Saturday, January 28, 2006

Beautiful Oregon Coast

After I compiled my my list of favorite spots, I wrote about my memories of one of those: Oregon's beautiful, wild coast:

I think most Oregonians -- even those of us from the landlocked, wide-open eastern part of the state -- have a special place in their hearts for the Oregon coast.

The Pacific Ocean bordering Oregon certainly is nothing like the warm water found in tropical climates, where a vacation means basking in the sunshine, snorkeling along coral reefs and riding the waves. At least not for most of us, though I've noticed on my last few trips to the coast hardy souls dressed in super-thermal wet suits braving the frigid waves with their surf boards.

Everyone knows that the Oregon ocean is cold, the kind of salty cold that freezes cream into ice cream and numbs your bare feet if you wade along the incoming wave line.Then there's the wind. Almost every afternoon it seems, no matter the time of the year, it blows and blows. I remember at least one time when we walked the beach leaning into wind that approached the velocity and texture of a sandblaster, threatening to blow my kids away. The rain was falling on that trip and we all found a refuge in the beach access restroom, with the kids laughingly jockeying for position under the warmth of the automatic hand dryer.

That's only one of many, many memories of the Oregon coast that started when I was a kid and we went to the coast every couple of years or so. I remember looking for dimples in the sand while digging for clams at dawn, when the minus tides always seemed to appear when my dad was around. We usually camped in our travel trailer at Fort Stevenson State Park near Astoria, though occasionally I recall staying in a beach house with some of my cousins and their folks. One year my brother and I dug up an impressive collection of beach agates, only to get in trouble when it turned out that they marked the grave of the beach house's owner's beloved pet dog.

I remember going out once on a salmon fishing boat out of Newport with my dad and years later going on a whale watching excursion at Depot Bay with my son. We even saw a whale from a distance, though that sighting didn't compare with our visits to the aquarium in Newport to visit Keiko when he lived there.

I remember staying in a $75-per-week duplex near the ocean at Tiera del Marr when my daughter was about nine -- she and her cousin Rosie spent every day building sand castles and going on scavenger hunts. I remember visiting friends who lived at lovely Oceanside and going out and picking mussels off the big rocks there for a fresh, delicious stew.My favorite thing to do is to just walk along the shore at low tide (I never seem to hit one of those minus tides unless it's in the middle of the night) and look for agates, shells, things washed up on the shore and tide pools.

At one crossroads in my life I decided I would choose between the ocean and the mountains as a place to live -- I've never regretted deciding to move to the Wallowa Mountains, but I'll always have a soft spot for the wild, rugged and beautiful Oregon coast.

I usually try to take at least one trip a year to the coast to spend a night or two, but at the end of 2005 I realized over a year had gone by without my usual visit. The last time was in late October 2004, when I re-discovered the joys of off-season prices (two nights for the price of one in Bandon!), sparser traffic and fewer other tourists.There's another vacation week coming up at the end of February and, along with time spent with family members, the plan is to stay three or so nights in one of my favorite coastal retreats, Sylvia Beach Hotel on Nye Beach in Newport.

This hotel, which is owned by a friend from my college days, has gotten a lot of press in the travel world because of the fact that every one of its 33 rooms is dedicated to a different author -- such as Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Dr. Seuss, Willa Cather, Agatha Christie, Oscar Wilde -- and decorated to reflect that author's era and books.

It's an old hotel overlooking the ocean with none of the amenities upscale travelers expect -- no television, no phone in the rooms, no pool or hot tubs. Some rooms have a fireplace with a balcony overlooking the ocean, while the least expensive don't have any ocean view. The bathrooms are outdated and the d├ęcor is even a little shabby in places.Some people think its quirky quality is a little overdone and its price is too high, considering that you don't even get a television.

It's not for everyone.But what it offers is a true place to get away from it all, especially if you like books. The large upstairs sitting room has comfy couches and cushy overstuffed chairs with lovely views and a library stocked with all kinds of books. There's also journals scattered around, where folks who have visited leave comment, from a few sentences to a few pages, giving an insight into the lives and minds of fellow travelers to the ocean.

We'll be in the middle of "The Big Read" in Wallowa County in February, so an inn dedicated to books will make an appropriate destination for a trip outside the county. Anyway, the Oregon coast is one of my favorite spots in the world and I can't wait to watch the ocean and walk along the shore again next month.

I have a column I wrote about a recent trip with my 21-year-old son to Las Vegas, so maybe I'll publish that soon.
Right now I'm trying to figure out how to add a photo of my son flying a kite at the Oregon coast when he was young.

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