In Bandon, Oregon we visited Face Rock Creamery for some really good ice cream, and then headed down to Bandon beach to check out the famous rock formations and tide pools. We arrived at low tide, a great time to see both.
Of all the strange and lovely rocks on Bandon Beach, for some reason I like this one the best. Just a random boulder the size of a house. I love it.
Here’s the Face Rock that Face Rock Creamery and other local businesses are named for. Looks like a giant taking a bath in the sea:
And here is my second-favorite rock on this beach, the shattered one in front that looks like a wizard’s hat or a crescent moon. I wonder what happened to the rest of it.
This is just a really pretty beach.
Sea stars were more plentiful here than at the other tide pools we visited.
We could have spent half the day exploring Bandon Beach, but we had reservations for that night at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California and didn’t want to fall behind schedule. After an hour or so we got our sandy selves back to the car and continued down the coast.
We pulled into the parking lot at Prehistoric Gardens, debating whether to buy tickets and take the tour.
In the end we decided we were all a bit older than the target demographic and moved on.
Just north of Brookings we came upon a place of otherworldly beauty. A place where tall trees thrive on seemingly bare rock, where the land thrusts stony fingers into the sea and the sea cuts round culverts through them.
It’s one of the loveliest places I’ve ever seen.
As we crossed into California, the landscape began to change. We had left The People’s Coast behind and were back in the land of billboards and shopping centers. We stopped to see a big ship that had once been the gift shop for a tropical-themed resort.
By now the shadows were lengthening and we were in danger of losing daylight. We hurried on to Jedediah Smith Campground, found our reserved site and set up camp in the forest-scented twilight.
Eleven lighthouses stand guard along Oregon’s rocky coast. We stopped just north of Newport to see the tallest of them, on Yaquina Head. There’s a little fee station at the top of the road where you’re supposed to pay for day use, but it had closed for the day and the entry gate was locked. We parked on the side of the driveway and walked the mile or so to the lighthouse.
Luke for scale:
We – and by we I mostly mean Luke – worried that the car would get ticketed parked where it was. We met other walkers on the lighthouse road, but ours was the only vehicle there. So when we were done looking around, Luke jogged ahead back up the road to make sure the car was okay.
I was about three-quarters of the way back to the fee station when Luke came breathlessly around a bend in the road. “There’s a bunch of guys on motorcycles around our car! I hope they’re not motorcycle cops!”
“I don’t think motorcycle cops travel in packs,” I said, “Especially on quiet roads like these. Probably just a biker group touring the coast. I don’t think they’ll bother our car.”
The motorcycles were peeling back out toward the highway when we came around the last corner. Luke said, “Mom, did you leave the window down?”
“No…or…what the hell, it is down.”
The driver’s side window was indeed all the way open. I had rolled it down at the fee station and apparently forgotten to roll it back up.
The car was absolutely packed with valuables – iPads, MacBooks, camping and hiking gear, my wallet. Nothing had been touched or taken. Humans are okay sometimes.
We stopped in Newport to try the clam chowder at Mo’s Original Location. We had heard good things, and the chowder lived up to its reputation.
Tangent: The best clam chowder I’ve ever tasted is at a little kiosk in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, just outside the Pieces of Eight souvenir shop. I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since we left California. All of the clam chowders we sampled in Washington and Oregon were objectively fresher and higher-quality than Disneyland’s, and very tasty, but it’s hard to compete with the magic of gustatory nostalgia.
I like this mural we saw in Newport:
We watched for real whales all the way down the coast, since late May is still at the tail end of their migration season. We never did see any, but we did enjoy a few lively rounds of “Is that a rock or a creature?”
The original plan was to spend Tuesday night at a campground wherever we happened to end the day, but none of us were feeling it. Instead we searched along the highway until we found a motel with a vacancy. “The only room we have left doesn’t have an ocean view,” the clerk said apologetically. I assured him that it made no difference. The room was twice the size and half the cost of the one at Lake Quinault Lodge, with more amenities. Shoutout to The Dublin House Motel in Yachats.
