An August 2005 trip
to Ocean Shores by btwood2
Quote: Ocean Shores is the tourist hotspot, attracting over 3 million carloads a year. But there are plenty of other interesting communities around Grays Harbor. Dichotomies abound on the misty beaches and in bayside lumber towns.
Yet, for me, Ocean Shores has an entirely different feel. Maybe it has something to do with its history as an early Hollywood-backed planned community, with Pat Boone as its most famous investor. "Oldest" buildings date from the 1960s and '70s. Maybe it was that at least half of our time in Ocean Shores was cloudy or foggy, whereas we enjoyed almost all sunny days in Long Beach. Maybe it was more subjective; our satellite failed on our third day here, requiring us to extend our time here and postpone moving up the Olympic Peninsula.
The West Coast Chainsaw Carving Competition in Westport was one highlight. A few nights before attending this event, Texas Chainsaw Massacre showed on TV; I had to retire to the bedroom when the gory parts began. The guys and chainsaw chicks wielding power tools at the competition were much friendlier and creative to boot.
Birth of grunge rock: Aberdeen, on Grays Harbor inland, is Kurt Cobain country. Not the tortured heroin-addicted adult he’s remembered as, but the free-spirited, daring, creative yet angst-ridden and rebellious youngster who wandered its streets in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s also Weyerhaeuser-land, as are neighboring towns of Hoquiam and Cosmopolis. In spite of the much-maligned spotted owl, lumbering and timber industries are on the rise here once again.
Walkable beaches, joggable, runnable, and rideable, too, are the biggest highlight of Ocean Shores for me. Our campground was oceanside, and something new could always be discovered on the wide expanses of sand, where the most difficult decision is, “Do I go north or south today?” As with all of coastal Washington, beaches are considered state highways, so watch out for cars, trucks, or other wheeled and motorized vehicles. Not all follow the 25mph speed limit.
Finding your way back: When you’re going for a beach walk or jog, look for some landmark at your access point so you’ll recognize it when you return. Especially when it’s foggy, it’s really challenging to determine where you “got on” the beach. People have thrown together structures of various sizes and shapes, mostly resembling piles of junk, as landmarks to assist recognition. I think this takes the fun out of it, besides being eyesores.
Be prepared. The low-lying peninsula and beaches are in tsunami zone. Familiarize yourself with tsunami escape routes and nearby high ground.
Getting there: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is 123 miles, or about a 2.5-hour drive, away. Smaller regional airports for corporate or private planes are at Astoria, Oregon (60 miles), and Olympia, Washington (87 miles). Very small airfields exist in Ocean Shores, Westport, and, believe it or not, on the beach at Copalis, 11 miles north. The beach “landing strip” is only open for landing at low tide. Planes actually land on the hard sand.
Coming by highway, the quickest way is to take Highway 12 from the I-5 to Aberdeen, then SR109 to the coast. At Hogan’s Corner, take SR115 south to Ocean Shores.
Getting around while there: Your own car or a rental car is the easiest. Grays Harbor Transit busses service all large and small towns in the Grays Harbor County 7 days a week.
A particularly enjoyable way to get from Ocean Shores to Westport and back is on the Matador passenger ferry. The ferry makes six trips per day between June and September for one-way and round-trip.
When we registered at Ocean Mist, we were told there would be a $1 per night additional charge for electricity. Although we paid this $11 fee, we’d understood that the nightly Coast to Coast rate increase from $6 to $8 a few years back was partly to eliminate extra tacked on charges. When we mentioned this, we were told that this area of Washington’s electric rates are sky-high. RVers either require 30 amp or 50 amp connections; many campgrounds do charge extra for 50 amps, but this was the first time since the rate increase that we’d been charged for our 30 amps. Bob’s still working on settling this matter with Coast to Coast. The language in the C2C catalog is a bit murky, but the consensus seems to be that basic (30 amp) electric shouldn’t have extra charges.
Beyond that minor irritation, we were satisfied enough with our campsite and everything else at Ocean Mist. The campground is divided into two parts. The front, containing 80 sites, lies between SR109 and Conner Creek. Road noise was light and virtually non-existent after dark. This section also contains clubhouse, clam cleaning sink, group firepit, ball court, and children’s playground.
