It was a windy day on the Oregon Coast!
We love byways and backways. You can find all sorts of information about these amazing beautiful highways on the internet, in fact I even found a national geographic book all about some of the nation’s greatest byways. Today we traveled the Charleston to Bandon byway along the Seven Devils road parallel to the coast, and out to the beach. This loop is part of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway of Oregon.
The most amazing thing on this trip was the lack of cars and people along the route. The Seven Devils road winds over the hills that are between the South Slough area and the coast, traveling through young forests that were heavily logged about 70 years ago.
We stopped in at the South Slough Estuary interpretive center, hoping for some additional information about the slough. Our original plan was to kayak the slough, but the winds were too strong so we abandoned that plan. The Estuary information center is wonderful, though, with the best large scale aerial photograph I have seen in a long time. It is about 10 feet tall and shows the estuary at low tide. There is a tremendous amount of information about this estuary here, I could have stayed for hours, but we were headed for Bandon, so onward.
When we turned west to the Seven Devils Beach wayside, the winds were blowing hard, but not so much that it explained the completely empty parking lot. The beach is gorgeous, long and sandy, with hard packed sands that you can walk on for miles. Of course, it was windy. I posted a video on YouTube to show just how windy it was. I was still amazed to have that beach all to ourselves during July 4th week. Oregon is still wild and free in so many places, and still uncrowded as well.
We drove on to Bandon, stopping in town for a bit of shopping at Winter Rivers Books, a warm and friendly locally owned bookstore, for an artsy clothing purchase at Siren Song, one of my favorite clothing shops in the west, and some great clam chowder at Tony’s Crab Shack. The wind was still blowing furiously, (didn’t they say something about breezy?) so we decided to drive to the famous beach for photos, but didn’t walk there. Maybe next time. The beach in Bandon is one of the most beautiful on the Oregon coast in my opinion, but most of the times I have been there, the winds have been blowing furiously, often including clouds and rain. The sun was gorgeous today, but the winds still blew.
The road that winds along the coast from Sunset Bay to Cape Arago is part of the Pacific Coast trail. The forests are thick and lush with old growth Douglas-fir, spruce, and hemlock, with huge skunk cabbage plants in the streams. At almost every curve in the road a trail disappears into the forest. Openings in the trees reveal the coast in all its glory, with the only view of the Cape Arago Lighthouse along this road.
The road leads to the Simpson Reef Overlook and views of Shell Island where there are huge sea lions, elephant seals, and harbor seals in a protected world. Again, the trails are good, the signs offer great information about what you are seeing, and the views are fabulous. Gray whales migrate along the coast and are visible here but on this day the winds were whipping up the waves to such an extent that all we could see were whitecaps.
At the end of the road is Cape Arago State Park, with a steep but good trail leading down to the tidepools on the beach. The tide was out when we were there, and there were some green anemones and red seaweeds that were nice. Somewhat appalled at all the dead crabs lying around, and later discovered thanks to another sign posted at Sunset Bay that they weren’t dead crabs at all, but just the shells of crabs who shed their outer husks like snakes. What a relief to find that out.
We planned our first full day on the coast as an easy time of getting to know the area, driving to different access sites, finding a grocery store, and learning about accessing South Slough, our planned kayak adventure. It was amazing how the entire day passed so gently, so effortlessly, timeless, yet never really still. One great thing that we learned is that the kitties are quite satisfied to be caged at 3am or so when they think it is time to get up and start wandering and meowing. Into the cages they go, so there, and amazing to us, not a peep out of them till I let them out at 7am. Great thing to learn when traveling with cats, and not a bad thing to know at home either! A good nights sleep is a perfect way to start a perfect day!
Up then, slowly, easing into the day with morning coffee, hot and strong from the french press, a simple breakfast of egg and toast, a bit of warm heat to offset the night chill of the ocean. the sky was crystal clear as we headed south on the coast road to Shore Acres, the viewpoint overlooking Shell Island, and Cape Arago. This entire part of the coast is one form of state park or another, with trails down to the coves, trails through the incredibly thick forests, trails to the tide pools, over the mountains, and around the headlands. We aren’t likely to run out of hiking trails around here ever.
