Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Stop Along the Way: At the Foot of Cape Perpetua

Devil's Churn
If, as T. S. Eliot said, April is the cruelest month, then March must be the most capricious. Oregonians are fond of saying that if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes; this truism applies doubly during the month that generally comes in like a lion and goes out like a lion. But this is the month when spring break happens, whether or not spring has arrived, and vacationers will take their vacations. Many of these folks head to the coast, where they will find sunshine, rain, wind, hail, thunder, and even, occasionally, snow; encountering all of these within the same day is not outside the realm of possibility. The sun does make an appearance, though, and even showery days allow moments to get out of the car and enjoy the beauty of the Oregon coast.

Located roughly midway between Newport and Florence, Cape Perpetua offers endless photo opportunities; indeed, we have covered the climb (or drive) to the top in a previous post. When time or weather don't allow for a long hike, however, there is plenty to see right beside Highway 101. Driving south from the little village of Yachats, the highway quickly climbs a shoulder of the cape,  providing stunning ocean views. Sweep around a few narrow, shoulderless curves and watch on your right for the parking lot beside Devil's Churn (please be aware that this lot, like many others here, requires a parking pass or $5 day-use fee which is good for the entire area). Look over the cliff at the north end of the lot; ocean waves rush and swirl dramatically inside a long slot in the rock. There is a wheelchair-accessible viewpoint, and a trail takes intrepid hikers down to the edge of the chasm; stay well back from the edge, as waves are unpredictable and very powerful. The Churn is a must-see following a storm, when surging water explodes against the walls of the slot. The deep, reverberating "boom" when each wave hits the end of the chasm is a good reminder of just how powerful the ocean is.

Tide pools
If you do venture onto the rocks, keep one eye on the ocean at all times, as sneaker waves can wash over this ledge at any time and hikers have been pulled into the sea. Note that the green, mossy-looking areas on the rocks can be very slippery; try to avoid walking on them. Sturdy shoes and a walking stick are highly recommended. There are a number of tide pools here, best accessed at low tide. It is possible to pick your way along the base of the cliff and go all the way around to tiny Cape Cove Beach, but a much easier (and safer) way is to climb back up to the nicely-paved Trail of the Restless Waters, which passes through the woods above the cliffs. A side path provides access to Cape Cove.

Cook's Chasm
Thor's Well, and a very soggy photographer!
Back on the highway, you will pass a left turn that leads to the top of Cape Perpetua (covered in our previous post) and Cape Perpetua Campground, a lovely creekside spot that is only open seasonally. Next is a pullout on the right above Cape Cove. After this, watch for a sizable parking area on the right, just above Cook's Chasm. The Chasm can be viewed from the parking lot, and there is a spouting horn to the south. This rocky shelf is full of slots, caves, and holes. One can stand back and imagine the wall of volcanic rock that flowed until it met the unyielding sea, where it stopped in the wide ledge we see today. The spouting horn is caused by wave pressure building up inside a tube in the lava flow. Cook's Chasm was formed from a crack in the rock; a trail leads to its edge beneath a picturesque bridge.

Before we leave this parking lot, there is one more sight to see. To the north of Cook's Chasm, out toward the edge of the rock shelf, you can see a large hole: a collapsed sea cave. This is the famous Thor's Well, and you are likely to see a photographer or two dodging waves while trying for that perfect shot. Depending on wind and tide you may see nothing but a big hole, or water surging up and then pouring back down the walls of the hole, or a huge fountain with every wave. In any case, be safe and keep an eye out for sneaker waves.

Trail of the Restless Waters
If you have time and the weather cooperates, all of these features can be reached from a connecting trail. Park at Cook's Chasm or Devil's Churn and make a hike out of your short visit. There is also a cozy Visitor Center with lovely views; from there, follow a trail past the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, through a tunnel under the highway, and down to the cliffside trail.

Year-round camping is available to the north at Tillcum Beach, which has ocean views and easy access to a long, level, sandy beach. To the south, Alder Dune is always open; there are two small, trout-stocked lakes and forested trails here. Both of these campgrounds have reservable sites, and both can fill quickly on the weekends, so plan ahead if possible.

While traveling the coast, don't rush on through just because the weather is unsettled and you don't have time for a long hike. Highway 101 abounds with opportunities to pause and enjoy the amazing beauty of our coastline. Cape Perpetua is one of these places, a magnificent site where you can spend five minutes or five hours exploring with the Pacific Ocean as your backdrop.

Devil's Churn

Cape Cove Beach

Cook's Chasm
Spouting Horn

 Bridge at the Chasm

More soggy photographers at Thor's Well


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Oh my god, what a beauty! Water always amaze me. And no matter if this is river, or lake, or the huge ocean. It always makes me feel the calmness and the greatness of the nature. I would like to live somewhere near the sea or ocean. I think it's amazing to wake up and hear the silent voice of the water. Or read a review on bestessayhelp.com, feeling thesmell of the salt.