Only eleven years ago, the New Carissa perished near Coos Bay, a reminder that modern ships are not immune to Pacific storms. It is now being salvaged and removed piece by piece. Neil McKown
By Marianne Scott
Route 101 curves and meanders along Oregon’s coast following the contours of its bays, coves and inlets for 350 miles. The drive along the Pacific Ocean is among the world’s most scenic, with broad beaches, sheer cliffs, sandy dunes and historic lighthouses offering an ever-changing panorama.
To enhance access to the spectacle of these craggy shores, Oregon has created a “string of pearls” made up of 47 parks, with additional pull-offs and view points. From these convenient stopovers, we gazed at stunning waves curling and breaking over the shallow continental shelf. Rocks and islets, some smoothed by the pounding surf, others resembling haystacks or spiky shark teeth, festoon the coast. We were delighted to learn that the entire coast is open to the public— not a “no trespassing” sign anywhere.
You are often alone on an Oregon beach. Marianne Scott
We began our Oregon journey traveling north from California, first stop in Brookings. Its broad beach was an introduction of things to come: the tawny sand, its length interrupted by tall limestone rocks rising like monoliths, twists of dried bull kelp marking the high tide mark while flocks of sandpipers ran into the surf, madly pecking at minute critters. As we approached, they’d sweep away and land again on their seemingly fragile legs yet running like roadrunners.
Oregon’s coastal communities, founded on timber and fishing but now relying more on tourism, are about 30-40 minutes apart by car and are usually located on one of the many rivers draining the Coast Range mountains. As we had sailed in our own yacht along Oregon’s treacherous coast on our way to French Polynesia, one of our goals was to learn more about several newly uncovered shipwrecks near these towns.
Easily-identifiable birds like the egret (left) and the osprey (right) are rewarding residents for birders to observe in their natural environment. Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau
Oregon’s picturesque seaside rocks certainly add to the dramatic spectacle when viewed from the land, but they’re deadly when approached from the ocean. Westerly winds push waves from as far as the Sea of Okhotsk off Siberia, and the energy of those waves has carried many a ship into Oregon’s lee shore. Yet somehow, there’s romance attached to wrecked ships, their stark demise and the power of oceans. Although no one knows the exact number of lost vessels, Oregon shipwreck historian Ned Reed’s wreck list counts 230 ships lost between Bandon and Humbug Mountain alone—a mere 30 miles.
Our first old carcass was the Acme, near Bandon. The 23-year-old, 154-foot wooden steamship stranded on the beach on Halloween in 1924, and broke in two. For decades, sand covered the remains until the fierce 2008 winter storms unearthed the wreck anew. At low tide, we drove our Subaru onto the beach and found the skeleton half-buried in buff-colored sand, some of its hoary ribs still covered by planking.
After inspecting the sad wreck, we spent the night at WildSpring Guest Habitat, www.wildspring.com in Port Orford. It’s located on a small peninsula jutting into the Pacific, and our hosts, the Duartes, work hard to minimize environmental impact by fostering native vegetation and wildlife. With cabin TVs only playing resort-supplied movies, we took the cue and unplugged our cell phone while quaffing wine in one of the five supremely comfortable cabins and floating in the open-air spa. Serenity reigned, sunlight played on ferns and tree trunks, a deer leapt away as gracefully as Baryshnikov. Except for the surf crashing on the rocks below, it was totally quiet.
On our way to more shipwrecks, we drove across a series of landmark bridges, most built during the 1930s as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s job creation program to create jobs and help communities nearly wiped out by the Great Depression. Designed by Conde McCullough, they display the streamlined, geometric forms of the Art Deco period. Today, these huge metal and stone engineering feats tie Route 101 together, a legacy that continues to demonstrate how government actions can make lasting contributions. Sometimes we stopped at one end of a bridge and briskly walked its length, enjoying its intricate structure.
A bridge built as a make-work project during the Depression of the 1930s. Marianne Scott
Our next wreck stop was at Coos Bay’s North Spit, home to the newly revealed George L. Olson, a 223-foot schooner launched in 1917 and wrecked in 1944. Successive storms have repeatedly interred and uncovered it — with the latest exhumation occurring this past winter when strong storms shifted huge quantities of sand along the beach.
To pay a visit to the Olson requires stamina. Because the nearby dunes are a refuge for the threatened snowy plover, only pedestrians are allowed beach access — at low tide — and it takes 75 minutes to walk to the wreck. We started our trek at the end of high tide and strode southward. It was invigorating—waves broke, shells littered the beach, the air was fresh. We reached the Olson and circled its once mighty bow that has endured the onslaught of waves for decades. Sand clung between its tarry planks while portholes created circles of light on the gray strand.
