It’s Monday and just after noon. My flight landed on time in Portland. My husband, David, flew from Minneapolis this morning and will be picking me up shortly. We will be attending a beach wedding at the end of the week and doing a couple airport pick-ups mid-week. The trip ends with a weekend at a beautiful rental house with family and friends on the beach near Pacific City in Cape Kiwanis. Today’s destination, however, is the coast and Cannon Beach.
Why Cannon Beach? Several people have told me how amazing Cannon Beach is with its ‘haystack’ rock. Not being a beach person, I really didn’t understand what made it so special. So curiosity won out again.
Like clockwork, David with the rental car picked me up as planned. Our road trip to the coast began via the direct route which is about 80 miles. It’s a beautiful drive through the hills covered with fir and spruce trees. There’s a couple quick-stop towns but not much more.
The sun faded slowly as we approached the coast. By the time we arrived, it was overcast, windy and a bit cold. First stop was the coastal town of Seaside, a small picturesque resort town known for its surf breaks and a 1920s style promenade.
Before European settlement, the land that is now Seaside was home to the Clatsop Tribe. They subsisted on a diet of seafood, game, berries, and roots. But fur traders and explorers brought diseases, and a deadly smallpox outbreak eventually killed most of the Clatsop population. By the time the Lewis and Clark arrived, just 250 members of the tribe remained.
Lewis and Clark set up a salt works where ocean water could be boiled to harvest salt. The salt was essential for curing meat. The region slowly grew, and the town of Seaside was established in 1899.
Early on, it was a place for tourists to experience the coast. Seaside had many crazy events but one stands out the most … six months after Pearl Harbor, the town of Seaside witnessed the shelling of Fort Stevens by a Japanese submarine. While there was no significant damage from the shelling, uneasiness settled over the town. Blackout rules became strictly enforced and air raid drills were held. In 1943, it was common for Seaside residents to see blimps flying over the beach, as there was a station in Tillamook to monitor the shore and search for subs. (Information from Seaside Visitors Bureau.)
Next morning … we started down the coast to Tillamook and would return ending in Cannon beach. We wanted to save the best for last.
It’s a very scenic drive with old-growth forests and mesmerizing ocean views.
Rockaway Beach’s claim to fame is the Pronto Pup which was first created here in the 1930s. A Pronto Pup restaurant topped with a giant 30-ft pronto pup complete with an 8-ft stick makes it easy to spot along highway 101. Unfortunately for us, it was closed today.
Hard to miss the next stop just south of Tillamook … the road seems to lead to the Air Museum.
This used to be a hangar for Blimps used for anti-submarine coastal patrol and convoy escort during WWII. The K-Class Blimps were 252-ft long, 80-ft high and filled with helium. With a range of 2000 miles and the ability to stay aloft for 3 days, they were well-suited for coast patrol and convoy escort. Naval Station Tillamook was decommissioned in 1948 and Hangar B has been home to the Tillamook Air Museum.
Today, the museum houses a growing collection of aircraft and exhibits including over 30 restored warbirds and a large collection of rare historical wartime and aviation artifacts.
Our favorite aircraft (which featured David’s last name … Erickson) is the Aero Spacelines Mini Guppy.
Moving up the coast, time for a stop at the Tillamook Cheese factory. Designed by iconic Seattle-based architect duo, Olson-Kundig, The Creamery is made to look like a modern barn.
The Tillamook headquarters is built on the land of the indigenous Tillamook and other Oregon tribes. The Tillamook cooperative is made up of a group of farmer-owners. Many have been farming in Tillamook county for multiple generations.
We filled our pockets with wrapped cheese samples, skipped the ice cream and headed out for seafood.
Up the coast … next stop Cannon Beach and the Haystack rock. According to the tourism info, it is one of Oregon’s most recognizable landmarks, home to colorful tide pools and diverse bird life.
From a distance, it did look like a haystack. It was low tide so we were able to walk right up to it.
So what is this thing? It’s not a rock! It’s covered with mussels and barnacles.
It’s the remnants of a volcanic flow that came down the Columbia gorge from a super-volcano in Yellowstone about 17 million years ago.
According to the Haystack Rock Awareness Program volunteer, the lava flowed along the old Columbia River drainage system to the ocean and intruded into the soft marine sediments. Eventually with sea level changes and erosion, these bizarre formations can be seen all along the Oregon coast.
ABOVE the Barnacle line is protected as part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, providing habitat and viewing of a wide range of seabirds. BELOW the Barnacle line is protected by Oregon’s Marine Gardens. Its protected status requires that no animal or material be removed from within 300 yards of Haystack Rock. Climbing above the barnacle line is strictly prohibited to avoid disturbing marine life and nesting birds.
There are mussels, shells, barnacles and sea creatures everywhere! The volunteer said these living organisms are waiting for the tide to come back and take them out to sea.
Beautiful green sea anemones were found in shallow tidal pools. We also saw a variety of crabs of all sizes.
And if you look up above the haystack, there are birds everywhere. The volunteer said there are 37 different species of birds living in the haystack. Early spring to mid-summer offers the most accessible viewing of Tufted Puffins in the Northwest. A wide variety of other birds make this a good bird-watch location year-round.
Now I know what makes Cannon Beach so amazing. It’s like a living aquarium full of creatures to be discovered. With the tide, the inhabitants change and so does the Haystack Rock which is the result of a 17 million year old lava flow.
Tomorrow we’re heading back to Portland to pick up a few travelers and take a glance at Portland.