Rising abruptly from the Pacific, Cape Perpetua’s emerald forest intercepts the ocean’s life-sustaining summer fog. In the shadow of the cape where cool, clear waters pool over gravel, ideal salmon spawning grounds are formed. Off the coast, where the warm California current and the cold Alaska current collide, rare seabirds and marine mammals feast on one of the planet’s great seafood buffets. Within earshot of Highway 101 a dark story of displacement of the region’s indigenous people is represented by the Amanda statue. There is so much to see and experience in the forests and highlands in and around Cape Perpetua that an extended stay is recommended.
Beginning at the visitor center south of Yachats and running east a gentle flat mile along Cape Creek is the Giant Spruce trail. To put the age of Oregon’s ancient conifers into perspective realize that the 550-year-old spruce standing at the terminus of this trail was already 50 years old when Hernan Cortez’s conquistadors defeated Montezuma’s Aztec warriors in Tenochtitlan in 1519. In 1962, a ferocious windstorm ripped the top 35 feet from the resilient spruce’s crown. At the base of the titan, explorers will discover a tunnel that occupies a space that was once taken up by a stump or a downed log where this great tree took root. Over hundreds of years as the seedling grew into a giant, the nurse log that sustained it decomposed, creating the cavity before you. When this tree’s life comes to an end and it comes crashing down into the green understory below, light will again penetrate the forest and the venerable conifer will serve as a nursery to a new generation of seedlings.
If you are up for a more difficult hike with unparalleled views of the Pacific and historical artifacts, then the St. Perpetua Trail awaits your boot prints. Perched 700 feet above the frothy Pacific is a stone lookout built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC, during the Great Depression. On a clear day at the lookout visibility is 37 miles out to sea. During their fall and spring migrations scan the ocean waters for Gray whale spouts. A few miles from the CCC lookout is the Amanda statue. The wooden statue is a haunting memorial to the Coos Bay Indians who were forcibly evicted from their coastal homes in the 1870s. Visitors have honored Amanda with an assortment of artifacts, necklaces and prayer flags. If for some odd reason your crazy cousin gets an urge to remove Amanda, remind him that she carries with her a tracking device. Respect the memorial.
Finally, if it is a wilderness experience you are looking for and you don’t have an aversion to steep climbs, a 10-mile, round-trip hike or cosmically obese banana slugs then I recommended the Cummings Creek Loop Trail. Like the trails already mentioned, this path begins at the visitor center and leads hikers into one of the few federally designated wilderness areas along the Oregon Coast. In late spring, the path is paralleled by brilliant purple Oregon irises and Sitka spruce. As you ascend east into the high country, spruce give way to hemlock, cedar and massive Douglas fir. Where there is a momentary gap in the trees, hikers have a clear view of the Pacific and from the viewpoint’s unique vantage point find themselves looking down on conifers that predate the republic. A close look at the wall of green below reveals trees with broken crowns and ghostly snags that provide homes for spotted owls and larva caches for hungry woodpeckers. Giants among giants, a few mammoth Douglas Fir have survived hundreds of years of windstorms and 500 winters of incessant rains. During their lives, these trees provide shade for vulnerable young salmon, transform carbon into oxygen and, when they die, provide a foothold for the next generation of conifers. The narrow ribbon of green (of which Cummings Creek is a central part) that runs along the Pacific Coast from Northern California to Southeast Alaska also stores an enormous amount of carbon, a vital service provided free of charge to a warming planet. At the outer reaches of the Cummings Creek Loop, far from the racket of Highway 101 you will encounter the rarest commodity of all, utter silence...unless of course some eccentric hiker with the grace of a hippopotamus crashes your Zen moment, that would be me, and for that I apologize in advance.
Highway 101 and the rocky coast is all that many visitors to the Oregon Coast will ever see; however, if you are looking to immerse yourself in this magical place, relinquish your daily mileage goals, pitch a tent at Cape Perpetua, lace up your boots, put the phones on silent and get walking.