Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Back to the Beach (Oregon Trip Part 1)

Lower Multnomah Falls

Earlier in the year, as the whole concept of my wife’s expanding belly turning into an actual precious-but-time-devouring little person started to become real, we began thinking about taking a trip together. We knew the impending demands of parenthood would likely limit our ability to jet off to exotic locales at the drop of a hat for some time, so it seemed that the time was right. Given my wife’s blessed condition, it was unlikely that an adventuresome, outdoorsy getaway was in the cards.  Even I was willing to admit that a “sit-on-the-beach-and-commune-with-the-inside-of-my-eyelids” sort of trip was the way to go this time. I knew that might entail me having to consume a lot of fruity beach drinks (after all, I’m drinking for two now), but I was willing to make that sacrifice because that’s how much I love my wife.

A thing of
It ain't going to be easy, but Ill get through it somehow...

I had been picturing a jaunt down to Hawaii or the Caribbean, but we ended up needing to coordinate with a family trip[i], so we set our sights on a week in Cannon Beach, Oregon as a compromise between beach vacation and family get together.  I can honestly say I had absolutely no preconceived notions about Oregon. Everything I thought I knew about Oregon was either extrapolated from Portlandia[ii] the Goonies, Apple's Oregon Trail video game, or the diaries of Lewis and Clark. I was vaguely aware they had a coastline, and that the state had some sort of threesome going on with Washington and California, but other than that my mental map was pretty much just the Decemberists standing in a big field, waving casually as some poor pioneer's cattle got cholera for the 14th time on the trip. But let it never be said that complete lack of prior knowledge, foresight, or rational plan ever stopped me from going anywhere, so off we went.

Day 1
We arrived in Portland well in advance of the rest of our party, so we took a diversion down the Columbia River Gorge to see waterfalls and engage in other gorge-related frivolity. Multnomah Falls was only about 20 minutes outside Portland, so we opted to stop there for lunch instead of delving too far into the culinary weirdness[iii] of the city itself.  On our way there we took a slightly wrong turn and ended up crossing the Columbia into Washington, which ended up being totally worth it for the amazing views of Mount Hood down the Columbia. We spent approximately 27 seconds in Washington, and then crossed right back over and headed the proper way out to Multnomah.

Multnomah Falls is the iconic tourist stop along the gorge, so we expecting the restaurant there to be overpriced and underwhelming.  Some great views from the deck, beautifully antiquated décor, a fantastic local beer list, and a mind-blowing olive oil cake with lemon curd ice cream and berries later, that assessment was completely overturned.

Fallsbeersinside Lodge
At Multnomah Falls, Local Beers!, Inside the Lodge

The falls themselves were smaller than they look in every dorm room poster you’ve ever seen, but still impressive. Sadly, it was so crowded that day that an artsy picture of the empty bridge with the falls in the background was just not going to happen.

Multnomah Falls
FallsStream Bed, Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls (B&W), Multnomah Falls, Stream Bed

 A short, pregnant-wife-friendly, hike to the upper falls revealed some great scenery[iv]. It also revealed a glimpse at how hiking is likely to be redefined for me for the next several years, as the limits of little legs means that backcountry idyll is likely to give way to easy stroller access.

Pacific forest
Upper Multnomah
FallsUpper Multnomah Falls
Pacific Forest Glade, Upper Multnomah Falls, Upper Multnomah Falls (B&W)

On the advice of a colleague, we stopped by Wallisville Dam to tour the fish ladder and hatchery[v]. The dam itself is pretty impressive...the sheer force of the Columbia coming through it is pretty amazing.

Wallisville DamWallisville Dam
Wallisville Dam, Old infrastructure

 The fish ladder experience[vi]  at the Dam was a mad dash, with five minutes to see everything before they closed.   As we walked along the underwater windows, watching trout and salmon flash by in quicksilver streaks through the green depth, we came to an end window that still haunts my dreams. The entire lower edge of the window was lined with the business ends of an uncountable horde of Pacific Lampreys, seemingly desperate to chew through the window and burrow their vampiric, Sarlaac-looking little mouths into whoever was closest. I immediately ushered a small child in front of me “so they could see better”. I then mentally resolved to never, ever swim again.

