US 101: Oregon’s South Coast

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The Coquille Lighthouse near Bandon. / Photo by Peter Murphy

Bandon is like no other beach town in Oregon, and the locals like it that way. “It’s what’s not here that draws folks,” says Tony Roszkowski, the owner of Tony’s Crab Shack and Seafood Grill on the waterfront. “People come here to get away from the hustle of the city and simply enjoy the coast for what it is.” True to form, Roszkowski left the cable TV business in Queens, New York in 1989 to settle in Bandon. He started the Crab Shack in 1990 and hasn’t looked back. Stop in, toss a crab pot into the Coquille River Bay and cook the catch right there.

“It’s a beautiful place,” says Hortense Joyce, turning on her Bandon Chamber of Commerce spin. “Newport has what it has. We have the rocks.” Table Rock is one of these monolithic attractions. Jutting prominently offshore from the cliffs at the southern edge of town, Table Rock is one of the many monoliths that dot Oregon’s southern coast. On a sunny day, waves crash over Table Rock and spill onto the shore with a mesmerizing cadence. In the winter, fierce swells pummel it.

Traveling south of Bandon, Highway 101 swings slightly away from the sea. About milepost 276, you’ll see the major employer and processor of Bandon’s famed commodity—cranberry producer Ocean Spray. During the harvest months in the fall, you can see workers in the flooded bogs, getting cranberries ready for market. Gary Gant and his son, Gage, are among them. It’s a lifestyle that well suits them. “I’m my own boss,” says Gary. The climate in Bandon is perfect for cranberries and for him, too. Living alongside deer, elk and other wildlife adds to the experience.

Farther south along the highway, you’ll pass Misty Meadows Homemade Jam shop at about milepost 278, and her jars of Bandon cranberry butter and jam. The southern coast has its art colonies, too. Myrtlewood Gallery, Woods of the Mist, Art 101 and Something Awesome wood carver all pass in rapid succession. Near milepost 282 you’ll stumble upon something kitschy yet remarkable—the West Coast Game Park. Here, you can get as close as you want to a live cougar, bobcat or bear.

If being the prey at the West Coast Game Park has made you hungry, then consider stopping at the Langlois Market in Langlois near milepost 288. John Kazmiersk, a videographer from Salem, stops there as often as he can for the hot dogs. “It’s worth making the trip to Langlois just for the dogs,” he suggests. Even Oregon’s top foodie, Gerry Frank, is known to go out of his way for one of these dogs.

Passing Denmark, once a small community founded by Danes, the highway winds through dairy and logging country. Cape Blanco State Park, the westernmost point of Oregon, awaits at milepost 296. For lighthouse aficionados, tours resume again in April.

Near Port Orford at milepost 300, you’ll swing back to ocean vistas. Port Orford is home to the Port Orford Heads State Park and historical lifeboat station. It was from here that heroic crews braved adverse ocean conditions to save many mariners between 1934 and 1970. The Chatham- style Coast Guard architecture of the officer-in-residence house from the 1930s is one of its finest preserved examples on the West Coast.

Just to the south of today’s Port Orford, early pioneers came ashore at Battle Rock. They clashed with the Dene Tsut Dah, or “Ancient People” in 1851, sparking a battle between the two cultures. The settlers fled the battle after nine days, only to return later and establish the Port Orford colony.

Rocky shoreline vistas run for miles here, broken by the promontory of Humbug Mountain. Stretch your legs at Humbug Mountain State Park where there are trails, overnight camping and a day-use area. Ophir State Park lays adjacent to the ocean at milepost 319. A tsunami siren in this park reminds visitors that the Cascadia subduction zone l sits offshore and has been responsible for incredible earthquakes along the coast in the past.

Another reminder of pioneers’ conflicts with Native Americans is enshrined at the Giesel Monument, at milepost 322. This cemetery of the Giesel family, who died in skirmishes of the Rogue Indian Wars in 1855- 1856, is a peaceful, secluded area—appropriate to commemorate all of those who lost their lives as settlers clashed with local tribes.

European exploration of the southern Oregon Coast came much earlier, as a monument to San Sebastian notes at milepost 352. It was just fifty years after Columbus set foot in the West Indies that Spaniard explorer Sebastian Vizcaino viewed the cape, that is now named after the patron saint of that day of discovery back in 1542.

Tiny Gold Beach awaits your discovery at milepost 377. Just south of the Rogue River, Gold Beach draws visitors from all over. Among other things, this is the launch port for jet boats that cruise up the Rogue River and the confluence where fishermen cast a line, hoping for the tug from a trophy salmon or steelhead. Excursions out of Gold Beach—once the site of hundreds of gold mine sites—have given rise to the moniker “Gold Coast” for this stretch of the southern Oregon oceanfront. Today the currency of the Gold Coast is weighed more on fish scales and tonnages of deep red cranberries than it is on precious metal scales.

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