Saturday, December 5, 2020

Coquille River

Didn't see that coming! At the end of my hike in the Bullards Beach State Park area, there was parked a van covered with all kinds of decals for windsurfing gear and paraphernalia. The striking combo of white van and dramatic background of dark and foreboding clouds triggered my inner photographer. The rear doors of the van were open so I casually approached the vehicle with the benign intent of politely asking the occupant for permission to take a photo. Yikes! The van was solely occupied by a pair of rabid dogs (wolfhounds from Hades, even!) that let me know vociferously and with much rabidity that my presence anywhere near the vehicle was most definitely not canine approved. I staggered backward in surprise and shock, but really, that was just the last travail on a hike that did present several other trials and tribulations. Also, it was the only travail that involved snarling and sharp teeth but then again, I wasn't hiking with my wife.

The lighthouse presides over the mouth of the Coauille River

There is no official trail along the Coquille River but one can follow a series of use paths tamped out by curious rivergoers or simply follow the wide river when the paths peter out. After shooting some photos of historical Coquille River Lighthouse, I began walking upstream on the aforementioned paths. The sun was out and the river sparkled in the morning light while the town of Bandon sprawled peaceful and quiet on the other side of the river.

Remnants of a bygone era

Bandon's been around since the 1850's or so and much of its history is that of port and harbor on the Coquille River. Once the lighthouse environs were hiked away from, I observed vestiges of that former history in the form of pilings and wooden pillars where once stood viable piers, wharves, and maybe a crab shack of ill repute or two. Notably, the tide was visibly surging upstream through the decaying pilings. Good thing I'd be well off the river banks by the time the tide actually crested.

Raccoons patrol the sandy banks of the Coquille

For the most part, hiking along the river was fairly easy. The tide was rising but not yet fully risen, the ground was firm, and the weather bright and sunny. And yes, you guessed it, that was all too good to last. Bad weather was in the afternoon forecast and by mid-morning, a dark cloud bank scudded over and that was it for the nice sunny day. Additionally, the hiking became a bit tedious when a water-filled slough entered the river at right angles to my route. Time for some bushwhacking!

One of a whole slew of sloughs

It was just a little slough, yet it was too wide to jump over and too deep to wade across, so I followed its banks inland until the watery channel petered out. Part of following the channel involved beating my way through dense patches of Scotch broom, scratchy low-growing conifers, and thorny bushes of gorse. Eventually a pile of logs provided the means of getting across the channel and I made my way back to the river, which acted like nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened at all.

"Make speed in the gathering storm..."
(Paul Kelly)

That was just the beginning. The sloughs came with increasing frequency with each one being wider and deeper which was really annoying because ahead, I could clearly see Bullards Beach Campground, my intended destination. The campground was less than a mile away but it might as well have been located on Jupiter's twelfth moon, thanks to the intervening sloughs. As I negotiated my way around each water channel, the daylight dimmed considerably thanks to increasingly dramatic clouds emoting over the coast. The wind picked up and obviously, rain would be happening at some point in the afternoon.

A waterfowl flees the scary hiker
trying to cross the water channel

What was also increasingly obvious was that the water channels would not let me get to the campground via the Coquille River. The largest slough yet pushed me well to the west and nearly all the way to the beach foredunes, which was almost where I had started this hike from. Giving up on the river-walk thing in entirety, I veered north through some scrubby hinterlands, eventually crossing the Bullards Beach roadway. From there, I grabbed the paved trail leading to the campground, the path providing nice overlooks of the wide river. However, the weather was trending toward downright belligerence, so it was deemed prudent to start heading back to the lighthouse before things got too miserable.

The wind moves sand at high velocity

After taking a sandy footpath that led to the beach, I commenced hiking south into the wind. Airborne rivers of fine particulate matter flowed just a few inches above the sand and my booted and pantsed (panted?) ankles and shins didn't care. My pace was not all that quick because the foreboding clouds were wildly photogenic in a moody and stormy way; naturally, lots of photography ensued. High tide was surging and I had to run from waves every now and then. The constant wind and surf churned up small clouds of seafoam that were spirited away by the breeze to points unknown. Hiking on the beach in stormy weather is wild, yet totally exhilarating, and I enjoyed every tempestuous minute of it. 

This van guarded by devil dogs

After an adrenaline-fueled backpedal away from that van full of snarls and growls, I heard a chuckle from in back of me. It was the wetsuited owner of the van and devil dogs, quite amused by my discomfiture. But, he did let me take my photo and that capped off a great hike and photography combo.

A storm cometh. It has been foretold.

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

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