Our first stop Wednesday morning was the Devil’s Churn. The Devil apparently stores his kitchen accouterments along the Oregon shoreline.
The Devil’s Churn is hard to describe, and I wish I’d taken a video of it. It’s a narrow channel carved by a stream joining the sea. Waves roll into it and back out, so it’s nearly empty one minute and overflowing the next. From the highway it looks almost serene:
Luke for scale:
Up close it’s loud and violent and a little scary as the waves roil in the chasm and sometimes splash high into the air.
People have died here, washed into the Churn by the crashing waters. We kept our eyes on it and still got splashed unexpectedly. The sense of energy here is incredible.
We continued down the coast to Thor’s Well.
In my last post I included a video that I had misidentified as the Devil’s Punchbowl. Elizabeth pointed out that it was in fact a video of Thor’s Well. I have relocated it accordingly:
The tide pools here are full of life. And here’s something the GoPro can do that my camera couldn’t: underwater photos.
Next stop, Heceta Head Lighthouse.
We had arrived during proper visiting hours, so we paid our day use fee and got to speak with an attendant inside the lighthouse.
A little farther down the coast we pulled onto an overlook that offers another scenic view of Heceta Head. And here we saw sea lions sunning on a rock just below the turnout. This was the first time I really missed my camera with its lovely zoom lens. The GoPro failed miserably at capturing both the sea lions and the lighthouse in the distance.
Looks like a paint-by-number.
Got photobombed by a majestic raven.
Next we came to “America’s Largest Sea Cave,” where you can buy a ticket to get a closer look at the sea lions in their natural habitat. The GoPro utterly failed to do it justice. Trust me, there are sea lions in all three of these pics:
They are vocal creatures. Interestingly, they made different noises depending on their surroundings. Inside the sea cave they sounded aggressive and “liony.” Frolicking in the surf they sounded playful. On the sand in that bottom pic they sounded like a herd of drunk cows. That was a fun stop.
Moving on to Florence, we took a small detour off the highway to visit a quiver of cobra lilies.
These carnivorous pitcher plants grow wild here.
In North Bend we stopped at Captain’s Choice Fish House, an unassuming little place that served one of the best fish dinners I’ve had in my entire life.
A hand-rolled cigarette hangs from the mouth of the wooden fisherman in the foyer. Seriously, how high does this dude look?
Elizabeth ordered a seafood alfredo, Luke got the fish and chips, and I got fish and chowder. The waitress asked Luke and I what kind of fish we wanted: cod, red snapper or halibut. We both chose cod. Then she asked how we wanted our cod prepared, and offered a list of options. Luke got his fried, I got mine lightly breaded and grilled. It was A M A Z I N G. The chowder was delicious too.
A few days after I got back home, I was shopping at Costco and missing Oregon, so I impulsively grabbed some beer-battered cod from the freezer section. It tasted like disappointment.
On Tuesday morning we left Lake Quinault Lodge and continued south on 101, crossing the Columbia River back into Oregon.
We had spent three days on the Olympic Peninsula and it had not rained once. As we drove through Astoria and headed down the coast, fat raindrops began to spatter intermittently against the windshield.
The Oregon coast is a magical place, partly thanks to a 1967 law that made the entirety of the Oregon shoreline public land. “The People’s Coast” is relatively undeveloped and pristine compared to the 101 corridors of Washington and California. It looks like what I had imagined Washington would look like before I went there. Northwest Oregon is greener, lusher, and in my opinion more beautiful than its neighbor to the north. I’m kind of in love with it.
Our first stop of the day was Cannon Beach, known for its tide pools and for Haystack Rock, which is way bigger than it looks in photos.
This time we arrived at low tide!
The Pacific coast from Alaska to Mexico has lost about 90% of its starfish population since 2013 to a plague of Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. These tide pools used to be filled Ochre Sea Stars, and now you have to look hard to find them.
