Wrapping Up the Summer

Wow, how the last nine weeks have flown by me. To start this post, I want to present a sample of the analysis I was able to draw from the survey data. In terms of basic demographic data, 75% of the respondents were female and fifty percent of those surveyed lived outside of Oregon. Over ninety percent of people also identified as Caucasian. While my coworkers and I can tell you that an overwhelming percentage of those who visit Haystack Rock are Caucasian, in reality it is probably less than ninety percent – probably closer to 75-80%. Both this stat and the idea that three out of four visitors are female might be attributed to a few different factors. For one, I was the only person to conduct the survey, therefore I, myself, may have inadvertently introduced some bias. To counteract this and create a random sample pool, I should have asked others to also conduct the survey. We also receive visitors from all around the world so one possibility for the extreme difference could be those visitors who do not speak English as a first language may have felt timid about talking to me or taking a survey which was not in their primary language. Our organization has tried to increase our diversity with the hiring of an inclusivity coordinator who has translated some of our brochures and information into Spanish while also running a program which allows people to check out beach wheelchairs for free. The other piece of analysis I will touch on is just how much Haystack Rock is a family activity. When I first arrived and learned from other HRAP staff that we did have visitors who returned, it made sense to me, yet I did not comprehend the degree to which people return to the Rock. I found that more than 35% of tourists had visited the rock not just once, not just twice, not even five times, but ten or more times! Reading through the comments and having conversations with people from areas all over the US, I came to learn that many people have returned to Haystack Rock year after year. Some have family reunions here every year, some live in Washington but make the trek down at least once a summer, but all felt a connection to the Rock.

To share the demographic data from the survey with our partnering organizations, I created an easy-to-read infographic.

It is this connection that I think could be the key to protecting Haystack Rock and its inhabitants. People who have not visited in a few years are shocked by the drastic reduction in sea star population from even three years ago and many are clearly concerned by the fact that it is possible their children, or grandchildren, may not get to see the mosaic of sea stars that at one point painted the area. For humans to see what effect we have had on our environment is crucial to building a bridge towards conservation. A few, certainly the minority, citizens of Cannon Beach and Tolovana Park, as well as those who make the pilgrimage almost yearly, believe HRAP enforces too much. In their mind, if we do not allow a child to see what happens when they poke a closed sea anemone, or look at the underside of sea star, or look for nudibranchs on their own instead of an interpreter pointing one out to a child – all of which they would have done as a child before HRAP was established – we are stunting their growth and inhibiting their naturally curious side. I choose to tell the visitor that if we do not recognize that the ways of the past have left us where we are today, and if we do not learn from the past’s mistakes, we are bound to repeat them. This aside, I am constantly amazed at the number of guests who do want to see the puffins, as well as their avian and aquatic neighbors, thrive at Haystack Rock.

Personally, this summer has been incredible. It was the first time I was more or less living on my own, while simultaneously working my first 9 to 5 job. I learned how to cook with modest supplies…and not have a dining hall to bail me out when I was not in the mood for cooking. For the most part, the food I made was pretty good, and I believe I did a decent job crafting meals that covered most of the food groups. Given that I had a decent amount of down time after work and on the weekends, I had to figure out what to do. Hiking became my go to and I will sorely miss not having jaw-dropping hikes within a ten to fifteen minute drive of my place. Oregon never ceased to amaze me with gorgeous coastal views, dense coniferous forests that were shrouded in a heavy fog during my morning hikes, and colorful bridges (no, really, for a kid who has spent time in Denver and Miami, this last item was a highlight).

The view from Saddle Mountain on a clear day cannot be beat!


Crossing the Astoria-Megler Bridge and stepping foot in Washington was a summer highlight.

I have to mention my coworkers who made our small office a great deal of fun and could always make me laugh, while simultaneously teaching me crazy facts about marine life and just about anything else, too. My standards for professional conferences were significantly increased this summer when most of our staff traveled to Portland for a week at the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators (NAME) conference. I had the opportunity to spend a week with amazing people from Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, many of whom are (or were) educators in high school, universities, and community colleges. Both inside and outside of the conference that week, our boss, Melissa (who also happened to be the coordinator for the conference), ensured that we had a fantastic work environment, and there truly was never a dull moment. These people made the quiet Oregon coast a whirlwind of activity, engagement, and welcomed me to their community. I will miss them, every one of them, a lot.

