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Oregon coast can be a great winter experience
Hiking, hunting for agates, and spectacular sights can all be found at the Oregon coast
The rocky Oregon coast in winter can be a spectacular sight.
February 18, 2013
The Oregon coast is more than a place, it’s a feeling. The clean, refreshing western breeze in your face, the salty smell of the sea, the soothing sound of gulls, the soft sand underfoot and the stunning sunsets that never disappoint.
The winter weather can be a roll of the dice, however — a brilliant sunny day sandwiched between those of dark clouds, or wind and rain. On a recent visit, I experienced a little of each.
No matter the time of year, one of my favorite things to do at the coast is to go tide pooling. Starfish cling to the barnacle- and mussel-encrusted volcanic rocks, many out of saltwater for several hours until the high tide returns. Sea urchins, sea anemones, and seaweed share most of the tide pools with the starfish.
I am constantly impressed with the ocean tides. The incessant lunar pulse keeps the tides even more reliable than Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. The seals have no need for tide charts, nor do the gulls, cormorants, or loons. Sea creatures have an innate ability to understand the ocean more than any human.
Seal Rock State Park is one of my favorite parks on the coast and arguably one of the most scenic. A headland (known locally as Elephant Rock) juts out into the ocean, surrounded by a ring of small lava islands that often host seals during low tide. The rock islands protect the tide pools from crashing waves and there’s usually lots of bird life there as well. I watched a pair of Harlequin ducks feeding among the pools.
On most of the beaches from here to the Columbia River you can see lava rock from flows that had their beginnings about 15 million years ago in the Hells Canyon area. Huge floods of lava eventually made their way westward through the Columbia River Gorge and fanning southward along the Oregon coast. Geologists think these may have been the largest lava floods in the world’s history.
One highlight of this trip was a hike to Drift Creek Falls, located in the Coast Range about 10 miles east of Lincoln City. A well-maintained trail leads about a mile and a half to the 75-foot falls, while a 240-foot long cable suspension bridge spans the 100-foot deep Drift Creek Canyon.
In August of 2010, a huge chunk of the cliff right at the falls fell into the canyon, changing the appearance of the falls and perhaps even its height. The debris now looks like a rock dam on the creek and there’s no longer a big plunge pool at the base of the falls. Nonetheless, the falls, the bridge and the canyon are very impressive.
At the beginning of the bridge is a plaque dedicated to Scott Paul, the Forest Service construction foreman who lost his life on the project in a tragic rigging accident. Once across the bridge, the trail switchbacks a few hundred yards down to the creek across from the falls. There you’ll find a really cool picnic table made out of a huge chunk of wood.
Another highlight for me involved hunting for agates at low tide. Starting in December, strong winter storms bring these semiprecious gemstones (made primarily of chalcedony quartz) up onto the beaches. I’ve found several smaller pieces of agate in the spring and summer but on this trip found a few approaching the size of golf balls.
In one gravelly tide pool, three nice-sized stones lay within inches of each other. To me, they could have been diamonds, I was so excited. They are all treasures, no matter what size. There are also several state park beaches where you can find fossils of shells and coral.
One great thing about a trip to the coast this time of year is that you’ll have trails and beaches practically to yourself.