Exploring Nature’s Bounty on the Oregon Coast

Haley Harguth is an intern at the NWF Pacific Regional Center in Seattle. She joined the team in 2010 and assists our regional environmental policy projects. A native of the Pacific Northwest, she tries to get her regular fix of outdoor adventures in, while pursuing her MPA at the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.

The beautiful Trask River Photo by: Haley Harguth
It is not often these days that I get to take the trip down I-5, cross the Oregon border, and head due west until I meet the ocean. For Thanksgiving weekend, I got just such an opportunity when I went down to my family’s place on the Oregon Coast. They live on Tillamook Bay, home of the creamery where your favorite cheese originates (get your hands on some of their 3-year aged cheddar!). Nearby are areas like Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge Five and Cape Lookout State Park.

Five rivers generate high in the coast mountain range; spurred on by the rains, they pass through the steep valleys and drop down to the basin floor, flow past some cows, and finally find the bay, where they feed the wetland habitat that sustains the fresh, saltwater, and anadromous fish, Dungeness crab, and countless shellfish, birds and mammals that call this beautiful place home.

It is a precious place, generally passed by as tourists head north or south on the 101 to the better known destinations. We like it that way. Though no longer pristine, the bay still sustains an active fishing community; where life-long fishermen launch their boats, and test their lucky bate on the finicky salmon stopping over in the calm waters before navigating their natal streams, or head out past the jetty to seek the tuna schools just off the shelf. It is a place where neighbors share their fishing tips and send over a bit of the day’s catch.

Emerging from the forest with mushrooms in hand. Photo by Haley Harguth
The morning after thanksgiving I headed out the door with my dogs for a walk in the neighboring empty property. Following behind, I glanced over into the stand of trees where a bright orange flash of color caught my eye. I rushed over, pushed through the brush, and found a bounty of chanterelles within arm’s reach. I tromped around and saw an odd looking object sticking up out of the thick moss. It was a small deer skull, antlers still attached.

We quickly filled two bucketfuls of mushrooms and called it a day (or, morning). Stopping by to see our neighbor Jack, who was hanging the elk his grandson had shot that morning, we walked up and help up the bounty in our arms. He exclaimed “Oh, I recognize that guy!” He meant the deer, who had frequented the meadow last spring. We spread the mushrooms out to dry, and climbed into the new member of the family (a 1976 VW bus, mustard yellow) for some adventuring.

Mushrooms found on my walk do you know what the name is?
The Trask River is one of those quintessential rivers, allowing you to imagine what this place may have looked like hundreds of years ago and to feel a connection with the native Tillamooks, who flourished here and gave it its name, for “the land of many waters”. We bumbled along the road until those old VW tires could go no further, slid open the door and the dogs burst out into the open, headed straight for the river. When I reached them they were nose deep into one of the tributary streams, a few feet from a handful of salmon struggling to pass the rapids in just a couple inches of water. Confused and curious, they lunged at them a few times and then stared with the rest of us, taking in the magical scene.

We climbed around by the river for a bit, before I notice those dogs getting into something again. They were excitedly circling a small group of trees and ferns. Knowing what this meant, I ran over and caught a glimpse of the porcupine, quills puffed up in a threatening ball of spikes, as it retreated slowly into the ferns, appearing unperturbed. I grabbed the dogs just in time to avoid calamity, many miles up a dirt road from any vet.

We bumbled back down the valley, took the long way home around Netarts Bay, and stopped at the local seafood dealer to pick up some oysters and crab. My day on the Oregon Coast ended in a feast, and reminded me of the importance of getting out, exploring, and enjoying this beautiful place where we are lucky to call home.

How have you explored your outdoors this season? Check out our Be Out There campaign and find out how you can get out in your own community! You can also go on your own Mushroom Safari!