Storm Watch turns out to be apt promo for trip to Newport

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Snowfall adds to the ambience on a March trip to the Oregon coast.

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The Newport fleet stands ready in safe harbor on a windy day.

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Nora visits the remnants of the one-time largest Sitka Spruce in the country.

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Nora takes advantage to stretch at a snowy rest stop on Highway 26.

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Nora gets to stretch her legs at South Fogarty beach.

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March grass widows bloom in the Columbia Gorge.

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It's nap time on a warf in the Old Town section at Newport.

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A stream rushes through the snowy woods at a Highway 26 rest stop.

Editor's Note

Part 2 of this three-part report of a stormy trip to the Oregon Coast will appear in this section next Wednesday.

Near the end of February we received a Hallmark Inn at Newport email promo for March: Storm Watch.

It's one of our favorite places, and a little wind and rain certainly would NOT be unusual on the Oregon Coast in March.

And Nora the Schnauzer loves that beach.

With an offer we couldn't refuse, we reserved a stay.

Then, a period of pleasant weather hovered over Walla Walla as March arrived, and we forgot about storms.

On March 10, a sunny Saturday morning, we set out for a leisurely drive on Highway 14 to Vancouver's pet friendly La Quinta Inn.

After one night we planned to continue a leisurely drive west on Sunset Highway to Seaside/Cannon Beach and south on U.S. 101 to Newport.

"What a plan!" I postulated.

On the road a few minutes before 9 a.m. that Saturday, we stopped every hour for Nora to explore.

She always did, at least once.

And I took photos.

At a pond near Umatilla, for example, several swans launched right at me.

I also snapped blooming grass widow wild flowers at the Klickitat River gorge, up two miles from Lyle, and at a rest stop near Stevenson.

Fulfilling the plan floated my spirits all the way to Vancouver, where we dined at Applebee's near the motel.

As usual, the La Quinta staff treated Nora as a welcome guest when we registered At 4:09 p.m.

Then, as usual, it rained.

It persisted Sunday morning.

Yet, with a spring in my step, I loaded the truck after breakfast, and we headed west.

The rain turned to snow high on Sunset Highway. At 500 feet snow became rain again. We stopped twice, at a rest stop and at a county park.

The plan for a leisurely scenic drive down the coast faded into the haze when we stopped at the Cannon Beach Tolovana Park. Fabled Haystack Rock loomed darkly in the rain.

We didn't get out, and the rain soon became sleet (Darlene called it hail) driven furiously by the wind.

Three separate sleet storms belted us hard as we continued south: One from Manzanita to Rockaway Beach and one as we neared Tillamook, where Darlene shopped at the Blue Heron.

Another hit between Pacific City and Lincoln City, when ice ricocheted from the hood and windshield and covered the road. Traffic slowed to 25 mph and left three-inch deep tire tracks.

We lunched at Mo's in Lincoln City until the storm abated. I stopped at North Fogarty Park and hustled Nora out for a windy walk on the beach.

With patches of blue sky at Newport, we toured Old Town. The fishing fleet rested in the harbor and sea lions snoozed on a dock. We checked in at Hallmark during a wind-driven rain at 4:30 p.m.

Darlene relaxed in a soft chair before the wall-sized window and scanned the sea for passing whales.

"First they spout," she said. "A few minutes later two-thirds of their bodies will surface."

I wished her good luck.

I donned rain pants, two layers of nylon jackets and my bomb-proof Hard Corps blue-and-white rain parka. I slipped Nora into her red Ruff Wear coat, and we staggered against the gale.

On the beach, Nora raced into the wind. She picked up a stick, tossed it once, raced past me and climbed the 72 steps up the cliff. No dummy, I pursued her quickly.

That evening we watched a vivid storm that intensified on Monday. Nora and I fetched coffee from the espresso stand at the motel, and we shared microwave-warmed bagels and whipped cream cheese with OJ for breakfast.

I took Nora to the pet area a few times. Otherwise, we didn't leave the room until we ate lunch/dinner at the Chalet, a family restaurant, near Fred Meyers.

In the evening, heavy wind-driven rain tapped the sliding balcony windows.

Finally, darkness fell. The winds calmed, but the rain increased. Then, at 8:19 p.m., I peered into a luminous floodlit night. I pressed my face to the window and cupped my hands around my eyes.

"SNOW," I wheezed.

The floating flakes already covered the evergreen boughs below the balcony.

"I don't believe it," Darlene said and laughed. "It's beautiful. We've had wind, rain sleet, hail and now snow.

"You can't beat that for an accurate promo," she added.

I agreed.

Then the lights went out.

And the Internet.

And the heater.

A blanket of darkness covered the beach as far as I could see, both ways. We stood in the dark.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .

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