Section 1: Columbia River to Sunset Beach

9.6 Miles

Sept. 11, 2021 — Columbia River to Sunset Beach State Recreation Site plus the Warrenton Public Art Collection

Lodging: Seaside International Hostel

My OCT trek finally began. I decided to ease my way into the project with a couple of day hikes punctuated by stays in seaside. I talked my husband into a road trip, dropped a car at Sunset Beach State Recreation Site and then he drove me north on Hwy. 101 to Fort Stevens State Park. It was perhaps the most lovely, balmy September Saturday I’ve ever experienced here in Oregon. I wore my official Oregon Coast Trail Foundation swag and carried my OCT Stickers, as graciously provided by the Oregon Coast Visitors Association. As we tried to find the official OCT TH sign, to take the obligatory trailhead photograph, we ran into the construction project on the Columbia River South Jetty. The launch picture was taken about half a mile south of the river but I wasn’t worried — if there’s anything this trail offers, it’s photo ops.

One of the most interesting experiences of the long beach walk, in my humble and blistered opinion, is the slow approach to the familiar object. The landmark grows from a speck to a dot, to a blurred figure with edges that become just a tiny bit sharper every time I look up. I wonder if this is, in fact, the thing I am expecting or something else entirely. As I draw ever closer I ponder things like the quality of the air and the angle of the sun, as my eyes begin to pick out the people, the dogs and the cars that have also been drawn to this thing. The time that it takes to actually get there forces me to truly see and enjoy this thing, even though I have seen it so many times in photographs. This was my experience approaching the famous shipwreck of The Peter Iredale from the north. A tragic, beautiful, rusty jungle gym stuck in the sand, so popular that it has public bathrooms and picnic facilities.

From there, I walked south toward the beach just west of Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center, just south of DeLaura Beach Road. No soldiers in sight, just miles and miles of open beach with hours of silence to keep me company. Here, I was struck at just how long, straight and flat the beach is at this point of the coast. The ocean would advance and recede so quickly that it often took me by surprise. I was amused by these 2-inch “sneaker waves” until I saw one rolling a 12-inch wide pole slowly toward me — I hopped over it one foot at a time, playing weird Hokey Pokey with a lethal beach log. That’s when I realized that despite the weather I was not in a Sandals Beach Resorts commercial, that beach logs do in fact kill, and perhaps my trajectory should be set a bit higher up.

For the first time, I really understood how in 1903 Gov. Oswald West convinced the legislature that the coast was actually a highway — here, it seems possible. It felt especially possible, in fact, when I began to encounter vehicles driving toward me at various speeds, as I walked toward Sunset Beach State Recreation Area.

The sun was appropriately dipping down as I reached Sunset Beach, so I quickly drove north to catch the art locations in Hammond and Warrenton. This trek demonstrated, not for the first time, the true value of a tool like the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail map. These art pieces, located on rural roads a few miles from the ocean, were definitely not roadside attractions, at least not for this traveler — I didn’t even know these roads existed before I used them to find get here. Now, thanks to these pieces, I know a bit more about these towns, how they are situated and what matters most to them. It’s all there, in the art.

My favorite public art location of the day was the corner of Fort Stevens Highway/E. Harbor and Main St./Skipanon. On one corner is Lighthouse Park, a collection of memorials with bronze statues, a gazebo and plenty of important names. Across the street is the Veterans Monument, a life-sized bronze soldier on a tall pedestal that was framing my view of the setting sun. On a third corner stands the Warrenton Warrior Statue, which according to the documentation was made by “students of Mr. Ernest Moon’s metal fabrication class at Warrenton High School in the 1968-9 school year.” I sat a while, resting my tired legs, while I thought about the generations who left a bit of themselves at this intersection. It’s a cool thing.