But there is plenty of other life to be found.
After Cannon Beach we visited Hug Point, where we found caves, a waterfall, and an old coach road!
One of the caves looks like it’s encrusted with jewels.
These are gooseneck barnacles, and apparently they are a delicacy in some countries.
The greenish slope in the bottom left of this photo is the “onramp” to the old coach road:
Back before 101 was built in the late 1930s, people used the Oregon shoreline itself as a public highway. It worked out fine for the most part – unless you needed to get past Hug Point. The big rocky outcropping created a barrier that could only be bypassed at very low tides. So the coach road was carved into the outcropping, enabling traffic to travel up and down the coast even at high tide.
Imagine driving an old stagecoach on this road!
It was here at Hug Point that I set my phone, camera, keys and glasses on a patch of “safe” sand so I could play around a little in the water. Just as I was about to gather them up again, a rogue wave swept up the beach and rolled over them. The phone, keys and glasses were fine, but that was the end of the camera. I salvaged the memory card with its precious cargo of photos, and basically treated it like the Hope Diamond until I was able to create a backup. For the rest of the trip, the GoPro stepped up and did a pretty decent job.
We stopped in Rockaway Beach to see the Mechanical Bucking Corndog in front of the original Pronto Pup, where corndogs were invented. The Pronto Pup was closed and the quarter mechanism was out of order, but you can bet we all got our turn sitting on the corndog!
Photo courtesy of my crappy phone camera:
Our next stop was a tour of the Tillamook Creamery. We wandered through the exhibits and the viewing windows, got our free samples of cheese, and then bought an absolutely obscene amount of cheese-related food in the cafeteria. Grilled cheese, mac and cheese, cheese curds…we were eating leftover cheese curds for days. We would have gotten some ice cream, but that was a separate line and it was longer than we wanted to bother with.
We tried to visit Munsen Creek Falls, but Google Maps led us down a rough gravel road to a closed private gate, so we gave up on that idea. We consoled ourselves with a bag of saltwater taffy from a shop in Depoe Bay, and continued down the coast to the Devil’s Punchbowl.
EDIT: I have removed my video of Devil’s Punchbowl, because Elizabeth has reminded me that it was actually of Thor’s Well, a bit farther down the coast. Video will be reposted in its proper spot.
The next morning, full of energy and optimism, we went to the Hoh Visitor Center to get our ONP passport stamps. And discovered that the visitor centers are only open Fri–Sun this time of year. It was now Monday morning and we had missed all our chances for stamps and souvenirs. Devastating.
And yet, somehow, life goes on.
We chose the Hall of Mosses trail for our rainforest hike. It’s a good hike, but this is definitely an experience that would have benefitted from some rain. Everything was dry from several days of no precipitation.
Near the start of the trail is a pond. At first glance it looks like any random bit of flooded woodland, but look closer and the perfect clarity of the water is startling. Little creatures swimming in it look like they’re levitating.
The rainforest itself is unlike anything I’d seen before. Bright and airy, but covered in strange mosses and symbiotic plants. It looks like an alien planet.
When I was younger, I used to love going to the zoo. I never got tired of walking around and looking at all the animals and the elaborate landscaping. Now zoos just make me sad. All I can think about is what empty, frustrating lives those captive creatures must endure.
That’s how I felt walking through this rainforest.
Like I didn’t belong there. That gravel path didn’t belong there. This entire vast region used to belong to these strange trees and mosses and now there’s just this little bit of park left for them, encircled by roads and human structures.
Like they’ve had their dignity and their privacy taken from them and now they’re just exhibits in a “tree zoo.”
Which brings me to the thing that bothered me most about the Olympic Peninsula and the Washington coast.
