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Playing on the sunny Oregon Coast

YACHATS — The weather forecast looked hopeful, with predictions of a sunny day tomorrow followed by — uh-oh! — heavy rain and hold-onto-you-hat wind the day after.

Any time of the year, but especially in winter, weather conditions on the Oregon Coast can flip 180 degrees within a matter of hours. Our stay was only for a few days, so even a single day of clear skies needs to be savored.

The next morning after a predawn walk and breakfast with my friend Liane and her dog Rusty, we were ready to go. We were staying in Yachats, the “Gem of the Oregon Coast,” with my daughter, Molly, and her husband, Andy Hamilton, and their two dogs. Because of the pandemic, Liane and I were in one house while Molly and Andy had a separate, detached unit with its own kitchen, sleeping area and bathroom.

Liane, Rusty and I were off to nearby Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. Because Liane is still recovering from hip replacement surgery, no long hikes or beach walks were possible. So, from a Highway 101 parking area we followed a walkway down switchbacks and rock stairways to spots overlooking the Devil’s Churn.

What began as a fissure in the volcanic rock has over millennia transformed into an 80-foot-wide chasm known as the Devil’s Churn. At even moderately high tides incoming ocean waves smack into waters rebounding on their way out of the channel. During the winter, when the Pacific Ocean turns more turbulent, the colliding waters create explosive outbursts of water and foam hundreds of feet high. I walked down to the volcanic rock that surrounds the churn, close enough to sample some of the its saltwater spray.

We continued past tide pools to other remarkable sights. This section of the Oregon Coast has been shaped by years of waves relentlessly pounding and crashing on rocks, continually cracking and reshaping the ragged basalt coastline. At Cook’s Chasm, over thousands of years waves have widened fractures and created a cave. And when the top of the cave collapsed, it left behind the chasm and its spouting horns.

Among them is the Spouting Horn, described as an ocean geyser. Incoming waves funnel seawater and air into the cave. Then, as the pressure builds, water and foam burst spectacularly skyward like a detonated geyser-like fountain, leaving misty clouds that linger briefly before collapsing and evaporating.

Another type of fascination is revealed at Thor’s Well, called by some as the “Gate to Hell.” The hellish well is a 20-foot-deep offshore hole in the basalt. As the tide recedes, the hole becomes visible. As it fills and overflows, the well fires out bursts of water.

Later that morning Molly and I and her dog Ruby headed out to Amanda’s Trail, which begins near Yachats. After crossing a Highway 101 pullout, it’s a short walk through the Sitka spruce forest to a clearing known as the Amanda Grotto with its 4-foot-tall concrete statue of Amanda De-Cuys. The statue honors Amanda and other members of the Coastal Tribes of Oregon. Based on a treaty signed in 1855, the tribes’ reservation extended from Cape Lookout south to Siltcoos. But, as settlers moved in, volunteer militias known as the “exterminators” rounded up tribal members and moved them to a new reservation. Many ran away after suffering abuse and starvation, so the Army was charged with capturing and returning runaways. Among those captured in the spring of 1864 was a Coos woman named Amanda, who was old, blind and living with the white father of their young daughter. Amanda and others were marched up the rugged, roadless coastline, a 10-day journey. It was along the sharp basalt shoreline near Cape Perpetua that, as one Army corporal wrote in his journal, that Amanda “tore her feet horribly over these jagged rocks, leaving blood sufficient to track her by.”

From the Amanda statue the trail climbs, often steeply, another two-plus miles and more than 900 vertical feet to Cape Perpetua, an ancient shield volcano that’s the highest point along the Oregon Coast. It’s a breathtaking hike — in more ways than one — that passes through Sitka spruce and western hemlock forests frequently enlivened by mushrooms of many colors, shapes and sizes. The reward is the Cape overlook, with panoramic views more than 100 miles south to Cape Blanco, north to Cape Foulweather and west across the Pacific Ocean.

Depending on the starting point, the roundtrip distance for the Amanda Trail ranges from 5 to 7-1/2 miles.

A second impromptu visit to Cape Perpetua’s overlook happened later that afternoon. Liane and I had followed Molly and Andy to a section of Neptune State Park where it’s legal to collect mussels. We roamed the beach enchanted with whimsical sand patterns created by the tides. But as Molly and Andy scampered over rocks exposed by low tide and filled their mussel bucket, Liane and I left, this time taking the easy way up to the cape overlook by following the paved road from the visitor center. Along with revisiting the main overlook, I followed a short trail to a stone shelter built by Civilian Conservation Corps crews in 1933.

That night, sitting socially distant and outside, we feasted on mussels and watched the storm move in. The forecast was right on. The next morning brought screaming winds and pounding rains, the kind of weather that encourages lazy times on a sofa with a book. When the storm abated, Molly, Andy and I stepped out our front doors and headed north along the Oregon Coast Trail. Naturally, as we reached our turnaround point, the storm resumed, with rain soaking my jeans, outer rain resistant shell and inner jacket.

At least we’d had one delightfully sunny day.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

Seawater funnels into Thor's Well. Photo by Lee Juillerat