Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cape Blanco

The weather had been wet and cold and it'd been three weeks since I'd last set foot on the trail. The need to hike was fast becoming a medical condition. Fortunately, the weather gods decided to bestow favor upon us waterlogged Oregonians by giving us a sunny, albeit cold, day on the last weekend of 2012. Not wanting to appear impolite by spurning the sunny gift, Maggie The Hiking Dog and I headed to Cape Blanco to work off some post-Christmas dinner calories with an 8.7 mile hike.
Castle Rock, seemingly sitting in a field
The shadows were still long in the morning sun as we got off to an early start. Sallying forth from the historical Hughes House at Cape Blanco State Park, we strode across a grassy pasture alongside the Sixes River. Castle Rock, a prominent rocky island, appeared to be sitting in the middle of all the grass as the ocean was not yet visible. Maggie, totally in her element, splashed happily in the large puddles on the trail.

View to the Sixes River
We eschewed the beach walk on this particular hike, heading instead uphill on the Oregon Coast Trail. A muddy climb up a wooded bluff took us to a nice view of the mouth of the Sixes River. It was interesting because two months earlier, John and I had camped at the mouth of the Sixes and we had crossed back and forth across  the Sixes on a sand bar damming the river. However, that was then and now the Sixes was carrying a lot of roaring water through the demolished sand dam.

Trail tunnel
Staying in some incredibly dark woods atop the ocean bluffs, the trail basically cut across the neck of Cape Blanco. After a mile or two, the trail spit us out of the coastal forest and offered us a nice view of windswept and grassy Cape Blanco jutting out into the ocean with the famed lighthouse affixed atop the cape like a New Year's party hat on a drunk reveler.

Beauty at the campground
Bypassing the lighthouse (been there, done that) because we had more miles to hike, we crossed the headlands, covered with a dense growth of wind-stunted salal, before re-entering the woods. A short walk brought us into the hiker and biker camp at the Cape Blanco Campground. Maggie and I walked through the campgrounds where campers exclaimed "How cute!" followed by much head patting and chin scratching. I think Maggie was jealous I was getting all the attention.

The only thing needed for a beach hike was a beach
Disappointment awaited us at the beach as the tide was high with waves rolling up all the way to the end of the paved road from the campground. The beach was covered with an ankle-breaking pile of logs and debris at least 10 yards wide, leaving no sand to walk on.  Would this be a prematurely ended hike or would this be instead a Richard Hike? That was the question.

Maggie explores an upside-down stump
I answered the question by waiting for a wave to recede and then running or walking fast before the next wave rolled in. As the next wave came in, Maggie and I would then seek safety on top of the log piles and then repeat the whole process over again when the wave receded. While the going was slow, we did manage to cover about half a mile before finding easier going on the dunes behind the log piles.

Tsunami debris
There has been so much driftwood piled on our beaches this year, it may be from the tsunami in Japan. There was plenty of obvious tsunami debris such as pop and water bottles but most of the debris consisted of logs, indeterminate pieces of lumber, and a gazillion little pieces of plastic. Some of the debris, like flip-flops, plastic baseballs, and baby rattles, were profoundly poignant and tragic. I picked up a water bottle, imagining a pair of hands placing the bottle into a shopping cart, the hands' owner at the time being totally unaware of the disaster that would befall northern Japan. Just an ordinary household item, lying on an Oregon beach, brought here by such a horrible tragedy.

So, between dune-walking, wave-dodging, and log-hopping we made slow and steady progress on the beach towards a tall and sheer cliff. At the cliff the sand petered out altogether, marking an unexpectedly early encounter with the Elk River.

Let's hike across the Elk!
According to my maps and guidebooks, the mouth of the Elk River should have been further south. But a water laden river goes where it wants to go, and the Elk has migrated north by running right under the cliffs paralleling the shore line. A sandy island across the way was not an island at all; upon closer inspection the island instead was the spit of sandy beach on the other side of the river.

The Elk River meets the ocean
The official Oregon Coast Trail calls for walking across the Elk River to which I reply "Are you freaking kidding me?" The river was wide, deep, turbulent, and running fast and strong. No way. Maybe in the summer, but there'd have to be a lot less water in it.

