OTTER ROCK, Ore. — If a place can be judged based on the names of its landmarks, you’d have to conclude that the devil is among the most influential citizens on the Oregon Coast.
On a trip down Highway 101, above the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, you’ll encounter a churn, an elbow, a lake, a staircase and a punch bowl all named for the Prince of Darkness.
Which of course raises the question: What sort of deal was struck for the sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs that make the Oregon Coast one of the most beautiful places in the world?
Food for thought.
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Or maybe not.
A group of friends and I were considering this clearly rational question during a trip down the Central Oregon Coast when we arrived at the aforementioned Devils Punch Bowl State Natural Area, 17 miles south of Lincoln City (and eight miles north of Newport).
While it’s easy to have a bit of fun with the Oregon Coast’s affinity for naming places in honor of El Diablo, the truth is that Devils Punch Bowl lives up to the dramatic name.
Look over the cliffs from the parking pullout and you’ll see an immense rock cavern that resembles a bowl of boiling waves. The punch bowl was likely formed when the roof collapsed on two sea caves — and was then shaped by waves — to form a structure that doesn’t have any comparison on the coast.
The coolest part about visiting the punch bowl, though, isn’t viewing it from the top. At low tide, you can actually hike down and explore the inside of the cave — the belly of the beast.
The rocks are slippery and avoiding stepping on sea life in the tide pools is important, but entering the massive cavern isn’t too tough. On the northern end of the parking area (turn right while driving in), follow a wide trail down to a sandy beach.
Follow the beach onto the rock, hop over a few saltwater rivulets and enter the cavern via one of two cavern openings.
The sound of the ocean thunders inside of the sandstone bowl that’s filled with a surprising assortment of colors — blues, greens, reds and oranges. The surf spits waves inside the cavern through a small arch and the entire place is soggy — a good reminder to pay close attention to tide tables before deciding to make the trip.
Once you’ve had enough of the punch bowl, take the time to explore the other side of this well-maintained natural area.
On the south side of the punch bowl parking area and left side of the entrance road is a long stretch of beach great for exploring or throwing the ball for the dog. Just follow the “beach trail” sign from the parking area down to a wide slice of sand where you’ll often see surfers riding the waves.
The devil might hold claim to the churning caverns and thundering water to the north, but the southern stretch of beach is a place far closer to heaven.