Thursday, July 7, 2011

sitting in the sun, breathing the salty air

"... The grandest and most pleasing prospect my eyes ever surveyed." 

This was how explorer William Clark put into words what he saw when seeing the Oregon Coast, and specifically the region near Cannon Beach, for himself in 1806. What my eyes too witnessed while recently visiting the same area was parallel. 

The Oregon Coast is phenomenal. I've struggled the last few days to find words that properly describe the coastline so as to give it justice, and there aren't many. Phenomenal will have to do. It is a region that shows the aged earth we live on; 400-year-old sitka spruce trees that blanket parkland, basaltic sea stacks left behind after decades of erosion. It is an area that I am not sure I can captive into one single blog post.  

Spiderwebs gathered morning dew near
where we camped in Astoria, OR.

Last Thursday, having had enough of the hustle and bustle of Vancouver, of working and eating and sleeping and repeating, we took the long weekend to go to Cannon Beach, Oregon, some 552 km and six hours of driving down south. It was the best decision I've made (as of recently). We slept the first night on a dirt road near Astoria (a difficult thing to do in the U.S., as state troopers often patrol roads and will send you packing to a campsite if they catch you). We parked on a sandy marshland/spit area, and in the morning heard the fishing boats heading out along the Columbia River estuary. Not quite sure yet what to expect of Oregon, we took a walk to the waterfront and then packed up to drive a few miles further to Cannon Beach.

We first rented surfboards when we arrived in Cannon Beach. I've surfed only once before in Tofino, and it was a challenging endevour - one I wasn't sure I'd try again. My hesitation at surfing lurked beneath my skin as I pulled on my wetsuit. And then it was off to Indian Beach in Ecola State Park - a beach surfers head to for some nice (I prayed) breaking waves.

Top: me surfing. Middle: Ben and
I with our boards. Bottom: Ben
at Indian Beach. 
The view of Indian Beach was incredible. Golden sand stretching as far out as possible, waves creeping up on giggling children running to escape the cold Pacific. Basaltic sea stacks in the distance with the white caps of waves crashing into them, and I, in my surf gear, terrified. However, as is evident in the pictures to the right, fear hath no place for surfing. After some coaxing from Ben, and a silent prayer to the surf Gods, I plunged into the water. I have never been more ecstatic, more thrilled, in my entire life, as I felt the first time I got up on my knees, and then my feet, on the surf board. The wave pushed me in, and I caught myself yelling out to anyone who would listen, "I'm riding a wave!" Perhaps my excitement goes misunderstood by those who haven't yet had the chance to surf. Still, it was invigorating.

Ecola State Park's Hiker's Camp.

We surfed all afternoon before putting into place the next two night's sleeping arrangements. Ben and I carry with us a certain refusal to pay to camp. Such an attitude is detrimental when in the States. So, we settled for the second best: pay $15 to camp two  in Ecola State Park. This meant hiking our gear up more than 800 feet in elevation and 1.25 miles to the camp. Exhausted nonetheless, we managed to make it up and spent two nights camping surrounded by a greener-than-green forest and friendly fellow campers near Tillimook Head. We carried up the tent, the food, the clothes. The site was magical; cabins, the biggest clover patches I've ever seen, and campfire shenanigans.

We spent the Friday and Saturday surfing, and Saturday night did a little exploring before heading back up to camp. We checked out the Lookout (right). Sea stacks are ever present - the ocean has, over thousands of years, eroded away any surrounding rock and what remains is this basalt section of rocks, making for a spectacular view. The rocks play homage to several different species of birds (including puffins) and seals, as well. In the state park, as a part of the trail that leads to Hiker's Camp, is the Clatsop Loop Trail, again a trail made famous by the Lewis and Clark expedition (read up on this, it's very interesting). On Saturday night we did the second part of the trail which runs along the cliffs to the camp, and the hike led us through a maze of trees unlike I've ever seen before. There was the view of the open ocean, with the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse (which closed in 1956), and the exploration of an old World War II bunker (also on the hike).
Sitka Spruce. The right tree began growing atop a fallen tree, which
then broke down into the earth, hence my ability to climb beneath it's roots.
Ben skimboarding along Cannon Beach
in front of Haystack Rock and "the Needles."
Far too soon Sunday morning came, and we left Hiker's Camp, said goodbye to some very friendly Portland people, and made one last quick stop at Cannon Beach. This beach is perhaps the most famous of them all along the Oregon Coast, if not for the view itself, for it's Hollywood claim to fame. The movie The Goonies was filmed on the beach. Haystack Rock, the most photographed, stands at 235 feet and is a monolith (meaning it is made up of one single type of rock), and is the third largest of this kind in the world. We flew our kite on the beach, ate a snack, and then headed our way back to Vancouver, reluctantly. 

For many years I've wanted to head down the Oregon Coast. I love my mountains, but the salt water and the Pacific, with its sandy beaches, welcoming surf, and even more welcoming sites, is grabbing a hold of my feet and pulling me closer. The north part of the Oregon Coast really is the grandest and most pleasing prospect my eyes ever surveyed... yet.

Photo credits to myself and Benjamin Ross.


  1. Jesse. Oregon is my favorite. I've been heading down there for years, Camp Spot 44C at Nehalem Bay state park is my second Home. Its just near MAnzinita. I love it there. Did you make it to smugglers cove in oswald state park just south of cannon beach? its amazing. Hike through the old growth down the most popular surfing spot on the oregon coast. Its magic.

  2. If you like volcanic landscapes and easy but rugged backcountry hiking, check out Hwy#97 along the central line. The Deschutes NatForest and the Newberry Volcano Monument have weird & beautiful stuff to see packed high in density. Of course Crater Lake is a big one not to be missed.


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