BULLARD'S BEACH SP
Drive to Bullard's Beach Beautiful, a Little Underwhelming at the End
The drive down the coast is as spectacular as I expected, passing rocky points, secluded crescent beaches and towering forests of spruce. There are countless state parks and scenic viewpoints along Route 101, so many that I finally gave up trying to visit them all. Fishing villages and tiny hamlets dot the shore. My favorite is Yachats (pronounced YA-hots) which boasts only 635 residents. Picturesque old houses sit haphazardly among the pines, clinging to a steep hillside that spills down toward a small harbor, where a few businesses that deal mostly with the tourist trade make the most of the short summer.
The drive reminds me of a book that's so good you never want it to end. But all to soon I’m at Bullard’s Beach, my destination. I’ll be honest and say that compared to my last few campgrounds this one can’t compete—although it’s attractive enough, Glacier and Beverly Beach are hard acts to follow. The beach is about a mile from the campground, so soon after I get myself parked and the camper set up I grab my bike to go and take a look. There are supposed to be a number of rock islands offshore covered with seals.
It turns out the trail I have to follow is made of deep loose sand and not only is riding the bike out of the question, it’s almost impossible to push it down the path. Determined, I persevere, thinking I’ll ride it on the packed sand at the beach. Once I finally struggle the whole way to the beach, it turns out the sea is at high tide and between the edge of the surf and the dunes is nothing but more loose sand. Also, once on the beach, what had been a sunny and mild day in the campground is suddenly foggy, cold and windy. There’s nothing to do but turn around and plow my bike back to the campground. It seems the cold damp weather on the beach is not unusual this time of the year in Oregon.
As luck would have it, apparently I’m camped next to three generations of the Giggle Family. I can’t see them well through the thick brush between our campsites but I can certainly hear them. It’s as though they’ve developed a secret language that’s composed of giggles, titters, chortles, cackles and snickers. I can rarely make out what their talking about (actually it seems to be nothing at all) but they’re in a constant state of hilarity. One man—I believe he’s grandpa—has an irritating soprano voice through which he giggles as he speaks; nothing is said in a straight tone. Another, a fat woman, just never stops with her cackling. I’m pretty sure they’re not smoking that silly weed, because I’m downwind from them and would smell it. But I guess it takes all kinds. Glad they’re having a good time at whatever it is they’re doing.
They remind me of the Yeller Family I camped next to for two nights in Glacier. They constantly screamed at each other with an intonation that implied, “You idiot!” It reverberated through the campground so resoundingly that I was embarrassed for them. Probably kept the bears away though.
Of Fog and Wind
Today Hannah moves back to College Station for her second year at Texas A&M. I’m so proud of her! I wish I could be there; it sounds like she and Jane had a good day fixing up her dorm room. The fact of the matter is, I would have taken this trip last year but I just couldn’t see being gone while sending her off to college for the very first time.
Well, the day dawns with crystal clear blue skies and little breeze. After breakfast and coffee, I decide to head for the beach again, this time with my camera instead of the bike. I slog the long mile through deep sand—only to find that the beach is again foggy, windy and cold. It’s very strange. The fog billows over the first high row of dunes like smoke from a brush fire, tumbling and whirling wildly in the wind, but then immediately dissipates.
To seaward, it’s so thick I can barely make out the second row of breakers, let alone see any rocky promontories inhabited by seals. I can hear the fog horn in Bandon, six miles away; I can only see up and down the beach about a hundred yards. And, yes, it’s cold and windy. I’m learning, however, and I brought a heavyweight hoodie, though it hardly keeps the chill away.
I stroll up and down the beach about a mile and see some huge pieces of driftwood; some are whole tree trunks six feet in diameter and the length of a boxcar. Some are massive gnarled stumps, their bark weathered away and nothing but a white skeleton remaining. They’ll all be rearranged this winter when vicious storms pound the coast, lifting them from their sandy moorings and tossing them about. Oh, how I’d love to be here in a cozy seaside cabin to experience one of those epic storms!
Yesterday as I was man-handling my bike along the beach trail, I noticed to my dismay that the tires were rotted and cracked through to the fabric binding underneath. I could just see myself coasting carefree down a slope and—BLAM!—a blowout sends me crashing to the pavement. There being no Walmarts in most of these small towns (the locals turn their noses up at them) I had to drive north about 20 miles to Coos Bay to find the nearest bicycle shop.
