PANORAMA - In Pacific City gray clouds can often have silver linings

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A seagull scans the parking lot for handouts or other food left behind at Oceanside Beach Wayside on the Oregon Coast.

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With nowhere to go but up, houses compete for oceanfront views on a hill in Oceanside, Ore.

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The lush trail leading toward Munson Falls.

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Trillium in the undergrowth.

About the only guarantee for weather on the Oregon Coast is that there is weather.

It is folly to expect sunshine, and even more foolish to expect dry days.

Over the past 30-some years, our family has occasionally made spring break excursions to the coast, and we've counted ourselves lucky when the weather was somewhat mild.

This year, we weren't so lucky during a recent four-day trip to Pacific City south of Tillamook. We encountered it all - high winds, rain, mist, fog, with some brief sun breaks. The only precipitation missing was snow and sleet.

But it is possible to enjoy the beach, despite the gray clouds. It's a matter of timing and observation.

Some observations I made from the window of our quaint little motel in Pacific City. If there were indentations in the puddles in the parking lot, it was raining. If there were also waves on the puddles, the wind was blowing, and it probably was not prime beach time.

Timing is related to tides and to my personal theory of weather patterns. Early morning and early evening are less likely to be rainy and windy on the coast.

Another observation I made was those of us from the dry side don't have proper beach clothing. My yellow pullover windbreaker was not waterproof. And jeans are very absorbent.

Nonetheless, we managed a few walks on the beach, much to the delight of our dogs. And we used the rainy times for trips to the outlet mall and McMenamin's Lighthouse Brewpub in Lincoln City, the Tillamook Cheese Factory and an impromptu side trip to Munson Creek Falls south of Tillamook.

One of the benefits of early spring trips to the coast is the lack of crowds. We were often the only ones on the beach. Winter rates are in effect for lodging. (Our motel gave us a one-dog rate for our two dogs.)

One side trip we took was to Oceanside, along a route pocked with the deepest and most numerous potholes I've ever seen. It was truly a tooth-jarring journey.

In the past, we've stayed at Oceanside a couple of times, back when it was an honest little seaside hamlet nestled next to a cliff, and the beach just a hop away. Now, houses swarm up the steep hillside, and the cute cabin where we had a late-night encounter with marauding raccoons now boasts "Pets Welcome" on a sign that nearly covers the front of the cabin.

The Oceanside beach is great for exploring at low tide, exposing sea stars and other oceanic creatures. It is also a favorite spot for agate hunters. Unfortunately, we were there at high tide, and there was no beach, and we couldn't face the road a second time to hit it at low tide.

The cheese factory is a good destination on a rainy day. A caf served tasty sandwiches - including several versions of grilled cheese. There is a self-guided tour of the plant, including viewing rooms where you can watch the orange blocks of cheddar whizzing along conveyor belts. Two gift shops offer cheese (of course) and plenty of souvenirs.

Best of all is the ice cream: not cheap, but generous portions of Tillamook ice cream in many flavors.

As we left Tillamook driving south on Highway 101, we impulsively took a left turn at a sign that said "Munson Creek Falls." It was worth the two-mile drive on a graveled (but not pot-holed) road to a small state park.

A very freshly finished quarter-mile trail led to the foot of the 319-foot falls.

The trail followed Munson Creek through moss-covered trees and shrubs. Trilliums, yellow violets and other early spring flowers bloomed alongside the trail. In the canyon we were sheltered from wind and the gurgle of the creek was a change from the roar of the surf we could hear three blocks from our motel.

So, despite the rain and cold and wind, we managed to elude the worst of it with alternatives that didn't cost us a lot of money (outlet mall excepted.)

And we got in some beach time, gathered some sea shells and whole sand dollars, but the Lab had to leave her log behind.

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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