Salmon, Pacific Lamprey, OH GOD THE HORROR

The fish hatchery down the road was actually surprisingly lovely. It’s like someone took some English gardens and ponds and, on a whim, decided to raise fish there. It was easily the loveliest fish hatchery I have ever been to[vii]

Rainbow Trout Pond, Lavender in the Hatchery Gardens, White-Crowned Sparrow at the Hatchery

With afternoon waning on, we gradually drove back down the gorge stopping at several other waterfalls[viii], and began our trip out to the coast[ix].

FallsHorsetail Falls
Lower Wahkeena
FallsLong-bearded Hawkweed
(Hieracium longiberbe)
Upper Wahkeenah
FallsUpper Wahkeena Falls
Upper Wahkeena Falls
Horsetail Falls Approach, Horsetail Falls (B&W), Lower Wahkeena Falls, Hawkweed on Falls Cliff, Upper Wahkeenah Falls, Upper Wahkeenah Falls detail (B&W), Big Phallic Log at Upper Wahkeena Falls

Portland quickly gave way to rolling pastures and then to thick forests before we finally descended through the dark towards the coast[x]. Meeting up with my wife’s parents at the hotel we had about enough time to be impressed at the view from our beachfront room, and for some quick hellos before we all collapsed into our beds.

View from Tolovana
View from Tolovana Inn

Day 2
The next morning I roused myself early to go out and get some pictures of the beach at morning light[xi].  The primary draw of Cannon Beach is Haystack Rock, a massive sea stack directly off the beach.

Haystack Rock Panoramic
Haystack Landscape,
Morning Haystack Rock Landscape,
morning (B&W)
Haystack Area Megapanoramic, Haystack Rock Landscape – Morning, Haystack Rock (B&W), Unintentional Panoramic.

I wandered up and down the beach a bit and waded in the tidal pools[xii] full of anemones and starfish[xiii] .

Pools Tidal Pools - Sea
Haystack Rock Landscape,
Tidal Pool Landscape, Tidal Pools, Star Fish, Tidal Pools at Haystack Rock

 Haystack is an important nesting site for a lot of colonial bird species, including some pelagic like Tufted Puffins[xiv], so there were already a good number of photographers, birders and tourists out even before sun broke over the hillsides of the town.

Black Oystercatcher
Puffin Common
Common Murres on Nest Harlequin
Black Oystercatcher, Tufted Puffin, Common Murre, Common Murres and Cormorants on Nest, Harlequin Duck

People were just starting to awaken from slumber when I returned. Kate’s brother and his wife were getting in later that day, so we opted for a lazy brunch and drive into town while we waited for them. We popped into the “Pig and Pancake”, which lived up to its reputation as a Cannon Beach landmark with massive breakfasts. All sensible logic, dietary concern, and hopes of moving at all during the next three hours were brushed abruptly aside as I ordered the kielbasa skillet (kielbasa, eggs, gravy, hash browns, and sourdough pancakes). 

Pig and PancakeKate at Pig and
Pig and Pancake breakfast, Kate with Marionberry Syrup

We waddled around the little village of Cannon Beach afterwards, which stood out to me as having an inordinately high density of quaintness, floral arrangements, and cedar shingles. Also, seating divided by political party (I sat on the unlabeled bench set directly between these two).

BeachCannon Beach
Cannon Beach, Cannon Beach Floralness, Left Bench, Right Bench

Kate’s brother Dave and his lovely wife Jessica arrived later on, and the whole family went out for a walk on the beach and sojourn in the tidal pools.

