time and I still encounter freaky, amazing stuff I’ve never seen before.
I again walk towards the tide, but never make it there because the tide and its wall of furious, freaky foam comes zipping back towards me again, collecting all the suds to chase me. This is perhaps the freakiest tide I’ve ever seen. This happens over and over again, and each time I start laughing loudly with glee. I’m like a little toddler getting chased and teased by a family member, and loving every second of it.
I come back to my car, only to see the tide shoving the foam up close to the vegetation line again, where I had just been. It jostled its way up some 50 to 100 feet farther than I was down on that beach.
I had left just in time to miss one nasty, foamy sneaker wave.
Sometimes, strange beings seem to wander the nighttime beaches.
One summer night here in Manzanita, I wander the beach and am alternately creeped out and entranced by this figure of a monster lurking in the sand. It’s actually a chunk of driftwood perched at an odd diagonal. But in the dark, it looks like some small dinosaur or demon creature awaiting prey (probably me). I laugh and take pictures, and they turn out even weirder than the thing looked in person.
It’s amazing what the night can do to the senses on these beaches.
Years ago, perhaps in the 90’s, I remember being stunned by the sight of little ghosts on the beaches of Seaside after dark. Dozens of small, silver things puttered about the tide and scattered quickly when I approached. They weren’t spirits, of course, but they were little birds. I don’t even know what they’re called. You’ll run into them night or day on any beach in Oregon. But at night they look particularly mysterious.
Even more timely, the big meteor showers that happen every August take on a massive new presence on the Oregon coast. They’re much easier to see on the coast’s famously clear nights – if the clouds aren’t around, that is. Everywhere on these beaches makes for an incredible vantage point, with less interference from city pollution or the preponderance of lights.
In fact, it's on Neahkahnie Mountain, on the big overlooks, where I often perch myself any time of year – and I seem to catch impressive shooting stars with staggering regularity. There’s something different about the Nehalem Bay, something usually spiritual or something. This is another one of those odd things.
I spend a lot of time goofing around Seaside, Cannon Beach, Lincoln City or Newport at night. But never have I seen as many shooting stars during the rest of the year as I do at the Neahkahnie overlooks.
In the final analysis, however, it’s the surrealism of this region at night that you have to experience. Sometimes, it’s spooky. But it’s an entertaining kind of spooky, like a mildly frightening horror movie. It’s not nearly as scary as an amusement park thrill ride. But many times it’s simply incredibly serene and gorgeous in a whole new way. There’s still a lot to see on these beaches, even after that incredible sunset is over and has robbed this place of all its colors.
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