December 24, 2009
The weather for Portland looked lousy for today, and all of Central Oregon looked worse, so my mom and I decided to head west towards the coast, where temperatures of up to 50 degrees looked fabulous for Christmas Eve. According to the blue Sullivan guide, a nice flat loop through Nehalem Bay State Park followed the beach for just over 5 miles. We walked past the bathrooms along a short trail that dumped us off onto the beach. We turned left and followed the water’s edge. There were fragments of sand dollars, razor clams and other miscellaneous exoskeletons all along the beach. We stopped frequently to admire nature’s handiwork in hopes of finding a complete sand dollar (we didn’t). I busted out some of my biological nerdery, discussing the differences among molluscs and echinoderms as well as attempting to explain what a barnacle is. Crustacean? I couldn’t remember. The giant logs and stumps strewn high up on the beach were interesting to explore and made for beautiful sculptures. It was like walking through an art gallery. The sun shone strongly as a light wind drifted across the sand. Occasionally a confluence of waves would send a long finger of water high up on the shore that I had to avoid, much like a scurrying shorebird.
We walked until the beach dead-ended at a jetty that was piled high with tree trunks from afar. I climbed up on to the jetty for a view of the surrounding area. I knew we had to head inland towards the other side of the spit, but there was no easy going near the jetty. We backtracked through the tree piles to a hiker sign that led to a trail. We followed the trail for a little way, then veered off in the direction of the other beach. A user path led us right to the edge of the grass that cliffed out above the beach, some ten feet below. We meandered along the grassy edge until a short rock outcrop gave us an opportunity to descend to the sand. The beach here was uglier than the other, and I figured this must be why Sullivan recommends following the loop in the direction that we did. As soon as that thought passed through my brain, my mom pointed out some 50-60 seals laying on the beach some distance ahead of us. Cool! We walked slowly, and I paid close attention to the seals’ behavior as my mom walked closer for some photos. As soon as they became agitated I asked her to back off, which she did with some dismay. It was really something to be able to see these animals in their natural habitat, even if they were far away.
As we continued our hike I spied some unusual tracks in the sand. Seal tracks! Now that was a new one for me. I could see where its belly was dragged across the sand as well as some claw prints. The tracks led out of the water, and then back towards the water. Further along the beach we ran into some downed trees that blocked further passage along the sand. We scrambled up the eroded embankment and walked through the narrow strip of beach forest that filled the interior of the spit. There were enough herd paths snaking through the forest that travel was somewhat easy going. We saw lots of cool fungi and lichens in and around the trees. We also passed through some open, shrubby wetlands as we made our way back towards the beach.Back on the sand, the wind seemed to pick up and the tall trees blocked the sun. It felt chilly. Off in the distance, the boat ramp appeared. I picked up the pace, since I was ready to be back at the car. There were a few more photo ops along the way, as the beach had not yet lost its charm.
I would highly recommend this hike to anyone looking for a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. In the three hours we were wandering around we did not come across any other hikers. The hike is suitable for all fitness levels and it is made even more enjoyable by the seals and all the curiosities that wash up on the shore.