Walking the
Tidal Pools -
AnemonesSea Star
Walking the Beach, Tidal Pool Anemones, Starfish, Kite Flying

In celebration of Kate’s parents anniversary we all went out for a nice dinner[xv] before returning to the suite to relax and listen to the waves as the sun set.[xvi]

Wood Statue at the
Sunset on the
Obligatory Wooden Captain Statue at Wayfarers Restaurant, Sunset Beams, Sunset on the Beach


[i] We have often joined my wife’s family over the Fourth of July at a Lake house in the Adirondacks. This year they opted to do something on the West Coast, in part to make it a bit easier on her brother and his wife in Seattle.
[ii] Which, honestly, after having been to Portland seems much less like a skit comedy show, and more a frighteningly realistic documentary.
[iii] Sadly, this meant we would not be able to stand in line for two hours at Voodoo Donuts, or navigate a pretentious bistro scene. I snark, but on the way back the woman in front of us in line at security had a big pink box of voodoo donuts. I half-contemplated turning her in as a terrorist and confiscating the donuts.
[iv] It also revealed that one of Kate’s colleagues from Houston just happened to be there at the same time in the same place. This is not the first time this has happened to us…once, hiking deep in the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, off the beaten trail, Kate ran into another colleague from Houston. For even longer odds, not only did Kate meet a colleague on this trip, but one of my colleagues just happened to be staying at the same hotel as us, the same weekend, in a little town in Oregon. I’m pretty sure this is like winning the lottery while getting struck by lightning sort of odds. 
[v] I have stopped at enough rock-oriented things with my geologist wife to not feel even remotely guilty about a biological stop.
[vi] Adding to list of great band names…
[vii] Not counting, y’know, nature.
[viii] Horsetail Falls, and the impressive Wahkeenah Falls with its incredibly phallic waterfall log.
[ix] After much searching along the way, and being unable to find a decent restaurant, we ate at what may very well be the most depressing McDonalds in the United States. Old school interior, no playplace, and the “patio” was literally just two old tables on a solid concrete pad enclosed by a cement wall. Yet somehow they still had enough pride to fly no less than three McDonalds flags.
[x] On a trip to Zion National Park in 2006, our arrival was so perfectly timed, with the golden afternoon light of a beautiful day creating a magic landscape, that I truly believed we have used up our lifetime allotment of dramatic arrivals. For every other trip we have taken since then, it is our tried and true policy to drive through amazing, dramatic scenery in the sheer inky darkness of night. It’s ok, with the slight exception of missing out on the sights of Yosemite Valley the first day, that one amazing drive into Zion was worth a lifetime of shrouded and disappointing entrances. Cannon Beach did not buck the trend in that regard. 
[xi] My wife and her family tend to sleep a good deal later than I do, so I tend to get my alone time/photography time/wildlife viewing time/aimless wandering time in during the hours before they wake up. It works out well as long as no one expects me to be out until 2 am at the club that same day. Kate’s parents rarely ask this of me.
[xii] Which I was fairly sure were lamprey-free.
[xiii] Yes, I know, “call them sea stars”. No. The Asteroidea can be called either starfish or sea isn’t more taxonomically correct than the other unless you’re referring to a singular species, in which case it’s best to call it by what it’s named. I know people get up in arms about calling them starfish, because they’re not fish.  Neither are jellyfish, and there’s no issue there…and sea urchins are not actual Dickensian street children. Since many of the species we saw had starfish in their actual species name, I am calling them starfish. "Sea Stars" is no more scientific, it’s just more prevalent in other European languages.
[xiv] Within about 300 feet and 20 minutes I noted no less than 8 new (to me) bird species, including Pelagic Cormorants, Brandt’s Cormorants, Tufted Puffins, Common Murres, Pigeon Guillemots, Harlequin Ducks, Western Gulls, and Black Oystercatchers. The rest of the trip would prove somewhat anticlimactic, species-wise, after that first morning.
[xv] I had an amazing freshly caught salmon in a pinot noir reduction, bring the fish species-I’ve-eaten-this-trip tally to two. By the time we left it was at least 8. I love the coast. In proper coastal tourist area fashion, I am proud to report that the restaurant, Wayfarers, had the usual overly large wooden sea captain statue outside. That’s just pure Americana right there. 
[xvi] The suite we had booked had two actual bedrooms and a murphy bed in the living room. At first I felt guilty sticking Dave and Jess with the living room bed while we took a bedroom. As I realized later that their “room” came with a large picture window overlooking the surf, and was filled with the sounds of waves and the breeze from the beach, I didn’t feel as guilty anymore.

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