So often, when we are thinking about spending time at the coast, we choose to take the easy route. Just 2 short hours on a well known highway will lead to a beautiful beach and a beloved campground in Brookings, Harris Beach State Park. However, for Mo’s brothers, the southern coast is a long drive, and they are more inclined to travel to their own loved places a bit farther north.
This time, the family consensus was to spend a few days at Nehalem State Park, not far north of Tillamook, Oregon, and just 40 miles south of Astoria, which is as far north as it is possible to travel on the Oregon coast.
With a special event scheduled in Coos Bay for the day before our scheduled family time at Nehalem, we thought it would be great to break up the 336 mile trip into a couple of days of travel rather than trying to do it all at once.
The West Coast tall ships Hawaiian Chieftain and Lady Washington were scheduled to be in Coos Bay and I was thrilled for the chance to see them, to tour them, and maybe even to cruise the bay in one of the ships. Sad to say, this is an incredibly popular event and even though I attempted to book the cruise online while we were still traveling in Florida last February, the events were sold out.
I took this photo of the Hawaiian Chieftain under full sail from the official website of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, the home port for both ships.
This photo of the Lady Washington under full sail is from the same website. Sorry there are no photo credits for either photo on the website, so I do hope this is sufficient. Here is a link to the website which tells the story of each ship and includes the sailing schedule for the various ports visited on the west coast.
We were both excited to see the ships in port, and to explore them, if only for a land tour, but it was not to be. Upon our arrival in Coos Bay I discovered that the schedule has been adjusted due to heavy seas which delayed the arrival of the ships. Instead of the land tours for Sunday morning that had been advertised, there was instead a special charter cruise. Note to self, be ready for weather adjustments to any kind of sailing schedule for the tall ships.
It was a beautiful sunny day on the coast by the time we reached Coos Bay, but it was chilly and the winds were at least 20 knots. When we arrived at the Coos Bay dock where the ships were anchored, there was a long line of people waiting to board for the cruises. It was fun seeing the ships, even from a bit of distance, and watching the excitement of the folks getting ready to board. A few were even dolled up in pirate costumes.
We watched the ships leave port, hoping to see the sails unfurl, but alas the winds were too high to open the sails at all. Still, the ships were lovely and graceful with their tall masts and spider web of ropes and beams. Jumping back into the car, we spent a great couple of hours following along the highway as the ships sailed through the harbor. Although technically they weren’t “sailing”, they were motoring. It isn’t sailing unless the sails are actually unfurled.
We had fun watching, and there were several other groups of people doing just what we were and following the ships along the harbor. Someone even said that there was a small mock battle, but that one was behind a hill and we missed it. Mo and I were both very happy that we hadn’t paid $79. each to “sail” on a tall ship that never set a real sail. Hence the photos stolen from the website, since we never got to see the ships under full sail, or under any sail at all.
We had decided previously to stay at the Mill Casino in Coos Bay, right there on the harbor just a couple of miles north of where the ships launched. The price for a site with hookups ranged between $55 to $75 per night, way too pricey for us to pay for a simple night of sleep. Instead, we spent just $20. for a dry camp in the parking lot. Still really pricey, but we could use the amenities at the RV park, not worry about being bothered by anyone and we had access to their free WiFi. This is more important lately since after we returned from our cross country travels I cancelled our Unlimited Verizon plan and we are on a small plan of just 2 GIG a month on our phones. Free WiFi is almost a necessity if we want to do anything online.
We skipped dinner out and enjoyed our hot soup in the rig, with the slide pulled in to stop the rocking, rolling and snapping slide cover due to the high winds. The park was actually quite nice for walking, and there was a great view of the bay and a nice little dog park for Mattie.
After an hour or so at the Casino, we decided that was a losing proposition and returned home for a really good night’s sleep in that parking lot. Even the sound from the highway was muted by the sounds of the high winds and didn’t bother us in the least.
The next morning we woke to fog, not a surprise for time on the coast when the inland temperatures were much above normal. Our route was a familiar one, with the beautiful winding curves of Highway 101 opening up to views of the ocean, rolling and lifting fog, and then back into the deep green forests that line the highway.
We decided that Yachats was the most charming community along the way, and decided once again that we needed to travel the Oregon Coast sometime when we didn’t have an actual destination in mind, just wander, meander and enjoy. Still not sure why that doesn’t happen, but often our coastal trips involve time with family and coordinating times doesn’t fit well with casual meandering.
