Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Walking the Trails at Cape Perpetua

View at Cape Perpetua
On one of those endless searches for a Northwest Passage, British Captain James Cook, cruising along what is now Oregon’s Central Coast, spotted a large, towering headland.  It was March 7, 1778, and he named this landmark Cape Perpetua, in honor of St. Perptua’s Day.  On that same date in 203, this Christian martyr was thrown into an arena in Carthage, North Africa; mauled by a mad cow; and beheaded.  Not a good day for her. Captain Cook didn’t fare much better. Not only did he fail to find the elusive water route across North America, but later in the voyage he was stabbed to death by angry Hawaiian natives, abruptly ending his exploration career.
Today’s visitor, on the other hand, will have great success exploring Cape Perpetua. Begin at the Visitor Center, two miles south of Yachats on Highway 101, where movies and exhibits interpret the natural and cultural history of the area. From here, 26 miles of hiking trails fan out in all directions and offer an excellent cross-section of coastal scenery and flora. 
Rocky beach and tidepools on Capt. Cook Trail
  The Captain Cook Trail to the tide pools is certainly a must. Shortly beyond the Visitor Center, the trail passes by the foundations of the Cape Creek Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp. One of many such camps established during the Depression, Cape Creek offered unemployed young men job opportunities and $30 a month. At one point, there were 4 bunkhouses, mess hall, rec room, infirmary, and 200 men. These camp residents constructed many of the local trails, bridges, campgrounds and roads, including the one to the summit of Cape Perpetua. The trail continues through a tunnel under the highway to the tide pools and Spouting Horn. In addition to searching for sea stars, purple sea urchins, hermit crabs, and green anemones in this rocky tidal zone, look for Indian shell middens. Middens are ancient landfills and garbage heaps; a place where mussel-gathering natives threw their empty shells as long as 6000 years ago. North of here is the Devil’s Churn offering a close-up view of the power of the ocean. During storms and rough seas, waves smash through a narrow chasm in the volcanic rock creating huge plumes of sea water and foam.
Devil"s Churn
    The Giant Spruce Trail is an easy, one mile walk paralleling Cape Creek to a 500 year-old Sitka spruce. The nearly fifteen foot thick tree began life as a sprout on a fallen log. Over time, this nurse log rotted away leaving a large gaping hole at the tree’s base.
West Shelter
Cape Perpetua is the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast and offers a stunning view on clear days. The St. Perpetua Trail to the overlook climbs 700 feet uphill from the Visitor Center by way of eleven switchbacks. The easier option is to drive to the summit on Forest Service Roads 55 and 5553, on the east side of Highway 101. From the overlook parking lot, the Whispering Spruce Trail makes an easy quarter mile loop around the top and includes the West Shelter. Built by the CCC in the summer of 1933, this historic stone lookout provides views of 150 miles of coastland from Cape Foulweather to Cape Blanco and 20 miles out to sea on a clear day. It was used by the Army during World War II to search for unfriendly ships and planes. Today, it is better used as a lookout for migrating whales.
For the more adventuresome, the Cook’s Ridge and Gwynn Creek Trails make a 6.5-mile loop from the Visitor Center through old-growth forests of Douglas fir and Sitka Spruce.
The Cape Perpetua Visitor Center is open seven days a week from10:00 am to 5:30 pm. Ranger guided walks (Eco Treks) are offered on Tuesdays at 1:00pm in the month of August.

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