The 1944 wreck of the George L. Olson is again visible on Coos Bay’s North Spit. Neil McKown
It’s not Venice, but since 1999, Lincoln City www.oregoncoast.org has reinvented the Japanese tradition of blown-glass fish floats by hiding 2,000 floats on nearby beaches. Each year, from October through May, volunteers hide brightly colored hand-crafted balls in the sands and lucky beachcombers get to keep their finds. We strolled around the beach, full of hope, peeking under driftwood and lifting seaweed tangles. But that week’s glass gifts had already been collected.
So instead, David and I created our own floats at the Jennifer Sears Glass Studio, www.jennifersearsglassart.com, where five young artists teach us amateurs to blow a sphere. Aided by a patient instructor, each of us had a turn at lifting a steel rod with its orb of molten glass from the red-hot kilns, rolling our globule in candy-coloured shavings and squeezing the hot glass with metal tongs to distribute the tints. Another dip into the kiln, then we puffed our cheeks to inflate the glass into a transparent, multi-hued globe. You have to breathe forcefully, but stop before the glass pops like a balloon. What a way to use your own hot air!
Each year a different art poster announces Lincoln City’s glass ball beach hunt.
The cold, fertile waters of Oregon hide many life forms, few of which are visible from the beaches. To learn about the abundant sea life, we went to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, www.aquarium.org one of the most enticing, educational institutions we’ve ever visited.
Pacific waves, a shipwreck and a variety of exciting sea life make a walk through this acrylic underwater tunnel a memorable experience. Oregon Coast Aquarium
Its interior exhibits display a huge variety of sea life, including starfish, anemones and jellies as multi-coloured as a garden in bloom. An acrylic tunnel surrounded by sea water gives the illusion of walking beneath the open ocean, with sharks, rockfish and bat rays swimming all around us. I wanted to join the children who screamed in awe of the creatures whirling nearby. We also loved the outside displays, home to otters, sea lions, puffins and snowy plovers. A visitor can easily spend a full day learning about the mostly unseen creatures that share our earth.
That night, we loved our stay at Yachat’s Overleaf Lodge www.overleaflodge.com with its splendid natural setting. The hotel is built on the shore next to sandstone slabs sculpted smooth by wind and waves. The rooms are grand and offer balconies from which we watched the sun sink in the direction of China. All night long, natural rhythms and sounds of breaking waves soothed our
We spent a week exploring the 350-mile Oregon coast and are hard pressed to choose the best place. We enjoyed many walks savoring the raw beauty of the shore, the golden dunes, the wide beaches guarded by picturesque rocks, and the fast-flowing rivers. Lighthouses still warn ships of danger and small towns still offer strangers a warm welcome.
Oregon beach sunset, next stop China. Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau
Most people travel the Oregon Coastal Road (Route 101) in one direction and then return home via the much faster but not picturesque inland I-5 Interstate Highway. For comprehensive travel information, see Oregon’s visitor website, www.visittheoregoncoast.com.
Hiking and Biking: If you have time, hike a part or all of the 350 mile Oregon Coast Trail and camp along the way: www.oregonstateparks.org provides the details. Biking is also an option if you’re fit and adventurous. See www.odot.state.or.us/techserv/bikewalk for maps.
Historic Lighthouses and Bridges: See www.visittheoregoncoast.com/home.cfm?dir_cat=77584 and www.oregonstateparks.org.
Charts of Oregon Shipwrecks: www.chartsmapsgraphics.com and www.shipwreckregistry.com.
Travel writer and editor, Andrew Harper, of Hideaway Report fame, is widely regarded as the ultimate authority on luxury travel. In late 2008, he published his pick of “10 US Places To See Before You Die”. The Oregon Coast is one of them selected, as he says, from 30 years of professional wandering.
Lincoln City on the Central Oregon Coast is making a great effort to improve accessibility for locals and visitors with disabilities. Check out what they are doing at www.oregoncoast.org/accessibility-resources. It also hosts a Culinary Center with classes covering a wide array of themes and cuisines.
Enjoy other articles by Marianne Scott in our feature article collection: Spain’s Self-Catering Apartments or Hotel Accommodation: Which Works Best?, An Annual World-Class Music Festival on British Columbia’s Remote Pacific Coast and A Geological Adventure in Utah’s National Parks.
Marianne Scott is a Victoria, British Columbia writer specializing in nautical and travel topics ever since she and her husband, David, sailed from Victoria to Tahiti in 1996. For six months in 2005, they sailed the Baltic Sea in Beyond the Stars, their Hanse 411 yacht. They again explored northern Europe by sailboat in 2006.
Marianne writes for numerous publications in the U.S., Canada and the UK. She’s the author of Naturally Salty — Coastal Characters of the Pacific Northwest, and Ocean Alexander, the First 25 Years. Her website is www.saltytales.com.