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Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Manzanita, Oregon And Nehalem Bay State Park

Manzanita, Oregon is about 85 miles west of Portland on the Pacific coast. It is a small town with a population of about 750 people.  A 5 minute drive away or 45 minute walk away (along the beach) is Nehalem Bay State Park. Manzanita is just off Highway 101, a road that many, including me, consider to be the most beautiful highway in the US. Nehalem Bay State Park is about a 10 minute drive from the 101. Up the road about 14 miles is the town of Cannon Beach with its toney restaurants and beachfront hotels. Haystack Rock which is about 240 tall, sits on the edge of the beach at Cannon Beach.

I’ve been down to Oregon about 10 times now. The first time was back in 1968. For a number of years I’ve wanted to spend a week or so in either Manzanita or a campground close by. Last fall, on our way back from The Grand Canyon, we discovered Nehalem State Park and we made a reservation earlier this past summer for 7 days of camping from September 10th to September 17th.
Years ago I made it down to Oregon from Vancouver, BC in 9 hours. This time we left Vancouver Island, where we live, at about 10:30 a.m. The ferry ride added on 2 hours. There was a bit of line-up at the US border and traffic slowed to a crawl north of Seattle. Our plan was to find a motel in Olympia, Washington (the state capital), get a good night’s sleep, and stock up on some provisions the following morning at Costco. We ended up staying in Tumwater, Washington right next to Olympia where Olympia beer used to be brewed.
I spent a night at a truck stop in Tumwater 48 years ago back in 1968 when I hitchhiked across the US that year. I must have had 15 coffees that night and wasn’t feeling that well when the sun rose the following morning. My guess is that truck stop probably doesn’t exist anymore. Who knows? I wasn’t about to go looking for it.
On our way through Seattle we passed by the old Rainier Beer brewery. Mickey Rooney used to do commercials for Rainier beer back in the 70s. Rainier and Olympia were both bought out by other breweries some time ago and are no longer marketed.
The trunk of our car was packed with camping gear and other stuff and we had a big cooler in the back seat. The other half of the back seat was reserved for our golden retriever, Shelby. The back window on his side was often open so he could stick his head out and do that cheek flapping thing that dogs like to do.

Our general plan once we got to Nehalem Bay State Park was to not have a plan at all. We would just wing it mostly, deciding what we wanted to do shortly after we woke up each day.
We arrived at the campground at about 2 p.m. and Linda set up the tents while I took Shelby down to the beach for a spin. We brought 2 two person tents and Linda shared hers with Shelby. I gave a bigger tent I had away to a charity a number of years ago thinking my camping days were over. They aren’t apparently and for some reason I like doing it again.

Artist at work.
Linda and I both have fairly decent cameras and we like taking pictures. Linda is quite comfortable reading a book on the beach while I am more inclined to just sit and drink in the surroundings. While we were away Linda also did some sketching. She has done a fair amount of painting in the last few years and several of them are now in a gallery near our home.
Nehalem Bay State Park

Overhead view of 4 miles of beach.
In some ways the campground is a bit of a secret. It isn’t one of those places you can see from the 101 Highway. My guess is that about half the campers were from British Columbia. Some have been going to the park for years.
The park and the beach are separated by sand dunes and the beach area is about 4 miles long. At the far end of the beach there are horse rental places and horses on a beach are a Kodak moment if there ever was one.

Sand Dunes.
At the end of the sand spit is the mouth of Nehalem River where fishing for salmon is popular in the month of September. There are lots of trails around the camp including one that leads to the river where the small town of Wheeler can be seen across the water.

Wheeler, Oregon

Nehalem River.
Salmon fishing.
People turn up at the park with a variety of shelters including every kind of tent one can think of. Some come with their expensive motor homes or long trailers. A few have remodeled old school buses. Each site has a fresh water tap and an electrical outlet. The washroom area also has showers. Every night one of the camp workers drives around the campground in a golf cart with firewood for sale. It seems to me that some kind of unwritten deal had been made by those who sell firewood. A bundle always costs 5 bucks in or out of the park and nobody was selling a bundle for $4.75 or two bundles for 9 bucks.

