Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cape Arago night hike

I've hiked Cape Arago something like 18,753 times but who's counting? Cape Arago is a worthy destination and is always reliably spectacular but if you don't think it is possible to overindulge a good thing, just ask a 6 year old granddaughter after she ingested 5 pounds of candy on Halloween night. Several years ago, in an attempt to keep Cape Arago fresh and interesting, Dollie and I began the hike mid-afternoon and caught a spectacular sunset at the cape. After the sunset show, we broke out on the headlamps and hiked to the famed Christmas lights display at Shore Acres State Park. From personal experience, walking atop ocean cliffs surrounded by lavender, pink, orange, red, and dark blue hues as day slipped into night was a singularly special experience. 

Why we hike
After regaling my hiking friends with tales of this superb night hike, the next year I received several requests to lead a reprise of this rather unique hiking experience. So, while this has not formally evolved into an annual event, it does seem to happen every other year and 2014 was the every other year.

A perfect afternoon
Thirteen of us made the drive from Roseburg and the afternoon sun was slanting through the forest as we started hiking, the light already imbued with a soft golden tint. The weather had been awful all week but we couldn't have asked for a better day and the trail was clear of fallen trees knocked down by the storms.

Search and Rescue thanks you for your business
The waves were still on the largish side, not as big as in other visits to the cape, but you could still hear the "boom" up and down the shore as the swells crashed into the rocky shoals and cliffs. At the ruin of the Shore Acres tennis courts (Shore Acres used to be the estate of timber magnate Louis Simpson) the waves were exploding higher than the cliffs and I think I tried to get a picture of every wave.

The restless sea
We left two hikers at Shore Acres State Park with the remaining 11 continuing on for the longer hike to Cape Arago. And yes, we did retrieve the two hikers on the way back. There is an overlook of Simpson Reef and several of us lagged behind the main group to observe the noisy seals barking on Shell Island and the surrounding lesser islands and rocks. 

Waves, in the late afternoon
Between the reef overlook and Cape Arago proper, there is a brief road walk and I could see the lead group about 100 yards ahead of me. So imagine my surprise when I arrived at the Cape first.  Where did they go? Turned out John took them up the Pack Trail and they made fun of us namby-pamby road walkers when they finally did arrive at the cape. 

Clouds took the sunset away
Well, so far, it had been an awesome day as we watched the sun sinking low, illuminating the mist thrown up in the endless war between land and sea. Unfortunately, a cloud bank came in and denied us the pleasure of a sunset. A small hole in the cloud cover provided a pinprick of orange light, and you could almost hear the ember hiss as it sunk into the sea.

Glow from the party
So back we go and it got dark in a hurry, no mauves, no purples, no blues, no fuschias, just the inky blackness of night taking over the cape with not even a whimper from the day. Feeble headlamps lit the way and we stumbled through the coastal forest like a procession of drunken fireflies. After a mile or so, an orange glow lit up the trees like a bonfire at a woodland fairy party, you could almost hear the tribal drums beating as they cavorted and danced around the flames.

Shore Acres
The glow in the forest was from Shore Acres State Park and the gardens and caretaker's cottage were festooned with a twinkling phantasmagoria of Christmas lights of every color in the visible spectrum. Christmas is universal but the colorful light exhibits of tufted puffins, lighthouses, schools of salmon, rhododendron bushes, and one large land orca gave Christmas its own little Oregon touch.

The koi kept very still
There were even a school of koi swimming in the reflecting pond. Well, since they were light exhibits, they weren't swimming anywhere which was not a liability at all because two nearby heron statues were likewise not moving or hunting koi. Visitors are given free hot cider in the cottage but a large line of people dissuaded us from partaking thereof.

Oregon Christmas
All good and magical things come to an end though, and we returned to the inky black forest again. In the years that I have done this little hike, we have always had the forest to ourselves but on this night there were a fair number of other hikers likewise doing the night hike to Shore Acres. There was a reason for that because traffic was backed up for about 3 miles, cars were allowed into the parking lot only when another car left, so it was pretty slow going. Slower than walking, even, and we felt sated and perhaps slightly smug when we piled into our cars at Sunset Bay.

Merry Christmas!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


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