Friday, September 1, 2017

Sacchi Beach

I've never felt the need to smoke. In my view, there's just no appeal in burning a stinky weed in your mouth. The whole allure of smoking simply baffles me, I just don't get it. I try not to get too judgmental about those who do smoke because I have friends and family members who smoke and apart from that one fault, are generally pretty nice people. But I do think second-hand smoke is pretty rude because somebody else's smoking habit is being imposed on me against my will. So, imagine my discomfiture when in the month of August and early September, I had to unwillingly inhale unfiltered smoke all day and every day. I'll probably wind up with some lung disorder later on in life, directly attributable to the fire smoke that filled up the valleys of western Oregon in summer of 2017.

Mid-morning in Winston
Near Roseburg, we had the North Umpqua Forest Complex fires vaporizing thousands of acres of trees along the North Umpqua River. The complex included the Happy Dog Fire happily burning up the forest in the Boulder Creek Wilderness area. Bad doggie! Poor little Boulder Creek is like Lightning Central when the summer storms commence and can't even get a baby forest started due to the frequent fires in the area. Yet, despite the lack of live trees, the fires somehow still find plenty of fuel to burn.

However, the North Umpqua Forest Complex was not alone and had plenty of flaming company: The Falcon Complex and High Cascade Complex fires managed to shut down the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness and the north and west sides of Crater Lake National Park. Further south was the Miller Complex, gloriously denuding the slopes of Red Buttes Wilderness and Grayback Mountain. Nearer to home, the Horse Prairie Fire chewed up the oft-burned Lower Cow Creek area near Riddle. But the star of the smoke show was the Chetco Bar Fire which at the time of this writing (September 19th) was rapidly approaching 200,000 acres of ashy terrain as its legacy. 

Our view, for six straight weeks
During late August and early September, the weather had been hot and dry, with little or no wind movement. So, the fires churned and burned and the resulting smoke filled up all the low-lying valleys. The smoke had no other place to go, yet the fires continued to pump more smoke into the already smoke-filled low areas to the point where the sun was not visible at all in the dirty brown sky. The vibe and atmosphere was apocalyptic and I'm going to start smoking whether I like it or not.

Twomile Creek, on a fine day a the coast
However, the weekend forecast did call for some relief at the coast with winds predicted to sweep the Chetco Bar Fire smoke and ash in a northeastern direction. The city of Bend was the lucky recipient of our smoke, but I was OK with that, even though Bend wasn't, as I headed out to the coast to see if blue sky was what I remembered it to be. On the drive over the Coast Range, the air near Coquille was nearly solid with fresh particulate matter that left parked cars coated with ash.

Agate Beach beckons
At Seven Devils State Recreation Site on the Oregon coast, there was some blue sky, although there was still plenty of smoke graying up the sky to the south with a noticeable layer of smoke hanging high over the ocean. Given the recent six-week long nastiness of the air quality (or lack, thereof), I'll take it. As I set out on Merchants Beach, a chill wind blew into my face, it was so good to feel air movement, too.

Sand art
This hike would be a tale of three beaches: Merchants, Agate, and Sacchi. Merchants and Agate Beach are basically the same strip of sand with Agate Beach kind of hanging around Threemile Creek and Merchants Beach hanging around Twomile Creek. An unnamed rocky point keeps Sacchi Beach pent up in its own little beachy corner of the Oregon coast.

Miniature wind hoodoos
Heading north to Agate Beach, it was several miles of a lonely strand of sand arcing towards a distant Cape Arago, with only gulls and sand crabs to keep me company. The wind had created miniature formations out of the numerous pebbles on the beach, from an ant's-eye view, they probably resembled hoodoos and balancing rocks. Occasional rocky cliffs sported interesting rock formations and one rock in particular resembled the fossilized skull of the Aztec god Mictlantecuhtli.

Eroded rock at Sacchi Beach
The tide was receding at the unnamed point, so there were no interesting wet-footed tales to tell: just a simple dry-footed stroll around barnacle encrusted rocks to secluded Sacchi Beach. After a mile of walking along the sand, the beach abruptly ended at a formidable cliff that delineated where Sacchi Beach ended and Cape Arago sort of started. The tide was way out, exposing some phantasmagorical rock formations. More dear to my heart, a sandy maze of a route through the rocks provided a way to explore further north along the shore, leading me to a secret cove.

The secret cove was a wild place
This is not the place to be in high tide and even though it was low tide, a wave rolled in and left me stranded atop a rock, waiting for the water to recede so I could safely leave the secret cove. While waiting, I availed myself of the opportunity to take pictures of the rocks, islands, and a notable amphitheater carved into a massive cliff by the waves. This little piece of Sacchi Beach was my favorite part of the hike.

Creepy ball of sand crab babies
On the way back, the tide had receded farther than a middle-aged man's hairline, exposing acres of beach glistening under the afternoon sun. The scenery was pretty and all, but this portion of the hike soon became all about the sand crabs. As waves ebbed, dozens of sand crabs emerged from the sand and scurried after the retreating water line before hurriedly burrowing back into the sand. Large balls of baby sand crabs rolled in the shallow water, creepily scattering hither and yon at my arrival.

Rock warts

At about the 5.6 mile mark, I had made it back to Twomile Creek and the picnic area at the Seven Devils Recreation Site, but I wasn't done yet. For more mileage, I walked to Fivemile Point and back. The sun was getting low and the restless sea glinted silver in the afternoon sunlight. Fivemile Point was totally exposed by the low tide and I was able to take photographs of concretions and eroded honeycomb formations on the rock.

My route 
From Fivemile Point, it was a lean-into-the-wind hike back to Seven Devils picnic area, as a flock of rather nonchalant and blase seagulls blithely watched me walk by. There was a critter track that ended abruptly in the wet sand, so I started digging to see what made the track. When some wiggling wormy creature from the depths started flipping around in my hand unexpectedly, I may have screamed a little.

Behold the fossilized skull of Mictlantecuhtli!
It was nice to spend at least one day this summer under semi-blue sky and I was a happy hiker on the drive home. Well, I was happy, until I reached Coquille and the smoky air. The Horse Prairie Fire was still burning and more smoke was being pumped into the Coquille River valley. Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit smoking!

Sacchi Beach rocks!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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