Monday, October 31, 2011

Oceans Shores in Mid-October: A Photo Essay with Comments

Ocean Shores in Mid-October:
A Photo Essay with Comments

Wally Lee Parker

Signs of the Times.
             Reaching down from the north lip of the entrance to Grays Harbor on Washington’s Pacific Coast, the Point Brown peninsula on which the town of Ocean Shores sits is in large part new land.  Only a thin strip of the eastern side of the seven mile long, three mile wide peninsula existed prior to the very early 1900s.  At that point a navigation jetty was extended west from the tip of the existent barrier beach, and waterborne beach sands began to accumulate to the north of the jetty.  Because of this, at its highest point the small town of Ocean Shores sits only 14 feet above mean sea level.  And that, along with a statement on the Washington State Department of Natural Resources tsunami evacuation map indicating that “a wave as high as 20 feet” and moving between 10 and 15 miles an hour is possible, is what makes those blue and white “Tsunami Hazard Zone” signs scattered throughout the area so interesting — especially if that possible 20 foot surge were to ride in on top of an already high tide.
            But what are the chances?
            A major fault lies approximately ninety miles off Ocean Shores.  Called the Cascadia Subduction Zone, that’s the point at which the tectonic plate supporting North America collides with and overrides the plate forming the basin of the Pacific Ocean.  Slippage at these subduction zones generate the world’s most massive earthquakes — those in the 9.0 and up range.  Historically the zone off Washington’s coast creates one such massive earthquake every 400 to 600 years.  The last such super-quake is estimated to have occurred at about 9 PM on January 26, 1700.  Since the resultant tsunami waves likely occurred during periods of low tide, the damage should have been somewhat less.  But it all depends on the underwater topography just offshore of the onrushing surge.
            As for the above estimate’s precision, two things helped narrow down the time.  First, in some areas of the coast the overriding tsunami deposited thick layers of sediments.  Where those sediments buried the lower portions of trees, those trees died.  Using the scientifically valid method of tree ring dating on the remains of those trees has suggested they succumbed in the winter of 1699/1700.  The second mechanism used to time the event were the times indicated in historical Japanese records of tsunami related coastal damage.  Just as the surge from Japan’s 2011 tsunami eventually reached the western coast of the continental United States, the surge from the 1700 Pacific Northwest quake reached Japan.
            An inundation study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration models a tsunami generated by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake striking Ocean Shores.  The graphics suggest the majority of the peninsula would be covered by between 1½ to 6 feet of over-washing water if said tsunami occurred at high tide.  It also needs to be remembered that these events are actually a train of tsunamis, not one single event.  And that under certain circumstances the second surge, coming as much as 45 minutes after the first, can actually be stronger than the first.
            Find the NOAA report at ...
            As a person once caught wading through ankle deep water along a rock jetty near La Push with my then ten year old daughter sitting on my shoulders and 35mm single-lens reflex in my upraised hand when one of those random changes in ocean level occurred, I’m a great believer in not screwing with the ocean.  I timed my steps while bracing against the force of each incoming wave.  And with each wave the residual water rose higher until it was around my chest.  It was only 15 or 20 feet to the rocks, but it took me at least five minutes to make those few feet.  And by time I had, the water level had begun to drop appreciably.  Once on top of the jetty, I looked back down.  The water had returned to ankle deep.
            While I might make fun of Ocean Shore’s tsunami signs, if the ground rattles and the sirens sound I’m grabbing the camera, computer, and wife and it’s peddle to the metal inland.  Staying around to watch is not an option.  If the fault off Ocean Shores gave, we’d have less than fifteen minutes.  Even if the water only reaches 1½ feet, that water’s going to be carrying logs, walls, cars, dead surfer-dudes, and anything else it can float, push, or roll.  And then too, what if someone left a digit out of one of the lines of code in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s model?  What if they underestimated?
            The best technique for surviving a tsunami is just like my souvenir sign says.  Run like hell!
            We arrived at our Ocean Shores hotel Wednesday afternoon.  The next morning I sent an email to my kids.