The Beach At Night

Shelby Steals The Show
There is something about golden retrievers. Small kids like them. Older people like them. I think it is because of their appearance and demeanor. People seem to know that this breed of dog will not harm them. (Kudos to all of those kind folks who have rescued dogs from animal shelters.)
During the week that we were camping Shelby was patted by complete strangers well over a hundred times. Possibly even 200 times. If I took him for a walk through the campground some people would say hello to him by name. One older couple came over just to see him. When we were in Manzanita a guy in his car rolled down his window and yelled “You have a gorgeous looking dog!”

Cannon Beach
Dogs have to be on leash in the campground and there was no shortage of them. I’m not a big fan of small yappy dogs or cats too for that matter. One older couple told me about their cat taking off after opening their trailer door and that they hadn’t seen it in days and had basically given up hope. Small dogs seem to be a prerequisite in owning a motor home. There were a few times that I was a bit embarrassed when someone who was walking their own dog would come over and pat Shelby. I wondered if their dog appreciated them giving another dog that much attention.

At our campsite we would tie Shelby’s leash to several yards of nylon rope allowing him to get within a few feet of the single lane service road. This allowed Shelby to be the unofficial greeter.

 Dogs are free to roam the beach area off leash. A few were kept on leash because they had surly dispositions. It’s hard to say whether Shelby is more of a people animal or a dog animal. He likes everyone. He tends to want to play with dogs his own size. Often he would run ahead of us on the beach and greet people walking or relaxing on the sand taking in some rays. There was just one time that his exuberance was rejected. A jogger got a bit annoyed with him. I hope he got his Zen moments back.

At one point we had a young couple with 2 year olds camped on either side of our site and both kids gave Shelby a number of hugs.
I took Shelby down to the beach 4 times the first day. That night he started licking one of his front paws and for the next few days he was hesitant about walking on the hot sand. We made a point of getting to the cooler sand by the ocean’s edge as quickly as possible. A few days later he had his mojo back.
After a while it can get a bit tiresome having a “rock star” dog. I appreciate the fact that strangers cottoned to Shelby but there are only so many dog stories I can listen to.
Camp Chatter
There is kind of a golden rule for Canadians travelling in the US these days. Never discuss politics with Americans unless you are 100% sure that their beliefs concur with yours. Right wing Americans can get pretty hostile very quickly if they think you are a “lefty”.
The first couple we met had a motorhome directly across from our campsite. They spent a lot of time reading in their lounge chairs while taking in the sun. The husband is a retired police detective from Victoria, BC. (I’ve never cared much for cops.) My conversation with the ex-cop was going along fine until I mentioned that I really liked travelling in the US but it still was America. He took that comment as a political statement and told me not to go there. I realized that I was talking to a conservative Canadian who is in the Trump camp. After that I just nodded when I saw them.
A few days later I was talking to 3 younger people and commented that I thought it was interesting that someone travelling around in a 125 grand motorhome along with a 50 grand car would think the US was on its way to ruin. Belonging to a police union and getting a hefty pension is kind of a socialist thing, isn’t it?
I talked to an Australian born guy with a leather cowboy hat several times. He has lived in the US for around 20 years and is a carpenter by trade. He was travelling in a VW pop up van along with his wife and 3 boys. The boys are home schooled and the dad seemed to be somewhat overly attentive and kind of smothering. He told me that he and his boys have surfed up and down the US west coast. He also told me that they didn’t have a couch, never mind a TV, at their home in Portland. He did allow his boys to read surfing magazines.
Another interesting guy we met was travelling in an old converted school bus with murals on it. He built his own slide out extension on his bus. We talked about folk music for a while. (I’m currently working on a story about folk music.) He told me about his search for the perfect Martin guitar and how he had been to the Appalachian Mountains several times to get to the roots of American folk music. He has a lot of knowledge but unfortunately he was kind of speedy and hardly stopped to breathe while he was talking. Our conversation was mostly one way.
I’ve never been shy about starting a conversation with complete strangers. I’m a curious kind of guy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The best conversations are those that are shared without one person trying to dominate. Socializing shouldn’t be a pissing contest.
There is something a bit weird about staying at a campsite for a week. Sometimes a neighbour would disappear while we were sleeping or at the beach and we would discover that we had new neighbours. There’s a lot of coming and going in a campground.
For a few days we had young couples, each with small children, camped on either side of us. One of the couples was from Abbotsford, BC. I asked the husband what he did for a living and he told me he did some framing on construction sites and worked at his dad’s farm. I asked what kind of farm his dad had and he said “a pigeon farm”. The pigeons are “squabs” (usually eaten at around 4 weeks of age) and apparently very popular at Chinese restaurants in the Vancouver area.
We got to know a couple from Wenatchee, Washington over a few days, Ken and Debbie. Wenatchee is the middle of Washington State, a tree fruit and farming area that is mostly conservative politically. We tried to stay in the Wenatchee area last fall on our way to The Grand Canyon but the motel rooms were all booked because of a Foo Fighters concert nearby.
Ken has just retired in the past year or so and Debbie is about a year away from doing the same. They were travelling in a pick-up truck pulling a fair sized trailer. Ken and I got into a conversation after he came over to dump some coffee in a waste water thingamajig that was on the edge of our campsite and said hello to our dog.

