Thursday, October 16, 2008

Exploring the Waxmyrtle Trail

“I don’t want to just hike on a trial surrounded by woods just to see trees, trees, and more trees,” that’s Ed’s position for selecting a trail to explore so when I suggested we hike the Waxmyrtle Trail he got excited. The moderately difficult 2.5 mile round trip trail promised this: “Outstanding views of the ocean and lower Siltcoos River estuary highlight the Waxmyrtle Trail which is a favorite with bird-watchers.” When we set off, we were also hoping to check the river conditions for the anticipated fall season salmon run.

At the trail head, we studied the You Are Here sign. The trail seemed to follow the river’s edge all the way to the Pacific Ocean. There was no threat of getting lost with this course and we had plenty of sunlight so we could take our time walking.

The trail indeed did follow the Siltcoos River, a narrow murky green waterway. It’s a lazy river, slow moving with no rapids, and one well known for pleasurable, easy canoeing and kayaking. As we walked through the forest along the river’s edge, fallen pine needles softened our steps. The air felt still and warm in the afternoon sun. I wondered why I had ever thought to wear my ski jacket as I unzipped and fanned my sweatshirt. We had picked a beautiful day to explore.

We passed some empty kayaks dragged onto the river bank mud where the owners took a break from paddling. Three other hikers scooted past us. We eventually caught up with them at a view point where they paused to take some vacation photos. They agreeably shot our photo there too. At this point on the Trail, the path had led up some steps high above the riverbed. The soil, still covered with pine needles, felt like sand. I think we had climbed to the top of a well disguised forested sand dune. Through the break in the trees, we could see a flat brown grassy plain cut by the bend of the Siltcoos River. Beyond that we could see the sandy beach and the waves of the Pacific Ocean. All I could say was a soft “Wow.”

Our pace on the Trail quickened now. We both felt a rush of excitement to move from one element of terrain to the next – river, grassland, beach, and waves.

Eventually, the Trail took us from this vista perch down a grade back to the river’s edge. It was wider here and opened to what looked like a small lake. Massive islands of driftwood protruded from the water surface and dotted the widening river shoreline.

We skirted this lake sized puddle and noticed that it drained toward the ocean through a channel several feet across. The channel cut through the beach sand where again the character of the Siltcoos changed.

Now, the river looked more like a narrow clear stream than a shallow lake or the murky river we followed further inland. The current changed too. Here the easy flow of water from the Siltcoos seemed to be losing its power to advance toward the ocean. The Pacific’s current countered with a more forceful push. The salt water and fresh water collided in small, cresting waves in this channel. Wind blew sand along the beach surface from the north. We could actually see particles slide into the channel, sink and disappear in the churning river channel.

The closer we got to the ocean, the stronger the wind. I zipped my ski jacket and raised the hood; I needed its protective layer here. I was glad to be wearing waterproof hiking boots too because the river eventually spread wide across the beach and changed its dimensions with unpredictable waves pushing on shore. I had to scramble a few times to race away from the surf. Once, it caught me unaware as I was distracted watching some birds feed and take light when the waves crashed nearby.

Neither Ed nor I are authorities on the conditions needed for the salmon to run from the ocean to the Siltcoos River. But from all observations, the water this day seemed too low for a successful run. The seals must have come to that same conclusion. Only one kept sentry bobbing in the surf near where the river and ocean meet.

We didn’t see any salmon as we explored the Siltcoos River from the Waxmyrtle Trail but we saw nature at its finest.

October 14, 2008

Waxmyrtle Trail is located off Siltcoos Beach Road

Just South of Dune City, OR

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