Seattle to Santa Barbara: Part 1- Oregon Coast

February 8-13

We got a late start on the 8th. Hoping to have left town by late morning, our plans got held up by one thing or another, and we set out around 2pm. I punched in a campground we were hoping to get to in Oregon, but immediately knew that was out of the question. A tractor trailer had rolled over on I-5 along our route, and detours made our trip a couple hours longer.

Have a plan, but be flexible.

Astoria was our next pick. Situated along the Columbia River in Oregon, it seemed quaint, safe, and on the way. With all of the first day hurdles, we settled for the a motel described as “vintage”. In reality, everything was just old and perhaps broken. But it was clean and we needn’t stay longer than to rest our heads for the night.

The whole town seemed to be stuck in the 60’s, which was pretty neat as we drove through streets with old theaters and shops, groovy signs and murals everywhere.

The following morning, I went for a run along the river and Charley and Jamie did some exploring of the waterfront and downtown Astoria. Freighters lined the river, making their way up the meandering yet massive waterway, perhaps to Portland. We made a stop for a picnic lunch up at the Astoria Column, set high on the hilltop and offering panoramic views of Astoria and the confluence of the Columbia, Youngs, and Lewis and Clark Rivers before they dumped out into the Pacific.

Taking US 101 south (Oregon Coast Highway), we set our bearings toward Cannon Beach, a popular spot for Portland folks getting away for the day. The sea stacks and rock formations just off the shore were impressive. A theme we’d get used to for the rest of the coastline in Oregon.

I liked to note how the light really affects your experience when looking at these monster mounds of earth. The south facing slopes were lit up and exposed every detail of the crevices and vegetation clinging to the rocks. The north facing slopes gave an eerie silhouette, a shadow of the giant always quietly present.

We hopped back on US 101 and continued south, picking out Nehalem Bay State Park as our campground for the night. Along the way we spotted bald eagles atop their sea stack perches, and stopped at lookouts along the sea if we felt the urge to do so.

Arriving at camp, we made a quick dinner and walked 5-10 minutes from the campsite over to Nehalem Beach for sunset. It’d be our first of many ocean sunsets, each unique and spectacular in its own rite.

The beaches in Oregon are massive with firm sand, not a lot of debris, and quite empty when we were there. A stroke of good luck with cooperative weather in February may have been the reason. In any event, it is now perhaps our favorite stretch of coastline in the West.

We enjoyed our first good nights sleep back in the Nancy the Nest, our rooftop tent. The overnight low was probably around 40F, but we were warm and cozy. A basic breakfast of yogurt with fruit and granola, hard boiled eggs and coffee got us ready for the day’s adventure.

Our journey on the 10th would take us from Nehalem Bay to Tillicum Beach campground, sticking to the coastline on 101. First stop was Elk Flats, a little out-and-back walk along sea cliffs reminiscent of the Cliffs of Mohr in Ireland (though we’ve never been).

The sea was relentlessly turbulent against the cliffs, like a foaming rabid dog (no offense Charley). The magnitude of the waves and and scale of the battered rock was difficult to wrap our heads around.

Anyone on the West Coast has probably heard of Tillamook dairy products. Our drive that day would take us right through Tillamook and we couldn’t help ourselves- we made a pit stop at the factory and did a self guided tour and sampled the freshest cheeses and ice cream.

Cape Kiwanda was the next planned stop. I must thank Jamie for saving all these points of interest on her Maps app before we set out. We always say she’s the white collar worker, planning and scheming our trips; and I take care of the blue collar work- driving, carrying, moving. It’s a good combination.

We went tide pooling at Cape Kiwanda, and it wasn’t even difficult to find the starfish. Laced along the dark, wet (but not submerged) areas of the rock mounds and sea stacks, there seemed to be hundreds of them. We’d never seen anything like it. Charley was suspicious but interested. We didn’t let her disturb them, though.

It’s tough not to stop at every opportunity when driving the scenic roads. Time was on our side, with almost 3 weeks to kill before getting to Santa Barbara. But still, we tried to keep some pace as we moseyed south.

We made a couple more stops that afternoon at lighthouses that have long given mariners the ability to move safely in the night along the rugged coastline. Stopping into the town of Newport, OR, we restocked on groceries and grabbed a quick dinner at Mo’s seafood and chowder shack before moving along to Yachats and the Tillicum Beach campground. On first inspection, there seemed to be no sites available. Upon lap 2, we found a spot, not perfectly level, but manageable and would save us quite a bit instead of finding a motel.

The beach was stunningly empty that night. We walked along the shore under the moonlight and stars and the waves set the baseline “quiet”. It was just about low tide, and it felt like we could walk for hours without running out of beach.

