Whaleshead Beach, located about eight miles north of Brookings on Highway 101, has been one of my favorite spots on the Oregon Coast for many years. It wasn't until recently, however, that I grasped the full significance of its name.
Yes, the huge, monumental rock offshore does resemble a whale's head pointed upward, as if breaking through the surface of the water. I had made that connection long ago.
But, as I didn't find out until probably my 20th visit to the beach, there's more to the illusion than just that. The whale's head actually spouts.
When an incoming wave hits the rock in just the right spot, and at just the right angle, water surges through a crack and shoots into the air, as if Moby Dick had exhaled after coming up from the ocean floor.
That first time I saw Moby blow, I watched the spray hang for a few seconds before it magically disappeared. Then I ran to tell my wife and daughter what I had observed.
"On the right side of the rock, down low," I told them, pointing to the spot.
Once they saw it, too, I was tempted to inform everyone on the beach. "You gotta see this, folks," I felt like shouting.
But my daughter convinced me that would be way too weird. Something a kook would do.
Whenever I visit the beach now, I always check. Sure enough, the phenomenon never fails to occur — high or low tide.
Sighting the spout demands monk-like discipline. Refusing to be distracted by kids flying kites or by squadrons of pelicans gliding overhead, I have waited sometimes for 15 minutes to see the fountain of spray burst from the rock.
How high must the tide be for the spoutings to come at regular intervals? Beats me. Whaleshead, it seems, is shrouded in secrecy as thick as the maritime fog that sometimes engulfs it.
In this age of information, I have yet to find mention in print that the rock spouts. No wonder it took me so long to discover that the massive formation not only looks like a whale, but acts like one, too.
Whaleshead Beach is part of the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor, a 12-mile stretch of capes, beaches and Sitka forest with several vista points overlooking rugged seascapes. It is public land, belonging to the Oregon State Park system.
Surprisingly, though, the state is mum about the geyser-like tendencies of the beach's prominent landmark. Evidently officials can't even decide on the correct name for the monolith, since some signs on 101 call it "Whaleshead" and others "Whalehead."
There is an informational display near the picnic area, but its purpose is to pay tribute to Mr. Boardman, the first superintendent of Oregon's parks. It doesn't say a thing about the gigantic rock looming behind the display.
How tall is it? Do any birds nest on it? How many pounds of guano are dropped on it annually?
I'd like to impress you with the answers to these questions, but I can't.
Not even Bonnie Henderson, author of the meticulous guide book "Exploring the Wild Oregon Coast," has anything to say about the spout, and little to offer about Whaleshead in general.
"The largest day-use area in (the scenic corridor) is at Whalehead Beach," she declares, "where you'll find beach access, restrooms and picnic tables." And that's that.
Where I'm from on the East Coast, billboards along the highway would be assaulting our eyes every few miles, advertising the Awesome Natural Wonder ahead. There would be a boardwalk stretching from the beach and across the water to take paying customers up close to the spout site. There would be a gift shop offering postcards and shot glasses, along with T-shirts saying "I FELT THE SPRAY."
Heck, there would probably be a tram to the top of the leviathan's noggin.
As much as I'm thankful to Sam Boardman and others who saved our beautiful coast from such commercial exploitation, I do crave a few morsels of information when it comes to Whaleshead.
I have checked everything from park brochures to travel websites. All in vain.
Therefore, this is all I can tell you. The rock is tall — very tall. At least as tall as, say, the Ashland Springs Hotel, and then some.
Also, you'll never see the spout if you head south (left) on the beach, where the sands stretch invitingly for a long stroll. There seems to be no incentive to head north (right), because the base of a bluff poses an obvious dead end after a short walk.
But now you know there is a reason to turn right once you hit the beach. The spout is visible only from that direction.
Tell me if you see it. It would be nice to know that someone besides me and my family is in on the secret.
Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at email@example.com.