The Little Apple
A few days on the renowned Oregon coast was a glorious prospect. Would it be as lovely as California?
We made good progress down US Route 101 from Lake Quinault to Aberdeen, an awful, unending development endured at a tediously slow speed. It merged into the bizarrely named Cosmopolis, which was worse. Aberdeen boasts tourism as an industry, but why would anyone want to spend time anywhere near Cosmo Specialty Fibers' 'bio-refinery'? On its website, the company claims a 'best-in-class environmental impact status' as a priority. Seriously? I was reminded of Trump's declared intention to relax pollution laws.
We hurried on via Raymond, South Bend and Long Beach on to North Beach Peninsula. The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) includes the salt marshes and tidal flats of Willapa Bay, old-growth forest, dunes and beaches. We drove to Leadbetter Point State Park, beyond Oysterville, but only had time for a short wander. The hundreds of thousands of migrating shorebirds described by the US Fish and Wildlife Service were noticeable by their absence. Bad timing on our part.
Down the west coast of the Peninsula is a magnificent beach.
And there were birds! I think the ruffled fluffly little things might be juvenile Sanderlings…
We crossed into Oregon over the Astoria-Megler Bridge, the longest continuous truss bridge in North America, at 4.1 miles. This was the last section of Route 101 – from Olympia, the state capital of Washington, to Los Angeles – to be completed. The Bridge is 14 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River. No photos do justice to the length of it: below is just the cantilever-span bit, with South Saddle Mountain as a dramatic backdrop.
It wasn't much further on to Cannon Beach, where we'd planned to have an early supper at Driftwood, before the last half-hour to Manzanita. Cannon Beach is among the most popular beach resorts on the Oregon Coast – it's certainly pretty – and a weekend getaway for Portlanders. We walked up and down N Hemlock Street, getting seriously waylaid by Laurel's Wine Shop. Driftwood is relaxed and serves seafood, burgers and pasta. I couldn't pass up the opportunity for cod and chips: my friend had chowder in a bread bowl.
Unfortunately, I have no photographs of Cannon Beach. During the day my phone had been 'misplaced': I tend to forget about taking pictures in stressful situations. It's a stunning drive on to Manzanita: it's worth stopping before the road drops down from Oswald West State Park, to see where you're headed.
From the moment we arrived in Manzanita, we felt at home. Our accommodation, at Coast Cabins, turned out to be the favourite of the holiday. We walked down the main drag to the beach just in time for sunset. We walked the main drag many times over two days; we got to know the man in the post office; we took wine with the manager of Coast Cabins, who recommended what to eat in Wheeler's Rising Star Cafe; we breakfasted twice at Bread and Ocean, and shopped; we marvelled at the miniature crescent dunes on the beach; and were fondly reminded of Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA.
Manzanita gets its name from evergreen shrubs that are found from coast to mountain throughout western North America and into Mexico. If I'd know that then I would have looked for them: as it was, Manzanita was 'little apple' (in Spanish).
Next day, we explored a bit before breakfast and bookshop. A huge fog bank lurked off the coast for much of the day.
This day was earmarked for the Three Capes Scenic Drive. It was further, and there was more traffic, than we'd anticipated. We didn't want to linger at the first Cape, however: Cape Kiwanda made us homesick for Australia's deserted shorelines. Lonely Planet describes the curious sandstone bluff: 'you can hike up tall dunes, or drive your truck onto the beach'.
But this was impressive. Haystack Rock is 327 feet (100 metres) tall. It is not the only intertidal monolith along the West Coast of North America, however.
Cape Lookout is at the end of a mile-long headland with sheer cliffs, but we had no hope of getting there in the time we had. The trail passed through fairly open forest, the vertiginous trunks slightly unsteadying on a narrow path that fell away steeply. We walked as far as the first lookout point. Slugs normally turn my stomach, but I had to overcome that reaction in order to capture the extraordinary Banana Slug in these parts.
On the way to the third cape there were a couple of other spectacular vistas, the second from Symons State Scenic Viewpoint, on property donated to the people of Oregon in 1996 by Percy Symons. He wanted this ocean view to be preserved in perpetuity. Good man.
Last but not least was Cape Meares, home to Oregon's most vertically challenged lighthouse, at just 38 feet tall (11.6 metres). This stretch of coast is littered with broken-off bits of cliff and headland remnants. It's beautiful.
That evening we went to the Rising Star Cafe in Wheeler, a couple of miles south of Manzanita. It had taken several attempts to book it from Brisbane, with the crazy time difference. I'm so glad I persevered. The place has no airs or graces: it's a shack, essentially, on a quiet street off the main drag. The proprietors and waitress are relaxed and friendly. The food is delish. I've never had a burger with mash and veggies in a sauce before – maybe I need to get out more – but it was the best in a long while. We hadn't realised they only took cash, and we didn't have any. Our card didn't work in the cashpoint at the 'bank' (more commonly known as the pot shop) round the corner. No one batted an eyelid. 'Just drop it round tomorrow', they said. We liked them immensely, and the evening rounded off an enjoyable, albeit too short, stay in The Little Apple.
We were not ready to leave Manzanita the following day.