That chore done, I returned home, rode the bike around the campground a few times to “break in” the tires, then settled in for some dinner and a good book.
A pretty uneventful day….
I’m missing those long day-hikes in the mountains. But at least I have the Giggle Family to keep me company again tonight.
What's the Plan?
The day begins with a brooding, low, overcast sky, but at least no fog or wind. I’ve been reading about the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area just north of here; in fact, I passed through parts of it on my way down the coast but didn’t see any dunes from the road because of the thick forest. I decide to backtrack and take a closer look.
According to what I’ve read, these are the biggest dunes in North America, and were an inspiration for Frank Herbert when he wrote his classic science fiction novel Dune. Well, I drive 50 miles north and ask several locals along the way but no one can seem to direct me to a place where I can actually view the dunes. I do at last find an area with massive dunes lined with mots of pine trees, rather like the runs on a ski slope, but the place is overrun with ATVs and dune buggies tearing around at top speed. Not what I’m seeking today. I ask the camp host of this area, but even he’s not sure where to go see dunes in their natural state.
Giving up, I turn south and head back to camp. By now the skies have cleared. I discover that I’ve overlooked another way to the beach: a paved road about three miles long. I pack my jacket and camera into my Camelbak and make the ride. Reaching the beach, I find the skies still clear and the breeze only a whisper. There’s a solid fog bank lurking several miles offshore, but that doesn’t concern me. I shove my bike over the dunes.
However, I seem to have hit the beach at high tide again, so there’s no packed sand to ride the bike on. I lean it up against a large driftwood log and wander around the area, kicking over small rocks and shells with my toe to see what’s underneath. I find a marvelous flat gray stone with a seashell embedded in it, fossil-like, and another small white stone embedded right where a pearl would be if it were an oyster. I wonder…. maybe it is a pearl? I pocket it.
Once more I lug my bike over the dunes to the road, pedaling an extra mile to an old lighthouse at the southern tip of the park, built in 1896 at the mouth of the Coquille River. Soon the fog bank that lingered offshore all morning starts to move in and the faintest mist begins to fall, a little more than fog but less than drizzle. Time to return to camp.
Simply put, I’m not as enthralled by this section of the coast as I was by Beverly Beach. My plan calls for me to stay another two full days and leave the morning of the third, next Wednesday.
I begin to consider a plan B.
Plan B would be to drive east about 190 miles to Crater Lake National Park, which would take the best part of a day on mountainous roads. Spend a day at Crater Lake. Then head back southwest to my next venue, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California, almost exactly the same distance, 190 miles. Actually, months ago when planning the trip plan B was on the itinerary, but I rejected it because of the additional mileage. Bad move.
The problem is I don’t have a reservation at Crater Lake. Ever since Rocky Mountain National Park my experience has been that every park is fully booked every night. This is one of those times when traveling with my Lance truck camper would come in handy, because I can sneak off and camp just about anywhere in a national forest. The 30-foot 5th wheel is just not that type of vehicle.
Plan B is a no-go. And there is no plan C.
Bandon, a Gem
Along Highway 101 in Oregon there are so many state parks they do the familiar brown park signs in plural, like this: “State Parks Next Right—>” instead of “So and So State Park Next Right—>.” There’s no room on the sign to put all their names.
There’s something called the Oregon Coastal Trail, which runs the full length of the state. Hikers can walk the entire coastline and be assured of a park to stay in every night. Even when a campground is marked “Full,” there are always special sites available for hikers, no reservations required. Same for bicyclists using the 101.
After a slow start this morning, I drive south on 101 to the nearest town, Bandon, which is six miles and one drawbridge from Bullard’s Beach. An moderately sized village, Bandon sits on a ridge about 200 feet above the ocean and has some of the most breathtaking beaches I’ve seen anywhere. Every few hundred yards are stairways leading down for public access. I become completely mesmerized, wandering up and down the fog-shrouded beach for several hours lost in thought, the only constant being the rhythmic roaring hiss of surf upon the shore.
There is a number of huge jutting rocks just offshore as well as some, at low tide, that seem fixed between the world of water and land. Many sea caves, grottos and shoots lend themselves to easy exploration—while the tide is out. But around here they have a saying: “Never turn your back to the ocean.” It’s printed on a sign at the access way to every beach, along with such encouraging warnings as, “Watch out for sneaker waves,” and “Beware of strong undertows.”