We did stop for a bit in Tillamook, instead of the famous Cheese Factory, we stopped at a lesser known French Cheese Factory about a mile south of the big new Tillamook Cheese facility.
The Blue Heron French Cheese Factory was charming and cute, but we never did see the actual factory. Instead there was a shopping area filled will all sorts of cheeses, including some from Tillamook, and a lot of gourmet foodstuffs.
The only cheese from Blue Heron was Brie, which I love, but we were looking for family gifts and weren’t sure if Brie would be a hit. We bought some cheeses, wandered around a bit and took silly photos before continuing north toward Nehalem.
We arrived at the Nehalem Bay State Park mid afternoon, with Dan and Don directing us to our reserved spot. The layout of the park is much like South Beach State Park, near Newport, but the major difference is that the beach is just over the dunes a few hundred yards instead of the 1/2 mile or so that you need to walk to get to the beach at South Beach. We could hear the sound of the ocean from our campsite, always a soothing delight.
Power and electric, with a dump station at the park makes for an easy week. You will notice our TV antenna up. That was a purchase we made before leaving for the big trip last winter, and we also upgraded our TV to a newer digital model so we could get local TV. Even at Nehalem, I think we got something like 18 channels. Far more than we needed but it was still nice to get an occasional hit of local news in the mornings.
As soon as we were set up, the first thing we did on this gorgeous afternoon was head for the beach. Nancy Rusher, an extended family member of Nancy Oukrop had joined us for this trip, and she had a fun young pup who made pretty good friends with Mattie.
It did take a bit of time to get them untangled now and then, but as soon as they were off leash the two of them had a great time running the beach.
The family has previously decided that the best way to handle group meals for the few days we would be sharing time was for each family to bring their own food to the family table. Worked out great, and there were a few shared items, but for the most part it was easy and everyone had plenty to eat.
Crabbing and kayaking were on the list as well, with Dan and Don and Jack catching a great mess of crabs for supper one evening. Dan cooks the crabs in sea water, and we had lots of laughs at the folks who weren’t quite sure about how to get the meat out of the claws. Chere was the best pro in the group and helped those of us less sure with the crab crackers.
A lovely kayak trip on the north fork of the Nehalem River filled the better part of another day, although the dock launch was fine getting in the boats, but a bit more challenging to get out. Don and Dan took Don’s tandem kayak.
We had current, wind, and tides to contend with, but the views were beautiful, and we were entertained by a huge eagle bathing along the river. Sadly I only had the phone along with me, so no decent eagle photos.
On the day that the guys went crabbing, Mo and I drove 26 miles north along the coast to Seaside and Cannon Beach. It was fun seeing the iconic Haystack Rock on a day without fog and clouds. Last time we were here was back in 2011 when we did a February coast camping trip all the way north to Astoria from Brookings.
Seaside was a bit kitchy and felt like a tacky tourist beach town, but oh my, Cannon Beach was quite upscale and lovely. I could spend time in that place. I’m not a huge shopper, but I did manage to find a quilt shop with some amazing fabrics with a seaside theme that were gorgeous.
The route along 101 between Nehalem and Seaside is gorgeous, climbing along the cliffs overlooking the ocean with great views of Nehalem Beach in the distance.
The cliff in the distance on the right is where Highway 101 crosses along the western slope of Neahkahnie Mountain, at 1661 feel elevation, one of the highest points on the Oregon Coast.
We left on Thursday morning, planning to drive down 101 as far as Lincoln City and then cutting over to I-5 for the trip home. I was driving, and didn’t put the Google Girl on talk mode, and somehow missed the turn that was supposed to take us south to 101. Instead we ended up driving considerably north on a very sketchy, narrow road that kept climbing and curving and of course the phone didn’t work up there so we had no clue where we were headed. Not a single turnaround spot showed up until we were so far along that we figured it would be easier to continue north rather than backtrack. Crazy!
Once we intercepted Highway 26 headed for Portland, I was able to get the map working again and we bypassed Portland in favor of the nice 2 lane country side roads that parallel the interstate to the west.
It turned out to be a great drive on a gorgeous day though some of the small towns in Oregon that we rarely see. Still, it is better to keep Google Girl talking if the navigator is also the one driving! Hopefully I won’t make that mistake again.
Great trip, great family time, great beach time.