Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tillamook County's Quiet Waters

I have long maintained the opinion that free boats are never worth what you paid for them. This conviction was nagging at my mind when we stopped beside the free canoe that was lying in the ditch, nearly invisible in its camouflage of mildew, moss, and the green slime that tends to take hold of inanimate objects in western Oregon. This was not a watercraft, it was an ecosystem. was free. We loaded it up and took it home.

After a moss-removal session and a quick bath, we reexamined our bargain. It was not pretty. It was missing some parts. It was obviously going to leak. We loaded it up along with cushions, paddles, life jackets, a homemade bailer, and a redneck anchor. We headed to Tillamook County.

For those who are not familiar with this part of the coast, much of Tillamook County consists of land that is not always above the waterline. Having driven through more than my share of floodwater here, I personally question the belief that the county lies above sea level. While this can cause unpleasantness during flood events, the rest of the time it results in a variety of paddling opportunities for all skill levels. In addition, many of the area's lakes are regularly stocked with trout and are easy to access. They tend to be small and friendly, too, which is good if you have a boat that may not float.

Beaver lodge at Cape Mears Lake. Photo by the author.
One of our favorite places for dubious floating is Cape Meares Lake. After Bayocean Spit was breached in 1952, a breakwater was built and and the incidental hollow behind it filled with fresh water. In theory, this shallow body of water will eventually be replaced with incoming silt. In the meantime, however, it is a beautiful place for boating (maximum speed for powerboats is 5 MPH) and fishing. Many species of waterfowl enjoy the protected water, and beavers inhabit the reedy edges of the lake. While it tends to be warm and weedy in the summer, this lake is more peaceful and often less windy in the "off season" anyway.

Closer to Pacific City, Town Lake is smaller and not as easy to access, but it is a productive little lake and ODFW has been known to stock it with trophy-sized fish.
The free canoe at Town Lake

Rockaway Beach boasts several small lakes, but Lake Lytle wins our endorsement because of its easy access and its bonus lake. Ignoring the traffic on Highway 101, explore the wide, shallow lake. Then, on your way back, bypass the boat ramp and slip under the bridge into a narrow channel. With any luck, the resident beavers have not blocked your way and you can continue into small Crescent Lake. Though surrounded by homes and roads, this area is a haven for wildlife and makes a fun family paddle.

The author on Sand Lake
These lakes are perfect for low-stress family boating because of the lack of current, even in winter. One other "lake" in the area must be mentioned, even though it is a tidal basin and is subject to strong currents along with coastal winds. This is our beloved Sand Lake, just north of Pacific City. Fall is the very best time here; dozens of egrets roost in the trees at night, jellyfish flow in with the tide, and coyotes serenade the stars. Whalen Island is our favorite campground on this entire stretch of coastline, and nearby trails access the Clay Meyers Natural Area. This peaceful place should not be missed, regardless of the time of year.

As for the free canoe, the small amount of incoming water did not dampen our hopes for its future. More than $200 in parts and a lot of elbow grease have given us a fun little family craft that is now "vintage" instead of "junk." Relaxing in the middle of a serene coastal lake, I am happy to admit that I was wrong about this free boat.

About the Lakes

Cape Meares Lake
See our post on Bayocean for directions to Cape Meares Lake. There is a small boat ramp just past the dike road, and one can usually find parking along Bayocean Road. Bank fishing is easy here, as well. It is still possible to access the small community of Cape Meares (the unique "Pagoda House" was moved there from the doomed town of Bayocean) as well as the lighthouse and Cape Meares Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, due to landslides, this now requires a detour.

Deceptively smooth Tillamook Bay. Photo by the author.
While at Cape Meares Lake, you will doubtless peer over the dike at Tillamook Bay. It is shallow and protected here and looks very inviting. Please be aware that this is a notorious body of water, emptying no less than five rivers into the ocean through a relatively narrow channel. It is known for its tricky currents and quickly changing conditions, as well as a boat-eating bar. This bay should only be enjoyed by experienced paddlers with deep-water rescue skills and immersion gear.