It was not the best night’s sleep that night. The slightly un-level ground made the bed in the Nest tilt right-to-left. And Charley was hogging quite a bit of the bed. But waking up in the crisp cold air revitalized us, and the greetings of the waves in the morning light was welcomed. We took another walk along the beach in the morning before setting out for the day.

We’d make a stop at Cape Perpetual lookout, only a handful of minutes off 101 and up a winding, climbing road far above the rocky shores. Thor’s well- a disappearing hole among the submerged cliffs of the shoreline, and Spouting horn- an incarcerated cave with a blowhole, were two more features we were sure to check out before digging in for the longer drive that day.

Heceta Lighthouse and bridge were tucked beneath 101 in a cove and we made a stop for a few minutes. Deciding that we needed to move a bit quicker on down the coast on this particular day, we carried on until lunchtime.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is a 40 mile stretch of coastal sand hills full of recreational opportunities. Most folks rent side-by-sides or dune buggies and explore the area. We stopped for a PB&J lunch at a small pond hidden beneath one of the towering dunes and stretched our legs for a few minutes.

Back on the road, we were stopped prior to crossing a bridge in the Florence, OR area. Police showed up and had the road blocked. The next moment, one of them ran across the bridge entrance and laid a spike-strip. A beat up old Chevy Avalanche with a window busted out roared toward us after its tires were punctured. It passed us in the opposite direction, swerving and nearly hitting us. I looked in my rear-view and it continued to shamble down the road, with police in pursuit.

Just one of the nutty things we saw on our travels this time.

We carried on south and a bit inland, passing Gardiner, Coos Bay, Bandon, Port Orford. We popped back out at the coast and took it just a bit farther to Humbug Mountain State Park. I think Jamie and I agree- this may have been our favorite campground of the trip.

I threw on my running gear and took a stroll up and along the old Highway 101, cut out of the mountain a bit higher than the current path. Ocean and sea stacks flanked my side throughout. Jamie and Charley walked down to the beach, only 10 minutes from our campsite. We’d return again for the sunset show, and with the beach empty, it seemed like a performance for just the three of us. After the sun fell beneath the horizon, we returned back to our site for dinner and a campfire. We put one of our favorites, Mandolin Orange, on the speaker. They seem to be the perfect campfire music.

Another tough night’s sleep. But we always feel great once we’re in the cold fresh air. It erases all of our aches and pains, our weariness. Breakfast was oatmeal, biscuits, fruit, with some coffee to wash it down.

We were headed across the highway to Humbug Mountain, for a morning hike before moving farther south. It was a beautiful, quiet, intimate hike. The views at the top were grand, and the whole trail was well maintained. And it was warm, 60F maybe? I had to pinch myself- we were in the northwest in the middle of February and the vegetation was a healthy vibrant green and we were wearing t-shirts. Not what I expected. Also not complaining.

We drove another hour south on the 101 after lunch and packing up our campsite, and made it to Harris Beach State Park in southern Oregon. We picked a site in the large park, and set out to enjoy the phenomenal weather.

Myers Creek Beach had some more starfish, which we were obliged to go check out. “What do they eat? Why do they just sit there?” Jamie asked. They were a couple of the numerous questions we asked each other throughout the trip. Most questions went unanswered, an odd thing in the times of search engines and information abundance. But with little cell service and too many things to explore, we were fine to leave them be.

Our friends Jeremy and Daisy mentioned a beach dubbed “Secret Beach” that they’d visited along the Samuel Boardman Scenic Corridor on a trip through the area. It sounded too interesting to pass up.

It is certainly no secret, as we were one of many groups that had found their way down the steep trail to the cove. In fact, a small group had arrived at the same time we did, all dressed in their best for a wedding.

We returned back to our campsite and had some pasta and meatsauce, a camping Jamie special, and turned in for the night.

After a good night’s sleep, we chowed on egg and cheese’s, a bit of sunshine, and some rocket fuel. Deciding to stay another night at the Harris Beach campground, we only packed what we needed for the day and set out to explore the area.

Our neighbor at the Humbug Mountain campground had mentioned a grove of redwoods near Harris Beach, the northernmost grove in the country. We had to take a look.

It was a lengthy drive up a dusty forest road, but that gave us more solitude. The grove was a silent temple of giants, and we were mere visitors, insignificant to the grove.

The fog had rolled in that morning and swallowed up the sunshine, and when we returned from our redwood expedition, the ocean was imperceptible from the campground. We decided to head to Whaleshead beach back north on the 101, and took a lengthy walk along the fogged shore. “PNW vibe” is the label Jamie put on the foggy, evergreen laden coastline.

We were nearing the end of our time in Oregon. It had treated us so, so well. I don’t think we’ll forget how the beaches made us feel- connected, calm. It steals your ego, being in these special places. It’s the best peace we could ask for.

Next up: California.

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