The really desirable part of the campground, though, is the section between Conner Creek and the ocean, with 40 sites. Only K/M members are allowed to use these sites during peak season. Both sections have restrooms/showers, garbage dumpsters, and dump stations.
The beach stretches out for many miles down to Ocean Shores and up to Copalis, a small town to the north. It’s great for kite-flying due to hefty breezes. In fact, some of the RVs in the beachfront section had kites/windsocks attached to their sites that just remained flying high in the air without any attention. Contrary to the shell-battering surf at Long Beach to the south, which leaves only bits and pieces, some whole shells, many belonging to razor clams, can actually be found on Ocean City beaches. Just as all Washington state beaches, this beach is a state highway, so cars, trucks, and motorized vehicles of all types can be found along with horses and those of us on two feet. Thankfully, weekdays the beach remained pretty secluded.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 25, 2005
Ocean Mist Resort
2781 State Route 109.
Ocean Shores, Washington 98569
Logging history and the locally famous Chow Chow Bridge are featured in the foyer. Newspaper articles, photos, and a scale model of this unique suspension bridge, which used to span the Quinault River near Tahola, can be viewed. Nature and history books are also available for purchase.
In the Children’s Room, shiny sea turtle shells and pelts from different animals can be felt. Many animal skulls are on display, as is the wide gaping toothy jaw of a Great White shark, caught off North Jetty. Throughout the center, and especially in the Mammal Room, you’ll find lifelike animals and birds, frozen in time by skilled taxidermy.
One of my favorite displays was in the Geology Room: cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals. Sasquatch theory is supported by a giant footprint casting taken in local forest in 1982, the late Dr. Grover Krantz, a Washington State University anthropologist, and oral Indian history. Northwestern tribes called the big hairy creatures Tsiako, and believed them to be intelligent, kind, and strong half-human/half animals. Cadborosaurus, an enormous humped sea serpent, is also featured.
A tsunami display in the hallway includes a bottle of Hawaiian tsunami lager and fascinating written accounts of oral Indian histories recounting a great earthquake, followed by massive flooding that destroyed villages. A composite legend of Thunderbird and Whale explains the event as a terrible and lengthy fight between these two.
The Seashell Room was another favorite. No do not touch signs at the center. Everything out in the open is intended for handling and studying closely; more delicate objects are safely stored for viewing only behind glass. Another great thing here is the profusion of educational brochures in the hallways and every room pertaining to the subjects displayed.
The large new addition to the center consists of Indian Room, dominated by a modern Salish totem pole from Ocean Shores Inn, Seafaring Area, and video corner where you can view a variety of films about the ocean and natural history.
The dedicated volunteer staff is very helpful and knowledgeable. The center has been through many changes since it began in the early 1970s as part of the Ocean Shores Library. In 1977, they moved into this building, which is owned by the city of Ocean Shores. Funding came and went, nonprofit status was attained, and it’s now again as it began, largely manned by unpaid staff with city support.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 25, 2005
Ocean Shores Interpretive Center
1033 Catala Ave. SE
Ocean Shores, Washington 98569
Necessity is… More interesting, though, is the less-told story of Oregonian Joseph Buford Cox. Logger Cox, with only a third grade education, was watching a timber beetle larva chew its way through a tree stump one day in 1946 when he got the idea that if he could replicate the larva’s jaws in steel, it would work better than the high-maintenance chain in his gas-powered chainsaw. He built the first Cox Chipper Chain in his basement and went on to start the Oregon Chainsaw Company. Though Stihl® remains a highly successful international corporation, most other chain-saw manufacturers use the chipper chain invented by Cox.
The Big One was the first chain carving competition we attended. I was amazed to learn what a big deal these are! Though from what I was able to find out, chain-saw carving originating in Oregon in the 1970s, has caught on big time. At the event information table, I picked up a brochure of the United Chainsaw Carvers Guild. Competitions on the West Coast, East, Great Lakes, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and Japan feature local and international carvers. Participants at Westport included carvers from the States, as well as Australia, Germany, and Japanese teams.
