The Oregon Coast Beaches often go on for miles. Remember a 45 minute hike to The Bella? And the beach stretched well beyond those 45 minutes. They are vast, seemingly endless and belong to the people of Oregon.
Everyone wants to live on water wherever that water happens to be. And on the North Coast of Oregon there are a lot of houses, hotels and rentals. But there is always a big stretch of sand between any buildings and the ocean and that kind of development mostly doesn’t exist on the Central and Southern Coastlines of Oregon. Wonder why?
“The shore of the Pacific Ocean, between ordinary high tied and extreme low tide, and from the Columbia River on the north to the Oregon and California State line on the south, is hereby declared a public highway and shall forever remain open as such to the public.”
Highway? This is wording from the bill signed into law by Gov. Oswald West in February of 1913. It was a remarkable achievement and attained by the persuasion that there was no cost to create or maintain this highway. The Oregon Legislature went for it. This noteworthy legislation preserved the Oregon Coast forever.
At this time and for some time past the Oregon Coast Beaches were utilized as a highway by autos, horses, buggies, buckboards and stagecoaches.
There were long stretches of hard, smooth sand originally utilized by Native Americans for generations before white settlers came to also traverse them between coast villages and communities and lighthouses.
Late in the 19th Century freight and passenger stage lines both traveled the sand highway. Stagecoaches were crude and were actually wagons with wider wheels that better negotiated over sand. They had roll-down curtains that helped protect passengers from rain, ocean spray and blowing sand.
The stagecoach year around operations were totally dependent on the timing of the tide. Getting caught in high tide could be tragic. The journey was a pleasant one depending on the weather. Plus there could be hidden dangers in the way of sneaker waves, quicksand, driftwood, buried logs and roots. Even being familiar with the sand route did not guarantee a hazard-free trip.
As autos entered the picture, their trips could be even more precarious because they were heavy and prone to sinking into the sand. They could move passengers and freight more quickly but often had to be aided out of their sand-stuck circumstances by teams of horses. They were, and still are, subject to the salt air effects on metal which could be devastating.
Several rivers and streams empty into the ocean and created yet another obstacle for the beach highway traveler. There were many styles of ferries to assist in crossing rivers and streams, the sternwheeler among them.
The Oregon Coast is quite rugged in places and the Northwest Pacific Ocean is cold and treacherous. There have been many shipwrecks and they were often a sight-seeing destination as was the Mimi Disaster in 1913. An adventure on the sand highway!
The Oregon Coast isn’t all smooth sailing sand and there are many places along the coast that are just steep, sheer rock drops into the water or at least very rocky outcroppings between sandy beaches.
How, then, did the beach highway travelers overcome these impediments? The most famous of these obstacles was Hug Point Road from Cannon Beach south to Arch Cape. Nothing but sheer rock was available to travel along the highway and travel they did over this blasted and chipped out route.
Waves would pour over the road especially at high tide and this road was best traveled at low tide. Today Hug Point Road is a tourist attraction destination showing signs of 100 years of ocean wave erosion. But, again, be careful to know the tide times as you can become stuck for hours during high tide waiting for the low tide.
Gov. West’s accomplished preservation of the Oregon Coast Beaches stands the Oregon people in good stead today. Access for the public to the entire coast is mandatory and has been created in built up areas along the north coast. The Central Coast near us at Umpqua River Haven and the Southern Coastal areas are more easily accessible and still well traveled. Traveled by hikers, swimmers, surfers, families, horseback riders, and, remember the Dunes? In the good weather you will find plenty of ATVs out for a run along the shore in designated areas.
I’ve even seen jeeps driving the Oregon Coast Beach Highway and vehicles that shouldn’t have been there. I went hiking on a mostly deserted stretch of beach one afternoon and came across a small station wagon that had attempted to drive to the beach from the parking lot. Unfortunately for him the sand was soft and deep and he was stuck waiting for assistance. I offered him a ride but he declined. He never made it to the beach.
I did have one brief driving-on-the-beach adventure one day when a friend decided to take his pickup out onto the sand nearly to the water, around in a circle and back to more solid ground. Kind of a swing out onto and around the beach.