Every road trip must have “one of those days,” and today ways ours.
Boat in Suislaw Harbor, Florence, Oregon
(This is another long’ish post w/many photos…)
We awoke early’ish after not sleeping too well due to noise from nearby Hwy 101 and walked to Old Town Florence, wherein we had a glacially-slow breakfast at Pauline’s Cafe (over an hour for bacon & eggs, and there were only 2 other tables occupied!), then strolled the waterfront. Old Town is located near the mouth of the Suislaw River, and there’s a pretty little harbor and funky waterfront buildings. We were much too early for anything to be open, however, and returned to our hotel, checked out, and headed south.
Oregon Coastal Dunes
Our fist stop for the day was at Oregon Dunes Day Use Area, an overlook and trailhead at the north end of Oregon’s lengthy (40’ish miles) and ecologically unique coastal dunes. Sadly, non-native European Beachgrass, planted in the 1800s to control erosion, has doomed these dunes to oblivion within the next 100 years. The grasses take hold at the perimeter of the dunes, then, with more stable soil in which to grow, the bordering forest encroaches, slowly shrinking this ecosystem. The dunes were pretty, but rather depressing.
Roosevelt Elk at Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area
From there we took a short inland detour to the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area to see if perchance there were any Roosevelt Elk afoot. As luck would have it, a group of 8 or so stags were hanging out right by the roadway, and we got excellent looks at these stately animals, although a light rain/heavy fog disinclined us to linger for very long.
Onward to Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, we discovered that this week was “Dune Days,” and the road was very crowded with RVs and ATVs. Literally every available inch of space had an RV in it! After a couple of mis-turns due to the traffic, we found the lighthouse, located up on a hill above the dunes. It was overcast, and there was no sign of ocean anywhere, although some interpretive displays hinted that it was just a mile or so off to our west.
Umpqua River Lighthouse
Umpqua Lighthouse is open only by tour, which one arranges at the adjacent Coast Guard Museum. We opted not to wait around for a tour, but enjoyed the displays detailing the history of the USCG, and the surprisingly-large gift shop downstairs.
Bridge over Coos Bay
Southward over Coos Bay’s beautiful bridge (about the only thing memorable about Coos Bay) , and towards the South Slough Estuarine Research Center. Two of our guide books mentioned this was a good place for wildlife viewing and hiking, but it proved to be a long detour, and fruitless for both wildlife & hiking. We followed the “Charleston-to-Bandon Scenic Route” along the coast for nearly an hour (including a useless loop through Charleston’s tiny harbor), which might have been lovely if we’d had any views, but the fog was close-in, and we couldn’t see much apart from the RVs in front of us.
When we finally found the SSERC, we were unable to locate the trailhead for the hikes we were interested in. A “10-minute trail” at the interpretive center was uninteresting at best, and we later learned that the reason we couldn’t find the trails we sought was that a gate farther up the road was closed, which would have necessitated an extra 3 miles of gravel road hiking, bleah.
The under-rennovation Coquille River Lighthouse
We eventually rejoined Hwy 101 and made our way south to the town of Bandon. Just north of town I spotted a sign for the Coquille River Lighthouse, and, somewhat to Sarah’s chagrin, turned off. Alas, like the SSERC, this proved an unworthy detour – several miles of slow state park road eventually ended at a stumpy little lighthouse, covered in scaffolding. I quickly walked through the downstairs (the “tower,” such as it is, was closed for rennovations), and we beat a path back to 101 and sought lunch in Bandon.
Why are the crabs on the side of the building dancing?
Bandon is a cute little seaside village, housing mostly the usual array of nautical-themed gift shops, candy stores, and so on. We randomly picked the Bandon Bakery & Cafe for lunch, which, in keeping with the tone of the day so far, proved to be a poor choice. We walked along the waterfront on the Coquille River, then continued south.
One oddity about Bandon is that our Oregon Coast guidebook said it’s a “bohemian” town. Now, I do live in the Haight-Ashbury, and lived in Santa Cruz for many years, so perhaps my definition of what is bohemian is different from most folks’, but there was absolutely nothing bohemian about Bandon, unless your definition is “has a few stores that sell incense.” Oh well.
Next up was Cape Blanco and its lighthouse. Sarah was pretty much over lighthouses by this point, but I insisted, and we detoured 5 miles west from the highway to check out Oregon’s most westerly point. Well, to attempt to check it out anyways. Although the lighthouse is supposedly open until 3:30, when we neared it at 3:10, an official truck was blocking the access road, preventing entry – arrgh! Another useless detour in the day of useless detours! In protest, I declined to take a picture of the (somewhat faroff, but pretty) lighthouse.
Blue skies, bluer water, and green hills at Orford Head State Park
The day took a turn for the much-better when we arrived at Port Orford, a tiny (and I mean tiny!) seaside village 30 miles north of Gold Beach, our destination for the day. We started at Orford Head State Park and hiked around a little bit. This park featured beautiful views of the rocky lands to the south, and has a few miles of trails, although we only hiked the 0.6-mile Tower Loop. Much of an old Coast Guard station is still intact, and has interpretive displays and a museum (which was closed when we were there). This was definitely an area I’d like to spend more time at!
The day’s improvement continued with our early dinner in Port Orford at the Crazy Norwegian’s, Sunset’s #2 fish and chips on the west coast. Not only were these probably the best fish & chips I’ve had, they were very reasonably-priced to boot, and we finished with a slice of delicious coconut cream pie.
In a much better mood, we drove the last half-hour south to Gold Beach and checked into our lodgings at Ireland’s Rustic Lodges. Our room, the Sequoia Cabin, proved to be spacious, funky, and very much to our tastes. It featured a wood-burning stove, kitchenette, king bed, plush recliners, and a private deck with a view of the ocean.
Sunset from our cabin’s deck in Gold Beach, Oregon
After freshening up, we walked to the beach, perhaps a quarter mile west of the hotel. Gold Beach’s beach is long and lovely, but it was also very windy and we were getting sandblasted, so we decided to watch the sunset from the comfort of our deck instead.
Although the first 2/3 of the day were frustrating, it ended well, and we went to bed happy, which beats the other way around!
- Day 1 – SF to Ashland, OR
- Days 2, 3, 4 – Portland, OR
- Day 5 – Portland, OR to Pacific City, OR
- Day 6 – Pacific City, OR to Florence, OR
- Day 7 – Florence, OR to Gold Beach, OR <– You are here!
- Day 8 – Gold Beach, OR to Eureka, CA
- Day 9 – Eureka, CA to San Francisco