The water is so cold—upper 40’s I’m told—that my feet ache when I stand in it only ankle deep. I see two surfers, both wearing body suits, but I can hardly imagine anyone getting pleasure from being immersed in this cold broth. And yet, life abounds, in perfect harmony with death. For every starfish I see clinging tightly to a barnacle-encrusted rock, there’s the carcass of a dead seagull being picked at by turkey vultures. For every piece of translucent green seaweed holding fast below the waterline of a rocky giant, there are thousands of crumbling shells littering the sand. I can smell it on the air—life in death, death in life—the pungent ocean odors of decay and rebirth.
But a while longer and I’m lost within myself, or rather…the boundaries of my self melt away and I feel a surreal sense of calm and oneness, the likes of which are only experienced in the most rare and precious moments of a hectic life. A wave of cold water washes across my feet and I’m jolted back to this world. I leave the beach slowly, with the sense of having experienced something extraordinary.
I continue driving south a mile or two and pull into the drive to Bandon Beach State Park. It turns out not to be so much a park as an overlook to a part of the beach that’s a nesting ground for an endangered species, the plover. The plover is a bird that has the bad habit of laying it eggs, plop, right on top of the dry sand above the tide’s high water mark, making them vulnerable to all kinds of misfortune. At this beach, a retired couple, volunteers for the park service who receive a free camping spot for their services, watch over the sandy field of plover eggs, gently reminding visitors to cross the dry sand in a straight line, to keep their dogs close-leashed, and generally to be aware until they’ve reach the wet sand at the surf’s edge.
The couple is a wealth of knowledge about the area and I learn much from them, including where I’ll probably go tomorrow: Simpson’s Reef. They’re from Missouri, but have volunteered in Alaska, in Texas (Rockport) and will volunteer this winter at South Padre Island. North in the summer; south in the winter. It’s become a lifestyle with them. They study and learn all they can about an area so they can be good interpreters and guides. I can see by their eagerness to overwhelm me with information that they love what they’re doing.
Among other things, they show me the basket of wild blackberries they just picked this morning, offering me a handful. They’re more than willing to tell me exactly where the bushes are and what to look for. I linger and talk with them for almost an hour before bidding farewell.
On the drive out of the park I spy a thicket of tangled, leggy bushes with reddish woody stems and enormous thorns. Blackberries! I pull over and carefully (I’m wearing shorts, a T-shirt and slaps—inappropriate gear for such prickly work) reach in among the thorny branches and pinch off a dozen berries, sunwarm and juicy.
It’s been a good day in paradise. I've added Bandon to my shortlist of favored places to live.
I’m standing on a high promontory overlooking Simpson’s Reef, gazing out to sea when suddenly—it takes a second or two to register—a bald eagle swoops into my field of vision, just at eye level, with a large fish, still wriggling, clutched firmly in his talons.
My camera dangles around my neck, useless; the moment is gone. The eagle lands below me on a small group of rocks at the edge of the surf, standing on top of the still writhing fish. After a quick look around to see if he has any challengers, he begins tearing at the hapless fish with his hooked beak.
Simpson’s Reef is an archipelago of rocks, just offshore, that is home to Oregon’s largest colony of sea lions, harbor seals and similar marine mammals. The slope of the rocks and the shallow water makes it easy for them to haul themselves out of the ocean to catch the warming sun. The cacophony of their barking is loud and constant: arf, arf, arf, arf. I’m spellbound by the display. In some places they cover the rocks completely, a squirming carpet of fur.
Someone at the viewpoint mentions that last week they spotted a gray whale from where we’re standing. Several minutes later a woman, pointing, exclaims, “I see one!” All eyes follow the arc of her finger and there, just beyond one of the lower rocks I see his spout. This time, I have my camera ready and manage, over half an hour, to catch his spout several times, as well as see his back and his flukes when he dives deep.
I find it easy to spend more than three hours at Simpson’s Reef, but after a while hunger rules and I drive the 20 miles back to camp for lunch. Following lunch I wander on the beach for a few hours, wanting to absorb all I’ve seen today, wanting to somehow own it, deeply—to possess it with my soul.
I spend the rest of the afternoon in a more mundane pursuit: readying the rig for travel. My goal tomorrow is Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in Northern California, a short drive down the coast.