Quick carves and masterpieces: We’d been told at the visitor center in Aberdeen that it would be best to attend on the weekend, towards the tail end of the 5-day event. Though judging and auction took place on Sunday, the day we were there, we were sorry we hadn’t come on an earlier day, particularly Friday or Saturday. By Sunday morning, very few carvers were still working. And there were no Quick-carve contests. These give the carvers 1 hour to create fast sculptures, which are awarded and auctioned off each afternoon. Apparently this is quite a spectacle, with chain saws whining and sawdust flying. For the 4-day bigger pieces, creations with nautical and/or Hawaiian theme was required.
Art of chain saw: Though many of the big, rough finished products produced by chain saw are not my style, I found some very whimsical, hilariously funny, and truly beautiful pieces. No chain-saw chicks, as they call themselves, were working on Sunday, but their sculptures reveal more of a feminine touch and sensibility. The winner of this competition was Mark Colp, the son of recognized chain-saw art pioneer Don Colp. Chain-saw carving seems to run in families.
If only… the logging industry of the 20th Century had realized what a devastatingly powerful and efficient tool they’d been gifted before cutting down most old-growth forests.
West Coast Chainsaw Carving Competition
Between Cove and Coast Streets, Marina District
Ocean Shores, Washington
Attraction | "Westport Marina – Esplanade and Boardwalk"
The entrance to Float 20 is next to inviting Harbor Resort. On this waning Sunday afternoon, with sun increasingly peeking through, many had come out to sink crab rings off the float; others were fishing off the boardwalk. Judging from activity level and peeks into buckets, people were hauling in denizens of the sea pretty well. Maybe too well. Some kids took possession of a purplish five-armed starfish, and way at the end of the boardwalk, I viewed an orange blob, no people around.
Saving a sea star: A sunflower sea star had been unceremoniously plopped onto the middle of the wooden planks, upside-down, its multiple suction-cup feelers helplessly exposed to the air. Though at that time I didn’t know what kind of sea star it was, I was impressed by its large size, orange color, and 20 arms. After taking a few pictures of it, I gently nudged it off the side into the water below, watching as it turned itself over and seemed to attach to the rocks underwater.
Point Chehalis Groins and Rock Revetment: Across the parking lot behind Float 20, there’s an observation deck and several informative signs put up by the Army Corps of Engineers. A 1,900-foot long-buried rock revetment was placed by the Corp in 1999 after a jetty breach in ‘93-94. Additional sand was added and dune grass planted in attempts to stabilize the area, which is subject to erosion. Supporting structures (revetments) and small, perpendicular jetties (groins) provide additional spots from which to fish, being utilized today. Controversy remains on how best to deal with shore erosion, most “solutions” resulting in unforeseen additional problems.
Westport Marina Esplanade and Boardwalk
Ocean Shores, Washington
Beach and North Jetty: On the ocean side of the 6-mile-long peninsula, you’ll find the big resorts in addition to beach homes and cottages, with lots of new construction taking place. The stretch of sandy beach is public, with five vehicle accesses. When you get to the end of the beach at the tip of the peninsula, it starts to get interesting. Point Brown, at the southwest tip, is site of the outer portion of Grays Harbor’s North Jetty. This is a favorite gathering place for birds, and seabirds were thick along the jetty, in flight over it and on the rocks.
Ocean Shores Boulevard follows the jetty, but then curves around to skirt Oyhut Wildlife Recreation Area, roadless, but with trails winding through sand dunes and saltwater marshes. On the development side of the road, you’ll notice that the streets have been fully plotted and paved, and homes are some distance apart, but new building is definitely happening. During the 1990s, Ocean Shores grew by 66%.
Damon Point State Park: While driving, keep hanging right and you’ll eventually get to Marine View Drive. This will take you to Damon Point State Park, which used to be known as Protection Island, because before massive accretion, it actually was an island. The 1-mile road to Damon Point is currently closed to vehicles due to erosion, but it can be walked. This same erosion has uncovered what’s left of the shipwreck Catala. Stay off the main dune between March and September; it’s a nesting area for the snowy plover. Shoreline remains open for humans all year long, and sometimes whales and seals can be seen, not to mention a great variety of birds at all times. Views are of Grays Harbor bar and estuary. There is a $5 fee for parking in the state park lot.
