May 29, 2001

An Octopus, A Seagull, and T. rex

Day Six: Kalaloch, WA to Sandlake, OR

I can safely assume that very few people would get excited if I told them that we were driving from Kalaloch, Washington down to some place called Sandlake, Oregon. "Gee, a lake of sand? Sounds... Grrrrreat." But then I'd say two magical words and the opinion would immediately change: Octopus Tree.

That's right, by day's end we were going to see the singular Octopus Tree of Cape Meares State Park in the great state of Oregon. I had been building up this moment to Hoang for several weeks before even flying out west, after having found it in a guidebook at the library. We could hardly wait to see it - seriously, I think I talked it up to such a ridiculous extent that Hoang actually WAS excited about the tree. Yes, I'm that good. (While researching this essay, Hoang did confirm to me that she really was excited for the tree.) And so should you be to read about it. If you're not, you're un-American.

In typical Steve fashion (read: Annoying), the Octopus Tree would be the very last stop of the day. So not only had I been talking about this tree for weeks prior to our trip, again on the flight out there, and then for the 5 days prior to this day, Hoang would now have to wait the entire day before seeing the arboreal marvel. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Not the Octopus Tree, but Hoang liked it anyway

Truth be told, aside from the Octopus Tree, there is a ton of stuff to do out on the Washington and Oregon coasts. Our day had us essentially just driving south down Highway 101 into Oregon, stopping at various places along the way. I would have to say that one of America's most unspoiled, unvisited, and underrated places is the Oregon coast. It's absolutely beautiful, vast, and uncrowded. I have never heard of anyone say, "I'm going to the beach... In Oregon!" But after experiencing them I can unequivocally state that OR beaches are better than any beaches in New England or Southern France. Wide swaths of soft sand... Easily accessible... Let's keep them our little secret.

We (probably) got a late start due to our previous late night. But then again, we were 5 years younger back then so who knows. Actually, since Hoang was there, I can assure you we got a late start. In fact, I can be sure we got a late start every single day of this trip. In other words, the girl likes her sleep.

We checked out of the Kalaloch Lodge and were able to hit the road without seeing the Germans again. Our hope was that they were spending another day in Olympic National Park and we'd be rid of them for good, for we were leaving the park and heading due south.

As we munched on bagels, we took one last stroll down to the beach behind the Lodge. I thought I was still dreaming when I saw a small cluster of people swimming in the small pool where the Hoh River met the Pacific Ocean. Sure, we were in late May but that river was pure glacial runoff. I was so awed by their hardiness, I walked over to where they were to make sure it wasn't some thermal vent or another bubbling geyser keeping them warm. I dipped my hand in the water and - HOLY CRAP THAT'S COLD! The bathers appeared to be Native Americans and I'm sure they did this type of thing fairly often. Hypothermia much?

We hit the road and made our way down to the Oregon border. Just before crossing, however, we had a few places to see. Up first was the beautiful Long Beach peninsula and it's various beaches and parks. The sun was shining and the day was beautiful. On the southern tip of the peninsula sits Fort Canby State Park and the North Head Lighthouse. I don't know why, but I sort of like lighthouses. I don't decorate my house with them or anything, but I still think they're pretty cool.

Here, at the very dangerous mouth of the Columbia River, (called the "Graveyard of the Pacific" by old timey sailors) there are actually two lighthouses. Back in the day, ships would often get stuck or destroyed so they installed the second lighthouse, which you can see below.

The tip of land to the south of the North Head Lighthouse was named "Cape Disappointment" because it's where seamen would always get stuck on sandbars or capsize in the eddies caused by the fresh/salt water mixing rapidly. We really enjoyed Fort Canby Park - it was a park built to ward off invaders from the Modoc Indian War up through World War II. I highly recommend it next time you're in the area. Cape Disappointment? Eh, it's pretty, um... Errr... Blah. You know what I mean?

After the lighthouse and the park, we drove a few miles further south to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Say what? An educational historical attraction?! Yup - and one which we both enjoyed. The more I learned about Lewis and Clark, the more impressed I became with them. I think I even went home and bought the Stephen Ambrose book about them that has been collecting dust ever since. The area we were in, at the mouth of the Columbia River, was where the intrepid explorers finally reached the Pacific Ocean. The Center was very well done and as much as we enjoyed it, there were no trees that resembled cephalopods around there, so we hopped back into the car and headed for Oregon.

There is a massive curving bridge over the Columbia River to get over to Astoria, OR. It's the kind of bridge that cause lesser men to freak out, as it goes up quite high and gives the perception of danger when there really is none. Once into Oregon we passed through the town of Astoria and then up a small mountain and back down the other side.

Stupid detail? Of course, but I wanted to point out that I caught up to and was behind a logging truck (strapped down with logs) on the way up the hill but the driver was totally suicidal on the way back down. He was doing around 75 on this tight, windy, steep downhill with a truck filled with logs. It was unbelievable - so much so that I remember tipping my metaphorical hat to him out there on the coast of northwest OR 5 years ago. Once through town, highway 101 made its way back out to the rugged coast. It's truly a stunning drive, with many pullouts for pictures and scenery absorption.

