From the Blog

Travel Tuesday: Gearhart Beaches

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On one of the sunnier days last week, we decided to go check out some of the beaches between Fort Stevens State Park and Gearhart.

We like to go midweek if we can. We pretty much like to do everything during the week. Then often on weekends, when everyone else is out, we stay home. Or we walk where ever we are going. It’s only a matter of time before we are complete hermits and forget how to talk to people.

So I am a greeny pants-wetting liberal, and I do what I can to not drive so much. I stopped short of getting rid of my car entirely. If we had stayed in Portland, it may have been easier to go carfree and borrow Zipcars when we wanted to get out of town. But I do, I do, I do love to drive. And trips like these would be infinitely more difficult living in a smallish town without a car. So we take the car out once a week or so, and to alleviate our green hippie global warming guilt, we make sure to have a hell of a lot of fun on these drives.

We have traveled along 101 between Cannon Beach and Astoria a number of times, and we always saw a number of state park signs pointing to the beach. This time, we turned off the highways and followed our maps to the ocean. Our first stop was Delaura Beach. With a bit of light googling, we learn this land is owned by Clatsop County (pdf). But as of a three year old article, they are considering selling it to Oregon Parks and Recreation, or to private developers. Right now, the passage to the beach is a gravel road with deep ruts and giant car-swallowing puddles. And then it turns to deep sand.

There’s no warning for drivers for when you should stop. No one tells you where the road goes from passable to quicksand. You have to use your own brain. And for that reason alone, I’m surprised there weren’t a dozen cars stuck in the sand. We used our noodles and decided to stop before attempting this hill.

We parked and walked the rest of the way.

I’m glad we stopped where we did. The sand only got deeper.

It is hard to describe how deep, dark cobalt the ocean was. It was almost unearthly. But really, though it seems like it wouldn’t occur in nature, this is how it’s supposed to look.

The beach was deserted. Miles in either direction. No one there but us. A small sand bar created a calm pool of bathwater. The tide was coming in and refreshing the pool. It got deeper by the minute, to the point it was nearly hard to cross. But I’m adventurous. This was the first time I put a toe in the Oregon ocean and didn’t have it instantly freeze off.

I almost hesitate to share this beach since it was absolutely deserted. We saw not a soul except for sea birds and one passing Jeep that nearly drove over our shoes then disappeared into the mist.

But this is not an easy beach to get to. It either requires a high clearance vehicle with four wheel drive, or you’re going to have to walk a few hundred yards through sand dunes. Those two reasons will send 95% of visitors to other beaches.

Next stop was Sunset Beach.

I know I may get howls of protest, but the Sunset Beach was perhaps as pretty as Delaura Beach, except that there were so many more trucks. How can the beach be as relaxing and pretty when it also serves as a street and a parking lot? We had to wait for strings of trucks and SUVs to pass just to get from the dunes to the water. And I’d be terrified to let a bumper-high youngster run around on the beach if I knew there was a lane of traffic roaring behind me.

I admit also, we outright giggled when we saw a big, beefy looking SUV get stuck in the soft sand. Hehe. Lots of those vehicles have the same engine and power as a regular car, and in this case front wheel drive only. Hehe. We may suck for giggling. But they sucked harder for taking their SUV, minus the “S” and the “U,” out onto the beach.

Looking north to Washington. In this photo, you can faintly see the south jetty, and the white dots of Cape Disappointment.

Next stop was Del Rey State Beach. Despite having through roads marked on the map, the dunes were crowned with giant estates and the roads were gated. So we drove back out to highway 101 to head south.

At Del Rey, there was another sandy road for vehicle access, but then a parking lot. There was a trench through the sea grass leading to the beach. It was two or three feet over my head in some places. There were trampled paths through the grass probably caused by elk.

We trudged through the grass just to get a look at the ocean. Then we trudged back. We didn’t bring chairs or an umbrella or trashy magazines to sit and hang out all day. We just wanted to see what the beaches looked like. And by this point, we realized that we saw the best beach first. So that if we do have a warm day in the middle of the week, that will be where we go to hang out.

Likewise, we saw the road access for the beach right in the middle of Gearhart and decided we didn’t need to go see it. It’s probably perfect for people who can walk to it. But if we are going to hop in the car to go to the beach, we will likely go someplace a little less accessible.

As I drove through Gearhart, I was thinking about the giant houses perched in the dunes. That whole area will get walloped by a local tsunami. If the Cascadia Subduction Zone goes off, these folks will have eight minutes to get to higher ground, if their legs aren’t broken in the earthquake. Roads and bridges may be impassible, and not all areas have higher ground within running distance. All the low lying coastal towns have this problem.

Plus, you know, evacuation routes aren’t always available. So I thought about this. And the uselessness of trying to drive away from a tsunami. And the futility of trying to run. And I came up with a brilliant fucking idea. Boats. Have a boat parked in your yard. Or on top of your garage. You’ll have to anchor it somewhere, but you can figure that out. DON’T anchor it to your damned SUV. Pack the boat full of emergency stuff. Have life vests in there. When the wave comes, you gather up your family and get in the boat. You float to safety. Everyone is saved!

So you may not want to park a boat on your roof or garage, because you’ll look like a dork. Or maybe you don’t have a garage. I don’t have a garage myself. So get one of those quick inflatable emergency boats. You may not want to put it on the ground, because the wave is going to be violent and all full of debris and it will pop your boat. So, put the boat on top of your SUV. The car is going to absorb the impact of the wave and give you a few extra feet above the rushing water.

Unless, of course, the wave is like fifty feet high. Then you’re pretty much totally screwed and I can’t help you. Sorry.

Unless you build a tower in your yard, and put the boat on top. Hmm.

I await a call from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to discuss.


  1. I just discovered Del Ray and Sunset beaches this summer — and imagine my surprise when I realized they were “drive-in” beaches. I had no idea such a thing existed. But it was honestly pretty handy not to have to haul all our beach JUNK a long distance from the car. (And by “junk” I mean winter coats and a change of shoes.)

  2. Your beaches look like east coast beaches with the tall grass! Pretty!

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