Our final stop on the Oregon coast was the area around Coos Bay. The weather continued to be more “fall-like”, which is a euphemism for dreary, misty, and rainy. But it provided a suitable moodiness for the craggy coastline – just a different kind of beautiful.
We hiked several trails in the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, hoping for some migratory bird sightings but keeping our expectations low since it was not the best timing. Regardless, we had fun exploring the trails through the forest and marshes and got a lot of good exercise in the process.We spent a rainy afternoon walking around the small downtown along the Coos River, capped off by a visit to the Coos History Museum and Maritime Collection – which was superb. We have found that little museums in smaller places often far exceed their modest settings.
We spent another day exploring three state parks along the coast – Cape Arago, Shore Acres and Sunset Bay.Barking sea lions were numerous and loud enough to be heard over the crashing surf, and black turnstones and sea birds searched for food around the rocks. We hiked down to the wild beach, marveling at the logs flung high up on the shoreline and tangles of bull kelp.Someone got pretty creative with smaller drift logs and a natural cave.It was also pretty neat to explore some of the odd alien-like rock formations.
In 1906 the wealthy, generous and influential Louis J. Simpson built a mansion and magnificent gardens on the cliffs near Cape Arago, calling it Shore Acres. Now a state park, Shore Acres still has an amazing array of beautiful gardens – formal, Japanese……unusual……and a rose garden.Late October is not prime season for touring gardens in coastal Oregon, but we enjoyed seeing the few blooming plants as well as watching an army of electricians installing the annual holiday light show. Lighted sea lions leaping, birds flying and a spouting whale were just a few of the delights to brighten the dark holiday evenings.We were disappointed that we wouldn’t get to see it all completed – I’ll bet it’s quite a treat for the eyes! Regardless, the view from the edge of the cliff – where the original mansion was built – was awesome.Virtually next door to Shore Pines is another of Oregon’s MANY state parks – Sunset Bay. It looks like it’s a popular bathing beach in the summer months but it was also nice to just stroll, do a little beach combing, and to hike up to the viewpoint above it.
Our last of the many lighthouses to visit was Umpqua Lighthouse on the Umpqua River a little north of Coos Bay. The lighthouse sits on Coast Guard property, adjacent to CG housing. We arrived in the nick of time for the last tour of the day, and it was also the last tour of the season for the volunteer gentleman who took us up into the light.He said it was more fun to give a tour to people who knew something about navigation and who appreciated the importance of lighthouses. Imagine keeping all those pieces of the first-order Fresnel lens clean back in the day!
The lighthouse was a great way to wrap up a marvelous road trip. We’re so lucky to have been able to do and see so much, yet we feel like we barely scratched the surface of what the Oregon coast has to offer.
It could be a cool name for a band, but “Florence and the dunes” just names more of the places we thoroughly enjoyed on the Oregon coast. Yes… I’m still blathering about the O.C. I have one more post after this one to get you all caught up before I start in on the perpetually adorable way that our town celebrates the Christmas holidays. Brace yourselves.
Right near our Florence-area campground we found the tiny Darlingtonia State Park, home to the protected cobra lily properly known as Darlingtonia californica – a carnivorous member of the pitcher plant family.This time of the year they’re looking pretty sad and brown, but they’re still very interesting to see. Springtime is when they’re the most beautiful.
Florence was a nice little town, and we spent a misty rainy afternoon exploring the shops along the waterfront.Nothing like a little “retail therapy” in a fancy kitchen store followed by a dish of ice cream to satisfy body and soul. We found a cozy restaurant for dinner later that evening, but first we had to work off some calories with a hike on the Hobbit Trail.The drizzly, moody weather made the Hobbit Trail feel even more “hobbity,” and we kept a sharp eye out for short creatures with furry feet. Alas, we didn’t spot any creatures, but we did end up on a beach that we had all to ourselves.We walked along the eroding cliff face, keeping one eye on the surf that occasionally threatened to wet our boots despite the ebbing tide. It was sublime – just us, the breaking surf and the swirling mist.
Florence also marks the northern end of the Oregon Dunes, a 31,500 acre national recreation area that extends along almost 40 miles of Oregon’s coastline. The dunes are formed by wind and rain erosion of the nearby mountains, with some as tall as 500′. These are the largest coastal sand dunes in North America, and you can enjoy them on foot or with some type of Off Highway Vehicle (OHV). We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked to explore the dunes, but what little we did left us craving more. I read about the John Dellenback Trail that has some of the tallest dunes, so we focused on that area for a big exploration. What’s fascinating is the abrupt change from forest to dune. There is no way for photographs to convey the scale of this place. Can you spot the three people in the photo above? They’re just tiny specks – I would not want to get lost here. Although hiking in the soft sand was pretty tiring, we could not come all that way and miss climbing to the summit of the big dune. The effort was worthwhile, giving us a panoramic view of forested mountains to the east and the ocean to the west. The wind made patterns in the sand, and blew a fine mist off the crest.We didn’t see too many other people, making our exploration feel wonderfully solitary and remote. We did encounter a couple taking their two dogs and a goat on the trail. Yes, a goat. Apparently the goat thinks he’s a dog, and can’t stand to be left behind. Why not?
