COOS BAY, Ore. — If magnificent panoramas and spectacular seascapes are your thing, the Oregon coast is certainly for you.
Tucked between dramatic bluffs and rocky headlands are long, broad stretches of beaches for walking. Great, long rolls of frosted waves wash up on the white sands, lapping at the bare feet of strollers and sweeping away the tiny tracks of birds busy at the water's edge.
Here and there wildflowers bloom at the ocean's edge, and picturesque lighthouses crown lonely points.
Beachcombing is at its best. Rockhounds look for agates, jasper and jade. The sculptor seeks driftwood. The naturalist studies tide pools.
Oregon's coast stretches for 400 miles from Brookings in the south to the Columbia River on the north. Unlike many of our nation's shorelines, it is largely in the public domain and has not been disturbed by developers. And the state park system is among the best in the land. Campgrounds are clean, have nice large sites and are numerous.
Over the years our van has taken us to many of them. We've never been disappointed.
Gaunt and Ghostly
Harris Beach State Park, a few miles beyond the California border, rises above the ocean 200 feet, on a butte. Jagged sea stacks rise gaunt and ghostly from the surf that rolls up on the mist-shrouded shore. Most campsites are in open places, but some have been carved amid natural buffers of blackberry, spruce and Douglas fir, perfect for those who seek seclusion.
Two miles up the beach, at Samuel Boardman Park, an intriguing rock formation spouts like a whale. We had a memorable picnic on a small spit of land that reaches out to the ocean, with wondrous views.
Sunset Bay Park, near Coos Bay, has one of the few safe swimming beaches, with no undertow or dangerous current. A short distance south is the former estate of a lumber baron who gave his wife a summer home as a Christmas gift.
Nothing is left of the three-story mansion, its swimming pool or dance floor, but the formal gardens are impressive. Most of the trails are the ones he laid out for his wife's walks, including one on the brink of the cliffs where the ocean crashes onto the rocks 75 feet below.
Great Fishing Territory
This is great fishing territory, with good catches of ling cod, greenling, sculpin and shallow-water rockfish, and the south cove of the park serves as an anchorage for boats. I've seen more than a hundred boats anchored there waiting for the proper tide to cross the bar into safe harbor at Coos Bay.
Bullard's Beach Campsite's main attraction is that it's near the mouth of the Coquille River, where you can find agate, jasper and other semiprecious stones along the beaches.
Shifting hills of sand stretch for more than 40 miles along a strip of coast between Coos Bay and Florence. Many dunes are more than 250 feet high, with some as high as 500 feet. It's a blast for dune buggy enthusiasts.
But most visitors appreciate the dunes for the solitude and singular beauty they offer, rising like a backdrop out of "Lawrence of Arabia." Kids scramble to the top of monumental drifts, then descend in a giddy, headlong tumble.
But it's not all barren desert. In sheltering forests are campgrounds, picnic sites and hiking trails.
Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park, on the northern edge of the dunes, is Oregon's most-used park. Sand dunes reach right down into Clearwax Lake, one thing that makes this a most popular camping spot.
Cape Lookout Park was named after a rocky headland that extends almost two miles into the ocean, where wind-whipped breakers pound against the dark shore, forever reshaping the coastline.
Typical Coastal Rain Forest
The campsite is in a typical coastal rain forest, and the main reason I love this park is the hiking trail that leads through hemlock forests and tangled undergrowth into the moist, shadowy glens. The trail is easy enough to walk, although in some places it passes close to steep drop-offs that can easily shake anyone with fear of heights.
Ft. Stevens State Park is a wonderful place to spend some hours clam digging, surf bathing and beachcombing. Right at the mouth of the Columbia, it's the perfect place to catch salmon and bottom fish. There's also freshwater fishing for bass, perch and trout in Coffenbury Lake. Charter boats go out from Astoria, and bring back salmon catches.
Oregonians have a lot going for them, but even they don't give high marks to their weather. "In Oregon it rains even when the weather is good," they say. The local joke is that "in Oregon you don't tan, you rust." They drag out the Lewis and Clark diaries; poor old Lewis was almost out of his mind with the incessant rain, they claim.
But that only means it's wise to bring along foul-weather gear. In July and August the weather can be brilliant. September can be dicey, but one of the most memorable vacations of my lifetime was spent in Oregon the first two weeks of September.
In the early morning mists I gazed out on huge monoliths, eroded into grotesque shapes by the surging sea. By noon the fog had burned off, and I walked along the shore talking to fishermen angling into the surf.
In autumn Oregon is almost unpeopled. It's beautiful.
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Some Oregon state parks close from mid-October to mid-April. Of those mentioned, the following are open all year: Harris Beach, Bullard's Beach, Jessie Honeyman, Cape Lookout, Ft. Stevens (Sunset Bay closes). Other parks that remain open are Beverly Beach, Farewell, Hilgard Junction, J. P. Stewart, Valley of the Rogue and Washburn.
Reservations may be made at certain state parks between Memorial Day and Labor Day, including Honeymoon, Sunset and Stevenson. Call the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department at (503) 238-7488 for listings or to make reservation.
Fees at all Oregon state parks are $8 for tent or van, $9 for electric hookup, $10 for full hookup.
For other tourist information call (800) 452-0294.