            Dateline: Thursday, November 12, 2011, 06:10 AM.
            “We’re on the third floor of the Quality Inn.  We’re overlooking our car, overlooking probably just something over an eighth mile of grass and brush, overlooking what may or may not be a beach beyond that, and overlooking what are doubtless some major rollers frothing into serf along the horizon.  We got in last night about five-thirty, had moved all our stuff up to the room by six, and that was about it.  I didn't even consider running down to the water to see if it was still salty.  I did try to read, but after the drive in from Spokane I expect I was out by eight o’clock.

The Quality Inn at Ocean Shores, Washington.

Our Honda from the Balcony.

Pat on the Balcony.
            “This morning the moon is quite visible to the west through a break in the high, thin clouds blowing in from the Pacific.  There’s what I assume to be a planet, one of the gas giants Jupiter or Saturn positioned about two thumb widths (at arm’s length) south by southeast of the full moon.  Other than whatever light’s coming from those, it should still be fairly dark out.  Except … there’s a massive spear of light pouring out onto the beach from the beach access parking area just a hotel or two to the south. Maybe they’re floodlights.  Whatever, they’ve been on all night and most certainly spoil the dark-skies aspect of this beachfront.

Moon in the Morning.
            “There wasn’t much of a sunset last night.  It was just gray.  I didn’t notice any color at all, which I assume means just too much of a cloud cover.
            “We did run through a few rainstorms on this side of the mountains one of them while we were on the freeway trying to navigate an interchange.  Being nearly blind in a mass of trucks and crazy people was an exciting few minutes.  The worse was a guy in a van with his driver’s window down and a dog sitting in his lap the dog’s head hanging out the window.  We were coming off a tightly curving double-lane ramp and I signaled, intending to pull in behind the car on my left.  This van just kept coming.  I squeezed in just a few feet behind the guy to my left, and the clown in the van, now right on my bumper, swerved into the right lane and shot around both of us.  I don’t know if the dog was getting ready to up-chuck that last highball splashed in its doggy-dish, or if it was hanging out the window to get away from all the roach smoke regardless, it was apparent both me and the dog were wishing we were somewhere else.
            “Of course I guess it’s possible that the dog was just getting a drink lapping it out of the air on the fly.  That’s how hard it was raining.  But none of the showers we drove through lasted more than half a dozen miles.
            “So, we’re in the hotel room and I’m sitting in the bathroom with a book (as old people do) trying to figure out why my feet won’t reach the floor.  Then I recall that the lowest price room listing a frig, microwave, coffee pot, king size bed and “beach view” was also listed as “accessible” which meant it was set up for wheelchairs.  And one of those accessible “features” is likely a “high” toilet.  Someone once suggested that all the highway rest-stop toilets in Montana were that way extra high — to keep the rattlesnakes from drinking out of them.  That was in the early ‘70s, so maybe they’re not like that in Montana anymore.  Regardless, you don’t want to read too long or both legs will go numb.
            “Since I had no idea what the accommodations situation in the coastal resort communities would be like this time of year, I decided to make reservations online.  That went pretty good until the hotel chain’s website ate my data — took my credit card number and then didn’t send a receipt to my inbox.  Not knowing what had happened, I decided to call the Ocean Shores Quality Inn and find out if my reservation had gone through.  According to the hotel’s computer it hadn’t, so the girl reentered all the data from there.  The girl asked if we really needed the “accessible” room and I said no we just wanted to make sure our room had all that other stuff — fridge, microwave, a view of the ocean and such.  I think the online charge was supposed to be just under a hundred dollars.  When she saw us in person at the hotel, she knocked another ten dollars off — the old fogy rate I suspect.
            “We did end up with the handicap accessible room.  When I stuck my head out to get the morning newspaper, there were only two more rooms down the hall with papers on the floor.  We pretty well had the top floor rooms to ourselves.  In fact, only about five or six rooms in the whole place seemed occupied.  So, the middle of the week in the middle of October doesn’t appear to be the busy season.
            “That’s all the excitement up till now. I might take an early morning stroll along the beach here in a bit while Pat’s still sleeping. Hiking’s not her thing (and not much of mine anymore). We’ll see.  Will stay here again tonight, and drive up to Port Orchards on Friday.”

            The continental breakfast was enough to keep us going for a while.  Those make-your-own-waffle machines are one of the better things if you want something warm — that way the waffles haven’t been lying around sweating for the last several hours.

