Amanda Trail a walk through time

The Amanda Trail winds through heavy Sitka spruce forest on Cape Perpetua.

YACHATS — Wild beauty is the gold standard for any hike. Add in a glimpse of history and a chance at deep introspection and the experience becomes that much richer.

The coastline south of Yachats holds hidden jewels for the hiker and thinker. The steep and sprawling expanses of spruce forest and the basalt surface of Cape Perpetua are home to a network of trails that rivals any on our shores. Many of these pathways were shaped by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and still show off the old structures and the work of bygone hands.

The Amanda Trail takes the explorer further yet into history and the story of the Indian woman whose name the trail bears.

The 3-mile Amanda Trail runs between the top of Cape Perpetua and Yachats. The cape is a basalt headland that — at 820 feet — is the highest point on the Oregon coastline. Battling vertigo as they stand at the stone shelter built on the peak of the cape some eight decades ago, hikers take in the wide bowl of the Pacific Ocean and question the firmness of the stone under their feet.

The stone shelter is well preserved and the location served as a lookout for Japanese ships and aircraft during WWII. Managed now by the Siuslaw National Forest and located within the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, this outpost is conveniently situated near the scenic area’s parking lot and connects to the Amanda Trail to the north and the Saint Perpetua Trail which snakes south for 1.3 miles and drops 700 feet to the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center.

The visitor center itself is a starting point for a number of forest and shoreline trails of varying lengths and difficulty.

You can’t go wrong following any of the trails in the area, but this time we’ll go north from the top of the cape. We will follow Amanda’s footsteps.

That’s what Hilda and Tom Hagan did a couple of weeks ago. Only, the couple started from the north end of the trail at Yachats Ocean Road State Natural Site, followed it through spruce and alder trees and the thick, waxy leaves of salal.

Hilda Hagan, of Yachats, lost herself in photographing the mushrooms popping to the surface along the way. She and her family get out and explore coast trails as much as they can, but the Amanda Trail holds a special place for her.

“It was horrible, people shouldn’t come here,” Tom Hagan joked last weekend as he, Hilda and Colin Hagan stood at the stone shelter and took in a very long view to the sea during a different excursion to the same area.

“Stay away; people disappear on that trail.”

But we won’t be deterred. The Amanda Trail follows the ridge north and into old growth Sitka spruce. Edible wood sorrel shaped like clover speckles the forest floor with bright green. The trail winds through rich moss, fern, salmonberry and over decaying “nurse logs” which are now a starting place for new seedling trees.

A mist moves in and the forest becomes indistinct. The only sound is the croak of a raven, followed by the distant clap of a single crashing wave.  

Amanda’s journey

The story of the blind Coos Indian, Amanda De-Cuys, is a sad one, and it highlights a time in Oregon’s history when settlement was pushing the Native Americans into ever tighter corners. Here is the version which the hiker will read on the trail’s interpretive signs near a stream and a statue of Amanda which has taken on aspects of a shrine. They are located close to the midpoint on the trail:  

In 1855, this damp, foggy stretch of coastline so many of us call home was designated the Coast Indian Reservation. The reservation stretched from Siltcoos in the south to Cape Lookout to the north and inland 20 miles.

Indians frequently ran away from the confines of this reservation, and Amanda was one of them. A detachment of infantrymen arrived in Coos Bay in 1864 to “round up” the runaways. Taken into custody was Amanda, who was living with a white man. Separated from her eight-year-old daughter, Amanda and a number of other Indians were forced to trek along shorelines and forest paths to the Alsea Sub-Agency in Yachats. The agency oversaw the Indians in that portion of the reservation.

The diary of U.S. Army Corporal Royal Benson details the grueling, nearly week-long journey. On May 10, 1864, he wrote the following:

“This coast along our route today seems volcanic, rough, ragged, burnt rock, here and there a light rock which I called pumice-stone. Amanda, who is blind, tore her feet horribly over these ragged rock, leaving blood sufficient to track her by. One of the Boys led her around the dangerous places. I cursed Indian agents generally...By 12 we reached the Agency. The great gate swung open, and I counted the Indians as they filed in, turned them over to the Agent, and, God Knows, we all left relieved.”

The Alsea Sub-Agency closed in 1875, but not before more than half of the native population had perished from disease and abusive conditions.

The signs say it is not known what became of Amanda or if she was ever reunited with her daughter.

The trail to and from her silent statue is rated between moderate and difficult. It contains some steep areas where nimble footing is required for keeping your balance, and twisted roots and mud can test a hiker’s abilities. Some of the steeper areas have been notched with steps, and the trail has one bridge over a stream, but the development of the trail has been uneven and hikers should arrive prepared with sturdy footwear.

The statue of Amanda was created by local artist Sy Meadow. Other works by Meadow, including two bears embracing, are located along the Yachats end of the trail.

A $5 day-use fee or recreation pass is required for Cape Perpetua trailhead parking. A restroom is available.

The Perpetua trails each serve up slightly different experiences. They are all worthwhile. Follow the Amanda Trail for massive Sitka spruce, for history and deep breaths of ocean air. Follow it for Amanda.

More history on an extensive community push to build the Amanda Trail — conceived in 1984 but not finished until 1998 — can be found here: http://www.yachats.info/history/Amanda_Trail.html

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