The beach is made entirely of wood

The river clashed violently with the ocean, causing waves to form with no rhyme or reason. The waves came ashore unpredictably from all angles and directions and I kept my head on a swivel as there was precious little sand to stand on. A large wave erupted forth for no apparent reason and I hopped atop the driftwood pile. The wave kept coming and the pile began to shift and move with ominous cracking sounds.  I learned a new skill: doing a speedy 50 yard dash atop moving logs. When the wave receded, it was time to leave: the mouth of the Elk River was indeed a very dangerous place.

Cape Blanco at the end of the day
The trip back was pretty uneventful as the tide had receded enough to allow us to walk on the beach with just the occasional wave chasing us up into the logs. As we headed back to the car, the shadows lengthened and we enjoyed views of the cape, Castle Rock, the Sixes River and all points in between. It was a nice way to close out 2012.

For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Cape Blanco photo album in Flickr.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cape Arago

It's weird starting a hike at 2 P.M. 
We've been hiking at Cape Arago so much that one December day several years ago, Dollie and I changed it up a little by beginning the hike at 2 P.M. in order to catch the sunset at the cape. Whipping out our headlamps after an awesome sunset, we detoured through the famed Shore Acres garden, festooned with lights during the Christmas season.

The crew, B.H (before headlamps)
The next year, I heard a chorus of "Take me, take me" and this hike has wound up being sort of an annual event, depending on the weather and whether enough praises have been sufficiently sung to me. The latest installment took place this last December when 9 hardy headlamped adventurers set out on the trail at Sunset Bay State Park.

The hike is shorter, now

Seeing as how we started mid afternoon, the sun's rays were already slanting through the forest as we started. The trail followed the cliffs along the rock shore and much gawking ensued at the scenery. Suddenly, we came across a fence barring our way...huh?

The cliffs were wowier
I don't know whether it is from climate change or from heavy storms, but our cliffy trail was now in the ocean as there has been quite a bit of land loss in the ever shrinking state park. What remains of the former trail lies on the other side of the fence and a new trail system runs through the woods and is nearly not as "wowy"  (is that even a word?) as the old trail.

Looks like petrified sea lions
Minor quibble though, as the trail eventually worked it's way out on top of the cliffs but at a reasonably safe distance from the edge. We could still enjoy the mild waves (it was low tide) rushing over the shoals and the rock formations below.

The wave show
The waves were putting on a better show as we entered Shore Acres State Park; we paused briefly to check out the scene from the whale watching observation building. Further south along the shore, we could see the rocks and islands of Simpson Reef, the barking of the sea lions carrying faintly on the sea breeze.

Spring Break for sea lions
After some ups and downs from cliff to beach and back to cliff again, we reached the parking lot of the Simpson Reef overlook. The sea lions were congregating on Shell Island for a sea lion bacchannal and other pinniped debauchery. They were probably having a wet-flipper contest, judging by all the raucous barking on the island. 

Kyle Bush fans
The sun was getting low, so we hightailed it to the cape, walking down to the North Cove overlook for a closer look at the sea lion colony. There was plenty of barking, grunting, belching, and farting; it was kind of like a NASCAR race without the race cars. And the slightest breeze wafted the pungent aroma of "eau de sea lion" into our unsuspecting nostrils.

End of the day
The sunset show was now beginning, so we killed time watching the day come to an end. There was a bank of clouds that diminished the sunset somewhat but nonetheless nobody felt disappointed, or if they did feel disappointed they were kind enough not to complain to the hike leader.  

Good nighty
Heading back to Shore Acres as the night became more nighty, headlamps were eventually donned. From my vantage point at the rear of our group, we looked like giant fireflies dancing in a conga line. An orange glow in the trees ahead signaled our arrival at Shore Acres and the other reason for doing this hike at night.

Welcome to Shore Acres
Shore Acres is the former estate of timber magnate Louis Simpson, no relation to Bart or Homer. What remains of the estate are the formal gardens and the caretaker's cottage. And this time of year, the place is decked out in full Christmas light glory.

Reflecting pond
Every branch on every plant, bush, shrub, and tree was wrapped by lights of every color. The brown muddy waters of the reflecting pond were transformed into a mirrored wonderland of twinkling lights while neon frogs hopped across the pond. The cottage was equally bedecked with lights and offered hot cider to cold visitors.

Walking through the gardens while breathing sideways
We regrouped at the entrance and took a short cut that, most unusually, was a kinder and gentler short cut. The temperature had dropped and our breaths hung visible in the cold air. Those of us with headlamps learned that the beam of light lit up our vapor and, in effect, blinded us. Lois stated that she learned a new skill:  breathing sideways.

