SHORE ACRES STATE PARK, Ore. — Less than a century ago, a mansion rose above these chiseled cliffs like some San Simeon of the Oregon coast: 10 bedrooms and baths, not counting servants' quarters. Living room with arguably the best view in the state. And a 52-foot Roman bath that could be filled with fresh water or seawater, heated or not, depending on the owner's whim.
The estate was named Shore Acres, a sunny moniker for a place with a cloudy past. This Shangri-La by the sea was lost not once but twice--first to fire, then to a bulldozer. Earlier this summer, as I stood on its cliffs, the only remnant of riches I could see was an old tennis court built within serving distance of the shore.
Even so, Shore Acres impressed me more than the gaudy grandeur of San Simeon, William Randolph Hearst's castle on California's Central Coast. After all, this is how a beautiful seashore was meant to be, untamed and untainted: jagged, 95-foot sandstone cliffs, a blanket of forest green draping toward wind-whipped waves, a mist drifting by over the landscape like a cool kiss.
This vision was a bit of serendipity. I had set out on a four-day weekend intending to try the popular yurts at Sunset Bay State Park, which neighbors Shore Acres, about 100 miles north of the California border. More than a tent and less than a cabin, each yurt is furnished with bunk beds, halogen lamp, electric heater--for the most part, all the basics of a lazy man's camping trip, minus the sleeping bag.
Not having to pack a closet's worth of gear was a plus. So was the fact that the varied terrain--hilly woodlands, sandy beaches, rocky tide pools and wind-swept bluffs--would provide enough outdoor adventure to fill each day in one of the few parts of the West Coast I had never seen. I flew into Eugene with my partner, Todd, and we drove Highway 126 as far west as it goes, then followed U.S. 101 south along Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Soon a sign announced our arrival: "Welcome to Oregon's Bay Area."
The Coos Bay Area--the towns of Coos Bay, North Bend and Charleston--is the most populous region of Oregon's coast, even though the head count barely tops 30,000. Renovated waterfront promenades and main streets peppered with trinket shops and cafes are clues that, with the logging and fishing industries fading, locals hope tourism might boost their economy.
And tourism seems like an easy sell considering that just 10 minutes south of Coos Bay lie three stunning state parks: Sunset Bay, where the yurts sit within earshot of the ocean; Shore Acres, whose once-resplendent gardens have been restored; and Cape Arago, with teeming tide pools and a welcoming party of barking sea lions.
We arrived at Sunset Bay in the evening, and I was glad we didn't have a tangle of tent poles to mess with in the dark. Todd, a die-hard camper, stepped inside our yurt, dropped his bag and plopped down on the futon couch with a look that said, "This is too easy." Firewood purchased at the park entrance is delivered to the door, and when the ranger drove up with a bundle of logs in hand, I almost felt guilty.
Though hardly luxurious, the yurt was nicer than I expected: insulated white canvas walls held up by a wood-lattice frame; sturdy pine furniture; a skylight and roll-down window flaps; electric outlets; and a front door with a deadbolt (not that we needed it).
The foam mattresses for the futon and bunk beds (twin on top, double on bottom) were thick and covered with new, immaculately clean, industrial-strength woodsy green vinyl that magically didn't bunch up or crinkle.
The floor had been vacuumed. The little deck outside had been swept. Our private picnic area, complete with table and fire ring, was freshly raked. All in all, the yurt was tidier than our apartment, and only $27 per night.
The winding, two-lane Cape Arago Highway links Sunset Bay with the neighboring parks, but I preferred a hiking trail that runs roughly parallel. The path zigzags under a canopy of spruce and fir, occasionally swinging out to land's end and some sunny perch over the Pacific.
Each succeeding glimpse of the ocean proved more photogenic, and soon we measured time not by the minute but by the number of pictures we stopped to snap.
About two dozen frames from the campground, we arrived at the Shore Acres State Park visitor center. Volunteer docents pointed us toward an observation hut on a windy, wide-open plateau. Inside, historical displays recounted how Asa Meade Simpson, a Maine ship's captain, joined the 1849 California Gold Rush. He soon realized that the real fortune was to be made selling lumber, food and other supplies to mining camps. His lumberyard and shipping holdings eventually stretched from Hoquiam, Wash., to Stockton.
Simpson's oldest son, Louis, went on to manage the family business, including its first sawmill and shipyard, in Coos Bay. Enchanted by the rugged beauty of this land, Louis went on to buy more than 1,200 acres to the south at headlands he dubbed Shore Acres.