This rant was going to happen at some point on this blog. This seems like as good a place as any. <Grabs soapbox and clears throat>
From the time we drove onto the peninsula until the time we crossed the Astoria-Megler Bridge into Oregon, almost every business and tourist spot we visited was festooned with Indigenous-style art, totem poles, carvings, the whole works. From all of the very popular leaping-salmon depictions to hundreds of native-art-style Sasquatch paintings and totems (holy crap is Washington obsessed with Sasquatch), the ambiance was carefully crafted to make tourists feel like they’re walking on tribal land. Which was exactly how I felt, but in the worst possible way.
I dislike the term “cultural appropriation.” I think it’s natural and beneficial for different human societies to learn from each other and share their crafts and developments. But that’s very clearly not what happened up there. And yes, I know the entire country was founded on indigenous genocide from sea to shining sea. I’ve just rarely seen the spoils of a genocided culture so conspicuously on display as I did in Washington. It made me uncomfortable every time I ran into new examples of it. That is all. <Steps off soapbox and resumes tour of park>
We had reservations for that night at Lake Quinault Lodge, and some time to kill before check-in. We decided to go look at Ruby Beach.
This was our first experience with the wild northern beaches. I wish I had taken more pics here, but I was kind of overwhelmed by the absolute chaos of it. This is no serene SoCal beach, there’s nothing domesticated about it. It’s an untamed shipwrecker of a beach, the kind of shoreline that sailors feared. Big sharp rocks create a rough, dangerous surf far out into the sea.
The “driftwood” here is full-size trees. There are signs on Washington beaches warning swimmers that loose logs in the surf might knock them unconscious so riptides can drag them out to sea for the rocks to shred. These beaches have no chill. (Except temperature-wise. Northern beaches are very chilly.)
Cedar Creek wanders out of the forest here to join the sea. Every beach we visited on this trip had at least one river or stream emptying into it. Not such a strange thing; that’s what rivers do. But down in SoCal, water is too valuable to just let it escape into the ocean. I know there must be examples of rivers flowing into SoCal beaches, but I’ve never seen it firsthand.
Just down the highway, “Kalaloch Beach 4” is known for its tide pools. We were there at the wrong time of day for tide pools, but I’m glad we stopped to check it out. My favorite part of this beach is the path from the parking lot to the sand. There is an overlook at the top:
And then a staircase…
…to a wooden bridge…
…to a rock walkway…
…with a rope to help you climb down.
We didn’t really need to use the rope, but it felt like the thing to do.
Tangent: There’s a striking contrast between the outdoor clothing and gear I saw people wearing in Washington and what I’m used to seeing in Colorado. I don’t know if it’s the climate differences or just local trends. In Colorado, outdoor gear and garments tend to be more technical, with an emphasis on ultra-lightweight high-tech fabrics and designs. I hardly ever see big old-school leather hiking boots here, for example, but I saw them all over the Olympic Peninsula. At Kalaloch Beach 4, a man looked at Luke’s chartreuse Altras and asked him if he was from Europe.
The beach itself is unremarkable if the tide pools are underwater. We looked around and moved on.
A few minutes farther down the highway there’s a tree that’s had the soil washed away from its roots by a small stream looking for the sea. It’s kind of inspiring, this tree’s determination to survive.
Beneath the tree is a tiny cave containing a tiny waterfall and a tiny pool.
Did I mention there are wild berries growing all over the Pacific Northwest? They’re just everywhere. We were there too early in the season for any of them to be ripe yet, sadly.
It still wasn’t time yet to check into our room at the lodge, but the Roosevelt Room was open for lunch.
We had a really excellent meal there, and then killed some more time by going to look at the World’s Biggest Spruce Tree. It’s a massive Sitka. Elizabeth for scale:
When we got back from the World’s Biggest Spruce Tree, the lodge let us know that our room was ready and we could check in early. While Luke and Elizabeth settled in, I took all of our dirty laundry to a little laundromat that I’d seen on the way to the big spruce. Not sure why Lake Quinault Lodge doesn’t have its own laundry room, but it worked out anyway.
In the morning we had an amazing breakfast in the Roosevelt Room.
