Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Oregon Coast Trail (Old Highway 101 to Humbug Mountain State Park)

The genesis for this hike came about when I was cobbling together a plan for last month's Humbug Mountain hike. The hike on Humbug Mountain is a short five'ish miles long, so I was looking for some way to come up with a longer route. In particular, my search entailed finding a way down to the beach at the base of the mountain itself. However, a shiny object distracted me long enough to make me forget about the beach and the object in question was a section of the Oregon Coast Trail that starts about two miles south of the small town of Port Orford and ends at the picnic area on the south side of Humbug Mountain. Now, I've driven this stretch of coastal highway many a time but had never noticed a trailhead where the map said there was a trailhead and my curiosity now piqued, I headed to Port Orford like a landlocked Captain Ahab in search of the Great White Trail.

This way to hiking paradise

Found it! The trailhead was on an unsigned road that looked like it might be someone's driveway (but I drove up it anyway!). However, there were several cars parked next to a gated road and lo and behold, an Oregon Coast Trail marker was affixed to a post right next to the gate. Adding my vehicle to the car collection at the gate, I laced up my boots, eagerly anticipating a full day of hiking on a rugged coastal track, even though the trail suspiciously resembled a road.

Hard to believe this used to be a two lane highway

Ah, there's nothing like the hard feel of unyielding pavement underneath the boots and I began to wax nostalgically about hiking on a freeway, something I've never done before but I'm being sarcastic here. The trail was actually the once and former Highway 101 and while encroaching vegetation had narrowed the repurposed highway considerably, a faint yellow line was still clearly visible in the middle of the road, along with maybe an equally faint skid mark or two.

Redfish Rocks, from the first of several viewpoints

Normally, I don't get too excited about walking on a roadway, abandoned or not, but I've been known to become rather ebullient over signs labeled "Viewpoint" with real dirt paths behind them. One such matching set of trail and sign appeared after about a half mile of hiking and I heeded the siren song of a real trail. The short path led to a grassy overlook with a strategically-sited bench on it, and I thoroughly enjoyed the view of nearby Point Orford, Humbug Mountain, and some rocky islands known as Redfish Rocks bobbing in the ocean. As I gawked at the coastal scenery, several water spouts advertised the otherwise hidden presence of whales in the vast blue sea.

Island Rock, off in the distance

After a short stop 'n gawk, it was back on the old road-cum-trail which then crested at a high point with a superb overlook of the Pacific Ocean rolling onto an inviting beach at the base of Humbug Mountain. In the ocean offshore of Humbug Mountain was the unimaginatively named Island Rock. If Island Rock is the only name the island namers could come up with, why not just call it Rock Rock? Or, maybe Island Island? Especially since a small pointed rock nearby makes the two islands collectively appear as a whale and tail. Whale Island, anyone? Anyway, after some oohing and aahing at the overlook, it was back to the trail inclining downward to the campground located in Humbug Mountain State Park.

Now we are talking about gorgeous trails!

Maple trees arched over the still-paved trail, with most trees just starting to turn yellow with autumn's looming advent. After crossing Dry Run Creek (which was not dry nor was I running) on a well constructed bridge, the forest morphed from maple to myrtlewood with tall trees of each specie hovering over a deeply shaded road coated with a light layer of fallen maple leaves.The old highway did come to an end in the campground but never fear, the Oregon Coast Trail resumed on a dirt path that provided a butt-kicking grade as it went up and over a deeply wooded ridge.

The myrtlewood forest was absolutely sublime

Burning quads, glutes, and other assorted aching body parts aside, this was my favorite part of the hike. The forest was mostly comprised of myrtlewood trees, and the deeply shaded trail was perfumed with the sweet aromatic incense of their leaves. Once the trail crested, it then bottomed out next to Brush Creek coursing below the trail, the creek barely visible in the surrounding brush. Given the bucolic splendor of the peaceful woods, it was almost disappointing to enter the manicured lawns and civilized picnic tables of the Humbug Mountain day use area. 

A spider patiently waits for a hiker to blunder into its web

After lunch and a perfunctory visit to the forlorn ruins of long-abandoned Brush Creek Fishery, it was back the way I had come while the afternoon light slanted poetically through the branches of tall maple trees. Because the old highway is paved, it stood to reason I'd eventually encounter a cyclist or two. One such cyclist was looking for a misplaced husband, stating she would wait for him at the park entrance. Sure enough, I ran into him looking for his misplaced wife who had sped by him, oblivious to his impromptu stop to heed the call of nature. Feeling like a trailside marriage counselor, I gave him her location and hopefully the happy couple is still reconciled because it's always nice to come back from a hike with valuable karma points in hand.

Silvery sea on the return stage of the hike

For more photos of this hike,
please visit the Flickr album.

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