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Oregon’s rugged coast is full of contrasts

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To understand the central Oregon coast is to know that it is not just a series of beaches. It's all part of a larger system, one where lush forest runs right up to fine sand. Rushing — yes, sometimes hysterical — fresh and salt water dominate the heard environment.

This is a place where treacherous logs fly up from weeks of aquatic submersion and crash down on the heads and spines of unsuspecting tourists posing for pictures with their backs to the brine.

A place of many contrasts, rugged beauty and unassuming people. Best seen in the summer (though the sun still doesn't show itself much), the central Oregon coast has many things to recommend it. Here are seven beauties:

1. Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

The dunes are just south of Florence, which comes as a refreshing antidote to the chill and fog of the highway to the north. It's sunny and arid. Lakes were formed when the sand dunes blocked low-lying river stream mouths. At various places in the recreation area you can tour the massive sand hills with a driver or rent your own dune buggy.

The most fun to be had, though, particularly for kids, is to huff your way up to the top like Lawrence of Arabia and then sprint down to the bottom and fling yourself into one of the lakes in the Jesse M. Honeyman State Park. The park has day-use facilities as well as boat ramps and picnic facilities.

2. Cape Perpetua

Almost profoundly intense in its stunning scenic contrasts, Cape Perpetua is at 800 feet elevation, the highest spot on the Oregon Coast. You go from ocean to old-growth forest in steps and it can be windy, chilly, foggy and silent as you stare out at the vast ocean from a tree-shrouded trail. There are 18 miles of hiking trails, tidepools, guided hikes (summer only) and Devil's Churn, a spouting horn caused by waves crashing into a narrow fissure and spewing high into the air — a somewhat common occurrence on the central coast.

3. Yachats

Yachats is a casual stroll of a place, a little town on the sunny southern side of Perpetua (and pronounced "Ya-hots"). The town is poised between the ocean and steep forest and is home to an artists' community (total population: 635). Great tidepool action can be found along the little rocky beach into which the diminutive Yachats River also flows. Stop at the Traveller's Cove Cafe for an open-faced hot crab sandwich or black bean and chicken chili served in the center of a scooped-out sheepherder's loaf and know that this little town is true to its motto: "a place of repose known for powerful waves and peaceful interludes."

4. The Road

Highway 101 itself gets a nod here because it twists and bends and climbs and dips through a variety of terrain, from the hot dunes of Florence to the always-wet and shrouded (and aptly named, by Capt. Cook) Cape Foulweather with a lot in between.

5. Ona Beach State Park

A great place to stop for a sandwich or just to gather or lose your thoughts. This park suddenly appears in a bend in the road about two miles south of Newport, and it seems as if you're suddenly in Hawaii or maybe somewhere in the tropics. Serenity on the sand.

6. Oregon Coast Aquarium

As aquariums go, this Newport venue isn't as diverse as Monterey's or as well-staged as the one in La Jolla, but what it lacks in these areas it makes up for with intimacy and humor.

7. Depoe Bay

This is one of the most charming and enjoyable towns on the coast. A great place to get a sense of the rough seas here is to take in the pictures at the Depoe Bay Nautical Museum, on a landing adjacent to the port.