Town Lake
To find Town Lake, proceed north out of Pacific City, swinging right to follow the Nestucca River. Turn left over a bridge into the tiny community of Woods. Continuing toward the ocean, watch for a parking spot on the right shoulder. There is a narrow, steep boat ramp which gives some access, and a steep path leads to the dock. The landowner at the other end of the lake allows access from the bank; please be respectful.

Lake Lytle
This lake is simple to find, lying right next to Highway 101 on the northern end of Rockaway. Turn and drive along the northern end of the lake to reach the boat launch and parking ($5 fee). There is also a public fishing dock here.

Sand Lake
This is not a lake, but a tidal basin. It is located north of Pacific City on the Three Capes Route/Sand Lake Road. Pass through Tierra Del Mar and turn left on a tiny road to access Whalen Island. There is a $5 day use fee; even better, consider camping beside the water. Crabbing and fishing are popular here, and it is easy to pump sand shrimp for bait. Be aware that the water level changes dramatically with the tides; low tide leaves mostly mud flats. Check the tides for the mouth of the Nestucca River to get an idea of what the water is doing. WARNING: use caution paddling under the bridge, and do not go near the mouth under any circumstances. Large breakers have been known to sweep in and roll boats, and the current has pulled paddlers out into the sea.

So What is a Redneck Anchor, Anyway?
Bring an onion sack (take out the onions) and a piece of rope. When you are putting the boat in, pick up rocks along the bank and put them in the sack. Tie it off with the rope. When you want to stay in an area while fishing, drop the sack in the water. Tie the other end of the rope to some part of the boat. You may drift a little, and you won't look terribly sophisticated, but if you don't tie it off well and lose the whole mess, you aren't out much. If you subscribe to the "leave no trace" school of thought, replace the rocks where you found them when you're done with them and take your onion sack home with you.
The photographer on Sand Lake. Photo by the author.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bayocean: The Dream the Sea Swallowed

It was the place to be.

First conceived in 1906, Bayocean was planned as the West's version of Atlantic City. It was built on a slender finger of land pointing across Tillamook Bay toward the growing town of Garibaldi. Forested Bayocean Spit seemed like solid enough ground, and the views from this real estate, lying between ocean and bay, were unparalleled.

Homes and a town were built. A hotel, a bowling alley, a general store, and a bakery served residents and visitors. In addition to telephone service and city lights, Bayocean boasted its own post office and even its own railroad.

The devastation began subtly, as such things often do. An inkling of erosion. Then a little more. The reality was that, in spite of its apparent solidity, Bayocean Spit was nothing but sand. The hotel's natatorium was lost by 1932. By 1949, more than 20 homes had been lost to the sea. Then, in the winter of 1952, the ocean tore a half-mile-long breach out of the spit, leaving the remnant as a small island.

The connecting dike we see today was built in 1956, but Bayocean, or what was left of it, was a ghost town. In the winter of 1960, the last house slipped into its watery grave. Only five homes were moved onto the mainland; the rest were lost.

The Bayocean we know now is an outstanding natural area. I stop by on a warm autumn morning for a short walk. Coots bumble about in the water and ospreys wheel overhead as I follow the edge of the bay. I have seen this water as flat as a mirror, and I have seen it pound the dike with foamy fists. Today it is gently rolling, feeling a hint of a breeze. My short walk is growing longer.

After a time, I come to a metal gate. This is where things start to get a little grey. Beyond the gate, parts of Bayocean are still private property. We walk respectfully here; we are walking on someone's lost dream.

I continue through the woods, my footprints joining those of dogs, deer, elk, and other hikers, as well as mountain bike tracks. I rejoin the bay further on, where it kisses the shore with a soft shush. The sun is smiling on this November day. I take off my coat and breathe the salty air. Looking back at the wooded hill, I suspect that someone could talk me into building a house here.

