Last Saturday, Laura and I enjoyed the best stretch of true coastal trail we’ve yet to find in these parts. And even though our lunch spot was called Secret Beach, almost the entire route clove close to U.S. Highway 101 and could be accessed from multiple parking areas.
That’s America’s Wild Rivers Coast for you: Easy to get to; nobody else there. And in the case of Arch Rock and Natural Bridges, beautiful bookends for an afternoon above the beach.
We started at the northern tip of the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor, a 12-mile stretch of heaven north of Brookings. We’d walked southerly sections a couple of years ago, long enough to forget the strenuous ups and downs of the Oregon Coast Trail. Somehow there’s a tendency to underestimate such pathways – they generally don’t stray far from the highway as they meander between official shoreline “viewpoints.”
To tackle a tough trail, you’ve got to be in the middle of nowhere, right?
Wrong. I’ve been married to Laura long enough you’d think I’d know that one can get one’s ass kicked by something beautiful.
Even though we didn’t get out of our car until 1:30 in the afternoon, we naively thought we could make it all the way south to China Beach and back before sunset. A rather obscure map in a hiking book told us that round-trip would cover only about 5 miles, but it didn’t tell us about all the altitude adjustments along the way, plus the sudden stoppages brought on by stunning scenery.
We set out from the Arch Rock Viewpoint parking lot, and since you can’t see its main attraction from there, we strolled a paved loop for two-tenths of a mile. This alone is worth the price of a trip across the state border. The rock sports a tunnel big enough to sail a full-size crab boat through, and the loop also offers arresting views of the next cove to the north.
TOP: The view to the south upon rounding Deer Point on the Oregon Coast Trail. Del Norte Triplicate/Richard Wiens
More coves, capes and islands awaited as we joined the leafy-floored Coast Trail from the south end of the parking lot. Giant Sitka spruces and copious ferns made for a great sideshow, but they never shielded us for long from varied views of the sea below.
Within 15 minutes we reached the highway’s Spruce Island Viewpoint, and that broad, tree-topped expanse hogged our attention for quite awhile as we climbed above it. Rounding Deer Point, a whole new series of rocks and waves spread out to the south, along with a pristine, seemingly unreachable beach.
The ascent continued along an eastward stretch and even presented a few switchbacks. We passed near the highway again, turned back seaward and climbed some more. Another fine example of a forested sea stack materialized to the north, but soon we were staring south where a whole colony of rock towers graced another sandy expanse. Within minutes we descended to a right-hand turnoff toward Secret Beach. Ironically, this was the only point in the hike when we encountered fellow travelers. They were headed back toward the highway, but sandy footprints left no doubt: The secret was out.
Still, Laura and I ended up lunching in solitude at what we agreed was the best picnic spot ever — a rocky precipice near not only a sea-stacked beach, but also twin waterfalls at the slack-jawed mouth of Miner Creek.
We’d already remarked on the hike’s similarity to the series of coves at Point Lobos State Park south of Carmel. Now we were reminded of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, the only place where we’d ever seen a waterfall closer to the ocean than where we were now, munching salami and cheese sandwiches.
The winter sun was low enough to rouse us from the idyllic perch sooner than seemed natural.
More climbing ensued as we crossed over the rushing creek — what would it be like after a good rain? By the way, make sure to take the wooden bridge southward instead of a wider path that heads east toward the highway. After some ascension that included a few muddy patches, we were back at the highway within 30 minutes anyway, this time at the Thunder Rock Cove parking lot.
By then we had reluctantly skipped the turnoffs for the Thunder Rock Cove loop. It promised still more the ascent-descent that had already kicked our post-holiday butts, and the daylight was dwindling. Still, it’s only 7/10’s of a mile — definitely ground to tread in the future.
Another 10 minutes and we reached the Natural Bridges Cove parking lot. I’ve already mentioned that our hiking book map was less detailed than we might have wished. So, frankly, is the official state park map available on line. So it was pretty funny when we finally found a more thorough map drawn with colorful marker pens on a white board nailed to a Coast Trail post at the parking lot’s edge.
A wooden platform just a short distance south of the turnoff affords a great view of Natural Bridges, an extended finger of coastline featuring not one but two yacht-sized tunnels. Alas, by the time we arrived the bridges were shadowy — back-lit by the lowering sun. Truth is, I shot the photo of Natural Bridges that accompanies this story back in the summer of 2008, much earlier in a much-longer day.
Still, we had reached our destination landmark and turnaround point. We quickened our steps going back, almost making it before sunset. While the late start had cramped our style a bit, the golden glow of day’s end cast a new hue on the surroundings.
Lit up in red, even a patch of dead ferns turned scenic. After an afternoon of oceanic splendor, it seemed a fitting final scene.
The paintings by Laura Wiens of Arch Rock and Natural Bridges that appear on Page B1 are currently displayed at the Triplicate office.