After driving through Gearhart, the next town was Seaside. We planned to eat lunch in this tourist town and to walk around a bit - which is exactly what we did. Seaside is the only place you go if you're a Japanese tourist or a hayseed from the Midwest. There's a HUGE smooth beach and the town has that forced charm most tourists demand. (Think Mystic, CT or Ocean City, MD but newer and better planned.) We knew what we were in for, so it was enjoyable for what it was. Hoang had an ice cream cone for lunch, after passing up the endless storefronts offering all sorts of greasy and fatty fast food junk. We lounged a bit and soaked up some sun - then realized that Seaside is famous for it's boardwalked town not soft-bodied ocean-dwelling predatory trees. Back to the car and further south we went.

A few miles down 101 we made another planned stop at Cannon Beach. (And if you thought the above picture was a lame attempt at being "artistic," tell it to this guy too. This is the one beach that you need to see if you make this trip if you can only see one place on the northern OR coastline. I just couldn't get enough of the giant rock formations out in the ocean. At Cannon Beach, the biggest one is called "The Haystack," and when the tide is low, you can walk out to it and explore its infinite tide pools. Chances are, when you see tourist brochures touting the Oregon coastline, the picture was taken at Cannon Beach. As always, our pictures don't do the place justice. (But this guy's do. Beautiful stuff.)

The town of Cannon Beach is an artsy little town (kind of like Martha's Vineyard West) and appeared to be the opposite of Seaside. Instead of embracing the kitsch, it fights it. And why not? The real draw here is the natural beauty of the sheer cliffs abutting the beach and all the cool stuff that comes with that.

When we arrived, the tide was low enough for us so we walked over to where we'd be able to rock scramble out and explore the Haystacks. It was really cool as we saw a bunch of anemones and starfish and little crabs and stuff. Before we knew it, the tide was creeping in and that would make the clamber back rather difficult. In fact, the tide roared in and I became a little worried about our safety - so much so that when I saw a seagull crap on Hoang's shoulder, I didn't even bother telling her - I just wanted to get off the rocks. (So much spray was hitting us, she just thought it was water.) We made it, of course, but with rather wet pants and shoes. Once back to the safety of the beach, I let Hoang in on my dirty little secret about the seagull. She wasn't too happy, but ended up laughing along with me in the end. See, she was sad:

Awwww, so very sad.

Although it's hard to see, it was a rather large doot.

Washing her shirt like in the old country.

(If you're wondering what I'm talking about in that last caption, the photographer I linked a few paragraphs above, Quang-Tuan Luong, happens to have some incredible shots of Vietnam (he's Vietnamese himself) that look eerily similar...)

After Hoang washed her shirt off we realized that - Oh boy oh boy oh boy, we were getting closer to the Octopus Tree! We were undettered by the lateness of the day.

We made our way south and drove past Cape Meares State Park in order to check in to our quaint little Bed and Breakfast for the night - the Sandlake Country Inn. These things aren't like hotels where you can show up at 9 PM, so we did the courteous thing and checked in around 6ish. The B&B is really very nice and we were greeted by a rather interesting looking lady named Deena. She was obese, sure, but there was something else about her I just couldn't put my finger on.

She escorted us in, showed us our room (the Starlight Suite, ahem) and went over the details. Be quiet after 10, breakfast would be served at 8, don't let the cats in, don't smoke, blah blah blah. Leave us alone lady, we had a date with a super special tree and I don't care if we had free reign of the VHS library and board games. *grumble-grumble* Huh? Oh yeah, it was past dinner time and we'd had a rather energetic day. Hmmmm, what to do? We agreed to grab some cheap dinner quickly and make our way up to The Coolest Tree Ever.

Unfortunately, when you're in the middle of nowhere in Oregon, there aren't exactly restaurants all over the place. Believe it or not, I actually remember that we found a Subway somewhere and that was our romantic dinner. Looking at the map below, I know that we drove up to Tillamook (a highlight of the next day) to the subway, then out to Netarts to enjoy our processed meats and cheese sandwiches on the beach. (I'm not making this up at all.) So there we were... mere minutes from the tree we'd be dreaming about for weeks! We could TASTE the pulpo!

Looking at my watch, I looked at Hoang's beautiful face in the fading light of the long day and sputtered, "Um... baby... I think we should wait until tomorrow to see the Octopus Tree." I swear I caught a tear welling in her eye as she reluctantly agreed. "I've waited all my life to see the Octopus Tree, what's another 12 hours or so?" At that, we hugged and kissed a Subway sandwich kiss and returned to the B&B.

There was Deena with her beach ball torso, her absurdly large bosom, and her impossibly short arms to greet us again. She was simply double checking that everything was perfect for us and to confirm breakfast in the morning. Once she left, Hoang turned to me and in a moment of comic genius said, "I got it! She's like a Tyrannosaurus rex! I yelled, "EXACTLY!!" and then got hushed by T. Rex herself, who was still slowly descending the stairs.

Another perfect day on our first vacation together. What could possibly be the cherry on top of this incredible experience? Why, another floating head picture, of course!
Get it? A TRUE floating head!

Will we find the tree? Continue to Day 7 to find out!

Back to Day 5
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