I’m back at one of my favorite spots along the Pacific Coast Highway, and I’m going to stay here awhile. All the ingredients are in place – beautiful scenery, suitable supplies nearby, and a welcoming local environment that makes boondocking easy. I may spend weeks here – I did the last two years as we drove through the area, bumming up and down the shoreline.
Where I’m taking about is the middle Oregon coast south of the tiny seaside town of Yachats. One sure sign that this is a great place is that it’s nowhere near any large towns – Waldport is maybe ten miles north, the slightly larger town of Newport another ten north of that, and Florence 20 miles to the south. Never heard of any of these? Good – that means I’m in the right place 😉
We came out to the coast along US Highway 20, smack into the northern part of the Seattle metro area, all 4.2 million peoples’ worth of it. Looking for a better land-to-people ratio, we drove south into Oregon, but the northern part of the Oregon coast is too close to Portland, another megapolis, and it’s all salt water taffy shops, helicopter rides, and posh B&Bs with no vacancy signs. I thought I was having a Florida flashback.
Drive an hour or two south down Highway 101, though and the “NO OVERNIGHT PARKING” signs festooning every oceanfront pullout start to disappear. The big city stuff falls away, and by Tillamook you start seeing $1.65 a gallon propane at the farmer’s co-op and farm machinery driving down the highway. Once you get down to the Yachats area, people are actually glad to see you coming. There’s not much business down here – a few summer cottages and some campgrounds – so the local merchants’ smile when you walk in their store is genuine.
Oregon made some very wise land use decisions fifty-sixty years ago, and practically the whole coastline is state parks and national forest. Private property on the seaward side of the coastal highway is the exception rather than the rule, and the land use policy is all about public access. After seeing developers in my native Florida buy up chunks of oceanfront and actually move the coastal road inland to keep the riff-raff out of their gated communities, this is indeed a breath of fresh air. Oregon also has a liberal boondocking policy – you can stay for 12 hours at any spot not otherwise posted, as long as it’s outside a state park. My kind of place 😉
My main overnight spot is called Cook’s Chasm. Old lava flows to the ocean are all up and down the coast here, and at Cook’s Chasm the lava has been eroded by wave action into caves and chasms – the waves really boom and spout out the blowholes of these when the surf’s up and the tide is right. It’s a large parking area on the ocean side of the highway, overlooking Thor’s Well, a giant blowhole in an underwater cave that you can watch for hours as the waves come in and waters sloshes in and out of it. And the best part is – the waves are phosphorescent on moonless late summer nights. It’s an eerie blue-green glow in the breakers – unforgettable. And this is where I spend the night – the daytime places are even more scenic.
South of Cook’s Chasm are a series of day stay areas to which we decamp every morning – Neptune North and South, Stonefield Beach, Ocean Beach, Strawberry Hill, and Muriel Ponder Memorial. These are administered by the state park system, which prefers you be in one of their campgrounds if you’re going to spend the night, so it’s day stay only for us. We just pick one at random, drive down there, set up the dishes, and watch the ocean, whales, and sea otters all day. As twilight falls, it’s time to go back to Cook’s Chasm, watch the sunset, eat dinner, wash dishes, have our tea, and then watch the phosphorescence and listen to the waves booming in the caves as we drift off to sleep.
Logistics? There’s a bread-milk-eggs store in Yachats, a real grocery store in Waldport, and a Walmart and Safeway for serious restocking in Newport. Propane can be purchased at either Yachats or Waldport, and there’s fresh water and a dump at Washburne State Park, ten miles south of us. It’s free – Oregon parks sometimes ask for donations, but they generally let people dump and get water at state parks even if they aren’t camping there. A nice place, like I said. We average maybe 10-20 miles of driving a day when we’re here, so a tank of gas lasts for two weeks easy. Our only real cost to stay here is the food we eat.
Like I said, we may stay here a while. Daytime highs are 70 or so, nighttime lows are 50ish, and it’s sunny every day after a foggy dawn. I could get used to this.