That Addictive, Magical Crawl Up the Oregon Coast
By Andre Hagestedt
(Oregon Coast) – For several years, as editor of this publication and another before it, I made a regular commute between the north coast and the central coast – sometimes almost weekly.These were magical moments, filled with a variety of discoveries, sights and sensations.
This crazed commute usually started in Newport, or in Manzanita. But plenty of times it began as far south as the raging waves of Yachats, or as far north as the broad sands of Seaside – all of these jaunts often starting out after dark. During the months of spring through late fall, this would include more daylight explorations, but for some reason these impressions are not as memorable.
If I started south, this trip meant zipping up the cliffs north of Newport, where the beach was a constant companion. Otter Rock, a long, black chunk of stone in the distance, had various moods in the dark. Sometimes the tide could not leap over it and simply lapped against it, like a timid child. Other times, large waves would wash over it in the moonlight or beneath the dark gray skies of winter at night, barely visible in the gloom almost a mile offshore.
The beach disappears from view as you head up the hill towards Cape Foulweather, and pops up again briefly just after the cape, and then as you zip through Depoe Bay. Continuing north, you get into Lincoln City, where the waters are largely invisible at night. Beyond that, there’s the 15-miles stretch between Lincoln City and Pacific City, where you’ve entered the dark, dense forests behind Cascade Head and Neskowin, and a road that’s winding, hilly and slightly white-knuckled. The ocean briefly explodes in front of you between Neskowin and Pacific City, and then doesn’t really appear again until you get into town, about where the Pelican Pub is.
Another mile and a half northward, the Pacific really makes an impression, as you emerge from thick forests and more winding roads. You encounter it from the top of the hill, as you gently descend towards Tierra Del Mar. Plenty of times I got out and waded in the water at Tierra. One late August, I distinctly remember the unsettling sensation of feeling little stingy things on my feet as the tide washed over me. I had this happen a few times on the north coast as well, and eventually figured it was tiny mole crabs, which sometimes scrape across your skin if they’re in great abundance in late summer.
Shortly after Tierra Del Mar, you wander into forests again and inland as this part of the Three Capes Tour veers east along Sand Lake.
From here I’d usually take Sand Lake Road to 101 just south of Tillamook, if it was nighttime. But during daylight hours, I’d savor the trip with stops at Neskowin, maybe Pacific City, and often Oceanside or especially Bayocean.
The nocturnal trips sometimes meant stopping in Tillamook for grub, and then hurrying along again. The big pleasure, especially during winter, came at Tillamook Bay, when you just started to see the big “G” all lit up at night at Garibaldi, in the distance. About here, the bay became the prominent feature, and the most spectacular sight was always the massive, billowing banks of fog or low-lying clouds that meandered around the bay. They looked like giant ghosts wandering aimlessly and bumping into each other, often fusing. I almost always slowed down to enjoy this sight as I wandered around the bends of the highway.
Shortly after, Rockaway offered brief glimpses of the ocean, and then you vanished behind the lush canopy of the Nehalem Bay as 101 rounded that feature. This is always where the excitement grew to a fever pitch, because I knew I was nearly home: nearly to Manzanita. The first encounter was Wheeler, which filled me with tons of glee and a huge sense of relief. Nehalem and this inland portion of the highway was a mix of minor annoyance and familiar friend until I finally reached Manzanita, where the sea pummeled the beach in the distance, visible from Laneda once you got far enough down the street. The surf was always a welcome noise as I opened my car door and began unloading stuff into my pad there.
If my trips meant heading south, they sometimes started with a quick walk on the beach at Seaside. The beaches here are always fairly lit because of one kind of ambient light or another, usually from the line hotels on the shoreline. It didn’t make you feel very private, but usually I could find a stretch of beach where no one else wandered, to psych myself up for my journey south.
Sometimes I would start out with a quick walk on a secret beach at the southern end of Cannon Beach – the same one where I almost always stop at before I head inland back to Portland. It’s like my own private church service or something: my last moment of beach worship before returning to my life as a land lubber.
But mostly, I’d start out from Manzanita at night, which often meant a brief stroll on that beach. On the way south, I’d also encounter the thrill of the weird ghosts at Tillamook Bay, but they weren’t as easy to ogle if you’re going south than if you’re heading north.
The beach of course disappeared for about an hour, and then would reappear in an explosive fashion at Tierra Del Mar, a sight I never tired of.
These dense forests at night never lost their beauty in the darkness. Sure they weren’t as colorful as during a bright, sunlit day. But there was a different beauty about them, akin to a black and white photograph, in some ways. If nothing else, you could extrapolate the shades of green from the dark monotone of greens visible to the naked eye. Repeatedly, during the winter, these drives got especially exciting with trees battered by winds and rain that began to hang threateningly over the highway. This was a good way to stay awake.
Heading south, it was past Cascade Head, through Lincoln City, and eventually over the bridge at Depoe Bay, which regularly rumbled in a muted manner beyond the confines of my car windows, sometimes augmented by wild storm action that caused sprays of ocean to wash over the streets of the village and then over me. Many times did this cause me to pull over and gawk for a while.
Getting into Newport and Nye Beach was always the same thrill as the northward trek to Manzanita: I could see and hear the ocean, as if it too welcomed me – although only me. It wasn’t hard to imagine the beach was keeping its eye out for just my return, as ego-centric as this thought was.
Lincoln City at night: the coast changes drastically during these nighttime drives, and can become exceptionally surreal
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