Marina: A hop, skip, and a jump up from the state parking lot, take Discovery Avenue to the Marina. Here you’ll find campground, Silver King Condominium Motel, and a dilapidated but still functioning marina. This is where you can catch the ferry to Westport, with five runs a day all summer long. North of the marina, Ocean Shores Interpretive Center is worth at least a couple of hours for an educational and enjoyable visit. Hug the bayside coast north and you’ll end up at Bill’s Spit, off the Peninsula Court cul-de-sac. The short trail leads to a great area for birding and harbor seals.
Inner Ocean Shores contains 23 miles of freshwater waterways. Another afternoon, we took a walk on the Weatherwax Nature Trail along Duck Lake. Well, Duck Lake wasn’t all that visible most of the time due to the thick stands of old growth hemlock, spruce, and cedar, overgrown at lower levels with mosses and ferns. The trail can be accessed just east of the Elks Club parking lot. Deer, raccoon, and birds hangout here. Grand Canal and Lake Minard are the two other larger freshwater waterways in this very watery peninsula. Many homes’ backyards are on the edge of lake or canal. Walkable Ocean Shores Golf Course ($30 a round) is located at the north end of the peninsula, inland.
Speaking of which, famous crooner and golfer Pat Boone is apparently one of Ocean Shores’ founding fathers. Before jetties, accretion, and Pat, though, Chehalis, Chinook, Quinault, and other Indian peoples made good use of this peninsula, with permanent and temporary camps for food gathering, meeting, and enjoyment. But then, in the 1860s, Matthew McGee settled on the Point, having some misadventures and getting shot. Beginning in 1878, the entire peninsula was sold to A. O. Damon. The peninsula became a family-owned (Damon-Minard) cattle ranch through several generations.
Enter Ocean Shores Development Corporation. The year: 1960. The players: Hollywood, California. The cost: $1,000,000 (paid to Ralph Minard). The concept: planned unit development, mostly for retirees and resorts. Price of lots: $595. By 1967, Pat Boone was one of the investors, instigating celebrity golf tournaments to promote development. Airstrip, marina, malls, and motels sprang up. And apparently continue to spring up, though not perhaps as rapidly as envisioned by Pat and Hollywood four decades past.
Expensive electricity; problems with water and sewage, resulting in the most sky-high-priced Laundromat we’ve encountered yet (washloads begin at $2.25); and that annoying erosion problem make Ocean Shores less than paradise, at least for long-term residents. If anywhere has me convinced that it’s probably best not to build a home near the beach, it’s here. That’s not because this is the only place with such a problem, but this is where my awareness of such problems got beyond the TV broadcast stage (homes falling into the ocean on dramatic newscasts).
As far as I can tell, it’s a problem of equilibrium. Sand, silt, and sediment that used to be deposited on the beaches in generous amounts is no longer being deposited as quickly, if at all. Erosion was already occurring on accreted lands in the mid-90s at a frightening pace, mostly because it was threatening newly built structures. The strong el Niño winter of ’97-98 saw some very scary events taking place, with receding beaches and structures being washed away into the ocean. All that damming upriver really puts a dent into sand supply; dredged out precious land is dumped elsewhere, upriver, more short-term cost-effective than returning it to where it might have naturally flowed. Ocean Shores responded quickly.
Seawalls and geotubes: In 1996, an emergency 800-foot-long seawall was erected near North Jetty. In 1999, with the state’s help, geotubes were embedded along the southwestern peninsula. Geotubes are massive fiber sausage-shaped bags filled with water to hold back the ocean. After all that work, subsequent winters were milder and accretion began again, covering the unsightly tubes. But there’s no telling when conditions will change and erosion will progress. So, duh. Unless you’re Dutch and have a full grasp of the principals, engineering, and technology of taking land from sea and holding on to it, it seems to me like it's wisest not to build on recently accreted lands, since what’s given can just as easily be taken back, right? Or be like us. Go there in your RV, car, and tent, or stay at a motel or resort to enjoy the sea, sand, birds, and dunes.
