Monday, December 7, 2020

HIKING ALONG THE SILTCOOS RIVER ON THE OREGON COAST Guest Post by Caroline Hatton at The Intrepid Tourist

The Siltcoos River looping toward its estuary on the Oregon Coast

My friend and fellow children’s book author Caroline Hatton took the photos in this post in September 2020 when she enjoyed this free outdoor activity. 

From Eugene, Oregon, driving an hour west through scenic farmland and forest, across the Oregon Coast Range and along the Siuslaw River, leads to the town of Florence, a tourist destination on the Pacific Coast. My husband and I took refuge there in September 2020, because the devastating Holiday Farm Fire started devouring the forest east of Eugene, smoke choked the city for about ten days, and Florence was the nearest spot with clean air. We stayed a few nights to go on hikes every day--beach hikes and dune hikes and hikes in forests around inland lakes. My favorite was the Siltcoos River Hike because it presented me with the prettiest views, the largest variety of bodies of water, and an unforgettable, natural work of art. 

The Siltcoos Lagoon

From the trailhead, we walked around the 0.7-mile (over 1 km) Lagoon Trail loop first, thinking early morning might be our best chance to see birds. The loop follows the inside shore of a U-shaped lake formed when a bend of the Siltcoos River was cut off (an oxbow lake), not by a natural phenomenon, but by the construction of today’s road. To stay quiet for a better chance to see wildlife, we tiptoed on the sections of the trail that are boardwalks over water. But the only animals we saw were painted on panels presenting information about the ecosystem. 

For example, the Nutria (Myocastor coypus) is a big swamp rat once imported from South America for its fur, now an invasive species out of control. I didn’t see any at the lagoon, but I remembered seeing some that had invaded France for the same reasons, one in a pond outside Paris and another one in a marsh in Camargue in the south. There as here, the dirty rats have the last laugh. 

The Waxmyrtle Trail

After completing the lagoon loop, we took the 2.1-mile (~3.4 km) Waxmyrtle Trail, named after a plant abundant in the area, to the Siltcoos River mouth. The trail runs in the shade of shore pines, well above the calm river, so the water looked intensely blue on the clear day I was there, and the view (in the top photo above) extended to the estuary and ocean horizon.

Moose in Waxmyrtle Marsh? No, a log.

After descending into soft sand and emerging from the woods, I stopped along Waxmyrtle Marsh to look at nature’s watercolors and was startled to see a Moose bathing among the grasses. Was I on the verge of moose-size fame, the first to report a sighting in this part of Oregon? Alas, the Moose was still as a statue, because it was a statue, a dead log. I marveled at nature’s artwork and wondered, how did such a big log get there, far from any live tree? And how long would it last before one piece broke off and the Moose disappeared forever? 

The Pacific Ocean as seen from where the trail emerges from the dunes onto the beach.

The trail through the dunes reached Wax Myrtle Beach. 

Wildlife seen only on this sign: a Seal and a Sea Lion. Do not disturb!

More wildlife sightings awaited me: a Seal and a Sea Lion—pictures on a sign that prohibits approaching or disturbing the beasts. 

The 111 sign: my way back.

From the beach, I looked back and noted the number on the sign at my access point, to recognize my way back: 111, not 110 or 112! This was one of the numbered markers along the Oregon coast that were designed to identify locations in case of emergency, so rescuers can reach victims quicker. 

Looking from the beach, up the Siltcoos River meandering out of treesy dunes.

The Siltcoos River mouth at the Pacific Ocean.

On the deserted beach, we walked north to the river mouth, wide, shallow, and indistinct, its edges a blur of sand ripples holding sky blue puddles. During the nesting season (March 15 to September 15) of the Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus), dogs are not allowed on the beach, humans must stay on the wet sand or in their boats on the river, and the part of the trail along the estuary is closed. 

But on September 20 when I was there, visitors had left colorful kayaks on dry sand while exploring around. The river itself is the ~6-mile (almost ~11 km) canoe and kayak Siltcoos River Canoe Trail. Rentals are normally available at the Siltcoos Lake Resort. I wondered whether my kayaking, wildlife-loving friends Paul and Kathy had been there, done that. After all, the area is a favorite with birdwatchers and many mammals live there: coyote, raccoon, river otter, beaver, mink, and even black bear. 

Walking back the same way we came, I noticed deer tracks on the beach, straight out of the dunes toward the ocean, beyond the seaweed, broken shells, and crab claws left by the falling tide. Why did the deer go to the beach? To nibble on crunchy seaweed like humans munch on kale chips? Or for a lick of salt water, as a mineral supplement? 

When we got back to the sign labeled 111, the distant buzz of a dune buggy punctured the peace and quiet, motivating us to get away, even though ATVs couldn’t get near us because they are not allowed near the river mouth. Otherwise we passed only one group of three others lounging on beach chairs at the access point. To reduce Covid contagion risk, we snapped face masks on and stayed more than six feet away. 

We saved the Chief Tsiltcoos Trail loop, 0.8 miles (~1.3 km) through dune thickets, for another time. This group of easy trails is close enough to Eugene to be an attractive destination for a day trip. And when Covid conditions permit, exploring Historic Old Town Florence and its art galleries, breweries, and restaurants will add to the fun.

All text and photos, copyright Caroline Arnold.

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