Finding The Hidden Treasure of Oregon’s Coast
Oregon’s spectacular coastline is haunted by tales of ghastly shipwrecks, haunted light houses, and tall tales of treasure stashed away never to be found again. Some of those stories center on Neahkahnie Mountain, which just lies north of the coastal hamlet of Mazanita. A local Native American legend tells of several ships that wrecked nearby sometime in the 1600′s, long before the intrepid explorers Lewis and Clark arrived. Those claims have been validated with the discovery of several blocks of beeswax destined for Catholic missions that washed ashore over a half-century ago. The wax itself was traced back to the Spanish sailing ships that plied the waters off of Oregon’s coast between the 1600-1800, which leads one to believe that perhaps these legends of treasure might actually be true. One myth in particular speaks of a chest of gold coins that was buried and long forgotten somewhere on the mountain. No one has ever found it, yet treasure hunters still keep the hope alive that one day the precious trove is rediscovered.
I kept these facts in mind as we decided to hike to the top of Neahkahnie Mountain, which, at 1,680 feet high, is a commanding presence along the coastline. Having driven the scenic highway paralleling the coast, I had seen hikers making their way up the mountain and always wanted to tackle the mighty giant myself. So, off we went. We headed west from Portland, and pulled into the trailhead just north of Oswald West. Brad indicated that this was probably the steepest way to go up but we were in it for the view and the exercise, so that didn’t phase me one bit. Note: There’s another route farther north which means only a 900′ elevation gain. But on this day, we were spoiling for a challenge. And we got it by taking the longer and steeper route!
Up we went and entered an open meadow of giant ferns and salal, with the view of the coastline quickly spreading out below us. This was the section of the trail I had seen from the road below. Berries even this late in the season were still abundant and one of the beneficiaries of this bounty had passed by not too long before – a bear. The remnants of his meal were right on the trail so we stepped carefully around the pile. As the trail climbed, the road noise diminished and soon all we could hear was the cheerful call of chickadees flitting through the forest and a slight wind soughing through the trees. The trail rambled up and I felt the familiar pull on my hamstrings as I urged my legs to get past the burn and keep going. At one point, we passed through a jumble of giant boulders covered in thick green spongy moss. It looked like a jungle! The trees had gotten dense at the point, and despite the fact that it was a sunny day far above the canopy, the dim light required me to use my camera flash to snap shots as we continued.
Oregon’s coastal forests benefit from the abundant moisture blowing off of the Pacific Ocean. The resulting dew, condensation and precipitation are a horticultural delight to the cedars, Douglas fir and Sitka spruce that populate this area. They often tower up to unimaginable heights as they thrive in a such a tree-healthy environment. Oftentimes, visitors from outside of Oregon will remark, “I can’t believe the trees. They are huge!” And these people are right. These trees ARE huge. But you really can’t appreciate exactly how big until you see them up close. As we hiked, one of these incredible giants had finally succumbed to either a storm or old age and had fallen down alongside the trail sometime in the recent past. Brad lept atop this fallen ancient and the dogs quickly followed. The scale immediately became apparent – they were dwarfed! The shear circumference of the tree’s base was much wider than a man is tall. It was with a great deal of respect that we passed the tree, and I started taking note of all of the other giants in the forest. There are a lot of them!
We finally reached the top of the mountain after probably about an hour and a half, but were disappointed to find the mists had rolled in, clouding the spectacular views to the north and south. The real treasure of Neahkahnie Mountain is the vantage point it provides for hundreds of miles… on a pristine day. I clung to my camera, hoping a sudden lift in the clouds would be our reward, but to our chagrin, alas, it was not meant to be. Disappointed, we saddled up and headed back down the mountain. While plodding along downhill, I started debating the merits of uphill versus downhill as my knee joints ground painfully. It’s a give and take, I suppose, but I just feel thankful that I can hike!
Brad, the dogs and I arrived at the bottom of the trail by the parking lot fairly refreshed (and not quite worn out), so we decided to sightsee down another nearby trail. This path led out to a point dotted with cliffs above the ocean, and it was at this point that we found hidden treasure! Not shiny gold doubloons, mind you, but the treat we found was a large coved cliffline honeycombed with smaller seacaves far below. Our overlook gave us a stunning view of the wind-whipped waves as they crashed into the caves, emitting a deafening whoosh as the water roared into the caves. KAAAA-CHUNNNNNNNNNK! It was amazingly life-affirming. Mother Nature was in charge here and judging from the way the water had been steadily carving away at the geological layers of the cliff walls, she was hard at work. Brad and I kept the dogs under tight rein at the outlook, because even though there was a fence blocking the cliff edge, any fall below would not have a happy ending! We went to work photographing this amazing sight, and felt a little better that we had captured some of the views we felt we were cheated out of up above! By being willing to explore, we had found another one of Oregon’s treasures that makes living here always an adventure to be enjoyed.
For more information on hiking in Oregon, please visit our Outdoor Recreation section.