Cottage at Shore Acres
Arriving at our cars at Sunset Bay, we snickered at the long line of cars on the Cape Arago Highway, each waiting their turn to enter the parking lot and see the lights at Shore Acres. Avoiding the traffic would be another reason for hiking to the Shore Acres gardens.

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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Newport weekend

Come visit the Oregon coast!
One late November, thirteen years ago, Dollie and I got married. In hindsight, we should have gotten married in the summer as it can be difficult to stoke the fires of love when on an anniversary campout on the coast with all that "wonderful" November weather.

Surf's up!

But camping stupid is what we do, so we piled into the car and negotiated all the mudslides, floods, and fallen trees that makes driving to the coast so interesting. The weather was awful what with gale force winds and heavy rain prompting the National Weather Service to issue a weather alert and flood warning inland with a high surf and a high wind advisory called for the coast.

Normally, this is the sandy Yachats Beach
As we approached Yachats on the way to our Beverly Beach yurt rental, we stopped to take some pictures of a very rambunctious ocean at Yachats Beach. Normally there is a sandy little beach here but on this day, the beach was entirely submerged by the heavy surf. We literally were staggering like losing boxers as we took pictures while getting cuffed around by the wind.

At least the wind blew the clouds away
At Beverly Beach Campground, just north of Newport, we attempted (and failed) to get a good night's sleep while 60 mph winds shrieked like a school of rabid banshees and the rain pattered on the canvas walls of the yurt like overly caffeinated rodents. Since the campground was set in the forest, I was cringing all night long at the thought of falling trees.

There's no place like foam
However, no trees fell and the rain stopped, the wind eased up a bit, and the following morn dawned sunny and clear. It still was blustery and cold so armed with windbreakers, Dollie and I set off for an early morning hike on Beverly Beach.

When in foam, do as the foamans do
Unfortunately, we didn't get very far as the tide was still pretty high and large waves were chasing us all the way to the cliffs lining the beach.  The ocean had been churned to a froth and the wind was blowing the foam probably all the way to Astoria. Also unfortunately, another storm system arrived by the time we returned to the yurt with the wind shrieking loudly all over again.

Stormy day at Devils Punchbowl
Having most of the day to kill, we hopped in the car and did some sightseeing on the coast to the north with the first stop being Devils Punchbowl State Park. By now the storm had arrived with a vengeance and once again we were trying our best to admire the view while battling the wind.

View to Yaquina Head in foul weather

Not staying outdoors for too long a time, we quickly sought shelter in the car.  It was fitting that we drove up to the appropriately named Cape Foulweather. There were impressive views all the way to Yaquina Head underneath gray skies. We went into the souvenir shop and I muttered something to clerk about the nasty conditions outside and he dryly noted "Yes, it is foul weather". I bet he says that a lot.

Dollie, celebrating our anniversary
South of Depoe Bay, we stopped at the Rock Creek Wayside near Whale Cove to take pictures and videos of the waves crashing on the rocks. We were standing on cliffs about 50 feet above the surf yet the grass we were standing on was covered with sea foam in testament to the wind's fury.

Marina, at Depoe Bay
At touristy Depoe Bay, the wind finally let up and allowed for a short walk along the beach promenade. There are a couple of spouting horns below the promenade and they were in full spouting glory due to the tempestuous conditions. Crowds of tourists gawked at the spray of water emanating from the horns, although I noticed none stayed very long.  

W-w-welc-c-come t-to was c-c-cold!
Returning to Newport in the evening, we walked downtown on rainy streets while the car tires hissed on the wet pavement. There were piers and docks in between all the waterfront shops and restaurants, we went to go stand and shiver on wet planks for the next hour or so. Why? To see the Christmas boats of course!

The Coast Guard entry
The gaily lit boats circled around Yaquina Bay, most had a party and a drenched Santa on board to wave and  yell out "Merry Christmas" to poor people like us standing on the cold and rain-soaked docks with chattering teeth. We were glad to return to our heated and dry yurt, I think I even slept through the howling pack of wild demons that were the night's windstorm.

Newport, on a rainy night
We cut the trip a bit short and returned back home a half-day earlier than planned. Lest any of you readers think that I was committing wife-abuse by making Dollie go camping in such adverse conditions, I will point out the trip was her idea; I'm just the victim here.