We’d stopped by to take a look at the casino earlier in the week on our way to Ocean Shores. We’d seen some RVs parked on the main lot, but had missed the designated RV section, tucked away around a bend on a large graveled parking area overlooking the ocean. Not too shabby, and the price can’t be beat. Like at many Indian casinos, overnighting is free. The assumption is that campers will either gamble, dine, or both, in the casino. In our case, we did both.
On this Thursday afternoon, the camping area wasn’t crowded, with only four or five other RVs. The park rules were clearly posted on a sign at the entrance, and the first one was to register at the front desk. We pulled into the front row with our big windows facing dunes and ocean, hopped out, and made our way to the resort lobby, where we quickly and easily registered, receiving a paper to post in our RV window. The décor indoors is warm and inviting, with a large stone fireplace and comfy couches and chairs just beyond the lobby.
Once we’d settled in, I went for a walk on the beach. A wooden boardwalk provides easy access from the resort, spanning the heavily grassed dunes. The long, wide beach expanse was full of seabirds this afternoon. In the distance, a large equestrian group appeared out of the mist. Taking pictures of them from afar, a drama unfolded; though the horses were walking at a leisurely pace, one of them suddenly spooked and reared slightly, throwing the young woman rider. Not hurt, she was encouraged to remount and let the horse know she wasn’t upset (though she might well have been embarrassed).
4-star resort: Quinault Beach Resort and Casino opened in 2000, built on Quinault Indian Nation trust land. The 16,000-square-foot Las Vegas-style casino is open 24/7, with slots, table games, keno, and poker rooms. There’s also a game arcade for the kiddies. Many of the 159 resort rooms offer sweeping ocean views, and most have fireplaces and 10-foot ceilings. Guests may use the indoor pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, and exercise room. A full-service spa offers massages, body wraps, and other treatments. Beyond that, there’s a gift shop, live entertainment, and conference and meeting facilities.
Good food: We ate at the Sidewalk Bistro twice and Ocean Lounge once. The sandwiches (ranging from $4 to $6) and soup ($3 for soup of the day) we enjoyed at the bistro were tasty and satisfying. The nachos deluxe platter at Ocean Lounge was huge, plenty for the two of us, and half-priced during happy hour, at only $4. Emily’s, a fine dining establishment with ocean views, seemed a bit too pricey for us glancing over the menu. But later we found out about their home-style lunch and dinner buffets on Wednesdays, both at $8 regular and $5 for over 50’s. Unfortunately, we were leaving Tuesday morning. Wasabi, a sushi bar, is a new and highly acclaimed fine dining restaurant at the resort.
QIN=Quinault Indian Nation: A four-page information sheet about QIN picked up at the casino relates the history of the Quinault and Queets people. Quinault Reservation boundaries were set by treaty in 1855 and expanded in 1873. Large-scale excessive logging devastated much of their land through clear-cutting beginning in 1922. Not until the 1970s and ‘80s did the Quinaults begin to regain control of their reservation timberlands. The reservation contains 208,150 acres on the southwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. Mostly forested and rainy, with rivers and lakes, 23 miles of the reservation border the Pacific Ocean. Unlike many other large Indian casino-resort complexes, Quinault Beach did not evolve from earlier, more modest casinos or bingo parlors. Instead, QIN financed it by issuing $30+ million in bonds. Address: 78 State Route 115, Ocean Shores Phone: 888/461-2214; 360/289-9466 Website: http://www.quinaultbeachresort.com
In fact, when we first drove into Aberdeen, I had no idea that Kurt was born just next door in lumber town Hoquiam and spent most of his childhood and teen years growing up in Aberdeen. Even the welcome sign as we entered town didn’t jar my memory. It read, Welcome to Aberdeen – Come As You Are. I later learned that it had been put up by the Kurt Cobain Memorial Committee just months before, early in 2005, the title of one of Nirvana’s most popular songs.
Logging town: As we crossed the Chehalis River into Aberdeen via Cosmopolis from the south, my thoughts were, Weyerhaeuser OWNS these towns. Steam was spewing from twin smokestacks as we drove past a logging mill. Trucks loaded with logs ply the streets. Evidence of the wood products industry is everywhere, most of it with the Weyerhaeuser label. Timber barons made their fortunes here at the turn of the century. Some of their old mansions still stand, most notably, Aberdeen Mansion, the Cooney mansion in Cosmopolis, and 20-room Hoquiam’s Castle, now all bed-and-breakfast establishments.
