Smuggler’s Cove and a Den of Newts

Spence here. Where to begin?  We have made the most of the last couple days.  It has been a bit rainy and cloudy, which we anticipated. Luckily, we had bought a cool little detailed map of the northwest Oregon coast the last time we were in cannon beach.  Our aim was to find more dispersed (free) camping spots in the area, like the ones our friends had shown to us. we decided to check out the area around Nehalem falls state park.  There was a dispersed camping sign on the way out there which looked promising. unfortunately, as we are discovering, the state forests are trying to merge recreation with logging and the two do not go together very well. We found some places we could have probably camped, but with active logging and sketchy one lane roads, didn’t find it very peaceful.  Nehalem falls however, and the Nehalem river, were very beautiful.  It reminded both of us of something we would find in Oklahoma. The campground was well kept, pretty cheap and had a  great path around it. We spent a long time exploring that area and taking pictures of newts mating. I saw a very exotic looking frog. The air and the rocks were warmer there.

Speaking of newts, there has been some more wildlife sightings recently. At hug point we left the back hatch of the van open while we fell asleep. we woke in the middle of the night to some serious rustling. A raccoon had taken advantage of our idiocy and was going through the trash we left on the bumper.  He had stolen it not 3 inches from out feet.  Ugh! Billy sprung into action with aid of the headlamp and scared off the raccoon and cleaned up the trash.  While he was cleaning it up, I was trying to keep the raccoon at bay by knocking the headlamp against the van… dumb! the light went out and I had to figure out how to turn it on again. Meanwhile, billy is in the dark with a lurking raccoon and a bag of tasty trash.  Sorry! Perhaps my reasoning skills lack precision in the middle of the night.

Another nice “walk”, we found on the map, thanks to navigator alligator billy ray, soap stone lake. It was a slightly lonely, beautiful trail, one more attempt to merge logging efforts and recreation, it was thread through clear cut. There were many draining tributaries however, that saved several sections of trees and made it all the more interesting–which trees to cut, which to shoot for fun, which to leave alone.  The sign at the trailhead said “more difficult” but billy ray’s trail rating was more colorful, “if this trail was any easier it would be a conveyor belt.”  It even had steps. We arrived atop a flat camp spot overlooking a small alpine-like lake. The trail wound around the lake and back up the bank. Some amazing board walks had been built over the bogs and more salamanders were entertaining. We came upon a small beach on the lake, clearly where some folks had been having a campfire and beers, but had poorly attempted to cover up the fact.  It seemed more like “loggers leave no trace” than anything. I struggle to accept this thing of man to conquer everything and make ourselves at home, often to the detriment of the place and beings. This mentality and the people who perpetuate it bewilder and exhaust me.

Billy Ray here. After a serious sun and surf hangover (and being interrupted by the city watch), we vagabonds took some days off in the misty cool days to hike and make some music. We broke down and got our first six pack of Rainier of the trip. I laughed to myself, recalling the Mae West and W.C. Fields lament, what is the line? Something like, “Ten days and all we had was food and water!” It was at this point that we tested out new properly sized tarp. You may recall the tarp the size of a handkerchief. Now look at the Texas-Sized Tarp. Aww, hell, yeah, now that’s a tarp!

Our first stop was Smuggler’s Cove in Oswald West. At the end of the cove Blumenthal Falls empties into a lovely tide pool before washing into the ocean. We poked around the tide pools and admired the trees, the beach art, the fort remnants and the layers of rocks bent and morphed like cake batter in an egg beater.

Nehalem Falls State Park was a gem in the rough. A little out of the way but not too far, it lies along the warm Nehalem River. The day being misty and not too cold, we felt like we were stepping into the Jurassic period. Everything dripped, strange birds and frogs sounded through the foliage and the dark basalt below us radiated warmth. Little carved out pools of stone lay by the river, which formed a fascinating breeding ground for newts. Spence spied a tiny neon green frog. We took the hiking trail and never found the falls of the park’s namesake, but the trail was beautiful, strewn with cypress, maple, newts, snails, birds and ferns. The river is a deep jade green and seems warm enough to swim in, unlike the frigid Clackamas River. I love the thrum and beat of a flock of birds as it scatters through the air. I love the cup of the plantain – like a lotus flower – a healing multitude that grows in the most disturbed areas. A weed that nourishes.

We have seen many animals in the last few days: a bald eagle, rabbits, newts, cedar waxwings, starfish, sea anemone, crab, ravens, frogs, one raccoon, elk, deer and one “whale” that turned out to be a rock (?).

We also explored out little Nehalem camping area off of North Fork Road a bit, past the old hitching posts over the hill. To the south are farmlands and creeks, cow pasture and the hum of trucks and tractors. To the north is a forested hilltop beyond which we have heard little. This is where we decided to take the trail. Spence acutely observed it was maintained for off-road biking, due to the zealous weed whipping, the banks and jump ramps of earth built in, a detail I would have missed due to my lack of experience. Dirt and mountain biking always seemed like fun to me, like 4X4 mudding, but actually doing those things for sport I have never pursued because they have such an impact on the soil and flora. This is one of the many reasons why surfing appeals to me: it is one of the few outdoor-adventure sports that negligible impact on the environment, even less than backpacking really. At any rate, the trail tipped over the hill and instantly the microclimate on the north side turned shadowy, cool and moist under the tall evergreens. The ash trees, buttercups and brambles turned to ferns, moss and stump ecosystems. We saw enormous bear prints that we joked were actually Sasquatch. We passed signs nailed to the trees marked “TIMBER SALE BOUNDARY” and the roar of chainsaws and firing of guns could be heard ringing through the valley. Interesting that on the south side of the hill, where our camp spot is, you cannot hear them at all. How many secrets the forest keeps in its massive protective canopy! And how absolutely destroyed we would be if we were to cut it all down. Once out of the city, time expands and I feel that the primordial progenitor of all beings is water and the trees. Without them, we ourselves cannot live. How many civilizations will it take for us to learn the lesson of humility and moderation – that you cannot take too much from the earth without consequence? As Thomas Berry says in The Dream of the Earth, “Any particular activity must find its place within the larger pattern, or it will die and perhaps bring down the larger life system itself…For humans to assume rights to occupy land by excluding other life forms from their needed habitat is to offend the community in its deepest structure. Further, it is even to declare a state of warfare, which humans cannot win since they themselves are ultimately dependent on those very life forms that they are destroying.”

At the Manzanita News and Espresso (where we are writing this blog) is a book called Earth Under Fire by a local named Gary Braasch. In it is an interesting braided diagram tracing sources of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Not surprisingly, the single highest contributor after electricity and heat is deforestation.

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