Exploring Bayocean
To find the spit, turn towards Netarts on Highway 131 in downtown Tillamook. Yes, it is just a city street which becomes residential after a few blocks, but it quickly heads out of town. Watch for a right turn onto Bayocean Road. Follow the narrow road along the bay. You will see the spit well ahead of time. Turn right onto the dike just before a sign explaining the history of this area. One side note: when this dike was built, it created a freshwater lake between the ocean and the bay. Known as Cape Meares Lake, it supports a wide variety of wildlife and will be the subject of a future post.

Follow the dike road to a parking area. Pick up the road beyond the barricade and walk along the bay. This road may be accessible for the intrepid wheelchair user as far as the gate; it is gravel over packed sand, generously sprinkled with large potholes, but they can be avoided. All along the road hikers will find trails to the left that lead over the spit to the ocean beach. This makes it possible to hike in a loop of any desired distance, following the bay and then coming back on the beach. Past the gate, these side trails are marked with signs. Energetic hikers can walk all the way to the tip and then back on the beach for a hike of about nine miles. Please use caution near the jetty.

.This is also an excellent route for biking, with very little elevation gain. Of course, bicyclists who like their bikes will want to return on the road to avoid the loose beach sand. Even then, it is always a good idea to thoroughly wash and lube any bicycle that has had contact with salty sand.

Camping at Bayocean?
Now this is where things get very grey. If you go to the end of the spit, you will see several primitive but lovely camp sites. Unfortunately, there is no safe, legal place to park overnight near the spit. In fact, there is a "no camping" sign at the parking lot. So what's the story?

It goes back to Bayocean's history. Part of the spit is still private property. Yes, there are campsites. Yes, they are perfect (assuming you aren't expecting showers, or even fresh water). Yes, if you can figure out how, you can camp there. Most campers boat in from Garibaldi (use caution on this bay; more on that in a future post). It is also possible to bike out from Tillamook, but use extreme caution on Bayocean Road. It is narrow and winding, and in places the shoulders drop abruptly into the bay.

If that all seems like too much trouble, Tillamook County Parks operates a large, year-round campground at Barview Jetty, just north of Garibaldi. Not only is this campground near a peaceful beach, it is set against the northern jetty of Tillamook bay, offering fishing and spectacular wave watching.

Another excellent option is Cape Lookout. This beautiful beachside campground offers a variety of sites year-round, as well as cabins and yurts. A spit at the north end of the campground makes a pleasant walk along Netarts Bay, and a trail at the south end climbs Cape Lookout. To reach the park, return on Bayocean Road to Highway 131 and turn right. You will drive through forested hills to Netarts and the Three Capes Scenic Route, which runs right by the park. This detour is necessary because of slide activity on one section of the Scenic Route, but the remainder is a worthwhile drive. You can learn more about the road closure here.

For more information, the book, Bayocean: The Oregon Town that Fell Into the Sea by Bert Webber is an excellent history of the area and an entertaining read.

                                                 Photos in this post by Sally Gosen Case.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Yachats 804 Trail: A Surfside Hike for Everyone

Ancient feet walked these bluffs, followed by horses and cars on an early highway. I have pushed a wheelchair on this path, walking over shell middens alongside the stormy Pacific . It may not be a wilderness experience, but anyone can come here and look into the hearts of the waves at any time of the year. It is one of our favorite places.

A great advantage of this trail is that it is conveniently divided into three sections, so it's easy at any point to ditch the hike idea and head for the car. Readers who are familiar with Oregon's coastal weather will appreciate this feature; anything can happen at any time!

The northern section leads from the Smelt Sands parking area along low cliffs and beside a quiet neighborhood of motels and residences. While it is less than a mile one way, it ends at a long, sandy beach, so it is easily combined with a beach walk. This whole segment is close to the ocean and one could spend hours here with a camera, waiting for the perfect shot of the perfect wave (hint: it will arrive while you are changing your camera batteries).

