For various reasons, I found myself at Pacific City on the weekend. I parked at the Pacific Avenue beach access and walked the mile north up the beach to the main beach entrance (This mile of beach is vehicle-free). Since it was a beautiful day, everyone was out: sea kayakers, surfers, dorymen, paddle boarders, sandcastle constructors, dune ascenders, tidepoolers, etc. I walked the fence line atop Cape Kiwanda’s brilliant but soft sandstone layers, which survive the ocean’s ravenous appetites mainly because Haystack Rock, a classic basalt stack, protects them from the general southwesterly onslaught. Then I slogged up the Great Dune to get the panoramic views north to Tierra del Mar, Sand Lake, and Cape Lookout’s magnificent cliff face.
Back on the beach, I headed four miles south to the tip of Nestucca Spit. The spit, now Bob Straub State Park, was the site of one of Oregon’s classic environmental battles in the late 1960s. Gov. Tom McCall supported the construction of a Highway 101 “freeway” straight down the spit and across the narrow mouth of Nestucca Bay. State Treasurer (later Governor) Bob Straub opposed it and his side, obviously, won the day.
Only one vehicle was cruising and the tide was coming in. The usual busy little flocks of sanderlings, sometimes augmented by a few western sandpipers, were scuttling along the wave line. A couple of seals hung out in the breakers. At the end of the spit, I looked across to the cliffs of Porter Point and then began to head along the bayshore.
There’s a narrow beach here, which is usually drowned at high tide. The usual peanut gallery of seals lined up 100 yards out to observe my progress. One of them actually snagged a salmon and thrashed it violently about. While its human predators were out in their skiffs setting their pots, I was delighted to encounter a splendid, albeit recently deceased, example of our esteemed state crustacean.
Finally, I reached an inlet of tidal swampland and could make no farther progress, so turned back to where I had seen the vestige of a path heading up a sandbank. I immediately encountered one of the horse trails that form a confusing network in the state park. I kept near the bayshore as much as possible, hiking up and down sand dunes colonized by a mossy gremlin forest of Sitka spruce, shore pine, evergreen huckleberry, salal, and even a few native crabapples and manzanita. Here and there were small clearings taken over by Scots broom.
Somewhere in this shadowy fastness, I caught sight of a depression which I immediately recognized as an ancient dragon trap. Looking up, I beheld a sign that confirmed my expertise (Dragon traps had to be decommissioned - filled in - when dragons were listed under the Endangered Species Act).
There were none of the usual signs of one of these flying serpents – scorched tree bark, urea-tipped scat, the bloody remnants of a kill - but I hastened my pace and cut across the peninsula to reach the day-use area north of Pacific Avenue, whence I strolled back to my car, the whole beach–spit hike being about 10 miles.
As an addendum, and in an effort to locate dragon smoke from a height, I drove a little south to the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. There’s a short universal access trail that leads to an elaborate viewing platform near the top of Cannery Hill. From here, there are grand views to the spit, Cape Kiwanda, and Cape Lookout as well as down to the Little Nestucca valley. They are restoring the headland prairie here to provide habitat for the Oregon silverspot butterfly (Speyeria zerene hippolyta) and its food source, the western blue violet (Viola adunca). Nothing much was going on when I was there, but a few blacktails came out into a meadow and nonchalantly grazed. Apparently this was not the prowling hour for Smaug and Snap and their cousins.
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Thanks for the report, Bobcat. Very nice photos and report! I love that area and remember well the many times my father took me and my brothers and sisters there starting in the mid 50's. Dad grew up in Fargo so the coast was an amazing place for him and he instilled that pleasure in me and all of my four brothers and sisters and we will never forget those happy times. Dad has been gone now for over 30 years and we all miss him still.
"Everything works in the planning stage".