Sunday, December 10, 2017

Cape Blanco

If this was not the best day ever on the coast, then it was at minimum, the second best day ever on the coast. In Roseburg, December 2017 will forever be remembered for a protracted air stagnation weather thingy that resulted in dense fog smothering the Umpqua Valley all day and every day, or at least for 57 days of the month. So, by time Lane, Colby, and I drove over to the coast for a hike, the dearth of sunlight had nearly become a medical condition. Probably some kind of neurosis, too. Maybe even a psychosis. At any rate, the lack of sunlight had us all standing under florescent lights in the kitchen, in a vain attempt to remember what sunlight even felt like. Given all that, it was nigh a religious moment when we parked the car at Cape Blanco under a cloudless blue sky.

Needle Rock is the Oregon's largest candle
The temperature was balmy too, hanging around 60 degrees all day. It was absolutely glorious to be able to hike in shirt sleeves under sun and sky. We weren't the only ones enjoying the weather either, as other hikers were also out and about, taking advantage of this miraculous turn in the weather. Even the wildlife were deliriously happy to bask in the sun, as evidenced by a fox skittering into tall grass, its restorative sunbathing rudely interrupted by our drive-by.

A very large Boulder Bar on the Sixes River
We grabbed the trail that follows the Sixes River to the beach, and it's always amazing how the Sixes rearranges itself from season to season, On this day, the river coursed past a boulder bar that had never been as large or extensive on my prior visits to the area. Same old sea lions, though, and one popped out of the cold river to enjoy the sun on the opposite bank, and we could totally relate.

The end of the Sixes's journey
Startled by our intrusive arrival, a bald eagle rose up from the grassy pasture, majestically soaring towards Castle Rock. The Sixes pooled languidly behind the beach and ripples from large watery sea creatures swimming just under the surface had us wondering what kind of creatures they were. I guessed mermaids. Where river met sea, an otter fled the beach and disappeared into the waves, conceding the sand to us humans. Wow, that was quite a lot of wildlife diversity for just a half-mile of hiking!

Castle Rock, looking particularly castle-ish
Castle Rock, a large island in front of the Sixes River mouth, dominated the scene as the beach arced to eminently visible Cape Blanco, the historic lighthouse affixed to it like one of Lane's birthday party hats. The bay between us and the cape was scenically cluttered with random rocks and islands strewn about, with Gull Island and Castle Rock being the only two deemed worthy enough to merit a name by the Oregon Geographic Names Board. 

View towards Blacklock Point
The sand is very soft on the beach and Lane and I were having PTSD (Plenty of Trudging in Sand, Darn it) flashbacks to a past three-day backpack trip along the coast, but the splendiferous sunlight somewhat eased our mental anguish. After a mile of not-so-painful hiking in soft sand, the beach ended at Cape Blanco itself and the soft sand was exchanged for the solid dirt path charging up the grassy coastal bluffs. Getting to the top of the bluffs was work, so a stop-and-gawk at the historic lighthouse was in order, as was an early lunch. Sun, sky, views, lighthouse, and a jalapeƱo sandwich: life was good, indeed.

A giant dragonfly, hunting giant mosquitoes
There was a group paragliding off the cape and we observed them practicing their craft, riding the wind currents like giant dragonflies. Cape Blanco is renown for high winds and holds the record for the highest recorded wind speed in Oregon; the record being 179 miles per hour on what surely must have been a memorable day in 1964 for all the wrong reasons. Don't think the paragliders of the time were riding wind currents on that particular day. If they were, they probably landed in Topeka.

City on a hill
A steep and muddy track down the south face of the cape dropped us on the beach. Fortunately, we all remained upright on the descent, although there were a few near misses. A pointy spire with the descriptive name of Needle Rock marked the start of the next segment of beach walking. I'm not sure why sand is piling up against the imposing cliffs here but perhaps rising sea level is the culprit. My little theory is that the rising ocean is bringing more sand onto the beach and because of the cliffs, the sand has nowhere to go. Trapped between surf and cliff, the sand unhappily accumulates at the base of the cliff. At any rate, the damp sand had been eroded by wind, surf, rain, and sun; the resulting formations were amazing, resembling so many ancient cities carved into mountains.

Deep, dark woods
Less than a mile later, we arrived at the driftwood pile where the Cape Blanco Campground road met the beach, and that was our cue to leave all the sand behind, and burning leg muscles were grateful. But not so fast, leg muscles, you still have a short but steep climb yet to perform. The paved roadway climbed briskly to the top of the coastal bluffs, the keyword being "up". Fortunately, the uphill grade mellowed out a bit when steep pavement was exchanged for mostly level dirt-treaded Oregon Coast Trail. The OCT threaded its way through a dense and dark forest before abruptly spitting us out into the bright sunshine atop the bluffs.

The forest is too dense to bushwhack through
Blinking myopically like blind cave salamanders in the open sunlight, we followed the trail through dense growths of waist-high salal. We had spent most of the day hiking, so by now the sun was sinking low, imbuing the coastal scenery with the soft golden light that heralds the imminent arrival of sunset. At the cape, we enjoyed the epic view towards Blacklock Point, the Sixes River, and Castle Rock in the fading light. Instead of returning by way of beach, we entered the forest and continued hiking on the OCT.

Gull Island in a big ocean
Man, it was dark in them thar woods! The trees are packed so closely together that not much light penetrates the dense tangle of branches. The deep shade would be nice on a hot day but at the end of the day, the woods were darker than a black hole in space. We did reacquaint ourselves with what daylight looked like by taking a short side trip to a viewpoint overlooking the coast.

Not so wild life
We had seen quite a bit of wildlife on this trip and there would be one more wildlife encounter when we inadvertently ambled into a flock of sheep on the descent into the grasslands flanking the Sixes River,  Panicked, the sheep comically ran down the only place they could, which was the trail. So we got to scare them for a half mile or so, good thing I didn't have Luna with me, she would have made sure the sheep got plenty of exercise.

Lane and Colby enjoy a father-son hike
So, on this hike we saw wildlife, experienced awesome coastal scenery, and most of all, enjoyed a superlative sunny day. The only blot on the day, however, occurred on the way back when a pickup towing a trailer in front of us left the road and spectacularly wiped out in a ditch. Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the accident. Hiking is so much safer than driving!

Colby carefully picks his way down Cape Blanco
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Glad you were able to find a sunshiney hike!

  2. There you go again, making us long for camping and hiking at Cape Blanco, our favorite state park. So much hiking in the area too!!!!