NORTHWEST COAST #02 – North CA Coast
NORTHWEST COAST #02 – Oregon Coast
Map showing route from Crescent City to Portland
This installment of the trip covers several days as we meandered up the coast of Oregon, stopping at several parks along the way.
Highway 1 in Oregon?
Does Highway 1 in Oregon actually exist or not? You can’t find it on maps yet it actually is a real thing at the intersection of politics and environmentalism. During the campaign for governor of Oregon in 1911 one Oswald West pledged to reclaim Oregon's beaches as public land. It seems that over the years prior to that time much of the coast had been privatized and was owned by resorts, hotels, and private land owners – many of whom fenced off the beaches and prevented the public from using them. Well, Mr. West won the election but the legislature favored the continued privatization of these lands (a good honest politician is one that when bought, stays bought). But West was not easily dissuaded and argued for public ownership. The stumbling block was there were was no funding for that much park land and wresting the shoreline away from those who owned it and the politicians indebted to them would prove quite difficult.
Turns out he was quite crafty. Nationwide that time period was the beginning of our love affair with the open road. Not so much for the family car but as a way to get out from under the railroad monopolies for the transportation of goods. Of course when pushing for public support they talked mostly about individual use of an improved highway system for vacations and exploring this great land. So in Oregon, as well as most other states, road building was quite popular. With Governor West’s influence, in 1913, a bill was passed that created the Oregon State Highway Commission and at the same time declared the entire length of ocean shoreline from the Columbia River to the California border as a state highway - State Highway #1 to be exact. By so doing, the entire shoreline was now under the control of the new Highway Commission could not be privatized and could be maintained under the highway department budget. Good for Governor West. Eventually a Parks and Recreation Department was created as a branch within the Highway Commission and it bought additional land for 36 state parks along the coastal highway with one about every 10 miles (16 km).
But, business will be business and in 1966 a motel owner fenced off a section of beach for the private use of his guests challenging the state's public lands claim. This did not sit well with local citizens who didn’t want a precedent set that would allow beaches to be owned by the highest bidder and restricted from public use. Responding to such citizen complaints the state legislators put forward the Oregon Beach Bill, proposing to reestablish the beaches' status as public land. But concerns about private property rights threatened the bill's passage. In response Governor Tom McCall staged a media event by flying two helicopters to the beach with a team of surveyors and scientists. The ensuing media coverage resulted in overwhelming public demand for the bill which passed and was signed by McCall in July 1967.
The Beach Bill declares that all "wet sand" within 16 feet (4.9 m) vertical feet of the low tide line belongs to the state of Oregon. In addition, it recognizes public easements of all beach areas up to the line of vegetation, regardless of underlying property rights. The public has "free and uninterrupted use of the beaches," and property owners are required to seek state permits for building and other uses of the ocean shore. While some parts of the beach remain privately owned, state and federal courts have upheld Oregon’s right to regulate development of those lands and preserve public access. California has similar regulations through its Coastal Commission but most other states just let the highest bidder win – ever try to get to the beach in Southern Florida if you’re not a guest in one of the beach font hotels? Nearly impossible.
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
This 1,471 acre park is a 12 mile long narrow strip right along the coast of Oregon a few miles north of Brookings. The park is a rugged coastline with steep cliffs leading up to more level bluffs several hundred feet above the sea. The rocky coastline has small sand beaches nestled in many of the coves and inlets. It park was named after Samuel H. Boardman who was the first Oregon Parks superintendent. Along the length of the park are many areas to stop such as 300-year old Sitka spruce trees, Arch Rock and Natural Bridges.
Boardman conceived the idea of a great coastal park in Curry County and worked to acquire the present park lands. In the early 1940s, Boardman tried to get the National Park Service interested in making it a national Park but that didn’t work out. However the state was able to acquired much of the land for this park 1949 and 1957 by purchase from private owners and the U. S. Bureau of Land Management. The current state park is somewhat smaller than the proposed national park would have been but is still a nice place to see nature at its best.
Arch Rock from Windy Point. Samuel H. Boardman State Park
Moving up the coast along US-101 we stopped for the night at Bandon Beach in a section of town south of old town and right along the coast. This is a residential area with mostly private homes about half of which are rentals along with a few multi-room motels. Beach Loop Road runs along the top of the bluffs with one row of houses between the road and cliff edge and with more houses on the inland side of the road as well. Our lodging was in a motel on this road, but on the side away from the edge of the bluff. It was just as well as the Motel rooms on the coast side turned out to have leaky roofs. By the time we got checked into our room it had gotten a bit breezy and very overcast.