View from the Third Floor.

The Beach from the Balcony.
            The current population of Ocean Shores is between five and six thousand.  Spread out over about eight square miles, that leaves a lot of empty space for sand, grass, brush, and deer.  Usually the deer have nothing to fear from the humans, so tend to move slowly out of the way when approached.  That doesn’t mean they’re pets.  I know what happens to deer raised as pets once they mature.  They become very unpredictable and quite capable of defending themselves.  I suspect those raised in the wild would be even quicker on the trigger.

A Small Portion of Downtown Ocean Shores.
            The deer at Ocean Shores are cute for about the first four encounters.  After that they become about as endearing as a busload of summer tourist standing in the middle of the road.  Unlike summer tourist, they do appear remarkably healthy — which leads one to wonder about overpopulation.
            I did find a Seattle Times article from February, 2008, reporting that a group of poachers were caught knocking down deer with their cars, and once the animals were down, jumping out and slitting their throats.  Evidence was that this had been going on for about three months.  The culprits were from Bellingham.
            Ocean Shores has quite a list of stores catering to tourist.  Some are seasonal, but there’s still a fair number staying open year around.  So Thursday was spent prowling.
            One of the best things found was the Fusion Art Gallery.  A lot of the stuff here was made by local and regional artists.  Lots of limited edition prints and a few originals.  What particularly stuck me was a set of fired clay disk or shallow bowls averaging probably a foot and a half in diameter on which Ardith Forsgren had painted very primitive looking yet oddly attractive horses.  At first I thought she was rendering interpretations of Paleolithic style cave paintings such as those at Lascaux (lass-coo) in France.  Then it seemed something of a more surreal style.  And lastly I settled for a blending of influences.
            These renderings don’t appear glazed — don’t have that glassy surface.  Rather the surfaces are similar to what one would expect with unglazed native pottery.  It would be interesting to find out if Forsgren is following the traditions of Native American potters to achieve these effects.
            I was especially tempted by two of her artifacts, but I’ve a very limited budget for art and prefer to research my artists and their techniques a bit before dipping into those reserves.  If we find our way into this area again, I’ll likely take another look at her work and maybe even check out her Ocean Shores pottery.  If you’d like to see what I found so attractive, take a look at
            Just as the sun was (apparently) going down, I was out on the beach again.  There’s nothing much to do on the beach in October (at my age speedos and strutting are out even in warm weather).  The weather tends toward the damp and cold.  So walking around is about it.  There were well worn paths through the grass and brush covering the dunes.  And not much foot traffic.  As for Thursday night’s sunset, for two or three minutes there was just a trace of color in one small section of overcast, then that was gone.  But as the night wore on, patches of clear sky would on occasion slide across.

Hotel from Beach at Dusk.
            Then there was what I assumed to be a boat — or maybe ship.  At first I wasn’t sure since all I saw was either a point or tightly packed clump of intense lights about where the horizon should have been.  I’m not sure how many lights ships usually run with, but this one apparently carried a bank of large floods.  It made me wonder if it was a fishing boat, illuminating its lines or nets.  Or maybe it’s just something common for boats I’ve never noticed before.
            I watched for about twenty minutes.  Since there were no other markers visible, it was hard to tell if the object was moving.  But eventually the lights started to fade.  But the fading wasn’t a smooth process.  The light would brighten and dim then brighten again as if it were being dropped, lifted, and dropped again by ocean swells.
            What had been intense white finally resolved into dim yellow, and then it blinked away altogether, only to return a few seconds later and being the process again.  Apparently the boat was moving over the curvature of the Earth.  Short duration blinks were cause by waves, long duration blinks were made by swells.  And they were of course all mixed up together — growing dimmer and dimmer with longer periods of darkness between glimmers until the horizon was dark again.  For someone not use to seeing things drop over the planet’s edge, it was a unique visual.
            The next morning we made a last round of the souvenir shops, then left for my daughter’s home near Port Orchards.  That was just as well.  Ocean Shores had scheduled some type of music festival for the weekend, and I have a limited tolerance for the sound of drunks vibrating through the walls of my room.

A Typical Ocean Shores Shop.

My Wife Pat …

a Typical Ocean Shores Shopper.

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