After a wonderful stay in Harris Beach and our first tastes of fresh seafood and the Pacific coast, we set the theme for our next stop as Seascapes, Sea Lions, and Seafood. Our target was to eat only freshly caught seafood, find sea lions in the wild close enough to see and hear, and hike along some wonderful rough Oregon coastline. Just 130 miles north of Brookings, Winchester Bay is still considered the south coast of Oregon. We spent our week there touring lighthouses, hiking, watching sea lions and harbor seals, and of course, eating fresh seafood.
Winchester Bay is in the heart of the Oregon Dunes Recreation Area, over 40 miles of wind sculpted sand dunes along the coast. It is a huge ATV and Off-Highway Vehicle paradise. The dunes are really very pretty and unique and the wind is constantly changing and moving them.
But for us, Winchester Bay was centrally located for some north and south touring along the southern coast. It is just north of Coos Bay and just outside Reedsport. We traveled as far south as Bandon, and as far north as Florence. During our drive up, we stopped in at our favorite roadside store along the coast, Misty Meadows, and loaded up with marionberry jam and wine.
We stayed at the Winchester Bay RV Resort. A very nice RV park located on its own spit in the bay. We had a great spot with views of the marina and the harbor seals on the docks. It had a nice walking path around the spit and some great sunsets.
One of the surprises of the trip was stopping at the Dean Creek Elk Viewing area and seeing an entire herd of Roosevelt Elk grazing and settling in for the night. We had stopped here on a previous trip and did not see any elk so we held our expectations in check. But this year, the herd was there right next to the viewing areas.
Just south of Coos Bay, near Charleston is a series of state parks. Sunset Bay S.P., Shore Acres S.P. and Cape Arago S.P. All three feature beautiful coastline. We had been here previously and were on the lookout for sea lions. Unfortunately for us, the coastal fog moved in and the coastline was hard to see. On the north side at Cape Arago, we did hear the sea lions, but could not see them through the fog. Walking around to the south side of the point, the sky was clear and visibility was endless. Very weird. We walked back thinking the fog had cleared, but not on the north. Eventually the fog did clear some and we could see the sea lions out in the distance. The best views were at the Simpson Reef Overlook where we could see and hear them playing and talking. There is also a lighthouse at Cape Arago, but the fog was so thick, we never did see it.
One of the highlights of the trip was our tour of Umpqua Lighthouse. Just two miles from our RV park and located on a hill overlooking the Umpqua River and Halfmoon Bay, Umpqua Lighthouse is still an active lighthouse run by the Coast Guard and in fact has a small Coast Guard Station. We had been there previously, but it was closed. This time, it was open, and they were offering tours, even to go up into the lighthouse and to see the giant spinning lens. The tour was fascinating. It has a first-order Fresnel lens, manufactured in 1890 that is still in use today. These lenses are shaped much like the lens on our car taillights and Umpqua’s light can be seen over 20 miles out to sea. During our tour we were able to go up inside the spinning lens. When you looked up, it had the optical illusion of the lens standing still and the outside rotating. The bricks used to make the lighthouse were shipped up from San Francisco, the brick makers used to out their initials in them as a “signature”. The lighthouses along the Oregon coast have distinct beams so sailors know which one they are seeing. The Umpqua lighthouse beam is a unique rotating 2 white/1 red. We went back at night to see it and it was quite spectacular.
We took an excursion trip up to Florence and east along the Siuslaw River to Mapleton and then along to Sweet Creek Trailhead for an out-and-back hike up to Sweet Creek Falls. Just a short 3-mile round trip, it was pretty with multiple little falls and cascades the entire length. There were some metal boardwalks built into the sides of the cliffs. The main falls were flowing nicely, but you could see how big they must get during the spring melt and rains.
No visit to the area is complete without a day trip down to Bandon. It is a quaint little marina town with lots of little shops and walking areas. There are also some great small parks along the coasts and a lighthouse protecting the entrance to the harbor. Coquille River Lighthouse dates back to 1896. It is no longer in commission, replaced by a modern light out on the jetty. You can only go in the lower “office” which is now a small historical center and gift shop. It is connected to Bullards Beach which runs about 4.5 miles. The driftwood piles were huge. There is also a large Wildlife Refuge park on the southwest part of town. Primarily a bird sanctuary with some great coast views and some nice walks. We did the town and had some lunch.
The Pacific Coast Highway, US 101 is also known for its numerous bridges across the many tributary rivers feeding into the Pacific Ocean. Many of them were designed by the famous engineer, Conde B. McCullough. Stopping at one of the historic markers near his bridge at Coos Bay we learned he was an Iowa State graduate. Our famous alumni are everywhere. Go Cyclones!
The last segment of our goal was seafood and we did a great job of it. Top of the list was a yummy Seafood Pot Pie with a Marionberry crumble for desert at Light Harbor in Reedsport, based on a recommendation from a friend in Tucson. We ate freshly caught crab at Novelli’s in Florence. Their restaurant is a floating shack moored to the dock in the marina. Fun and very authentic venue! We also had crab sandwiches and tacos at Tony’s in Bandon. Great coffee at the River Rosters in Florence and too many marionberry bakery goods at the Sugar Shack in Reedsport. Needless to say, we did not do much cooking at the motorhome at this stop.
We had a great time in Winchester Bay. We met all of three of our goals of Seascapes, Sea Lions, and Seafood and got in a couple of nice walks/hikes as well. Next stop, the central coast and Newport, OR.