During the last few days in August of 2012, we decided to spend some summer vacation time at Pacific Beach on the southern coast of Washington state. My husband had heard that the cabins at Pacific Beach Resort & Conference Center were a nice place to stay, so we reserved one and looked forward to the visit. Although called cabins, lodgings are, in fact, houses. And because we booked early, we were able to get a place near the beach, which was beautiful, flat and sandy and extending for what seemed like miles.
There wasn’t much to do in town, where there was little more than a couple of mini-marts and a nice little coffee house that also served food called Surf House Espresso, but we didn’t care. For entertainment we could go to the main building at the Conference Center which had an activity center for younger kids, a game room for teenagers, a bowling alley, a hot tub and a restaurant. Sometimes we ate there, other times, we prepared meals in our cottage. We brought our dog along because the complex was pet-friendly.
Of course, the best place to be was the beach. From our cottage we could venture down the street and access it from a sandy trail. This view of the Pacific Beach State Park entrance, at the southernmost end of the beach, is from Google Maps. It appears to have been taken during a kite festival. From there we would typically walk north about a mile to Analyde Gap Road, head up the hill and enter the Resort and Conference Center through a gate along the northernmost side of the complex.
The biggest bird surprise was the presence of pelicans, which seemed too big to fly. They were everywhere and weren’t bothered much by beach goers. In several trips since, we’ve not seen a single one, which confirms how lucky we were to have encountered them during our first visit. According to Cornell Labs, “The Brown Pelican is a comically elegant bird with an oversized bill, sinuous neck, and big, dark body. Squadrons glide above the surf along southern and western coasts, rising and falling in a graceful echo of the waves. They feed by plunge-diving from high up, using the force of impact to stun small fish before scooping them up. They are fairly common today—an excellent example of a species’ recovery from pesticide pollution that once placed them at the brink of extinction.”
I also noticed a bird species the Black turnstone. Cornell says, “A dapper shorebird the color of wet rocks and surf spray, the Black Turnstone neatly matches its Pacific Coast wintering habitat. Look for them on rocky coasts or amid piles of kelp at the high-tide line, where they flip over rocks, shells, and seaweed to grab flies and fish eggs or hammer open shellfish. Like their gaudier relative the Ruddy Turnstone, these birds flash an eye-catching pattern when they burst into flight.”
Of course, there were also gulls. And the sunsets were spectacular.
We left thinking that we’d like to return some day, and did.
Another year, we caravanned with additional family members back to Pacific Beach. My sister had her heart set on Horseback riding at Ocean Shores, but I was dying to be reunited with the pelicans. We arrived three weeks earlier than we’d been there the last time, but the pelicans were nowhere to be found. We didn’t reserve as early, so we didn’t get to stay as close to the beach, but it wasn’t a long walk.
My sister and I noticed something we’d never seen before: plastic-toy-like things strewn everywhere along the water line. On closer inspection, we realized that they were some sort of sea creature. Eventually we learned that they were velella velella, a type of jellyfish also called By-the-Wind Sailor, that contain a sail to help propel them along the water. Although they weren’t much to look at, these sea creatures fascinated us, mostly because they were so abundant.
We also saw a couple of dead sea creatures that had washed up on the shore, including a Lion’s Mane jellyfish.
The last time we’d been there we hadn’t seen sand dollars, but this time they were everywhere. We also learned how people collect bait to catch perch. The guy we watched would stick a tube-like tool into the sand, dump what looked like a soil boring sample and riffle through it for shrimp.
One afternoon, my sister and I went north along the shore during low tide. We noticed and started picking up sand dollars. When we had too many to carry, we started stuffing them into our pockets and the cuffs of our clam digger jeans. We kept saying we wouldn’t collect any more, but couldn’t resist when we saw them. All told, we ended up with nearly twenty.
Although most of the sand along the shore was very smooth, in some places the waves had created a pattern. Further up, we saw lots of sea gulls and their tracks.
On our last day, we arose really early to comb the beach and saw, for the first time, persons wading through tide pools in search of crabs. We also stopped to watch a live sand dollar propelling itself along.After our seemed-too-short, several day trip, it was time to head home. But we’ll be back…in hopes of reuniting with the pelicans.