The Oregon Coast : Nehalem Bay

I have been to the Oregon Coast a few times now and I’m always drawn to Nehalem Bay State Park near Manzanita.  It is just one of the places I feel that has it all and is one of only a few places in the world where I don’t get antsy to go somewhere else. I admit that I like to stay active and have a hard time relaxing, I can do both here.

The park has a large campground that has sites for tents as well as big RV’s.  It is clean and well organized, without feeling cramped or over-crowded.  The park is set on a narrow four mile long sand spit with the Pacific Ocean on one side and Nehalem Bay on the other.  Its location gives you easy access to a beautiful stretch of sand beach on one side, with the relative calm of the bay on the other.  The small town of Manzanita is just a  mile or so away with a grocery store and several restaurants.

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On the ocean side there is a long beautiful stretch of Pacific beach that you can have mostly to yourself, especially if you walk south along the water from the campground.  Unlike Cannon Beach to the north, there are no beautiful offshore rocks to see but the upside is that it keeps the crowds away.  Unfortunately, the Pacific can be heard but not quite seen from the campground, but a short walk over some sand dunes leads directly to the water. The beach is one of the cleanest anywhere that I have seen.  Be sure to take a camera when you head down for a sunset, and if you’re lucky maybe you can see one as good as we did.

The bay side is a completely different vibe altogether.  The water is much calmer and has many outdoor activities such as kayaking, fishing, crabbing, and boating.  We were able to do three of the four and had a blast.  While kayaking in the bay we found a few areas with winding, river-like passageways that are more reminiscent of the bayou (sans alligators) than coastal Oregon.  There was also some of the straightforward paddling that you would normally find in a flat and calm bay like this one.

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The narrow channels through the reeds
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Nehalem Bay Kayaking

If you like crabbing but don’t have a boat, nearby is Kelly’s Brighton Marina where you can rent a boat with baited crab traps for a two hour adventure of setting traps, catching Dungeness crabs, and boating around the calm waters of the bay.  We only caught one crab of legal size but it was the crabbing experience itself that made it worth it.  Earlier in the day, when we went out kayaking, we met a couple from Portland who were going to try crabbing from their kayaks, something that would be extremely challenging but immensely rewarding.  We caught up with them later in the day and they had caught a crab just as big as the one we had caught in two hours of crabbing with three traps and two people to haul them in with.  They were very proud of their catch…and should be!

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The days catch, one legal sized Dungeness crab
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The fog made for some challenging navigation to our buoys and to the marina

And last but not least, I love picking blackberries here, anywhere for that matter but especially here.  As with most parts of the Pacific Northwest, they can be found here at Nehalem Bay State Park.  Blackberries straight off the vine taste better than any store bought varieties that I have ever tasted, and that includes organic berries from places like Whole Foods.  The problem with picking blackberries, (if you’ve ever picked them you know what I’m about to say) is that the plant will bite back and often draw blood.  The bush has thorns that grab you and get hooked right into your skin and/or your clothes, but the taste of fresh Oregon blackberries is worth the bloodshed.

So if you are only looking to get wowed by spectacular scenery this isn’t the place, go to Cannon Beach for that. If you want to get close to nature in a relaxing setting, Nehalem Bay State Park is the place for you.  It is definitely the place for me!

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The trail from the beach to the campground
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I MAY HAVE JUST ENCOUNTERED BIGFOOT!

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The eerie but beautiful Oregon Coast Trail

For the record, I don’t believe in folklore legends like the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, or the Headless Horseman, but when I decided to hike a section of the Oregon Coast Trail this summer, I did not expect anything other than some sea mist and tall trees. What I actually came across that day was something that may have challenged those beliefs.

I have watched all of the same documentaries that you have about the legend of the Pacific Northwest, Sasquatch (a.k.a. Bigfoot). As a child, these documentaries terrified me and gave me no desire to ever go into the woods of Washington and Oregon. Seeing the grainy video of Bigfoot walking through a clearing in the trees was enough to give me nightmares.

