Monday, January 25, 2016

A Winter Walk in Yachats: Ya'Xaik Trail and the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve

Yachats, the "Gem of the Oregon Coast," is truly a gem for hikers. Situated at the base of Cape Perpetua between Waldport and Florence, this little town boasts miles of trails, both on the Cape and right in town. Some of the Cape trails take a beating during the coastal winter, but many of the area's paths are great for hiking year-round.

Trails abound inside the town, winding through and around and meeting up in a weblike pattern. This excellent map gives an overview of the town's trail system, including the Ya'Xaik trail, which is so new that it doesn't show up on many maps.

Coming into Yachats from the north, watch for Diversity Drive on your left. This can be easy to miss, as it looks like a parking lot for some new homes. Go ahead and pull in, drive to the end, and park at the trailhead. There are no facilities here, just some parking spots and a sign.

Stump with springboard notch gives
new life to the next generation.
The trail immediately leaves the asphalt and starts climbing, but for the most part it's an easy path, smooth and slightly rolling. This is dense, lush woodland, and it's hard to imagine that it was once a clearcut. Watch for large, telltale stumps with springboard notches, a sure sign of early loggers. Many of these stumps are now nurseries for younger trees or huckleberries. You will find a wide variety of birds here year-round due to the mild coastal climate. Watch for chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, vireos, kinglets, wrens, Stellar's jays, and even an occasional hardy hummingbird. Mushrooms and other fungi thrive in the damp forest, and an amazing variety of mosses grow here, as well.

After less than a mile, the path reaches a wooden gate with a sign announcing the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve. This is a private garden, beautifully laid out and open to the public. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed in the garden, so hikers who plan to visit the garden will need to leave their furry companions behind.

Pass through the rustic gate to find 3.5 acres of clever plantings; the exotic species have been seamlessly inlaid into a parcel of classic coastal forest. There are rhododendrons, to be sure, but many of them are from the Himalayas instead of Oregon. Oregon Grape and native piggyback plants share the stage with magnolias and a massive gunnera. Watch for palms tucked in here and there. Boardwalks give access to the more boggy areas, and through it all trickles a lovely little creek. Enjoy this peaceful place, and make plans to return in warmer weather to see it in bloom.

Once you have finished in the garden, you will have to decide where to go next. You may certainly turn around and return through the peaceful forest, but there are other options due to Yachats' many paths. The lower gate of the Preserve opens behind an art gallery; one could peruse the gallery's offerings, then follow Highway 101 south back to Diversity Drive. Another good option, especially if the weather is cooperative, would be to walk south briefly on 101, then take the path to meet up with the 804 Trail for a walk alongside the ocean.
Wave Action on the 804 Trail

This hike is not accessible, but the 804 Trail offers some accessible areas, as well as restroom facilities at Smelt Sands Park. For sturdy winter campers, Tillicum Beach Campground is open all year, offering both tent and RV sites right beside the ocean.

Tillicum Beach

A final word for coastal visitors who want to be mistaken for locals: say "YAH hots" and "YAH kike." Also, since you're in the area, "YaQUINNa" and "Heh SEE tah." You're welcome.

A friendly challenge from the photographer: as you walk through the botanical reserve, try to find the location of this miniature fairy garden. It is easy to walk past.

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