I do a fair amount of research before I travel to a new place, but never so much that the sense of discovery is quashed. In that spirit, our road trip to southwestern Oregon and neighboring northwestern California unfolded with a nice balance of the known and the unpredictable: we always knew where we were staying at night, but every day offered up new discoveries.
Take beaches, for example: I’ve seen photos of Oregon beaches and I’ve been to a few of them, so I thought I knew what to expect: crashing surf, vast expanses of sand set with sun-bleached log giants, craggy sea stacks. I expected I’d find sea stars and hoped to spot sea lions. But fossils and rows of geometrically patterned rocks on the beach? No, I didn’t expect that!
That’s Beverley Beach, on Oregon’s central coast in the first photo. We pulled off Route 101 there one day with little more than a sign to entice us. The parking lot is on the opposite side of the road from the beach, so we took the short path following a log-packed creek under the highway and out to a broad, sweeping beach. Savoring the instant “Ahhh” of relaxation you get when you meet the ocean, we slowly meandered south, enjoying the mind-freeing spaciousness and the satisfying give of sand underfoot. It was a brisk day, the sky packed with cumulus clouds, the tide half-way in, the views up and down the beach nearly empty. No ships, few birds, just ocean, earth and sky, and a pin-like gash on the horizon where a distant lighthouse stood.
Soon the landscape changed, and we arrived at a steep, hard-packed mud cliff, oozing moisture from runoff overhead.
Curious about the muddy cliff, I leaned in, and peering closely, I saw one, two, hundreds – no, thousands – of fossils, arrayed at eye level: a paleontologist’s home run. There were shells displayed at every possible angle, and odd, perfectly spherical protrusions, too. Wonderment is a gift, and we had it in spades that day as we walked the beach, but part of me wishes I’d known a little about the geology here before. I was entranced by the fossils and oddly-shaped rocks but I had no idea I was witnessing evidence of two different formations from tens of millions of years ago: a neat pairing of sediment layers and volcanic ash layers, the now-compacted ash hailing all the way from the distant Cascade Mountains.
Here’s a quick video about Beverley Beach fossils. The photos below may picture the volcanic layer but so far, I’ve been unable to find out what makes these intriguing, sculptural shapes.
The beach offered up treasures, too:
And apparently there are things to eat:
What a piece of luck it was to choose that beach to explore.
Another day we wandered north on Route 101 from Newport, searching for a spot we remembered from a previous trip on the Oregon coast, a scenic overlook that was as far south as we got that time. Eventually we found it (I’m not called Balboa for nothing!) on a narrow, two-lane road called Otter Crest Loop that parallels the highway. The Ben Jones Bridge, built in 1927, spans a dramatic gorge overlooking a wild strip of coastline. Inspecting the rocks, once again we found Pelagic cormorants nesting here, on precarious crevices high up on a salt-sprayed cliff. Photographing them proved beyond my capability, but it felt good just to watch the birds swoop in to their narrow perches, and listen to wave after wave of foamy turquoise seawater crashing into the rocky shore.
The central coast of Oregon is so packed with scenic pull-outs, it’s hard to know where to stop. Gunta, an Oregon coast expert who blogs at Movin’ On, recommended Cape Perpetua, a headland which is the highest viewpoint on the Oregon coast reachable by car. Advertised to provide fantastic views on clear days, Cape Perpetua afforded us a dramatic view of a darkening squall drawing nearer and nearer as the air grew colder and colder. A short loop trail through the woods features mighty evergreens and an old stone and wood shelter looking out across the Pacific. The intense contrast between snug forest and windy sea was a perfect mix.
One minute, dark clouds and icy-cold winds bit our faces, the next, sunbreaks lit up the shore:
And then it was on to southern Oregon and a rewarding day of botanizing with Gunta (close encounters with carnivorous plants!). The day after that we romped on another spectacular Oregon beach, on our way to northern California, where house-sized redwoods kept us humble, and a hundred miles from the ocean, in a charming mining town, the oldest continuously used Chinese temple in California kept us humble, too…but that’s another story, or maybe several stories.