Afterward I explored the grounds a bit and followed a pretty trail along the shoreline of Lake Quinault, but we were all ready to move on.
Knocking out the Hurricane Ridge hike on Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday morning put us comfortably ahead of schedule on our planned itinerary. We indulged in a 5-star breakfast of hot ramen and cold pizza and broke camp.
We passed another ONP visitor center on the drive back to Hwy 101, but it hadn’t opened yet. No worries, plenty of others where we could get our park stamps and postcards.
Returning to the highway in Port Angeles, we followed it around to Olympic Hot Springs Road. This access road is closed to vehicles about two miles in because of a 2017 washout that has never been repaired. We would have liked to see the Glines Canyon Dam Spillway Overlook, farther up the road past the closure, but we didn’t want it enough to walk to it. We were here for the Madison Falls trail, which is as far as the road still goes.
I think ONP must be a giant network of river valleys. It seemed like every road or trail we took ran beside a creek or river with looming walls of forest rising on each side. Olympic Hot Springs Road follows the sparkling-clear Elwha River.
From the parking lot we found a short, paved trail through lush forest that glowed in the morning sunshine.
Madison Falls is very pretty; well worth the short walk.
It’s too bad photos and even videos can’t really capture the power of waterfalls. We saw some great ones, and none of them are represented well in these pics.
Luke found a cave.
After the Falls, we played in the river a bit and then drove back to the highway.
Our next stop was Lake Crescent, near the Marymere Falls trailhead. The waters of Lake Crescent are so crystal clear that they look like an optical illusion.
The trail to Marymere Falls is about a mile long and unpaved, following Barnes Creek through dense, mossy forest and across various wooden bridges and staircases.
Marymere Falls is hard to photograph well. It’s a lot bigger than it looks in this pic.
By then we’d worked up an appetite, so we drove up the road to Lake Crescent Lodge for lunch.
This meal began a trend that continued for as long as we followed the Pacific coast: fresh seafood and berry cobblers. Wild berries are ubiquitous and prolific in the Pacific Northwest; we saw them everywhere. And they are preserved and served in delicious cobblers in almost every restaurant we visited.
This was also the meal where we discovered that we’re not fans of raw oysters. But I highly recommend the lodge’s lavender lemonade, it’s amazing.
We had planned to spend Sunday night at Fairholme Campground on the shores of Lake Crescent. But we were so far ahead of schedule that it made no sense to stop. Luckily Fairholme is another first-come-first-served campground, so there were no reservations to forfeit. On to the next access road, a Forest Service road that follows the Sol Duc River and connects to Sol Duc Hot Springs Rd. We stopped in at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort to reserve a soak in their hot pools later in the afternoon. Then on down the road to the Sol Duc Falls trailhead.
The farther south we drove, the more lush and jungly the trails became. I started to wish for rain, because I feel like that’s the best way to experience these rainforesty woods. The weather alternated between sunny and misty overcast, but no actual rain.
The trail to Sol Duc Falls is just under a mile and very tropical.
A pretty creek crossing:
Sol Duc is another beautiful, hard-to-photograph waterfall.
After the Falls we returned to the resort for a blissful 90 minutes in the hot springs. The hot untreated pools smelled like sulfur and felt like heaven.
I forgot to mention in my last post that we did stop at a TA travel center in Snoqualmie for showers. We aren’t complete barbarians. And we showered at the resort before we got in their pools. In case any of my gentle readers were worried.
Thus refreshed, we headed back to the 101. It was late in the afternoon by then, and we were starting to think about where to spend the night. We drove through the town of Forks, where the Twilight vampires live, passed up a few campgrounds because it wasn’t quite time to stop yet, and then took the access road toward the Hoh Rainforest. This worked out perfectly: there is a visitor center, a campground and several trailheads all in a clump here. Had no problem finding an empty site at Hoh Campground. We were so tired and relaxed from hikes and hot springs that we didn’t bother to set up the tent, just put our open food into the campsite bear box and slept in the car.