The section of the Oregon Coast Trail I decided to hike (alone I might add) was in Oswald West State Park, near the town of Manzanita, about a two hour drive from Portland. I was planning an out and back and decided I would turn around when I got tired. So I did an about face and headed back towards the trailhead after two uneventful miles, due to a cold wind and tired legs. As I was descending the overgrown and narrow trail, I heard noises ahead of me that I have never heard before in the forest. Granted, I was in a different part of the country and there are always unique and unfamiliar sounds in the wilds of a different region, but what I heard was what sounded like a baseball bat striking wood, but this didn’t overly concern me. My initial reaction was that there was a black bear ahead of me turning over logs looking for food and/or crashing through the brush, but the sounds didn’t quite match what I could rationalize as being a bear. As I approached the section of the trail where the sounds were at their most intense, I stopped to see if I could see anything moving in the thick underbrush, at this point still expecting a black bear. I saw only thick green vegetation.  After only a few seconds, I heard what sounded like three or four objects being dropped from the trees in different spots. This too did not make sense to me since I could imagine maybe a single pine cone falling from the trees but not three or four in rapid succession. I was very confused about what might be making these sounds. Maybe squirrels were dropping little pine cone bombs onto a bear below them to scare it off? This seemed plausible but not likely.

What happened next was one of a few times in my life that I have literally felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. As I continued looking into the dense forest, an object that looked like a rock came flying out of the thicket and landed about 20 yards away from me. This had an effect on me which I have never had on a hike in my lifetime, it was such a disturbing feeling I couldn’t get to the trailhead and my car quick enough. I hauled ass out of there and made it to my car without further incident and didn’t hear or see anything else, but was still rattled by what transpired.

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So what was it? Maybe it was a bear (but bears don’t throw rocks.) Squirrels can drop things on unsuspecting life on the ground below them but the object that came towards me didn’t fall from a tree. In Colorado, where I live, a mountain biker was killed last year while he biked on a trail near Colorado Springs and the person responsible has not been caught. At the time of this writing, a college student is missing on the same mountain and I hope his disappearance is not related and that he returns safely. It makes me think though that there may be someone that doesn’t want people in the area. So maybe there was someone up there who is trying to scare off hikers because they are getting too close their property, or they don’t like the hikers passing through. Maybe it was someone just having a little fun at my expense? I had just passed two hikers, the only two I saw on the entire hike.

Or maybe it was Bigfoot?

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What makes Portland, Portland?

So what does make Portland uniquely Portland?  Oregon’s largest city is known for being different, weird if you will. It has a green fetish that’s hard to ignore, trendy restaurants, a great mass transit system, and an affinity for two types of beverages: coffee and beer.

This is my second time visiting Portland.  A couple of years ago I was there with my parents for a few hours but really wasn’t there long enough to pick up what kind of vibe this place was laying down.  We managed to hit only one brewery, Deschutes, and a couple of blocks away, Powell’s City of Books and that was pretty much it.  On my second and most recent visit, this time with my wife, we had four days in which to try to get to know this city a little bit better.

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So back to the question of what makes Portland unique.  First, Portland is a very green city, and in more ways than one.  So has anyone ever told you that it rains in Portland? It’s true, very true!  All that rain maks the city very green!  Most of the grass was still green, like Irish green (keeping in mind that we visited in December) and there were evergreen trees all over and around the city.  In most places, rain normally forces people back into their homes but if you let the rain stop you here, you would never see the light of day (notice I didn’t say “you would never see the sun”?). Portlanders seem to accept a rainy day as just part of life and they just get on with it. They dress for it and then get out there on their bikes or walk and get to work.

