Coastal Oregon

I have been dreaming of visiting the Pacific Northwest for years. If you know me, you know that I am almost always scheming about some far-off place that I want to experience. My wanderlust was particularly severe during a period of time between 2013 and 2015, before I had really travelled much at all. I would spend hours on Google Earth, virtually touring different places I wanted to go, but with no real idea of when or how it could ever happen. One of the places I was particularly fixated on was the stretch of coast between Redwood and the Olympic Peninsula. Pictures of giant trees and brightly colored starfish on jagged beaches captivated my imagination. As the years passed, Vince and I became more interested in international instead of domestic travel. Meanwhile, many of our friends began moving to the west coast, and we kept talking about planning a trip out to visit, only to end up using all of our vacation time in other countries. When covid made international travel nearly impossible, we adjusted, bought a National Parks pass, and started doing domestic trips again. In fact, I think we’ve seen more of the US in the past year than we have during the rest of our marriage combined; but the Pacific Northwest still eluded us. It’s farther away than we want to drive for a road trip, and flights to the area have historically never been cheap (I’ve been known to complain that it costs me less to get to Europe than it does to get to the west coast).

That changed last month when Allegiant Air opened a direct flight from our home town to Portland. Suddenly we could get across the country for a $180 round trip, and we jumped at the opportunity. Bonnie joined us on our afternoon flight, and we were in Portland by that evening.

We met up with Amy and Andrew at Nob Hill Food Trucks for a much needed dinner, and were surprised to find that our friend Brian was already there too. He was in town on business, and would be spending the weekend with us. After dinner, it was time to drive back to finally see Amy and Andrew’s new house, where they were kind enough to host all four of us Michiganders. Along the way, we stopped at the Pittock Mansion. It was closed for the evening, but we were still able to wander its colorful gardens and take in a view of the city.

After one more stop at a the 99 Ranch Market (because I was craving Pocari Sweat), we made it back to Amy and Andrew’s where they gave us a tour of their home. We made plans for the next morning and then promptly crashed into bed, exhausted.

The next day we got up early and drove out to the coast, starting with Canon Beach. It was a rare sunny morning, and the famous beach town was packed with sightseers. We found parking and tromped down to the beach where we got an immediate view of Haystack Rock, the famous sea stack where we were planning to look for tufted puffins.

It was a beautiful morning to be on the beach, and I looked for tiny sand dollars washed up in the surf as we approached Haystack Rock. As we got closer, we could see sea birds flying around the rock and coming in to land on its jagged sides. Among them were Murres, Gulls, Cormorants, and to our delight, Tufted Puffins! The adorable little birds were much too far away for me to get any pictures, but we all took turns looking at them through Vince’s binoculars. We also saw a handful of female Mandarin Ducks swimming in the water below the rock.

We bird-watched for the rest of the morning and then drove a little further north to Ecola State Park where we enjoyed a picnic lunch of homemade hummus, relish, and babaganoush that Andrew and Amy had made with vegetables from their garden. The food was delicious, and our picnic table overlooked a stunning view of Crescent Beach with Canon Beach and Haystack Rock still visible in the distance.

Once all of the mezze had been devoured, we started hiking from a nearby trailhead. A steep trail led us downward through a lush forest that was blanketed in ferns. Tall trees towered overhead, but Amy said they were nothing compared to what we would see in Redwood later on in the trip.

The weather had changed by the time we stepped onto the sandy shore of Crescent Beach. Clear skies had been clouded over, giving the shoreline a dramatic feeling. We fanned out across the beach, exploring little pools and climbing on the large volcanic boulders that dotted the sand. Little sea creatures nibbled at my feet as I stood in a puddle to take some long exposure shots of the surf. Even though they were a nuisance, I ignored them until I realized that my feet were bleeding from their bites. I’d like to say that I had some groundbreaking photography to show for my trouble, but I only ended up with a couple of passable shots.

In fact, I ended up liking my low-effort clicks the best on this excursion.

As we walked along the shore, I was amazed at how many memories Ecola State Park was pulling into my mind. The forest brought up memories of New Zealand, and the beach made me think of Reynisdrangar in Iceland. Everything felt new, yet oddly familiar at the same time. We wandered the beach for a while, poking at things that had been washed ashore, and then put our shoes back on and began the uphill hike back to our cars. Along the way we encountered the first of many massive banana slugs that we would see during our time in Portland.

Back at the top of the hill, we took a short walk to see the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse which stood alone on a large sea stack far offshore.

Then we drove a little further north and stopped at Indian Beach, where we watched surfers while taking a stroll down a rugged shoreline covered in driftwood.

By the time we got back to the car the weather had turned on us. The rest of the day was rainy, and we spent it in the city of Astoria, getting dinner and hot chocolate. It was nearly dark by the time we began the drive back to Portland. It had been a relaxing first day of the trip, and the next day would bring an entirely different set of adventures.

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