Sunday, February 23, 2020

King Tides and Back Road Travels

Winter on the Southern Oregon Coast is a time of rain, wind, and frequent displays of nature's fury.  Almost every day's forecast contains a warning of dangerous beach conditions, hazardous seas, and small craft warnings.  This is also the time for King Tides, which occur because the northern hemisphere is at it's closest to the moon.  The constant struggle between the earth and moon's gravity always creates tides, but we've had high tides over 9' above mean sea level, tides that obliterated beaches, stacked huge logs against bluffs and onto parking lots, and rearranged  beaches and tidal rivers.  At the Face Rock overlook, the face of the princess looking skyward seemed to be sinking.  Views that normally included beaches were now water covered, and the Coquille River Jetty was battered with waves.  

Face Rock 
Where's the Beach?

Coquille River North Jetty
Days of warmer temperatures bring fog, giving the area a surreal look.  We visited the sand dunes near Winchester Bay where there weren't any dune buggies on this damp, dreary day.

Sand Dunes
Sand Dunes
We've spent some time volunteering for US Fish & Wildlife; using spotting scopes to show visitors the marine mammals on Simpson Reef near Charleston.  This time of year the activity is slow compared to the summer when there are between 2000 and 5000 seals and sea lions on the reef. 

Shell Island on Simpson Reef at Low Tide
On the Oregon Coast, every offshore rock, over 1800 of them, are designated as a national wildlife refuge to protect wildlife breeding grounds.  Although signs are posted and advise to remain clear, there's always someone who feels that they're entitled to trespass.  One one of our trips this year, we watched this group of one male and four females as they tromped over mussels and barnacles while they explored the reef.  They weren't very smart, since they forgot that the low tide allowed them access....but wouldn't stay very long.  When they tried to return to the beach they realized the water was almost waist deep - and was around 50 degrees.  We watched, along with our visitors, as the man rolled up his pants, hoisted up a woman on his back, and carried them to the shore one at a time.  I have to admit, we were all secretly hoping they'd spend more time on the reef and would have to pay for a Coast Guard rescue.

You would think that an area as beautiful as the Southern Oregon coast would be crowded with people.  And yet it isn't, and the population decreases every year.  The reduction in commercial fishing and overseas lumber demand has stalled the economy and jobs are hard to find.  In fact, the area south of Coos Bay to the Oregon Coast is one of the least populated areas in the country.  Only one highway (101) runs North/South, and only two highways run east to the I-5
corridor.  East of highway 101 the coastal range is not much more than rugged forest owned by lumber companies and the Forest Service.  There are roads along the rivers that run into the Pacific, but not many, and driving them gives you an idea of what the area looked like in the late 19th and early 20th century.  

We drove up the Smith River into a green valley that was once populated by dairy farms.  It's a perfect place to raise cattle - year around green grass and mild temperatures.  Farmers built dikes to hold back the river and built docks for the steam ships to stop and pick up their milk.  There were scheduled trip up and down the river ferrying people, mail, and visible on the decks, milk cans.  Today, the dairy farms are gone and in place are beef cattle roaming the meadows.  But the remnants of the farming days are there in abandoned barns and pilings along the river.

Smith River

In these sheltered valleys Elk are almost as common as cattle, and we saw quite a few on this trip:

On another day we took a trip to Loon Lake, a popular lake tucked back in the mountains about nine miles from the Umpqua River. 
Loon Lake
It's a beautiful lake, with a large resort area and BLM campground.  Driving beyond the lake, we once again entered an area of old farms and what was once the town of Ash Valley.  There's nothing left of the town except the old school, built in 1928 and that looks like it's being renovated into a home:

Ash Valley School
 There are seemingly endless roads back into the mountains here.  Although this isn't the prettiest time of the year, driving down the roads flanked by moss-covered Red Alder, without seeing another soul for hours is an experience that can't be had duplicated in many places.

We'll be leaving the coast soon and exploring new areas, so check back!