We enjoyed a little picnic lunch after our hike, and savored the view of this marvelous and unique area.
Heading farther south along Oregon’s coastal highway 101, the weather finally shifted to a more typical fall pattern – misty and rainy. The wind picked up a bit and the conditions suited the more rugged part of the coast around Yachats (pronounced “ya-hots”). There’s a wonderful trail named “the 804” that runs right along the rocky shoreline, and you have to keep an eye on the waves if the tide is high and the wind is up – you can be swept into the sea if you’re not paying attention.The waves crashing on the rocks were mesmerizing, and we were sometimes startled out of our reverie by the WHUMP of a big wave that you could feel in your chest. Sea birds were fishing in the surf, ducking under the biggest waves, and riding up and over the smaller ones. It took me a while to identify them correctly, and they were (no surprise) Surf Scoters. How these birds could successfully feed in those violent waves boggles the mind, but they kept at it for quite a long time.As with the rest of the coast, state parks and state recreation areas are everywhere – each a little gem with great views or a special natural feature. On top of that the town of Yachats was charming and fun…Just a few miles down the road is Cape Perpetua State Park, with a number of hiking trails, an interpretive center, and some awesome shoreline features. While waiting for the tide to rise we hiked to see the giant spruce tree – over 600 years old, standing 185′ tall and 40′ in circumference.The hollow under the tree was created by a “nurse log” – a dead rotting log that provided a rich medium for a little spruce seedling to grow on, and eventually the nurse log returned to the soil as this tree became the mighty specimen that it is today.
Other trees in the forest weren’t quite as big, but this one that fell across the trail was still pretty impressive.We drove up to a fantastic overlook, but the lashing rain and gusty wind made it impossible to take a photograph – we were more concerned about not getting blown off the cliff! But as the rain eased and the tide came in, we climbed down by the craggy shoreline to see the Devil’s Churn and Spouting Horn.The Churn is a long narrow rectangular cut in the shoreline where the sea foams and flings itself furiously at the rocks. There were some smaller similar formations all along that stretch, but my favorite was the Spouting Horn. We watched the sea funnel into a narrow cut and when the waves were just right they were forced under the rocks and emerged as a violent spout of mist from a small hole. Once again, it was mesmerizing.
About 10 miles farther down the coast is the Heceta Head lighthouse.Horizontal rain started back up so there were very few visitors, but the dauntless volunteers were dressed in full rain gear and were happy to show us the tiny museum and explain the highlights about this particular lighthouse.We were dressed pretty well for the foul weather, so we explored the little beach below the lighthouse, trying to imagine how the builders got the materials up the steep cliff to construct it.
Once again, the pounding waves were fascinating, especially as they pummeled the short kelp-like sea palms.These little plants endured the most relentless assault from the sea, with tons of water repeatedly crashing on top of them, bending them but not breaking them off or tearing them loose. We finally found one on the beach that we could look at more closely, but it’s sturdy constitution defies the imagination.
The Oregon coast is dotted with lighthouses, and we are diligently working on seeing as many of them as possible. Next up: Yaquina Head lighthouse – a very picturesque spire near Newport, OR. We got passes to take a tour inside the lighthouse, hefting the oil cans that the keepers had to haul up the stairs to keep the light burning before modern bulbs replaced the whale oil and kerosene, and seeing a slice of history in the keeper’s log book.We climbed the spiral stairs to the top, worth the effort to see the light mechanism and the massive first order Fresnel lens.Just below the lighthouse sea lions were hauled out on rocky islands, barking and cavorting in the waves just off a beach made of cobbles……basalt tumbled by wave action to a smooth rounded finish. We hiked around the Yaquina Head promontory, enjoying views in all directions.
Not to be confused with Yaquina Head, there is a small lighthouse to mark Yaquina Bay in the town of Newport.The tower just to the right of the lighthouse is a Coast Guard observation tower, actively manned, looking out towards the rock jetties protecting Newport’s harbor entrance.Like many of the other jetties that have been built at harbor entrances, this jetty helps to keep sand moved by ocean currents from building up and shoaling the inlet. Wind sculpts the sand, making wave-like patterns in the beach dunes.We strolled the beach until the angled light nudged us towards the shops and restaurants on the working waterfront for some dinner. We were drawn to the barking of sea lions, harbor residents perpetually napping or arguing about someone disturbing their nap.These are California sea lions, smaller than the beefy Steller sea lions we see at home in Petersburg. But they behave much the same way – real characters!Newport is a pretty town with plenty of working boats to look at, a great aquarium, and a marine science center to explore. With our background in diving and love of sea life, both spots were a favorite.You’re never to old to have a happy childhood!