Nehalem Bay State Park

an elk resting in a forest of giant Oregon trees

Photograph by Patti Abbott


The sand dunes lounging between the evergreens and neon yellow Scotch Broom lining the peninsula stretching south from Manzanita to hug Nehalem Bay like a raindrop desperate to cling to a leaf are ever still.

It’s serenity defined as the ocean barley rustles out its background tune to the seagulls occasional screams for attention. The park is nearly empty save for a pair of horses and riders hazy in the distance, barely trotting along the sands some several hundred yards down the coast. We fall asleep in the aspirations of a lazy day come true and trust the tide will freeze our feet awake before too long of an afternoon nap. The world goes on, I presume, as the sun does its daily route overhead and off toward the edge of the earth. I dream of Indians long gone pitching fire tent teepees where I sleep.

Eyes are slow to adjust to the fiery amber the sky has become as I slow to wake and look at the still sleeping lady beside me. Looking to see if the beach is still our own, tracing horseshoe prints being muddied or washed almost completely away by the incoming tide, suddenly they catch my eye. Giant bulls, antlers sprawling from their bearded brown heads like 1980s’ satellite dishes, begin multiplying as my contact lenses readjust to the open air, five, fifteen, thirty by the time I’ve fully scanned the dunes. Elk, some laying down, others grazing, two looking straight at us, are everywhere. We both look at one another in some cartoon fashion that leads me to believe we both want to spin our legs into whirlwinds before running as fast as we can. Vegetarian or not, they’re massive creatures. Majestic, yes, but utterly massive, larger than the horses what scattered these prints all around the sand, and unlike man’s former primary means of transportation, elk come equipped with both the more raw inclinations of preservation that wild animals tend toward, and of course, those two weapons of mass destruction bolted to their heads.

We slow our way around them, more and more choosing to turn their evening grazing into deadpan states in our specific direction, and duck off into the dunes. For anyone who’s never climbed a sand dune, it’s like walking on a sheet of duct tape with a fly’s legs. With every step you sink in and slide back just a little. A trail winds through and over and between them at times, occasionally giving us another view of our only other companions in Nehalem Bay State Park’s oceanside beach. The elk seem to have dismissed us, and are now making their way north and back into the forest.

We accomplish the dune walk, past the small and private use only airport living in the center of the park, and back into the RV section. A single white Class C is silent, it’s owners apparently out on a bike ride along the park’s trail or perhaps into town for an evening at the pizza shop. We climb back into our Bus and let the evening fall down around us. The Sun has left the building, and more stars than a photograph could capture twinkle into their nightly existence. Tomorrow, as the weekend sets in, RVers and tent campers alike will begin pouring in from Portland, children playing in the sand or earning Junior Ranger badges, maybe a private jet will land and make use of one of the parks several “fly-in” yurts. For tonight though, it’s just us, our RV neighbor and the elk.