View from the parking lot
with Cape Perpetua in the distance.

The middle section also starts at Smelt Sands. Heading south along bluffs and through neighborhoods, it is not as scenic, but it provides a link between the segments, ending at a State Parks parking lot. Believe it or not, this parking area is not to be missed. We have enjoyed many a rained-out picnic in our car, watching waves run up the pretty little Yachats River.

The southern section follows the highway for a while, then heads into another cliffside neighborhood. You will be walking on a road all the way, but the views and wave watching are worth it; look for a modest spouting horn near one of the pullouts. This is another favorite retreat when we end up confined to our car.

Of course, if a storm comes in and hiking becomes miserable, there is always the town of Yachats. Small shops and restaurants offer shelter and warmth. Don't be embarrassed if you look like a drowned rat; they see this all of the time. After all, they live here.

Walking the 804 Trail
Smelt Sands Recreation Site is on the north end of Yachats. Watch for the sign (blink and you'll miss it) and turn west on Lemwick Lane, a modest gravel street. Follow it to a parking area with restrooms and several signs warning of the dangers you may encounter here. In a nutshell: the ocean is big. Very big. It's not watching for you, so you have to keep watch on it.

Park and turn right onto the pathway to walk the northern section of the trail. This part of the path is wide and made of sandy dirt topped with fine gravel. It makes a nice walking surface, but expect puddles and some erosion in places. There are benches in particularly scenic spots. This section is accessible for wheelchairs up to a point; then, the path deteriorates a little and becomes more difficult. I have made it all the way to the beach access, but I can't recommend it for the average wheelchair user. I am more stubborn than most, and my passenger was of a particularly plucky nature. The beach access itself can be extremely slippery at any time of the year; please use caution.

The middle section is to the left from the Smelt Sands parking lot, although it may not appear to be. Yes, the motel lawn is part of the trail. Follow the top of the bluffs to pick up the trail again. At one point, the path squeezes between two split-rail fences, which always makes me feel like a fattened calf heading to the slaughter. Continue to a residential street, then more path. Eventually the path follows a paved road to the state park, where there are picnic tables and restrooms. This section of the trail is a little odd, passing as it does through a series of neighborhoods and sometimes leaving the ocean altogether. It is probably the least suited for wheelchair travel, and in fact it can be omitted completely by driving to the State Park.

To find the park, drive into Yachats and turn west on W 2nd street. Follow 2nd through a charming, beachy neighborhood until you reach the parking lot. Groups of disgruntled seagulls loiter here during inclement weather, cracking mussels and complaining. Don't leave your picnic unattended.

From here, it is a pleasant walk above the river toward the highway. Walk the highway shoulder over the bridge, then turn onto Yachats Ocean Road to walk the south section. To avoid walking on the highway, drive over and park anywhere alongside the road. This whole section is paved but runs along the bluffs the whole way, making it perfect for visitors who have difficulty walking.

While You Are In the Area
There is a short, steep path accessing a lovely little beach from Yachats Ocean Road. The Yachats River, known for its steelhead fishing, empties into the ocean here (check current regulations). The small, scenic river can be paddled, but tends to be a maze of snags.

Most of the campgrounds in the area are seasonal, but Tillicum Beach Campground, a few miles north of town, offers year-round camping. Amenities are simple, but the views and immediate beach access more than make up for the lack of showers. The best part of going in the off-season is that beautiful oceanside sites are actually available! There are pull-in, pull-through, and tent sites, some of which are surprisingly sheltered from beach winds.

Cape Perpetua, with its miles of trails, is just to the south. This area will be covered separately in a future post. Be aware that downed trees and slick trails are common during late fall through early spring and prepare accordingly if you wish to explore the Cape.

Photos in this posting by Sally Gosen Case