August 10, 2015
Our final day on this year’s trip to Oregon, and the sky is very cloudy; not the “it’ll blow over” kind of cloudy, but the very obviously “this is a massive frontal cloud cover that will be here for several days” kind of cloudy. Here in the Pacific Northwest’s dry season, rain pelts the windshield as we drive south on Hwy 101 in our rented Toyota Corolla. We stop at Carl Washburne’s State Park and initially pull to the west of the highway, park, and walk a short distance through thick pines to the beach. It is cold, very windy, and uninteresting. I’ve never found pure sand beaches very interesting, and especially so when it is cold, cloudy and windy. We drive the short distance to the east side of Hwy 101, and chat up the ranger, who gives us the lowdown on the trails, the distances, and the damaged bridge near the southern terminus of the China Creek Trail. All well and fine, we say, we can cross the creek without a bridge, if need be. We have to drive back across the highway to park, then walk back again to the east side of the Hwy to pick up the China Creek Trail. This wastes a lot of time.
We head south on a wide path, paralleling the Highway, through a thick and pungent grove of rhododendrons. The route is wide enough to walk side by side, and is apparently very-well traveled. We catch glimpses of the campground through the trees to the left. Seems like a nice place to camp. The trail enters second-growth conifer forest, with some maples along the route for flavor. The trail splits, and we head left, as the trail map had indicated. Almost immediately, the trail splits again. Confused, but ready for adventure, we head left again. The trail is well-trod for a bit, but gradually it becomes more and more wild until it is almost invisible. Andra believes we are on the wrong trail. I am forced to agree when we reach a branch of China Creek with no easy crossing, and a sign that reads, Oregon Game and Fish Salmon Sampling Site. So this is a research trail. This is no big deal, as the trail has been quite scenic, but we are inclined to head back and take the established route to complete the loop.
Back on the main trail, we continue south through gorgeous Douglas fir, towering hundreds of feet and draped in moss. Andra is nervous about the time the hike is taking. We do have a plane to catch in Portland this afternoon, and Portland is many hours away. We walk quickly, taking in scenery on the fly. We cross China Creek over a wooden bridge, and I see crayfish scuttling away on the creek bottom. We eventually reach another trail split. Given the time, we agree to forego hiking further down to Heceta Head, and return north towards the trailhead. We take a slight detour by returning to the highway via the access road that branches off the main trail near the campground. This seemed destined to take us straight back to our car parked on the west side of the highway, but instead it simply dumped us out on Hwy 101 several hundred meters south of the parking area. Nothing like finishing up a nice hike by walking the shoulder of a US Highway. Back at the parking area, we used the shower house to change out of our sweaty hiking duds and into our plane-travel duds. Just as we got back in the car, rain swept in from the ocean, sweeping through the dense pines and onto the car. Time to head home.
China Creek Trail
The grassy section of the trail