Rocks, Waves, Mud and Home

Day Four (days 1-3 posted previously)

The calm after the storm came with a pink sunrise, and long tidy waves rolling in instead of the foamy cauldron of white and roar we’d seen. A small fishing boat in the distance bobbed along on fairly flat seas, an encouraging start to our day of exploring up the coast on the way back to the city.

First stop, Devil’s Churn, part of the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, where the high tide and coves of volcanic rock create explosive… hmm churn really is the best word, so why write more? I wish I could have seen it back when hot lava met the ocean. The trail, a paved half mile loop called The Trail of the Restless Waters, was… again, enough said there in the name. In fact all the signposts used all the best words, and there are none left for me, so I’ll just post them here for your edification.

I could have lingered for hours, mesmerized by the relentless churning, just waiting for one more set of waves, or the big one that would dwarf all the others. A Lord of the Rings image came to mind of the white horses in the foam leading the raging flood in the elven river. I’ve let Peter Jackson into my mind, and now he won’t leave.

There was also another good restroom and I’m grateful to the State of Oregon for their infrastructure. Always clean, always running water, almost always soap and towels. I can rough it just fine, but these finer details are icing on this incomparable place.

We meandered on the trails, reluctant to get on the road because it meant we were leaving this Eden. I stopped at the ranger’s kiosk to ask about the meringue of stiff foam that has covered the rocks this week, preventing us from wading into the tidepools. Not pollution, she said, to my relief, just a natural result of the pummeling of billions of plankton skeletons (alive in summer) into a frothy mix of silica or calcium. Rangers are angels, much like librarians. There to serve, to give information, and make the world a better place. I wanted to be a ranger or librarian when I was growing up, but perhaps there is too much devil in me. I became a teacher instead.

Pummeled plankton, the sign of a healthy ocean! So light it blows around, even up to the bluffs!

Back on the road and one mesmerizing beach view after another, sea stacks and crashing waves, and a couple more lovely bridges – Waldport and Newport. I do love a good bridge – the path from here to there; girders, beams, and arches extended toward the heavens; miraculous engineering. I’ve been known to drive back and forth over a bridge several times, just to get the true flavor of it.

The previous evening, while contemplating our last day on the coast, I stumbled on the Oregon Coast Birding Trail site, a guide to 173 different places to go! As a result, our next stop was at Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which at first appeared to be another weedy swamp. However, the short walking trail soon revealed a unique salt marsh, tidal slough, and mudflat, with pleasing watery views, active songbirds, and glimpses of a variety of ducks, a great blue heron and a harbor seal. Water and birds, the ultimate healer and soother of ills. The porta potty was just ok though.

Sea stacks are another passion of mine, and I follow them like I used to follow the Grateful Dead. Sea stack! Pull over! The cliffside town of Oceanside gave us a close view of Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge which we’d seen from afar last fall. Stacks are curious columns of basalt (in Oregon) that have been separated from land by relentless waves, wind, and rain. I clambered over Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz when I was a kid, before they were protected, and of course some of them eventually eroded away (humans and nature combined). But Oregon’s stacks are made of sturdier stuff, and never fail to delight. There were no murres or tufted puffins to be seen, and we continued on.

Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge

We’d been to the Cape Meares lighthouse in the past, but The Birding Trail guide pointed out the less visited Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge, a 0.8 mile trail going down to the beach. I didn’t research it beforehand, because heck, less than a mile? No problem! We began enthusiastically, and saw only one hiker on the trail (was that a clue?).

The towering old growth sitka spruce and western hemlock were stand-in-awe jaw-dropping visions, and the hillside strewn with broken and blown over trees, both recent and from years past. We repeatedly made our way around and through extended root systems and fallen trees, some shoulder high as they lay on the ground, and some that had fallen across the trail, chain sawed through to allow hikers to pass. 

However, the trail turned out to be a steep 520′ elevation drop with seven switchbacks, in slippery-rooted, shoe-sucking rock-filled mud. We just did not have the wherewithal to make it more than about halfway down before losing heart (and legs) and turned back, though I badly wanted to be on that isolated beach far below. My walking sticks were safely locked in the car far above us and it was the end of a long day, with a two hour drive ahead, and the winter sun getting lower.

We took a quick detour and I hobbled out to the nearby Cape Meares lookout (views!) and the Octopus tree (old, big, and dramatic!!), skipped the lighthouse view (been there!), found another tidy restroom (phew!), and hit the road.

The drive over the coast range on Highway 6 out of Tillamook was gorgeous in the setting sun as a waxing gibbous moon rose over tree lined mountain tops. Thick layers of fog hovered in the valleys, and a surprising amount of roadside snow remained piled up on both sides of the summit for several miles.

As we do at the end of any trip, we made tentative promises and plans for another trip, soon perhaps, weather and virus permitting, before we have to get seeds under lights for spring planting. The garden is our mistress, and defines our travels and perambulations.

We stopped for an ill-advised fast-food dinner (many years since I last did that), a badly needed hot tub, the penultimate episode of Season 2 of Ted Lasso (2nd time) and blissfully soft flannel sheets. Now you know everything about me.

As it turns out, my last blog post was prescient, and I somehow conjured up a tsunami! I woke up safely at home the morning of the huge underwater volcanic eruption in Tonga, but I thank everyone for the warnings.

Best of all, I woke without longing, without a nagging feeling that I wanted to be somewhere else, doing something else. While I use birds and storms and sea stacks and photos as an excuse, the longing is really what it’s all about. I’m satisfied. For now.


Alan’s real camera photos

Trip map

8 thoughts on “Rocks, Waves, Mud and Home

  1. What a journey! So glad you were safe at home at the time of the tsunami. On the morning news here they mentioned it reaching the Northern California coast, but luckily then there was your post! Your pictures match your writing so well. beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another terrific story-telling travelogue. I’m thinking potential tsunami waves in the Churn might have been quite a sight! Glad for your beautiful trip and your words. It’s given me an itchy butt to be in the seat of the car going some place.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That sunrise … I’m such a sucker for that time of day. Love all the info you shared too. A road trip to the beach sounds divine. I love that you continue to be such an inspiration to me on the page. Thanks for your vision and your words. You are a true northwesterner !

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rangers are angels, much like librarians. <—–YESSSSSSSSS more of them please and pay them more. This was so fun to follow. Thanks for bringing us along. I have also decided that not only do you guys love LOTR and watching it every year, you are IN the movies somehow. That stuff breathes you and you it (or something more profound like this) xoxoxo

    Liked by 1 person

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