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Gleneden Beach's Varied, Multi-Layered Looks: Never the Same Bit of Oregon Coast

Published 11/20/20 at 10:55 PM PDT
By Andre' GW Hagestedt

Gleneden Beach's Varied, Multi-Layered Looks: Never the Same Bit of Oregon Coast

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(Gleneden Beach, Oregon) – You can visit an Oregon coast beach 100 different times and it won’t be the same. Case in point: my wanderings of Gleneden Beach back in 2009. It’s a meandering tale that’s part spiritual journey (and frankly a journey that involved distilled spirits), part nature adventure, part weather expedition and part culinary exploration. (Above: Gleneden Beach in golds).

It’s the central Oregon coast on a particularly warm week in January - I think this was 2009. In any case, it’s one that is paradoxically filled with blustery winds and maybe a rainsquall or two. It’s a place where you can visit a beach dozens of times and it will never be the same – never yielding the same impressions, the same feelings and even offering different geology and geography.

The night before was a heady and hilarious blur: drinking excessively in Lincoln City and then Depoe Bay and encountering all sorts of wacky things you can’t explain (not atypical of coastal bars, thank goodness). Taft’s Snug Harbor used to be (at least back then) one of the weirdest bars in the entire state, and gleefully so. For many years it was straight up like a David Lynch flick. Since 2011 or so it’s calmed down, sadly, but there’s still plenty of hazy fun to be had. In Depoe Bay my late-night standby was always the Wing Wa, where cozy to kooky conversation was in abundance and the people (and owners) were nothing short of rad.

Finally on this night, I settle in my room in Depoe Bay, and the ocean could be heard from just beyond a row of vacation homes that overlook the wild waves of this rocky section of Oregon coast. This lulled me to sleep, but didn’t take away the hangover from the night’s wacky meanderings.

The next morning, amid lovelier skies, I finally kick myself out of bed around noon. Jacked up on espresso and a weird chili burger for my breakfast, I eventually make it to Depoe Bay’s Whale Watch Center and a hefty chat with the head of their whale watching program at the time, Morris Grover. There, all manner of heady facts are crammed into my woozy head, regarding the stunning success of the previous month’s Whale Watch Week and other natural oddities.

By 4:30 p.m., the clouds overhead are causing the sun to wane even further, and a small, obscure beach just south of Lincoln City becomes my destination in this rushed state of moody twilight. Periodically, throughout the day, there have been tremendous winds that make things feel much colder than the high 50’s it’s actually been. At other times, the winds are gone and you feel almost too warm.

It’s in this state I hit Gleneden Beach, with its small, sandy beaches, coarse sands, pockets of uncomfortable pebbles and slopes that cause the tides to pound in wildly but actually hit the beach in a meek fashion. Sunset had already happened – if you could have seen it – but hints of its funky colors lurk in breaks in the clouds.

I’ve been here dozens of times before in the last 20 or so years: if not on this very beach access, then within a mile or two. It never ceases to amaze me how these beaches change their character from season to season, much less from day to day. But on strands like these, which are prone to huge erosion, it can be a whole different landscape from year to year.

I’m at this state park entrance to Gleneden Beach, where golden sandstone structures and cliffs have become jagged and snaggle-toothed. I distinctly remember one Fourth of July when friends and I gathered here around 1990, and these same structures jutted just a little ways further out from the cliffs than they do now. Indeed, there seems to be a whole chunk of cliff missing from some area where I took photos of one red headed beauty with our troupe.

In 2007, I remember parking at a spot next to the parking lot and peering out over the cliffside into the broiling winter wave action below. On this day in 2009 (and 2020) it has a much steeper slope to it than it used to.

On the beach itself, the world seems to disappear. Large foamy waves dominate the landscape as they sprint up the beach, sometimes dissipating in wispy, white chunks that go flying inland along the invisible, chaotic air streams of ocean breezes. Blobs of foam dot the sandy landscape, sometimes in long trails that almost make them look like heretofore unseen creatures.

All you need to do is stop for a moment and let the beach images hit you. You begin to notice a vast array of details that delight or make you scratch your head – or both.

Twilight peeks from behind clouds in one spot, turning from purples and reds to a curious green and blue, all the while reflected in pools of sea water or sand at the tideline so wet it becomes like a mirror.

A few years later I would stand in about this same spot and photographically capture soft waves rolling in, with a section just offshore yielding this unbelievably colorful reflection of sunlight, making little squiggly lines that I had never noticed before. It was magical.

Another year, I hit Gleneden Beach and photograph an astounding shift in the colors of dusk, going from various purples to a vibrant gold. The entire color scheme of the Oregon coast changed before your eyes, in just a few minutes.

The whole of the Oregon coast can be like this – from Brookings to Astoria. Just pick a spot and visit it on different days or each time you’re out on the beach. Take your time. Take it all in. Hangovers optional.

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