As a young child I would often climb Sallys Rock. It was always necessary for my father to escort me on these trips. Since I was of an age that could not be trusted to cross a highway without assistance. I spent a considerable amount of time on top of Sallys Rock observing the surrounding town of Port Orford and the wilderness beyond. At the time I usually just appreciated the beauty and resulting awe while engaging in childish games. Yet in retrospect, I am curious of many things that I did not consider as a child. How did this rock come to be? By what geologic process did it occur? I also now wonder, as I did then, who Sally was, what she did, and what she meant to the surrounding community? Just last summer I had the opportunity to go back to Sallys Rock. I witnessed a great spectacle from atop the formation. I could not help appreciate what I had seen as a child and how my view had changed since then.
Sallys Rock stands just west of Highway 101 a few miles north of downtown Port Orford, Oregon. To an observer driving by it looks like a lone, stubby finger piercing the earths crust from a palm just below the surface. It is composed of red and gray stones mashed together in some ancient and mysterious process. They would reflect the sun together on rare occasions and more commonly shedding the rain. This rock does not resemble anything in the area. It stands alone with no other rock outcroppings within miles. In reality, the formation is only about 250 feet high, from a childs eyes it might as well have been 10,000. Sallys Rock would very closely resemble what one would get if they took a bag of wet cement under a few pounds of pressure and pierced the bag with a pocket knife. The cement would spew forth in a column and harden into a stout tower. The width of the rock varies as one looks from the base to the peak yet remains similar in area to the width of a common middle class home. I have no idea how the rock got there or how it was formed. I could rationalize its existence as a glacial erratic carried in the ice from a remote location and dropped as the glacier melted, yet no other signs in the area point to glacial activity. If it were on the coast and were made of a durable substance, selective erosion might explain the formation and its loneliness, yet it was a good distance from the coast and was composed of brittle and easily eroded rock. Since I cannot satisfactorily describe its origins, I will leave it a mystery. Most likely no one will ever pursue this plaguing question and I will never know, but perhaps it is OK to leave some things unexplained. It is not always necessary to unleash the dogs of science on every little question. However, if I personally come across new knowledge in a college geology course, I dont think I could help trying to explain what I observed. I cannot help to wonder what it looked like before the erosion of the Pacific Northwest took place. I imagine that before the rain, wind, and people began to wear down the rock, it was an even more impressive sight.
Back then none of these thoughts crossed my mind. Perhaps my dad considered them. Usually we would walk up there in the late afternoon on a day my dad was not fishing. It was a short walk from our house. A road extending about a third of the way up the outcropping helped in the climb. However the road soon turned into a path that doubled as a creek bed after heavy rains. A trip to the top was not an arduous journey for the average person, but for a young child it was a considerable accomplishment with high yield. One day out of innocent childhood curiosity, I asked my dad who Sally was. He responded that he did not know, and a look of contemplation crossed his face. Who was Sally? There is no placard at the base telling her story. The locals called it Sallys Rock so that was its name. Perhaps Sally was a pioneer to the area, one of the first to settle Port Orford, the most westerly incorporated town in the continental United States. Maybe she was a parent of one of the early families in the area. If so, she probably had a lot of relatives still around since only 2000 residence inhabit the town today. I may have even played with the children of her descendants. What a tough life that would have been: being the first out there with nothing else but little drinking water, lots of surrounding wilderness, an unforgiving ocean and weather, and that rock. What a sight the rock must have been before roads, buildings, or towns had a chance to rival its magnificence, just standing there below the hills in view of the ocean. Perhaps they climbed that rock and decided where to build their home, where to launch their boat, where to log their lumber, or where to plant their crop.
The view I saw as a child and that of just last year were in stark contrast. To the west lay a beautiful wooded area and beyond that some cliffs and dramatic headlands. After those lay the mighty Pacific Ocean. I did not look at this as a new and pristine land to settle but a wonderful sight to behold and appreciate. To the east, however, was an entirely different vista. In the immediate vacinity lay homes on the outskirts of town, including our own. Good people owned most of these homes, yet they were people with little money. Characteristic of these people were ill-kept lawns, dilapidated homes, and junk strewn about the properties. Farther on in the concentrated part of town, I could see larger buildings spread out with a sort of frontier recklessness. The east was a sight of general ugliness, yet as a child it had never bothered me.
Why now do I consider such negative ideas? I am critical of almost everything I see, and it is no longer enough just to observe and appreciate. I need to understand and analyze. Who is to say which is a better approach? It is the natural evolution of things to reach my current thinking, but much can be said about blissful ignorance and peace of mind.