Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Shore Acres/Sunset Bay State Parks

Last time I was here at Sunset Bay during a high surf event, I wound up running for my life when a big wave tried to eat me. However, at low tide you do have a little bit more time to recognize a man-hungry wave roaring in from the sea, and thereby avoid that ungainly panicked sprint to high ground and safety.

A ferny trail took us atop the coastal bluffs at Sunset Bay

I'm happy to report no danger-filled episode took place on this outing in the Cape Arago area. The sea roared and seethed well offshore and politely stayed away from fragile hikers and beachgoers at Sunset Bay. However, the nearby rocky islands were receiving a royal and personal pummeling from King Neptune himself. High tide was several hours away yet, so hiking buddy Dianne and I felt quite safe as we commenced hiking up to the forested coastal high ground overlooking the bay.

Qochyax Island guards the gates

The first little highlight of this hike occurred when we grabbed the unofficial path to Qochyax Island, forever standing guard (and taking serious surf abuse, too) at the entrance to Sunset Bay. The island was bare and rocky, the only adornment a sad little stand of long-dead trees that imparted a forlorn and mangy kind of air to the island eternally standing resolute and stalwart in the middle of an unappreciative ocean. 

What's that skunky smell?

The hike was mostly about the waves but not entirely. The coastal forests were lush and green and spring was on the way in form of pungent skunk cabbage flowers (the odor of which I unjustly blamed Dianne for), dangling bells of salal blooms, and blossoming heads of coltsfoot calling in bees and butterflies alike. Dianne is as camera-afflicted and addicted as I am, so our hiking pace was properly slow and contemplative as we clicked the day away.

Dianne unhappily hikes in my elements

On the way to a coastal vantage point, the trail became quite muddy and boots were tasked in keeping us upright and from sinking up to neck level in cold muddy goo. I enjoyed this part of the hike but Dianne did not. Enterprising hikers had fashioned a primitive walkway by tossing a series of branches into the mire. The crude walkway was slipperier than a boogery eel but it did the trick as we did not sink higher than an ankle or two.


Once we entered Shore Acres State Park proper, the waves began to really put on a show. Here, the waves collided with exposed sedimentary layers inclined at a uniform 45 degrees by ancient seismic processes. When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, a huge amount of angry energy gets released in the form of massive white-watered explosions. As we walked, walls of white water rose 20 feet or so above us, while the beautiful clear day was rent with a roaring cannonading blast of sound and fury.

The waves were spectacular as the tide came in

I daresay we tarried there quite a bit, happy to be close (but not too close) to the raging chaos. Our next stop for the wave fun was at the observation area at Shore Acres. Here we could see from a short distance, the same waves that we had earlier been craning our necks skyward at in order to comprehend the full breadth and scope. From the cliffside vantage point, we could see and appreciate the awesome perspective of massive wave in comparison to the little ants that were actually people doing what we had been doing just a short while prior.

Sound and aqueous fury

After sideswiping idyllic Simpson Beach, not quite as idyllic on a raging high-surf day, we grabbed a series of use trails that led us to the edge of several bluffs that were a little bit on the wild side, as they don't see as many people as Sunset Bay and Shore Acres do. Same old gigantic waves though and we spent another fair amount of time watching the perpetual war between sea and land. Plus, we had a good view of the Oregon coast to the north getting hammered over and over again by the relentless ocean. We tried to find a short-cut or bushwhack route back to the proper trail but the coastal shrubbery was too thick to make our way through. Defeated by plants, we hiked out on the same old trail we had come in on, our heads hanging in shame.

Not your basic native plant

On the way back, we swung by the formal gardens at Shore Acres and enjoyed the geometric contours of the formal garden and bricked paths, while appreciating the cultured beauty of the flowering daffodils and azaleas. Here, we rejoined with Connie who had been hanging out in the gardens all day while Dianne and I hiked along the coast.

Coltsfoot kept the bees and butterflies entertained

This had to be the slowest hike ever. Basically, we hiked 7 miles and it took us nearly 5 1/2 hours, a pace of 46 minutes per mile. To put it in more understandable terms, we walked slower than a narcoleptic sloth, slower than a Jeep with a broken transmission (personal experience, here), slower than a teenager getting ready to mow the lawn, etc. But can you blame us? There was just too much to savor and appreciate on this fine day.

Things calmed down when the tide began receding

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

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