Oregon Coast Trail: River Crossings

September 4-6, 2019

Three days, in which we walked into the night toward a lighthouse, stopped briefly at a County Park, camped near a river to cross at midnight, stopped briefly at a State Park, walked another six miles on beautiful beach and finally rested at a hotel in Port Orford.

I’ll bundle these three days because they flowed together in an unusual -and exhausting- stretch of walking outside my circadian rhythm. There were rivers to cross at low tide which didn’t happen at convenient times. Ironically, this was the longest stretch of undeveloped beach along the Oregon Coast. We saw just a handful of other hikers and uncountable and varied scenes of coastal beauty on the beach for three days!

On the 4th, we awoke at Sunset Bay State Park to the calls of ravens. Although the camphost had said there were crows, the guttural croaks, in contrast to the crow’s high-pitched and definite “caw”, tells me they were ravens. This explains why they might pilfer campers’ food from their tables, as the camphost had warned the night before. Ravens are relentless scavengers of convenience! Our food, however, was safely untouched by raven beak.

We were out by 8 a.m. headed to a path through the forest out of the park. It climbed steeply to a ridge because we were leaving the beach -headed north! We had to get back to Charleston to position ourselves for our next southbound beach walk. From Charleston, we took our third ride with Yellow Cab back to the North Bend Safeway. That’s the stop for the Curry County Transit Coastal Express, which whizzed us 27 miles down US 101, over a highway bridge with no space for pedestrians, to the Ray’s Food Place in Bandon. We shopped, first for something to eat immediately, then for food tforo pack out for the next two days. I wanted soup to eat, but they didn’t serve it in their hot bar. John asked the deli clerk about soup. She kindly offered to heat up whatever packaged soup we bought from the store! We bought a box of sweet potato curry, a deli sandwich, and a couple of hard-boiled eggs for a warming meal in their snack area. I sought out the manager to thank his staff for that personalized service!

From Ray’s we walked through historic Bandon for a mile or so, then clambered over some big rocks to the beach. Our goal was to cross the mouth of the New River at low tide, which was at 11:30 p.m. Huge rock stacks loomed near the beach and we wove our way around and between them over low dunes swept by wind and sand. The fine brown sand we had grown accustomed to walking on had turned to coarse, black sand that gave way with each step.

Coarse black sand on Bandon Beach











We kept walking. Into sunset, past sunset, into darkness. Without our headlamps on, the waxing crescent moon was the only light – besides the Cape Blanco lighthouse, that is. It flashed dimly, some 20 miles away. Soon, even the moonlight was hidden behind clouds, leaving the whitecapped surf as the only contrast with the dark beach. I kept my sluggish pace going with determination to reach that river crossing at its unknown distance. To trick my mind to keep going, I paced myself to walk all the way to that lighthouse before stopping. That worked and I didn’t get tired, just kept walking, listening to the surf and focusing on doing deep, rhythmic breathing.

At 9 p.m. we reached a flow of water towards the ocean! “This must be the mouth of the New River!” John said. It’s tricky because this river, only about a century old, flows north, parallel to the surf and 20-50 yards in. Sometimes, new mouths form. Even a few hours before low tide, it was just knee deep and easy to cross. We kept walking. I had thought we would camp soon after this crossing, but John kept going. And going. He said there was a hiker camp, but didn’t know it’s distance.

The bank was steep, the sand soft, the walking cumbersome, the darkness grim. We walked near the surf because the sand was the most firm there. The problem was that waves would sneak up. I had put my shoes back on for easier walking, although I had given in to walking in the water. One wave lept up and soaked my shorts though, and I cursed, exasperated with this interminably long night walk. One thing I’ve confirmed about myself on this trip is that I rely on regular meals and sleep. Although I think I’m good at tolerating whatever happens, my impatience bursts out when that last straw gets piled on. That soaking was my last straw this time. “Let’s stop here and camp!” John relented. We stomped up the beach through deep sand. We stomped past the line of markers for the protected plover nesting zone and we set up the tent in the dune sand well away from the tide line. It was only 10 p.m. but I was glad to end that night walking.

Next morning, September 5th, we resumed our beach walk. In just an hour we saw a post on the dune that clearly said, INFORMATION in vertical letters. We climbed up the shifty sand and read it. “It’s the BLM hiker camp!” John said. “We would have missed this last night! I’ll mark it on my map.”

About 1 p.m. we reached the next landmark at Flores Lake, a beautiful, marshy area with a county park and campground. “What if we stay here and get to the Sixes River for tomorrow’s low tide instead of the one at midnight tonight?” I suggested, appealing to my sleepiness and attraction to this location. It could provide soothing subjects for drawing and painting. I was thrilled with the sight of a marsh hawk gliding over the lake edge.