For more pictures of this wet and wild weekend, visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tahkenitch Dunes and Butterfly Lake

Tahkenitch Dunes is one of my favorite places on the coast for hiking.  However, once the dunes loop had been hiked several hundred times or so, I began a desperate search for a way to change up the routes to prevent Tahkenitch boredom. Let's see, there was the hike via the Threemile Lake Trail, there was the long and rainy 14.5 mile loop from the Oregon Dunes Overlook, there were the clockwise and counterclockwise renditions, and there was a memorable weekend backpack trip right before last Christmas. So, when I looked at the map and saw Butterfly Lake, my antennae were tickled and a plan for a new route started flitting around in my brain.

Slimy mushroom
Maggie The Hiking Dog and I started at Tahkenitch Campground on a chilly but sunny morn. The morning sun filtered through the trees and fog, the sunbeams lighting up sprays of rhododendron leaves. Mushrooms sprouted everywhere through the moss on the forest carpet while ferns drooped over the trail.

Threemile Lake
Taking the loop in a clockwise direction, it was a fast descent over several miles before crossing a footbridge on Threemile Lake's outlet. A short walk up a sandy trail brought us to an overlook of impressive Threemile Lake. The lake was full and was one single lake as opposed to two separate lakes as is the norm when the water level drops in the summer.

Dune slog
All of this, so far,  had been familiar territory as the trail left the lake overlook and crossed the dunes, heading towards the beach. However, a right turn before reaching the beach was the start of something new: the hunt for Butterfly Lake.

Mindless fun in a marsh
Initially, the hunt followed the trail through the dunes, the trail being a series of tall posts hammered into the sands. I was taking a picture of a picturesque marsh in the dunes when a cavorting and frolicking dog jumped into the viewfinder, whooping with joy as she splashed through the water. Oh, to be a dog in the dunes!

Trees that want to eat me

At a tree island (a mound of trees in the middle of the dunes) we veered right, climbing steeply up a sandy track that eventually petered out altogether. When I had researched how to find the lake, the satellite photos showed the sandy track leading to a forested dune above the lake. The reality on the ground was that a newborn forest had taken over the dunes.  I was having to beat my way through branches that scratched and clawed at my face. The dog portion of my hiking party, however, had no problem running on game trails through the trees.

A not so very good picture of Butterfly Lake

The route worsened on the steep descent through an increasingly hostile forest to the lake; a sudden break in the trees allowed me to lay eyes on the black waters of Butterfly Lake. Much to my dismay, dense brush filled the 70 yards or so between me and the lake. Hanging onto a tree, I quickly snapped a picture of the lake, called it good, and then began the arduous task of returning to the dunes through trees intent on removing my facial skin.

 The "trail"

Getting back to the dunes was also tricky but suddenly I burst out of the forest and rolled down onto a steep dune. On the far side of the dune, I espied a blue banded pole which was my trail marker. A short ways beyond, a bona fide trail left the dunes and entered the forest just behind the beach foredunes.
Follow the bouncing dog!
So, while the Butterfly Lake expedition had been a whole lot of work, the fact remained we had not covered a lot of miles. There was no glory at heading back to the car at this point, so we made a left turn at a trail junction and headed to the beach where Tahkenitch Creek meets and greets the Pacific Ocean.

Brush-clogged Tahkenitch Creek
Right next to Tahekenitch Creek, I noticed a large black bird squatting stoop-shouldered  like an aged monk: it was a bald eagle! I descended to the beach and tried to get as close as I could without spooking it. Maggie, on the other hand, saw the creek and she ran up and down splashing in the water with mindless canine exuberance, totally unaware of the potential peril of becoming eagle food. And so much for not spooking the eagle!

And what's wrong with being bald, eagle?
Tahkenitch Creek was swollen with winter runoff and was more of a river than a creek. The eagle was on the other side of the creek and was not at all concerned about our crossing the formidable stream. After several minutes, the eagle gave a dismissive flap of  its mighty wings and soared out of sight while the gulls on the beach scattered in screeching panic. It's not every hike I get to see one of these majestic birds, how cool was that?

Tahkenitch Dunes in the afternoon
As the sun sank, we walked up the Tahkenitch Creek Trail for a mile and back, there was not much to see as it just ambled through pleasant woods. On the plus side, I think I just found another future route to keep Tahkenitch dunes interesting.

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