We chatted for about an hour and Ken had some really good stories to tell. He grew up in New Jersey and after serving in Viet Nam he decided to travel around the US. He bought a couple of big horses in Vermont and did some winter log hauling one year. He also drove from Vermont down to Key West, Florida with a truckload of Christmas trees. Somehow he ended up in Idaho with some Aryan Nations types as neighbours. If I remember correctly he had lined up a job in Alaska and the company that was going to hire him sent him a plane ticket. He was reading a Farmer’s Almanac and became intrigued about the small city of Wenatchee, Washington. At the last minute he changed his mind about going to Alaska and moved to Wenatchee about 40 years ago, got married. And has lived there ever since.
I talked to Ken again the following day and the stories kept on coming. I love good stories. I suggested that the 4 of us share a campfire that night. He told us how he and his wife had eaten at a seafood joint a few days earlier that they liked in the town of Rockaway Beach and had gathered coloured rocks on the beach at the town of Oceanside after walking through a 75 foot tunnel. Both Rockaway Beach and Oceanside are south of Manzanita. After seeing their rock collection Linda thought it might be a fun thing to do.

Ken, Debbie & friend at Oceanside Beach


The next morning I knocked on Ken and Debbie’s trailer door and asked them if they would be interested in showing us where the seafood joint was and that I would like to buy them lunch. After lunch we would then head on down to Oceanside. They were up for it. Linda and I had the clam strips for lunch and Ken and Debbie settled on a couple of bowls of clam chowder. We travelled in separate vehicles with us following them. Ken asked me why Linda was driving and not me. We take turns depending on who is more up for it.
It’s a good thing that we followed them too because we would never have found the rock picking place. Rock picking isn’t my kind of thing and the other 3 started searching while I assumed the pose of lying down with one leg resting on a knee. I’ve had my picture taken many times in many places in this pose. 
On the drive back to camp we stopped at a meat smoking place. They sold 2 feet long pepperoni sticks for a buck each and they came in a variety of flavours. Ken and Debbie seem to know where to find good deals.

Ken’s politics are to the right and mine are to the left but we never got deep in the weeds about it which was kind of nice. Ken said he was thinking of voting for Gary Johnson and The American Libertarian Party.
We said our goodbyes that night as Ken and Debbie would be leaving in the morning. The pulled out of the park at about 9:00 a.m. Nice couple. Our stay at the State park would be 2 more days.
Best Laid Plans?
There were 2 things that I wanted to do on the trip that just never happened but I wasn’t at all disappointed. One was kayaking on the Nehalem River. We left our own kayaks at home and were going to rent a couple. We drove over to the town of Wheeler on the other side of the river and found a kayak rental place. An old guy was in charge of the place and he pulled out his tidal tables and told us the best time of day to be with the current instead of against it. There was just one problem. We needed to find some place or someone who would take care of our dog while we were kayaking. We checked at a few pet shops in Cannon Beach but couldn’t find anyone who had a pet sitting service. I couldn’t see asking strangers to mind Shelby so we just scratched the plan altogether. We do a fair amount of kayaking on Vancouver Island so it isn’t like we totally missed the boat (so to speak).

Kayak rental place, Wheeler, Oregon
The other thing I kind of wanted to do but didn’t was walk along the beach to Manzanita and have a few evening cocktails with the locals at a pub. By the end of each day we were a bit bagged from the sun and an hour and a half of walking along the beach at night didn’t seem that appealing. I’m kind of a night owl but while we were camping I was in my sleeping bag by 9:00 p.m. almost every night.
Other Stuff We Did
On other trips down to the Oregon coast I had noticed places off the highway where they cooked live crab and other seafood. We checked a few of these places out one day before deciding which place we wanted to eat at. The people who do the cooking are mostly in their twenties, kind of counter culture types and a bit loosey goosey. At another time they might be considered to be hippies. Our cook had his hair in a bun.