“That won’t work because of the bus from Port Orford, letting us skip the longest road walk section. It only runs Monday though Saturday.” John gave me the news. We ate the soup we had skipped last night and refilled our water bottles, discovering that John had lost his liter bottle during the night walk. Inconvenient, but not dire. We still had five liters capacity. We walked back out to the beach. Resigned, I particularly noticed how unpleasant it was slogging though the loose sand of the approach road, keeping comments to myself.

The afternoon provided another several hours of determined beach walking, broken by an hour on a woodland trail over Blacklock Point, a jaggedy black headland jutting out into the ocean, winged by golden cliffs of sediment, topped with windblown spruce pointing south. I savored the firmness of the soil beneath my feet and reminded myself to enjoy the beauty, which I could not deny.

Golden Sandstone Cliffs

Soon, we were back out on the beach, this time, however, touring a whimsical museum of driftwood sculptures and collectibles. Every size, shape, and wooden caricature, from huge roots and trunks to tiny sticks and tokens, littered the sand and grass ledge for the rest of our evening walk!

Huge Root Sculpture
Tiny wooden tokens

What a delight for my imagination! I could spend days of drawing time studying the patterns and textures of these wooden forms! We had another destination, however – Sixes River, known to be easily crossed on a sandbar or formidable and requiring a retreat back to the road. We checked it out about 6 p.m. and found that the 8ft high tide made the crossing of the formidable variety. We camped nearby and set an alarm for 11:45 p.m.

Beach camp

In the dark, we revisited the crossing by headlamp and found it pretty easy! We quickly forded the twenty-foot wide outflowing stream that was just knee deep. Mission accomplished. John wasn’t quite sure how far it was to the trail up to Cape Blanco State Park. We walked. Another night walk of unknown length. Thirty minutes in, I said that I didn’t really want to walk without a clear time and destination. John snapped back, “OK! We’ll stop here!” I explained that I was willing to walk for another fifteen minutes, but John stubbornly stopped.

It was easy setting up the tent again in the sand because I had packed the long sticks I had used for stakes at our first sand camp that night. They worked better in the deep sand than our short metal ones.

At first light the next morning, September 6th, we packed up again, this time to continue south on the beach toward that lighthouse on Cape Blanco, now just short of a mile away! In the morning light, it was easy to find the trail up the cape to the lighthouse road, then another 3/4 mile to the Cape Blanco State Park campground.

Cape Blanco Lighthouse at dawn

I was so grateful John had not insisted on walking that whole stretch in the night! From the Sixes River crossing to the campground was 2 1/2 miles!

Here was another stop we could make, but we didn’t stop! There was that bus to catch in Port Orford tomorrow and it was still about eight miles away! We ate our oatmeal, took lukewarm showers, packed up and walked out of the park. The beach between Cape Blanco and Port Orford really was beautiful, but I was tired! I did my best to pay attention to the wind carved cliffs, the blue water, and the rainbow colors of smooth stones which now graced the beach.

Now there were pebbles of many colors!

Mostly, I kept walking, silently forging my way through the soft sand. Walking barefoot for awhile helped refresh me somewhat.

John had called and made a reservation for the Sea Crest Motel, so at least we had a destination. We got into Port Orford at about 12:30 and made our way from the beach access into town, headed for Ray’s Food Place. On our way, though, we walked past a place called Golden Harvest Herban Farm. “Let’s see what they have.” They had a fine selection of prepared food, a salad bar, and ice cream. We feasted on the best meat loaf ever, a piece of quiche, a cup of barley soup, and a fantastic salad, topped off with carrot cake and ice cream. The unique flavors were ones I would not have picked out in the grocery store and made me feel alive and special!

A delicious stop, right on our way!

I made a second purchase to carry out and eat in the hotel: cauliflower curry soup and second helpings of meatloaf, quiche, and salad. We didn’t need to go to Ray’s today!

We made two more stops conveniently located between Golden Harvest and Sea Crest Hotel: the Post Office and the Food Co-op. At the Post Office we talked with the clerk about how inconvenient it had been that our maildrop package we had sent to General Delivery had been returned to California. The clerk in Astoria had told us the P.O. holds packages for 30 days. Ours was held for only 15. After several minutes’ discussion, he agreed that we had not been served as expected, assured us that he would ameliorate this inconsistency in what clerks are telling customers and the newer 15-day hold policiy. He refunded the postage for that package. That felt good!

At the Co-op, we did some recognizance on what we could buy during tomorrow’s resupply. We got plenty of ideas! We also got a sampling of some irresistible radish kim-chi from the Korean woman who supplies it at the Co-op. We bought a pint of it, and even gave her the canning jar back after dumping the kim-chi into an empty bag from our food bag.

Now, we were ready for that hotel room! We had a room complete with a tub, a refrigerator, a microwave, and an ocean view! Perfect for nineteen whole hours of rest!

I was ready for it!

One Reply to “Oregon Coast Trail: River Crossings”

  1. You are good at sharing your whole experience, not just the fun parts. I love the idea of walking at night.

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