Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nehalem Bay State Park

Nehalem Bay State Park

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What a pleasant weekend getaway from the city. Well, in this specific instance it was a long weekend getaway from the suburbs, but it was still pleasant. This adventure was in the middle of February and the weather was perhaps a little more mild than one could usually expect. We didn't have much sun, but we didn't have any ice either.
We did have a couple of kayaks tied properly to the roof of a car, some sufficiently rain proof tents, and a huge blue tarp (HBT, natch).
The state park is on a long spit of land that extends out from the mount Neahkahnie headlands as a large dune field between the Pacific and Nehalem Bay. I understand that in the summer it is a pretty busy place, but on this particular Presidents Day weekend, they only had half the drive ups open for business and only about half of those were in use. Heck, we didn't even have a reservation and we got a really nice spot right next to the beach access point on Loop B.

Our Humble Campsite

So this park, like many state parks, is set up mainly for easy RV access. All traffic is in the clockwise direction and you pull just past your spot and then back in at an angle. I am sure this makes it easy to park one of those big RV's if you have any backing abilities what so ever. I always struggled with the damn things.

Anyway, if you just have a red truck loaded with Kayaks and every single piece of vaguely camp-like gear in the world, then access is simple. The park is divided into 2 sections, 3 loops each. The DEF loops were closed (and evidently have a Horse Camping dedicated section) we were in the ABC loops. A-loop is Yurts and reservation sites only. We were on the ocean side of B loop. In the middle of each loop is a large bathroom and shower complex. No Waiting !!

Since both times I have stayed here it has rained on me, Chip and I knew that the first order of business was to get our tents up. We did that, threw some gear in them to hold them down and save our place and then said, “Hell, it is only 1:00, lets go for a quick kayak !!”.

There is a boat ramp on the Bay side of the park and use is free (with a state park pass or a campsite payment coupon). We parked at the ramp, lugged our boats down the rocks to the very sandy beach, and promptly got rained on, big time.

Well isn't this fun. But it passed over us pretty quickly. We took a left and headed into the bay (away from the weather). We were pretty lucky. The sun came out below the clouds at the end of the day (as it often does in Oregon in the Spring and Fall) and lit up one great multi-arch Rainbow. Chip said he counted 5 separate repeating color zones. I saw 2. He claimed it was his polaroids that were bringing out the other dimmer bows. You can look at the pictures.


We went about an hour into the bay with the incoming tide and then remembered that we had a camp to set up and a dinner to cook. And Crap, we forgot the aluminum foil !! No baked potatoes tonight. Will have to settle for pork chops, Coos-coos, and asparagus.

The other thing we did upon getting back to camp was quickly set up the HBT, cause you just know that it is going to be raining more. That turned out to be a good call. Because it did rain off and on then entire weekend.

I had ordered this cheap 12V string of waterproof LED lights. We strung them up to the tarp and powered them with my big utility battery and Poof !! We had a campsite that didn't quite look like a homeless encampment.

And why do I say this? Because I was a little self conscious. I mean, all around us were this large, diverse, and expensive RV's. No 2 even vaguely alike. My favorite was the short silver Airstream (shinny) being pulled by a BMV SUV, but there were LOTS of nice ones around. Is it funny that people would pay so much to get out into nature? We got a lot of suspicious looks from the rich folks walking their dogs out to crap on the beach. But they relaxed once they saw our Kayaks.

That was the one thing sort of bad about having the site right next to the beach access. On the one hand, we had more room than other sites, on the other hand, everyone in the camp had to walk past us at all hours to get to the beach. And it was cold. So no Bikinis.

Can I rant again about dog owners that bring the little bags to put their animals offerings in and then leave said bags by the sign that says “pick up after your dog”? Do we shoot the dog, or the owner? Sorry, I know that camping dog owners live to walk, skip, and sit in dog shit, but I just prefer not to.

It always rains at night on the beach. Just saying. Make sure you have an adequate tent and drainage. Oh, and a good supply of beer is also helpful.

During the night there was a commotion. Hard to come alert in the cold and dark. Hard to concentrate. But even through the haze, I know there is a coon out there. Dangit. What did I leave out? I pull on some shoes and bring my head light and exit the tent. And there were two glowing embers in the darkness. They stare. They don't run. They don't waiver. Is that teeth? Could this be some monster? A wolf perhaps? No, it is a raccoon. A really well fed HUGE raccoon. And not at all intimidated by some guy in long underwear and untied shoes. But he finally shuffles away, not wanting to be infected by some perhaps rabid human.