Booms and busts: In the 1920s, Aberdeen had one of the highest ratios of millionaires per capita in the U.S. Logging in Aberdeen had its ups and downs, with booms after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, during the 1920s, post World War II, and again in the 1960s. Restrictions on logging passed in the 1980s due to environmental concerns put the brakes on big time, stressing the local economy and offending and incensing the logging culture. New mills and expansion of existing mills and jobs began again in 2002, as privately farmed forest lands matured.
We stopped at the Aberdeen Visitor Center for some information and pamphlets. The Grays Harbor County Visitor’s Guide looks good on the surface but quickly revealed hopefully unintentional typos: Re: Kurt Cobain, Deat at 27: What a waste, (Kurt might’ve got a kick out of that one), and about William Boeing, …opened up a profitable lumbar business… in Hoquiam… I don’t think we’re talking chiropractic here.
Child of Aberdeen: It’s not hard to imagine Kurt growing up in grungy Aberdeen. One of our first stops was old man Clevenger’s junk store, taking up almost half a block, full of everything most people wouldn’t want, garage sale rejects. But he does make a tasty white chocolate pecan fudge. Around the corner is a seedy defunct theater. Though murals grace the walls of not a few buildings, many of them are sorely in need of re-painting. Downtown Aberdeen’s alleys are topped with a jumble of poles and wires, cars and trucks use them as shortcuts, and at one point, an angry man’s shouts coming out of an alleyside window reverberated down the length of one. Next to the Bank of America, where we stopped to get some cash, a smudged, peeling seascape mural hid the wall on which, in 1986, teenaged Kurt spray-painted Ain’t got no how whatchamacallit and was subsequently arrested by Aberdeen police.
Abundance of resources along the Chehalis River and in and around the bay into which it flowed provided plenty to support numerous Tsihalis (meaning “sand”) Indian villages for centuries before white men came. They lived in large cedar plankhouses, were expert canoeists and skilled basket weavers, and traded with other tribes. They and other Salishan tribes living in this region fished for salmon and sturgeon, gathered clams, oysters, crabs and mussels, hunted deer, elk, and birds, and picked roots, bulbs, and berries. The Boston Fur Company began trading furs with the tribes in 1788, but settlers were put off by the inaccessible, dense forests. In 1868, Irishman Samuel Benn settled at the confluence of the Chehalis and Wishkah Rivers and started a dairy farm. Soon, more came to start saw mills and a salmon cannery. By 1889, the town of Aberdeen, named after the city of the same name in Scotland, was incorporated. Productive lumber mills and the coming of the railroad made Aberdeen a busy port.
Where’s that Lady? Roadwork blocked off the access street to Aberdeen’s historic seaport, so we parked at the Wal-Mart nearby and wandered over to view the 40-foot-wide brick-inlaid Compass Rose. Nice enough, but somewhere I’d read that the replica of the Lady Washington was supposed to be docked here too. This famous tallship is a movie star among ships, most memorably playing a role in Pirates of the Caribbean. We weren’t the only ones looking for this venerable monarch of the seas. A couple of woman from Olympia had been told it docks here, but look as we might, the mouth of the Chehalis River only held small derelict vessels rotting near shore.
As we walked disappointedly back to the Wal-Mart parking lot, an employee told us, “Well, it was here not too long ago…” Later I learned that the Lady Washington has an extremely busy touring schedule and is rarely in Aberdeen.
Aberdeen, steeped in its logging past and present, is a quirky, unpretentious town with decidedly rough edges. Our Lady Washington non-experience was a fitting end to our day of exploration, after which we withdrew to Godfather’s Pizza to indulge in Bob’s fav. I’d been more impressed by a uniquely muraled Laundromat (I had to wonder, did Kurt ever do his laundry here?) than the Compass Rose and practically nonexistent historic seaport. Pulling out of Aberdeen in the dark, I found myself wishing we had a Nirvana tape…
Come… …as a friend……as a known memory…
Rodeo, New Mexico