The Oregon Coast will never cease to surprise you if you give it enough attention. Remarkable discoveries along this exceptionally pristine stretch of U.S. shoreline can be found all the time, often lurking in the tiniest or most unassuming places.
Taking a helicopter ride is probably one of the more obvious delights – in any locale. But this insanely cool excursion on Oregon’s North Coast has something a little different, with several curious sides and surprises to it. If you want a glimpse of major Lewis & Clark landmarks, a peek at some sites from a cult movie classic as well as an eyeful of other natural wonders, Seaside Helicopters has it.
It’s an unusual and powerful day on the coast: and with the wild, funky weather that flip-flops between small rain squalls and mostly warm, even muggy, sunny weather. It feels like August in the valley, but it’s only mid-April.
It’s in this atmosphere, one of slightly mystical weather, that I embark upon Gary Turel’s mind-boggingly fun ride.
Gary bought into this business about four years ago, after years of being addicted to flying on his own. It’s like his dream job, he confesses to me after the ride in the sky. The National Guard veteran exclaims his ultimate goal would’ve been to wind up a fighter pilot and eventually make his way into the astronaut program. But he didn’t meet the rigid criteria for space flight, although he qualified for commercial flight.
Gary is a comforting and personable presence in the helicopter as he zips around the shores of Cannon Beach, the peaks of Tillamook Head and above the resort town of Seaside at about 100-plus miles an hour. First, you don the headset with the microphone system, enabling you to speak with Gary and he to speak to you. I blurt out, “I feel like an astronaut,” and immediately wonder how many times has he heard that line.
Then, you’re strapped in, and takeoff happens shortly after.
With a bubble window to the world below, you feel yourself ever so gently lift upwards, a sensation similar in some ways to easing up in an airplane, but in a helicopter there’s definitely that spine-tingling feeling of rising faster. It’s exhilarating to say the least, with the tilt of the aircraft pulling you against its quick upward ascension.
For me, I became used to this new and unique feeling within minutes, and it was soon no longer that intense thrill. I was too busy. I was armed with my digital and 35 mm camera, and quickly became engaged in trying to shoot as many photos as humanly possible.
In no time, we’re up over the back of Tillamook Head – a 1300-foot-high, forested headland. Gary points out its sheer cliffs from this side, spots where elk congregate and even the small bald spot on top of the mountain that is a Lewis & Clark monument. It was here – some two hundred years ago – that William Clark, Sacagawea and a few others hiked over the headland to catch sight of a beached whale in what would become Cannon Beach. Along the hike, at spot now named after Clark, he peered out over the ocean, on one of the few sunny days the Corps of Discovery had while camping in Oregon over the winter of 1805/06.
Most incredible is approaching the tip of Tillamook Head as Gary points out a rocky arch sitting offshore called “Goonies Rock,” which was featured in the movie “Goonies.” Remember that scene near the end where the kids took a key and matched it to a rock structure with a hole in it? That rock is now named after the movie, visible from Indian Beach. Seeing it from above, however, in the context of everything around it from this viewpoint, is a bit mind-altering. It reminds you how tiny and insignificant we humans can be.
We never head far out to sea, not more than a quarter mile or so, for safety reasons. This means I can’t get a close glimpse of the mysterious Tillamook Rock Lighthouse – which resides a mile offshore from Tillamook Head. It’s visible from both Cannon Beach and Seaside, albeit a bit better seen from the Cannon Beach side. This enigmatic feature has grasped the imaginations of visitors for generations, sitting on a clump of basalt that invites consistent battering by waves and objects tossed around by the sea. Its real history is even far more colorful than what most can come up with conjecture, with many dying during its construction in 19th century and while getting to and from the boats that re-supplied it with lighthouse keepers and foodstuffs. It was decommissioned in the 1950’s, and now houses urns of ashes of those who pay to be interred there.
I’m a little disappointed I can’t get any closer, as this place has always had me riveted. Gary, however, hovers a ways out over the ocean a little while for me to snap a few pics of it. It’s still highly gratifying.
Gary swings around to the south from here, allowing me to shoot shots of Cannon Beach’s Haystack Rock, Crescent Beach, Indian Beach and the top of Ecola State Park. These landmarks are enormous when you’re there, up close. From above, they are diminutive and puny. I know these places intimately, but here they present numerous new discoveries.
From there, we swing around again, head north over Tillamook Head, and he shows me that rocky shoreline beneath the headland that can’t be seen any other way. At this point, Seaside is in full view, as are the shores of southern Washington and hints of Astoria. Then it’s back to the landing pad, with a zoom over the adjacent Seaside Family Fun Park and its numerous fun-tastic possibilities (http://www.seasidefamilyfunpark.com/, 503-738-2076).
Perhaps ten or 15 minutes have gone by. It’s hard to tell. Apparently, most rides run about 10 minutes or so, beginning at $25 per person, with options including the Cannon Beach run, a nature/wildlife run, Seaside-from-above or other combinations.
He’s had several marriage proposals happen during the flights, including one memorable excursion where the man and his friends had scrawled a huge “will you marry me?” in the sands of Seaside. She emphatically squealed “yes,” says Gary.
Later, Gary and I chat, and it turns out he was a bit of a celebrity in the 90’s. Together with his brother Stan Turel, the pair were the faces on Oregon TV commercials for their Columbia Tax Services. Yet another surprise today.
In the last year, Gary picked up another celebrity – in namesake, anyway. John Glen works for him as a second pilot: not John Glenn of space fame, however. Glen is a real trouper and lets his bosses get lots of mileage out of his name. This started back in the 60’s, during his high school days, as the famous John Glenn was making orbits. Glen was a delivery driver for a store, and his boss used Glen’s name to jokingly tout his business. The delivery vehicles were even named “capsule 1” and “capsule 2.”
You’ll find Seaside Helicopters and the Seaside Family Fun Park just south of Seaside. Gary still makes some runs during the winter and early spring – mostly on weekends – when those famous beautiful, dry days hit. Generally, it’s considered closed during these months, and doesn’t really start up with an eye on a full schedule until spring break. However, one secret about the Oregon Coast is that February tends to have a run of sunny, warm days (much warmer than inland), so you may get lucky and have a chance to grab a ride then or on other days the weather seems cooperative to flight. Hwy 101, S. Seaside.http://www.seaside-helicopters.com/. (503) 440-4123.