Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Under Neahkahnie Castle

Oregon Coast
May 15, 2004
We launch at Arch Cape and paddle a couple miles of open coast, past houses nestled in cliff-edge coastal forest. To the west, a flat, wide horizon is curtained here and there with clouds. Birds everywhere--flying in flocks so big they look like weather patterns, floating, frosting the distant rocks. Murres, guillemots, pelicans, cormorants, gulls.

Onward to the cape of complex geology we paddle. Below the spruces are tan stripes of sandstone, or what passes for it from down here. The sandstone rests on a hundred feet or so of black basalt in complicated geometric patterns. At water level in the basalt are caves, pocketing swells and jingling them around like money.

Under Neahkahnie Castle lies a maze of a dungeon, only its underworldly beauty is too great to be called such. Enter the main opening and meet a vertical wall that catches the evening sun reflecting off the water. Along the wall in both directions run tunnels with light at the ends and black floors that undulate with the swells.

One’s first impression upon entering a sea cave is darkness, sound, and constant motion. Sea caves challenge all the senses, although one could argue that anyone paddling into a sea cave has lost all sense. After a few moments, eyes adjust. You adjust and realize that, yes, you are still an air-breathing mammal bobbing on the water. Under a mountain.

Sandy and Tobin exit a nearby opening, and I go through the shorter tunnel to meet them at the mouth of another vaulted room. Looking back through the tunnel, we can see the incoming surge glow emerald, infused by the sun. The next rock-walled enclosure opens to the sky through several portals, and rays of light angle through mist above the churning water.

Back through to the first room we file, then onward through the long tunnel, which is just a few feet higher than an upraised paddle when the swell lifts us. It’s a couple hundred yards long, long enough for several phases of thought to process.

Tobin thinks it feels like a Disney ride, through the tunnel on an undulating track. He starts singing in a small voice, “It’s a Small World After All.” I imagine the native people taking their canoes through here as a feat, having read that they did such things, and, being a water people, I can’t imagine them not. Just then, I think I hear voices in the mountain singing. Very eerie. Silhouettes of two kayaks glide leisurely along in front of me, rising and falling, through the timeless belly of the mountain.

For photos, see http://www.cse.ogi.edu/~walpole/Falcon3.html