Occasionally, we travel to see and experience things that our minds grab ahold of and don’t let go. For those who venture to its rocky coastline and shifting dunes, the Oregon coast will undoubtedly leave memories that will last a lifetime. Out there, there is no Golden Gate Bridge, no Times Square or Hollywood Sign, and that is what remains stamped in the minds of those who seek to get a little lost away from the pre-packaged world of tourist traps and “iconic” monuments. Life is slower, more relaxed, but more than anything, it’s more authentic. Sure life has evolved (there are Safeways and a number of Starbucks), but, like so much of Oregon, it’s easy to step into a world that feels more like 1969 - or at least what those of us born after 1980 imagine that to have been like - simple, authentic, natural. It’s the collective memory of a 1950’s car ad, exploring the great American West, in the long since vanished footprints of Lewis and Clark.
After my photographer and I finished the longish drive from the funky, borderline edgy, college town of Eugene, the first stop had to be coffee and not the aforementioned Seattle chain, this is Oregon after all, and some things you just don’t do… like order a hoagie in Boston or a grinder in Philly. The outskirts of Florence, OR aren’t really any different to the outskirts of Monterrey, CA - you’ve got to get into the old town to really get a feel of what town is like. Here, small-town America hasn’t vanished just yet. Quaint shops and restaurants line the streets. Replace the Priuses with Thunderbirds and you really would be like Marty McFly asking The Doc what year it is. Each spot is refreshingly unique, begging wanderers to actually try each and every restaurant, cafe, and bar. We went for the one with the biggest cookies we could find - River Roasters, complete with a store full of handmade house decorations. A quick house drip (excellent, by the way), and a perfectly made oatmeal cookie overlooking the docks of the Siuslaw River adjacent to the Siuslaw River Bridge of Highway 1. It was just about the perfect energy top up before heading out to one of the Oregon Coast’s most famous attractions - the Dunes.
Ten minutes later and we're trudging barefoot up an impossibly high mountain of sand reminding ourselves to keep debris out of any moving parts on our camera equipment. At the top, the sounds of crashing waves and a pleasant ocean mist covered the horizon. A look to the south treated us to an endless view of shifting sands, and to the north, a wild, rocky and mountainous coastline. To the east were bunches of pine trees peppering the dune landscape and to the west, of course, the endless blue of the Pacific. Four-wheelers in the distance, fishermen adjusting lures, and the unmistakable silence in the roar of the ocean. Some beaches are meant to soak up the rays and relax. Here, you have to play - jump as high and far as you can off the tops of the dunes, “ski” down them on make-believe moguls, use your imagination to bring yourself back to being a kid again. You can even bring your imaginary friends, right single children? I cannot remember a time in my adult life that I was so happily laughing at my own breathlessness, ignoring my burning quads to run up the steep, sandy incline for just one more jump.
When you’re ready to stop being childlike and grow up (I never will, FYI), pack up the car and head North to the rockier, hillier side of the coast to your own private beach, sort of. Follow signs to the Heceta Head Lighthouse, perched about 100ft above the ocean and adjacent to a small beach. The scene here is magnificent. The lighthouse was built in 1894 and has been immaculately maintained to look exactly the same. There are no hordes of tourists here, no tacky gift shops, just a secluded beach, mountains, and the lighthouse to keep you company. Just let your thoughts wander, and watch the sunset over the waves of the Pacific, what else could you need? At the end of the day, you may just ask yourself what year it is again.