Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mile 118.4 to Mile 127.4: Cascade Head to Siletz Bay

Cumulative mileage figures in parentheses refer to mileage in this section only.

The route of the OCT from the south side of Cascade Head to Lincoln City is somewhat in play and will change in the next couple of years. There is the ideal route (not possible now, or maybe ever, due to private land management issues), the second-best alternative route (not yet built), and the too-much-highway-walking route (the only current option).

Let’s start with the current reality. Beginning where Three Rocks Road meets U.S. 101 on the south side of Cascade Head, walk south along US 101 for 3.8 miles, crossing the Salmon River, and leave the highway at the north end of Lincoln City on NW 40th Street, following signs west to Chinook Winds Resort and to a beach access site (4.1 miles). Head south on the beach about 2 miles to the mouth of the D River (easy to wade) and continue another 2.7 miles to the mouth of Siletz Bay (8.7 miles). If you plan to camp at Devil's Lake State Park (my least favorite coastal hiker-biker camp; see below), leave the beach at the D River, cross U.S. 101 to NE First Avenue, and pick up the boardwalk trail leading north a short distance into the state park.

If this section and the previous one have just too much highway walking for your taste, consider calling a cab (several taxi companies in Lincoln City) or taking the bus ( from Neskowin to the north end of Lincoln City (four southbound trips a day at this writing).

The Second-Best Future Alternative Route: The U.S. Forest Service, which manages a chunk of land south of the Salmon River, plans to build (in summer 2014) an informational kiosk on the south side of the Salmon River describing the work done to preserve and rehabilitate and study the forest on Cascade Head and the wetlands along the river. From there they hope, in the next few years, to build a trail that will lead up through the forested headland west of here and connect with public land owned by the City of Lincoln City, then to neighborhood roads leading down to beach access in the community of Road’s End, giving hikers more beach time and cutting off 2.8 mile of highway shoulder misery.  But that trail doesn’t yet exist.

The In-My-Dreams Ideal Route: That would be to hitch a ride across the Salmon River from Knight Boat Landing on Three Rocks Road, walk the beach along the river to the ocean, and cut over the headland using existing trails through the Camp Westwind property to link with existing Forest Service trails and, ultimately, beach access at Road’s End. This route, which would completely bypass Highway 101, would be the most expedient, most scenic, most convenient, most beachy, and safest route and would require no new trail construction. But the owners of the Camp Westwind property have, historically, been unwilling to let hikers on their land, especially in summer, while camp is in session. So it’s back to the highway for OCT hikers for the foreseeable future.

Regarding overnighting, Devils Lake State Park is very convenient to the beach, but it's noisy, and the hiker-biker camp is not great (right next to the campground entrance); I camped here but opted for a more expensive but quieter campsite closer to the lake (where I met Radler the dog, pictured at top). There are plenty of hotels and motels in Lincoln City. At the north end of Lincoln City, where you leave US 101 to rejoin the beach, there's a huge shopping mall where you can buy groceries or get a meal. There are more restaurants and cafes clustered around beach access at the D River and at Siletz Bay (in photo), where the beach ends.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"Is that safe?" Part II: Thinking About Tsunamis


When my friend Jason Jensen (a.k.a. Pirateboy: “Pillage and plunder every treasure, every grain, every day”) set out to hike the OCT in the early 1990s, a friend gave him a huge (like, 18-inch square) Rice Krispies Treat, the idea being that he could use it as flotation in case of a tsunami or, should no tsunami strike, he could eat it. It was a joke, obviously, but he was a little spooked by the possibility. This was just a few years after scientists first discovered that there have, in fact, been huge tsunamis on the Pacific Northwest coast in the past and there will be again. But exactly when, no one knows.

Tsunamis are an infrequent phenomenon on the Oregon coast but one OCT hikers should be aware of. You will most definitely see signs along the highway indicating that you are entering (or leaving) a tsunami zone or indicating what direction to run, should a tsunami be imminent. Most tsunamis worldwide are triggered by earthquakes on the ocean floor. To understand the risk and how to minimize it, it’s essential to understand the two very different types of tsunamis that occasionally strike the Oregon coast.

A distant tsunami is one caused by a very large earthquake hundreds or thousands of miles away: for instance, off the coast of Japan or Alaska. These tsunamis take hours to cross the ocean to Oregon and, by the time they arrive, typically have diminished greatly. Many towns on the Oregon coast have a system of tsunami warning sirens. If you are not near a town, be aware that arriving tsunamis are preceded by a sudden, significant withdrawal of water at the shore. If you notice the ocean suddenly receding far more than normal—and it will be noticeable—simply move farther up or off the beach. Distant tsunamis large enough to be noticeable and do damage in Oregon rare and typically are only dangerous in bays and harbors or near the waterline on the beach. Other than the tsunami following the 2011 Japan earthquake (which, by the time it reached Oregon, was perceptible only in a few harbors), the last distant tsunami large enough to do any damage here was in 1964 and, prior to that, possibly in 1899, both times caused by earthquakes off Alaska.

A local tsunami is a far more dangerous but even less common phenomenon, and the warning sign is unmistakable: it is preceded by a huge earthquake. An underwater fault line (called the Cascadia Subduction Zone) runs just off the Pacific Northwest coast from Vancouver Island south to Cape Mendocino, California (south of Eureka), and every few hundred years it generates a very large earthquake that, in turn, triggers a tsunami that strikes the coast in 15 to 30 minutes (quicker on the southern Oregon coast). If you happen to be on the beach when a large earthquake strikes (it will be unmistakable: four to five minutes of severe shaking), as soon as you are able to walk, run to the highest ground you can reach. The last big Cascadia quake occurred in January 1700; the next one could be any day now—or not for hundreds of years. 
I didn’t know much about tsunamis and tsunami risk when I hiked the OCT in 2008 and 2009; I’ve since learned a great deal (my book on the topic, The NextTsunami: Living on a Restless Coast, is due out from Oregon State University Press in spring 2014). I will say that, knowing what I know now, I would still without hesitation hike the OCT, but I might make a point of not camping at the end of a sand spit. I’m willing to risk the very small chance of being on the beach when the Big One hits, but I would prefer to not have to start running in the dark at the end of a 4- to 5-mile-long spit.