Friday, October 23, 2009

Stories from the Road -- The Oregon Coast

Meriwether: Well, I guess this is the end.
William: That's a lot of water.
Meriwether: Want to swim?
William: No way. Did you feel that water? It's cold.
Meriwether: You want to get some sun?
William: I haven't seen the sun in days.
Meriwether: Huh. Let's go back.


It was cloudy, cold, and damp. The ocean was a dreadful gray that mirrored the equally gloomy sky. The water was angry. I could hear the crashes of water long before I saw the beach. The sound is unmistakable in its ominous finality. The road ends here, and there is no need to think about going farther.

I have seen the Atlantic and the Pacific many times now, and there is no doubt that they are different beasts entirely. The warm, relatively quiet waters of the Atlantic almost have a gentle look compared to the ferocious waves of cold striking the West Coast. There are those who prefer the Atlantic for its recreational accessibility, old-style East Coast charm, and commonly blue waters. I prefer the darker blue and gray waters that tease the Pacific Northwest. The ocean is sternly telling any particularly adventurous individual: "Enter at your own risk."

After days of driving and walking through beautiful Yellowstone National Park, the Snake River Valley, and the Columbia River Gorge, Mom and I decided to have our day at the beach. We knew right away that no swimsuits would be necessary.

We departed from Portland early. The sky was overcast and would remain so throughout the day. The air was chilly and would only get chillier as we approached the coast. The wind would pick up, and it felt like it had ventured across the Pacific. The air smelled of salt, and the vibrant colors of the trees and cliffs alongside the ocean were stark contrasts to the monotone grays of the sky and ocean. It was absolutely beautiful.

Our first stop of the day was in Tillamook, a wonderfully rustic, rusty town, battered by constant Pacific breeze and salt. We entered a museum full of kids, and Mom quickly darted for the first penny machine of the day. Her day was already made, but I was hungry for my hobby: lighthouses. I would not be disappointed.

Oregon boasts the Cape Meares Lighthouse as the "shortest lighthouse in the state". Indeed, the lighthouse is minute compared to the stereotypical towers that most people think of. But what it lacks in height it makes up for in beauty. A piercing white color coats the lighthouse, which sticks out dramatically on the cliff it lies on. The alley leading to the lighthouse looks like a scene from a horror film, with trees following the trail and providing an eerily dark canopy. I could hear the water crash into the shore, and glimpses of the ocean were enticing. I frequently stopped on the trail to watch the ocean way below me crash into the tall cliff to my north. It was stunningly beautiful.

The view of the lighthouse itself is a postcard coming to life. The nice people who greeted us inside gave us a detailed history of the structure, and the eerie quiet within the lighthouse made the ocean look even scarier. Yes, the Pacific is for the brave soul.


William: I want to watch just a while longer. Let's set up camp.


We eventually traveled northward on US 101 to Rockaway Beach, with its classic arch-in-the-rock sitting just offshore. We ate lunch here in a wonderful restaurant sitting right on the beach. The seafood was fantastic. Mom and I said little, as we just sat and stared out at the gray sky and water. We could hear the waves in our imagination, and that was enough.

The town is poor and run-down. The buildings look like they could collapse at any time, with the constant weight of salt and water eventually taking its toll on everything. I love the looks of ocean towns. The people are nowhere to be found, inside the buildings they work and live in. The tourists stick out because they are outside, wondering what guidance the ferocious ocean can provide them.

Just after (north) of Rockaway Beach is beautiful Manzanita and an overlook on the highway that I only thought dreams were made of. The angry ocean we had witnessed all day looked like glass from the high bluff we stood on. The ocean eventually turns into the rocks that almost vertically climb to the highway above. The infinite horizon beautifully merged with the sky into a gray haze. Only imagination could take me farther.


Meriwether: Which side? North or south?
William: I don't know, but I just have a feeling south would be better. Call it instinct.


We drove north to Cannon Beach, with beautiful craft shops lining the downtown streets. Mom was like a kid in a candy store, stopping at every open door to look at anything that would remind her of her day here. We were not close to the ocean here, but now the sound of the waves crashing was like a permanent soundtrack. You could feel the ocean in the air just the same. The buildings were just as run-down here. The Pacific Ocean needn't hide from the visitor. It gives itself away unabashedly long before you see it.

We stop at Seaside and watch kite fliers and screaming kids inundate the beach. The town is touristy. I see a statue of two men looking outward. Their imaginations had to have been on hyperdrive.


Meriwether: I wish there was more to see.
William: There is, my friend. There is. Just look out. The whole world is before us.

Cape Meares
"I can see the light!"
A view from the lighthouse path.
Cape Meares Lighthouse
Lighthouse and ocean. Nothing better.
Rockaway Beach
Viewpoint near Manzanita.
My stamp of approval.
Cannon Beach
Seaside. Two men who look out and dream.
Seaside Beach.
Meriwether and William.