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The Oregon Coast

Tuesday, 16 September 2003
written by Teresa

Oregon is known for its coast and its rain and we have seen both in ample quantities during the last few days. In fact, on numerous occasions the latter has hidden our view of the former, obscuring virtually everything in a thick, slow moving mist. The rain has fallen in stair rods treating us to the characteristic percussion of drops bouncing off the camper and as always at these times, we have been grateful not to be in a tent.

Pacific Teresa Sunset Bay State Park has a lot to recommend it in spite of the weather. The Bay itself encapsulates my minds eye image of this coast; a sandy curved beach tapering out to pine topped cliffs underscored by rocky platforms while off shore, stacks of various shapes and sizes are pounded by the relentless onslaught of the ocean. The early evening overcast skies created an atmospheric monochrome; providing the perfect backdrop for my first ever paddle in the Pacific.

Along this section of coast, the path hugs the cliff tops above sharp craggy coves, expanses of beach and long stretches of exposed bedrock. In places, the trail turns inland through dense woodland packed with impenetrable undergrowth. Shore Acres South of the Bay, the various reefs and islands provide resting spots for seals and sea lions who haul out in their hundreds, their eerie plaintive cries drifting in on the winds.

The Oregon coast road is dotted with bridges of varying designs reaching out across estuaries, spanning the distances with their curving arches, sometimes obscured in low cloud. The top span of Newport’s impressive Yaquina Bay Bridge was lost from view as we crossed in search of breakfast some days later. All intentions of heading further north vanished under a wall of persistent rain and on the edge of town, remembering a friends recommendation, we turned back to visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium which turned out to be an utter delight.

Floor to ceiling cylindrical tanks allow glimpses into the ethereal translucent world of jellyfish, their skirt edges rippling as their bodies undulate in a perpetual effortless dance. Huge tanks with Perspex tunnels through the middle give a fishes eye view of a universe usually hidden from our sight. Starfish with twenty-three arms, or legs, anchor on the clear surface, while huge white, green and pink anemones are attached to every conceivable surface. Fish swim above, below and around, glimpses of their unusual colours and patterns passing briefly as they swiftly move through their medium. It is for all the world like sitting in a bubble in the middle of a very large fish tank, quite safe, warm and dry and yet somehow submerged in this nether world.

Our favorite indoor beasties were perhaps the Leafy Sea Dragons although many others vied for the vote. I can best describe them as largish sea horses with small green and brown “leaves” growing from their bodies giving them the appearance of a floating piece of vegetation. In a Disney production, they would look perfectly in place maybe as camouflaged mounts for underwater pixies intend on subterfuge. Their cousins the Sea Horses were equally fascinating although more familiar. Interested females attended a “Pregnant” male, entwining their tails around sea grass, anchoring themselves in place whilst other individuals used their tiny back “fans” to propel themselves around. In an adjacent tank, gestation had come to term and the water was teaming with minute perfectly formed horses.

In a small side tank were a number of Mermaids Purses that we had both always assumed were seaweed pods. However, their companions were tiny semi-transparent skates that apparently spend their initial growth period in with the money, feeding on a yolk until they are big enough to venture forth unprotected. Their parents were over in the touch tank allowing us the opportunity to gently stroke their silky soft skins. Green anemones tried to catch onto feeling fingers with their sticky tentacles and the starfish were well protected with their hardened crusty backs.

In the outside displays, one of the few sad notes of the place is the pool of seals and sea lions who appear to be swimming round and round in a very small space, a little like animals pacing a cage in a land zoo. The colony of pinnipeds residing in the town’s marina must be audible to this small group of captured animals perhaps making them hanker for the open sea.

The Rogue Brewery An old wooden warehouse on the edge of the marina is home to the Rogue Brewery where a small tasting room operates just like a pub. To reach it involves following a dog leg passageway, crossing the storage section of the establishment, heeding the warnings to be on the lookout for roaming forklifts, and climbing a higgledy-piggledy staircase to arrive in a balcony overlooking the main brewing vats. This is a true micro, producing a prolific number of excellent beers and a very active blow off bucket on the floor below was evidence that the process was hard at work.

From Newport the road took us north along more stunning coastal scenery to the state park at Cape Lookout, which gave Sterling numerous opportunities for word play: “Cape… LOOK OUT!” Cape Meares and the beach at Cape Lookout State Park A little north of the imposing cliffs of the cape itself, a beach stretches out in the thin finger of a spit, holding behind it a tidal mud flat that will no doubt be eventually enclosed in the march of time. On these wide-open beaches white-topped waves roar as they collapse forward rushing up the sand. Birds scurry to and fro with the front line searching for tasty crustaceans and jellies while lines of oscillating pelicans are visible out over the deeper waters. Mists roll in off the sea over the sandy ribbon, enveloping the moss covered evergreens of the backdrop and these swirling banks seem to be the norm with clear days a rarity.

The coastal trail from the campground out to the Cape proved harder going than anticipated and we returned after a ten mile round trip and a couple of thousand feet climb with tired feet and ready for dinner. Fortunately someone had kindly prepared a casserole earlier and all that remained to be done was to pop it in the oven and sit in that lovely mindless aftermath of physical exertion replaying the views of wonderful dense woodland and spectacular coastal stretches.

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