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Marquam Nature Park

The ‘other’ green is their environmental consciousness. The mass transit system here is very good and that helps to cut down on air pollution and traffic.  They even have a bridge across the Willamette River, Tilikum Crossing, that is closed to automobile traffic.  There were many cyclists, pedestrians, light rail trains and buses using the bridge but even with all of that, the bridge never seemed crowded. I can’t help but see just a touch of irony here though.  Portland was once nicknamed ‘Stumptown’ due to it having more tree stumps than actual living trees.  Also, if you take Highway 26 west out of the city towards Cannon Beach, you’ll share the road with countless large logging trucks, trucks that are bringing timber from the forests that lie between Portland and the Pacific Ocean. You’ll see evidence of numerous clear cut areas as you continue west and it is just a bit depressing, especially when you see just how slow the replanted areas are growing.  But I get it, it is a renewable resource, it’s just a shame to see how much we use and the devastating affect it has on the environment. And lastly on the green piece (pun intended), the soccer team that represents the city, the Timbers, have a logo that is primarily made up of an axe. That logo isn’t only symbolic of its past, but also of it’s present.  Not the greenest symbol around, especially for a city famously known for it’s progressive green thinking.

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Tilikum Crossing

For the foodie, the locavore movement here is strong with it’s ‘think globally, source locally’ mantra woven into the fabric of the Portland food scene.  Weekend markets are found all over the city and create an almost small-town feel. One trending restaurant theme is the ‘dining hall’ and Portland has a USA Today top five rated one in the Pine Street Market.  This dining hall is in the resurrected historic Baggage and Carriage building and has plenty of character. The market houses a variety of different restaurants including ones featuring ramen noodles, Israeli street food, and even an upscale hot dog vendor (my favorite).  Lastly, no trip to Portland would be complete without stopping by Voodoo Doughnuts for some of the most creative doughnuts anywhere.

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Voodoo

So living in the rainy cities like Portland and Seattle, people need coffee to get going, much more than let’s say sunnier climes like Miami.  This means coffee shops can be found everywhere. Starbucks got its start a couple of hours north and is now a household name around the world.  Stumptown Coffee from Portland is one of the more popular coffee shops and is also a household name, at least in Portland it is.  I love hearing how a small business like Stumptown Coffee is doing so well but was disappointed to hear that it was purchased by the much larger, Luxembourg owned, Peet’s Coffee.

And lastly, Portland is known as Beervana! It does deserve this title and it boasts breweries all over the city.  I think I heard that there are over 70 within the city limits. So we tried a couple of those within the city limits, and even a couple out on the coast.  Within the city, we checked out two in the Pearl District: Deschutes and Rogue.  Both had good beers, but extra props to Deschutes for their food and comfortable, bright atmosphere.  So here’s the thing, Portland has an outstanding microbrew beer scene but there are a lot of places that can claim that they have a great beer scene too.  Like say San Diego, Boulder, Asheville, and countless others.  What does Portland have that the others don’t?  When I think on microbrewed beer and where it came from, I think of Portland! It also just feels like the kind of place where beer ‘should’ come from, certainly not San Diego (no offense intended San Diego).

So what makes Portland, Portland?  I still don’t know!  I think I came here looking for the Portland that you see on ‘Portlandia’ and really didn’t find that (maybe that’s a good thing). Places like Voodoo Doughnuts, a Portland original, don’t even scream “That’s so Portland” to me. I think Boulder Colorado has enough breweries to make Portland not seem as unique as maybe it once was.  There is a slogan in Portland that reads “Keep Portland Weird” and that saying, minus the Portland part, was actually started in Austin Texas as “Keep Austin Weird”.  It’s most famous coffee shop is now owned by a foreign entity.  It has a homeless problem.  It has beautiful parks.  The people are friendly. The people are active.  There actually is a lot of flannel being worn.  There are also beards, lots of them.

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It is a city of contrasts, green but with a dark green past. It is a city, much like any other city.  It has some uniqueness, weirdness if you will, but not as much as I was expecting, hoping for.

I didn’t love Portland, I liked it!

And did I mention that it rains there?

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