This summer I was able to attend the NAME conference and learn what great work is being done in the area of marine education in the Pacific Northwest.

If someone asked me if they should apply and try to be a part of Oregon Sea Grant, I would emphatically say “yes” as it is a professional experience that teaches you so much and connects you with knowledgeable people, all while giving you the opportunity to spend a summer in a state that has more to offer in terms of unique culture (I am looking at you Portland Timber’s Army) and outdoor activities than can be completed in ten weeks.

One of the most energetic fan bases of any professional sport, in my opinion, is the Timber’s Army.

Until next time, Oregon!


Byways before highways

To get to Oregon (specifically the northwestern coast) from my home state of Colorado, there are a number of different forms of transportation. You could fly to Portland and then either take a bus to wherever you need to get to, or you could pay an obscene amount of money for a short thirty minute to an hour flight to your destination. It is also possible to take a multi-day train ride from Denver to Portland, but that it is almost as much as (if not more than) a plane ticket. This leaves driving as one of the best options, if you have the time, as it gives ease of travel throughout Oregon. Therefore, this is exactly what I, along with my family, did just over a week ago.

While it is possible to reach coastal Oregon within 20 hours, we chose to take a slight detour and stop at Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park for a few days. I could go on and on about the bison in Yellowstone, the moose in Grand Teton, watching Old Faithful erupt, the amazing colors of the Grand Prismatic, or even the number of ways I intentionally tried, successfully, to annoy my sister throughout the four days (road trips are long, what was I supposed to do??), but instead I want to talk about the joys of America’s byways and the importance of taking “some old back road” as Rodney Atkins sang about in 2011.

It was not until a small bookshop in Jackson, Wyoming that I found these byways laid out in a National Geographic book. Much to the sometimes ambivalent hapiness of my family, this book became our new road map as we finished the road trip and over the last seven-ish days, I have seen three of these byways – SH-31 in Idaho and SH-30 & the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (SH-101) here in Oregon. Since this is a blog about Oregon we are going to leave out the SH-31 from here on out…sorry Idaho.

State Highway 30 stretches throughout a large part of Oregon along the Columbia River Gorge. Despite the fact that I-84 does run directly into Portland and offers spectacular views of the Columbia River, it doesn’t allow the ability to see the surrounding area’s history. The drive is slightly more strenuous as there is a great deal of moving uphill and downhill, but is a stunning drive complemented by old stonework barricades lining the road and tunnels built during the early 20thcentury. One of the highlights is The Vista House outside of Troutdale. This viewpoint was once a place for travelers to stop off and rest and continues to do so all while offering a sweeping view of the gorge to both the east and west. While there are many tourist spots throughout this drive, the small businesses, some which are run out of resident’s gardens and front yards, were some of my favorite stops – including the small berry market where we got a snack and the lavender farm where we picked bunches of flowers.

View of Columbia River Gorge from The Vista House (looking westward)

The drive on SH-30, while steep, is quite rewarding

The Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is not only more relaxing than I-5, which is full of drivers who fail to understand that not driving twenty miles over the speed limit is not wrong or obnoxious…in fact it is called following the law, but it is also provides many great places to stop and view the Pacific Ocean and get healthy servings of seafood. Just north of Newport is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, accessible for a small fee (or free with the annual National Park Pass, which I strongly recommend to anyone who is outdoorsy). Due to limited time – yeah I know that is ironic/hypocritical given everything I’ve said – I did not take the guided tour of the light house, but instead walked down and around the tide pools below the lighthouse. Having grown up in a family that liked seafood to a degree that made it unhealthy for anyone standing between us and a bucket of mussels, I had to stop and get some during my drive. Therefore, for lunch I stopped at a roadside shack and got fish tacos. It is hard to say it was fast food when I had to wait thirty minutes for my takeout given the lunch rush, but it was well worth the wait. The scenic byway ended in a spectacular view at the top of a hill from which I could see Cannon Beach, my home for the next few months, and Haystack Rock.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Oh yeah I almost forgot, my internship for the summer is working with Haystack Rock Awareness Program where we discuss with visitors the biodiversity of the intertidal zone surrounding Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach and where I will be performing human dimension research, but that is a “Song for Another Time” (great country song by Old Dominion that I recommend to everyone and anyone).

Never a bad day on the beach!

So don’t forget byways > highways…when you have the time to spare.