God. Back to bed.
Did you know that an standard extremely comfy aero bed twin mattress has a thermal rating of like .5? This means it is just about the same thermal insulation as a trash bag. Keep that in mind when car camping in the cold.

The next morning I got up and got the coffee going and checked the tides. Low tide around 11:30. Ok, we should be done with breakfast by then. We can ride the tide up the river to Wheeler or beyond and then perhaps fight our way back into the bay. We don't have enough time to wait for the tide to change, I am not getting back to camp at 8:00.

So, some history on the bay.
This entire area was prime and huge forest back in the late 1800s. But there was no good way to get the trees to market, so the woods stayed relatively safe and the areas stayed undeveloped. Until the railroad came through. The rail came through the Tillamook mountains along the Salmonberry (see my summer hike adventure) and then followed the Nehalem river down to this very bay. Here the town of Wheeler grew up.

Not what you think. Some clam pushed this mud tube up. They were all over.

At that time the area had Alder trees and lots of Doug Fir and the river dumped into the ocean not so impeded with mud and silt. But the tree harvesting led to land loss and erosion and that dirt got deposited in the mouth of the Nehalem, and that created all of the islands and such at the mouth of the river.

From the boat ramp on our state beach sandbar, we can see the entrance of the river to the ocean to our right, and the little town of Wheeler nestled in the sadly clean cut hills to our left. The wind and the tide are blowing us up stream, so we head that way. It is sort of a strange ride. Sometimes it gets rather lumpy from the wind at our backs, but we also have this problem of running out of water in the middle of the bay. A few times we have to back track and head around the shallows. What it is looking like is that the bay is this huge sand deposit, big and flat and only a few inches below the surface of the water at mid-tide. I had wanted to sort of do our trip from last fall in reverse and go up the very protected side channel, but it is becoming clear that there is no side channel. There is just mud and sand. Ok, perhaps after lunch. So we drift up toward Wheeler and then do a left up the side channel across the way from town. We can see the highway and the 100 year old railroad that runs up the coast, using trestles to jump the creeks every little bit.


We are surrounded by these Mud islands that have banks that around around 4-5 foot tall with grass growing on the top. Perhaps an occasional stand of trees.

The little side creek is pretty shallow. Maybe 8 inches down the center. And lots of water logged sticks on the bottom. I mean LOTs. In some places the entire bottom is water logged sticks. Chip thinks this part was once called “Alder Creek” because of all of the alder growing here, but that was all cut down and these sticks are all that is left. Sounds like a ghost story.

After a couple of tries, we find a sand bank (as opposed to a mud bank) where we pullup and get out to eat our lunch. This gives us a chance to get up on top of the these mud bank islands and see what is up there. Just Grass.
The Tide is coming in fast now. Even as we watch, our foot prints from our landing are filling up with water and disappearing. I take this as a good sign, because I want to go down the North side channel that is only there with the tide is up. We are eating lunch at the River entrance to this channel. The other side empties into the bay more toward the ocean. The current is moving up the channel from where we are eating lunch. Wow, that means this is a tidal creek, with the water moving inward from both sides. We can tell when we are at the midpoint because there won't be any current!
After lunch we head up the creek. Chip pulled out his Iphone and did a historical tide calculation. He says that in 45 minutes the water will be about as high as it was the last time we went through. It was touch and go then, but we made it.

I think his calculations were 30 minutes off.
We paddled up the channel a few hundred yards and then got blocked by sticks in the mud and low water. But the tide was coming in fast. We could actually watch as stick we had selected as a reference point submerged under water. We are talking about the water level going up a few inches in a few minutes. A Kayak only needs like 3 inches of water, so when we ran aground, we could just sit there and chat for a bit and then rock and paddle and inch our way forward. It wasn't very fast, it wasn't very dangerous, but it was sort of interesting, in a “gee never did this before” sort of way.

Stick Monster. Staring at me.

We finally came to the part where the current was coming in from both directions and then we just started paddling. The Sun was getting low in front of us, and and the bay was opening up all around us (as the mud banks disappeared) and we powered our way back to the landing.

The last time we did this trip we saw a bunch of eagles, some Kingfisher, and the usual round of ducks, cormorants, and Heron. This time, not so much. Sort of disappointing in the way of wild life in general.

That night we pulled out the cameras and went out to the beach to take star pictures and have fun with lights. If you don't have a good astronomical laser, you really should get one. They are good for killing the zombies that walk the beach during a full moon.

All in all, a great adventure. Lots to see. Must try to reserve a slot for camping out there sometime during the summer.

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