But, silly us, we went out for a walk anyway. First we walked a few blocks over to Face Rock State Park. The water just off this section of coastline is dotted with small rocky islands of various sizes and shapes. One is called Face Rock as it really looks like a human head just surfacing from an underwater swim. We didn’t stay too long there as the wind on the on the top of the bluff got annoying and it started to drizzle.
Of course every such landmark comes with an Indian legend. In this case the Nah-So-Mah Tribe legend has it that the beautiful Indian princess Ewanua was visiting with her father, Chief Siskiyou, and in celebration of their visit, a great potlatch (party) took place. The local tribes were in great fear of Seatka, the evil spirit of the ocean, but Ewanua and those in her tribe, who lived in the mountains, were not afraid. After the feast, while others lay sleeping, Ewanua carried her dog, Komax, and her cat and kittens in a basket and wandered down to the ocean. She danced and played with delight, and soon placed her pets in their basket on the beach and swam into the ocean, far from shore. Unaware of any danger, she was suddenly grabbed by a fearsome creature that came out of the water. Komax (the dog), knowing his mistress was in danger, swam out to her with the basket in his mouth and bit Seatka. Howling with rage, the monster kicked off the dog and threw the cat and kittens far out to sea. He tried to get the princess to look at him, but she refused, knowing his power was in his eyes. Now, the beautiful Ewanua lies in the ocean, looking skyward, refusing to look at Seatka, who sits nearby. Her beloved Komax and her cat and kittens lie to the west, waiting in vain for their mistress to arise. Works for me.
From there we walked back to the motel but rather than going in for a sit by the fireplace with a hot chocolate we decided to take the stairs down to the beach. The tide was out so the beach was wide and with the lousy weather – footprint free. And for good reason. By the time we got down there the wind was howling such that you could barely walk against it – not to mention that the rain had gotten stronger. We did make it over to some large boulders that at high tide are islands and used them as a wind break so I could get a photo or two. Right along the surface of the beach there was a 12 inch high dust storm of blowing sand which I wasn’t able to get a good shot of. But I did grab a few photos from behind the rock or just poking the camera around its edge into the gale.
Once we’d had enough of that (which didn’t take too long) we headed back up the stairs and got that hot chocolate by the fire in the lobby. Those big rocks in the foreground in the images below are the ones we hid behind to get out of the wind.
Stairs to the Beach by our motel in Bandon with face rock in the background
From the beach
Photos of a couple of other beaches
Along the next section of coast we stopped as several beaches and parks that now all seem to blend together. Here are some photos of a couple of them.
Circular Beach at Sunset Beach State Park
Fog, Surf and Cliffs. Cape Arago State Park
Adding to our collection of lighthouses we hit two more – the Umpqua Lighthouse and the Haceta Lighthouse at Haceta Head, both near Florence.
The Umpqua Lighthouse is located at the mouth of Winchester Bay. The first iteration was built in 1855 and lit in 1857. But, it was built right down by the river channel and was regularly flooded in the rainy season. This periodic flooding eroded the sand embankment of the lighthouse and by October 1863, the building's foundations had become too unstable and the structure soon collapsed. Oops! That must have been quite a sight. Before its collapse though, the Lighthouse Board had figured out the original lighthouse was not long for this world so they started to plan for a new one at a better location. Funding didn’t arrive from congress for another 25 years until 1888. It was another 4 years before construction got going in 1892, and the new light was first lit in 1894.
The new Umpqua Lighthouse was built at the same time as the Heceta Head Lighthouse (a bit north) using the same plans and is virtually identical to it. The new Umpqua is 100 feet (30 m) above the river, rather than right on it so is safe from flooding. Being at a higher elevation the light can be seen from farther at sea which is a great advantage over the old one. The original light was not visible from sea at all and was only usable as an aid to ships coming into the river. The new light used a clockwork mechanism to rotate the Fresnel lens which was automated in 1966. A few years later, the now automated rotation mechanism which had been in constant use for 89 years finally broke and was removed. The Coast Guard, in charge of the light at that point, wanted to replace the mechanism with a modern new one. However, strong public outcry forced those plans to be aborted, and in 1985, the old mechanism was restored in put back in place.