Mouth of Nehalem River

The live crabs are kept in very cold water in a cold locker. Our cook pointed out that the water is so cold it puts the crabs to sleep and they have no desire to use their pincher claws. A 1-3/4 lb. crab sells for about 20 bucks. Linda and I started off with 1 crab and 4 fair sized oysters. The crab and oysters were put in the same sack before being dumped in a boiling caldron. They were ready to eat in about 15 minutes.
The eating is done from picnic tables that are pretty weather beaten and eating utensils are not needed. It’s all hand to mouth. We ordered a second crab and two more oysters and polished off a bottle of wine we had brought with us. We were told to just throw the shells in the ocean once we had finished eating, which we did.
We spent part of one day at Cannon Beach. I found a take-out crepe place that served the crepes up in cardboard cone shaped things. Cannon Beach is one of the more upscale towns on the Oregon coast. A few years ago Linda and I had a pancake breakfast at a legion in Cannon Beach. 30 years ago my ex-wife and I rented a waterfront suite there with a fireplace in the living room and the bedroom. We also saw the play Arsenic and Old Lace and I remember buying a music cassette of Japanese bells at a bookstore. Japanese bells, what was I thinking?

Cannon Beach

We went into Manzanita a few times. There isn’t much there. On the main street there is a pizza joint, a Mexican restaurant, a grocery store, a pub, a few other restaurants including a deli style place, a hair salon in a former garage, a candy store, an ice cream and fudge store, a real estate office, and an information center that isn’t open every day.

Someone else using "Left Coast"?

There are a few more stores a few blocks away by the 101 Highway including another grocery store, another restaurant, and a place that made homemade pies that was never open the 3 times I checked it out. To be fair there is no sign in their window saying “Fresh Pies”.
Oregon Coast Cannibis

Pot is legal in Oregon State. There is a cannabis store about a block away from the pie place on Highway 101 in Manzanita. Apparently it the only pot store in the general area including Cannon Beach. There is a roofed patio outside with chairs and ash trays but I didn’t see anyone toking up there.
You have to show ID to get into the place and once they have checked you out you are buzzed in. One area is where all the edibles are available including candy, cookies. brownies, and ice cream. The other section offers a variety of weed. I only wanted to purchase a single joint and the guy behind the counter asked me what kind of pot I wanted. I was good with “mellow” and bought a joint of something called Blueberry Kush. I also bought a souvenir ashtray and Linda bought 3 little glass containers with the Oregon Coast Cannabis logo to give to people back home who shall remain unnamed.
The pot store only accepts cash but they do have an interact machine on site. From what I understand there are a couple of reasons for the “cash only”. Cash is anonymous whereas a credit card can be traced. Pot isn’t federally legal in the US and banks won’t accept credit card billing for purchases of pot.
All in all I thought it was a tidy well run operation, one that I would like to see emulated in Canada. One thing that I would like to see in Canada when the Liberal government finally gets around to truly legalizing pot is that corporations don’t take over the business. I would like to see each store run independently.

Back in camp we ran into a woman RCMP cop from Surrey, BC and I offered to show her the joint I had bought and the thin plastic case it came in but she wasn't interested in seeing it. Yeah I'm a bit of a shit disturber. Did I mention that I'm not a big fan of most cops? Yes I believe I did.
The End Of Our Trip
We walked from the campground along the beach to Manzanita and back on our last day. We had an ice cream and checked out the local pub which had a fair sized patio out back. A sign said “Maximum 3 Dogs At One Time” out on the patio. We lucked out as far as the weather went. Each day was sunny until the Saturday that we left.

We woke up to pouring rain. Fortunately we had packed everything except our sleeping bags and tents in the car the night before.
We drove through Portland and up the I-5 Interstate highway. I bought some clothes at a factory outlet place and we spent the night at a motel about 15 miles south of Bellingham, Washington. In the morning we spent a few hours at the Bellis Fair shopping mall and did some more shopping. We only had a short wait at the border and managed to get on the 3:15 p.m. ferry back to Nanaimo.

It was a good trip and I’ll always want to keep going back to Oregon.
Linda is off to Spain, Portugal, and Morocco at the end of October for a month.
Next September we plan on visiting the Maritime provinces in Canada.