The beautiful roses are part of the display at Shore Acres State Park formal gardens, a legacy of the son of the man who established Coos Bay with his ship building and lumbering business. Louis J. Simpson loved to spend money, and his home at Shore Acres reflected that. The mansion is gone now, but the gardens have been handed down to the state of Oregon, and are now enjoyed by anyone who can drive here. Our twenty dollar fee for camping at Sunset Bay includes our night of camping with power and water, a free pass to all the parking areas at all the local beaches, entry to the rest of the day use areas , and to Shore Acres and the gardens.
There are flowers blooming at any season, but I can imagine the rhododendrons and azaleas in may would be breathtaking, and the dahlias in August and September are a focal point for the central gardens. Right now it is the roses, which surely seem to love this coastal weather, protected from the salt spray by huge firs. Not a sign of a bug anywhere. Wandering the gardens was like slipping back in time to a more refined era. After lunch we ambled into Coos Bay, maybe 12 miles or so to the north, and found a grocery store and a hardware store. Finally here there was just a bit of traffic, a bit of a hurried feeling right around “Freddies” (Fred Meyer stores for those not from the northwest), and the new Safeway. We saw the new boardwalk at Coos Bay, but it didn’t tempt us much, as it was basically a board walk along and some boats, no shops or much else to look at.
Driving back down the highway from Coos to Charleston, we laughed at all the “rv parks” which seemed to be nothing more than someone deciding to open their front yard to parking on the grass. Seems as though all old rv’s come here to retire and spend their last days.
Charleston is very tiny, with a few kitchy souvenir shops and a restaurant or two. We chose to have fish and chips at a restaurant with pale blue walls, white lace curtains, big pots of hanging purple petunias, and a very nice waitress. In spite of the pastel decor, the fish and chips were fabulous, today fresh caught halibut with perfect breading, not the least bit heavy or greasy, and a refreshing light glass of pinot gris. Ahh.
Our route to the Oregon Coast was delightful, traveling HWY 140 to Medford, north on I-5 to Roseburg (not so leisurely with all the hills and curves), then west on HWY 42 from Roseburg through Coquille and on to Coos Bay.
The destination this time was Sunset Bay State Park, southwest of Coos Bay on the Cape Arago side road, off the busy track of 101. This particular route over the coast range wasn’t nearly as difficult as some can be. It seems there aren’t many ways to get from the Willamette Valley to the Oregon Coast that don’t involve lots of curves and hills, but even in the motorhome, this one wasn’t bad. We saw lots of rv’s returning from the west and were glad we were going the other way on this Sunday night.
At the moment, I am listening to the crackling campfire and the repetitive moan of the Cape Arago Lighthouse fog horn in the distance, muted by the sounds of crashing surf and winds in the higher treetops, and children on bicycles. Great sounds for a late Sunday afternoon settling in.
This lovely quiet stream is Big Creek, winding through the park to the bay. The trails here are wonderful, wandering through deep dark forests, climbing to high bluffs overlooking the ocean, and back down to empty beaches. Sunset Bay is a protected little cove, surrounded by Douglas-fir and spruce forest, and a gentle surf.
Even with the possibility of inclement weather, Oregon Coast camping is a fairly refined version, especially with rv hookups, cozy canvas yurts, even special sites for bikers and hikers doing the Oregon Coast trail, which passes through the park as part of it’s 297 mile journey along wild stretches of beach, cliffs, and headlands. Even the parts of the trail that wind through towns on HWY 101 have lots of signs reminding drivers to share the road, and nice wide bike lanes.
At the moment, though, I am very happy to be in a motorhome, and not trying to pedal a bike and pack up some of those long steep hills to find the next campsite.
The park here is clean and lovely, quiet, refined, fresh, and blessedly cool, with temperatures all week forecasted in the high 60’s and sunny skies. Breezy, I think it said. An understatement, of course. Breezy on the Oregon Coast would be considered windy just about anywhere else, but cool and breezy is much better than rainy and windy, so I am not complaining in the least.
Mo made the reservation for this site just a couple of weeks before the trip, and the park was full most of the time we were there. I think arriving on a Tuesday any other week would have been ok, but reservations are still a good thing. Back-in sites on the outside perimeter are nicest if you can back in, more privacy. The site we were in actually had a sewer hookup, but the park asks that you don’t empty your full tanks here, and instead go up to the adjacent county park and dump there for a fee. We never tried our tv, although some people had their antennas up. Cell service wasn’t available in the park, but was fine back in Coos Bay. Nice for a complete vacation, no phone, no computer, no tv, and I never missed any of it.