Story by Betty Bezzerides
There's a "Wow!" moment as the beach comes into view at Pistol River.
Whether you approach from the north or south, the sea stacks next to Highway 101 are a commanding presence. They almost dare beachcombers to come closer. But except for a quick look as windsurfers dragonfly across the waves, my husband Ted and I never stop. It's too windy. It's raining. The tide's too high. We have to be somewhere.
Until this summer, when we stopped making excuses and found what we'd been missing.
I'd been checking the calendar for minus tides and discovered some in August. Prior planning the night before namely a loud alarm clock, jackets and binoculars piled by the front door and a picnic breakfast in the fridge gets us moving well before sunrise. We're out the door by 7 a.m. and on the beach 20 minutes later.
The famous Pistol River breezes are still asleep and in the early light enigmatic monoliths emerge from shadow. The tide is low enough to walk behind many of the rocks and, with a sea cave in our sights, we realize there's more here than meets the eye.
It's quiet inside the cave except for a bed of shiny black mussels dripping onto the sand below. We pause to consider the dark walls surrounding us.
Ted, a geologist, explains the rocks are marine sediments like sea stacks in the Brookings area.
"They're typical Jurassic graywackes (a fine-grained sedimentary rock) about 150 million years old," he says.
Later we'll admire sculpture as well as science and laugh at a giant rock lizard that rises from the sea.
Anemones decorate the many tidepools. Giant greens wave their tentacles in still water and smaller, aggregating anemones blanket rocks. Later I learn the word "anemone" comes from "anemos," the Greek word for wind. Sea anemones do resemble some anemone wildflowers, whose seeds are dispersed by wind. It's an appropriate connection for this often blustery beach.
Nearby, fat orange and purple seastars pig out in the mussel beds, a reminder it's well past breakfast time.
A drift log in the dunes provides a convenient picnic table where we nibble hard-boiled eggs and peaches and watch the birds through binoculars. Half a dozen whimbrels, large gray-brown shorebirds with downturned bills, forage in the wet sand while baby Western Gulls rest atop an offshore rock. Several Pigeon Guillemots, black seabirds with white wing patches and bright red legs, dart in and out of burrows on the lee side of another rock.
By mid-morning the tide is well on its way in and we turn our attention from rocks to sand. Ted reminds me the beach is a good place to watch geology in action. On its way to the ocean a rivulet deposits sand, building a miniature, fan-shaped delta.
"It's no different than the Mississippi River," he says.
I spy a sand dollar no bigger than a dime and a whelk that's practicing calligraphy. We pass an army of tiny turban snails marching in their own drama. Is there time to get back to the rocks now that the ocean is creeping up the beach? How do such little snails, barely an eighth-inch long, manage to hold on when the waves wash over them?
Back at the car we absorb the morning, remarking on the difference between observing from a distance versus close at hand.
I recall, too, how the area came to be named. It's a simple explanation.
Local historian Walt Schroeder recounts in "They Found Gold on the Beach," his history of central Curry County, that pioneer James Mace lost a pistol in the river.
I wonder if James knew about the secret garden behind the rocks.
For low tide exploring, take Highway 101 to the large sea stacks in the central and north Pistol River areas 20 minutes north of Brookings. Pull-off parking is available on the ocean side of the highway.