Umpqua Lighthouse Stairs
Every lighthouse along a particular coast has a unique signature. The idea is that if you’re at sea and see a lighthouse light, in order to know where you are you need to know which lighthouse you are seeing. This is done by making the light pattern of each lighthouse different. The variables are how much time between flashes and in some cases, like here, a mix of colors. So for example, one white flash every 20 seconds, or 3 white flashes every 18 seconds, or in the case of the Umpqua Lighthouse it has 2 white followed by 1 red flash every 5 seconds. This is done through having different sections in the Fresnel lens focus the beam. You can see in the images below the two clear sections followed by a red section that causes this particular pattern\
Umpqua Lighthouse Fresnel Lens giving a 2 white + 1 red pattern
Gold pedestal holds the light platform - looking straight up inside the circular lens
Haceta Head Lighthouse
Not too far north from the Umpqua Lighthouse is the Haceta Head Lighthouse. It is named after the Spanish explorer Bruno de Heceta, who explored the Pacific Northwest during the late 18th century. This lighthouse got its start in 1888 when the U.S. Lighthouse Service approved its funding and bought 19 acres, out of the 164 acres previously purchased, for the lighthouse structures. It was actually completed in 1894. This one sits on a bluff 150 feet above the sea but the tower is only a modest 56 feet tall.
As it turns out, not only is this the most visited lighthouse in Oregon it also has the strongest light which can be seen 24 miles at sea.
In 1775, Don Bruno Heceta, sailing for the Royal Spanish Navy, set out from Mexico with forty-five men and sufficient provisions for a year-long mission to reach the Arctic Circle. Heceta made it as far as the Columbia River before turning back due to concern for his scurvy-stricken sailors, and during his shortened journey, he made note of the prominent headland that now bears his name.
When built there were several houses built as well, but only the main keepers house remains and is run as a B&B.
Haceta Head Lighthouse stairs
Haceta Head Lighthouse
View of US-101 crossing Cape Creek from near the Keepers house.
Newport to Lincoln
Our last set of stops on this trip before heading inland to see family in Portland was the 40 mile stretch between Newport and Lincoln. So, let’s start in Newport. Being tourists, we headed on down to the old town docks area. The main drag along the water here is SW Bay Blvd. As with most waterfront dock areas it had historically been heavily commercial in support of the fishing fleet with canning and packing plants, ice houses and other companies necessary to support a thriving fishing industry. However, much like Cannery Row in Monterey California and both Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco it started to evolve into more tourist oriented enterprises. More restaurants came in along with tacky shops and attractions like Ripley’s Believe it Or Not and a wax museum. In Monterey and San Francisco these tourist facilities pretty much completely replaced everything else except the marina itself. However, here in Newport, this process never quite completed. So, intermingled with the modern tourist traps you have the old canning factory or a boat yard. It’s really quite odd, but nice in its way as you don’t feel quite so “Disney packaged” here as you do at the aforementioned locations.
Fishing Fleet Marina in Newport
Sea Lions in Newport Harbor
Candy Store in Newport
Up the coast a bit from Newport is Otter Rock. We spent the night there in a condo overlooking Pacific Ocean and Otter Rock itself. It seems that Sea Otters used to live on the rock but they don’t anymore.
Otter Rock from our Condo Balcony at Sunset
Very near Otter Rock is the small Devils Punch Bowl State Natural Area. It is a day use area centered on a large bowl naturally carved in a rock headland which is partially open to the Pacific Ocean through a sea tunnel. Waves enter the bowl and often violently churn, swirl, and foam inside. The bowl is thought to have formed when two sea caves collapsed.
And, coming to the end of our tour up the Pacific coast, we come to Lincoln. The city of Lincoln is not a tourist town to speak of but as we drove through we spied a little city park by a river. This is the Silez Bay Park. It’s really just a speck of a park with a gazebo and picnic table and access to Siletz Bay. It is located where Schooner Creek and Silez Bay come together. It does have a nice view across the river and bay that includes 3 large rocks that stick up from the river in a row, the outside two of which each have a lone tree. I thought this was quite photogenic so naturally we stopped to take a look.
Three rocks as seen from Siletz Bay Park
A bit out of order but as this is the last installment of for this trip, I’m going back to our first day to leave you with a sunset. After leaving the Humbolt Redwoods State Park and heading up to Crescent City for the evening, US-101 starts hugging the coast, many times right above the breakers. As we drove the clouds cleared a bit and a quite nice sunset developed. Not to miss such an opportunity we found a likely looking place to pull off the highway and I was able to get the sunset over what is apparently called Wilson Rock in False Klamath Cove.
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I hope you enjoyed reading this episode of our North Coast trip. The next installment will be the Oregon coast.
- These and other Images of this trip can be found on my website at.
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Thanks for reading – Comments Appreciated -- Dan
Keywords: Arch Rock, Bandon Beach, Blog, Cape Arago State Park, Circular Beach, Coast Highway, Dan Hartford Photo, DanTravelBlog, DanTravelBlogNWCoast, Devil's Punchbowl, Face Rock, Haceta Head Lighthouse, Lincoln, OR, Newport Oregon, OR, Oregon, Oregon Highway 1, Otter Rock, Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, Silez Bay Park, Sunset Beach State Park, Umpqua Lighthouse
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