Exploring The Southern Part Of The Cape Arago Highway Personal Story by Colette Kimball, Photos by Rick Obst
On a bluff high above the ocean,
a short rock wall separates me from the sea crashing onto the rocks of Cape Arago below. The wind off the water stings my face and carries with it the roar of the ocean and salty sea spray. The resiliency of the shoreline amazes me; it is constantly pounded by the Pacific Ocean and continues to stand strong. I shift my attention to the horizon, wondering at the history that has passed these shores. I have these views mostly to myself, because the southern Oregon coast gets fewer travelers than the rest of our coast line. Therefore it makes an ideal weekend getaway. Prior to this trip, I knew very little about the Coos Bay, North Bend and Charleston area. Luckily, for three days this past spring I stayed in Charleston and had time to explore Cape Arago. Only three miles separates Sunset Bay from Cape Arago State Park, yet along this short span of the Cape Arago Highway you will find tantalizing views of a lighthouse, impressive ocean vistas, three different State Parks, and numerous opportunities to enjoy wildlife. As a bonus, hiking trails connect the three parks offering an alternative way to experience this scenic shore line. 1. Sunset Bay State Park Sandstone bluffs protect the bay and beaches at Sunset Bay, which over the years has been used by the Coos Indians for launching sea-going canoes and later as a safe harbor for fishing boats during storms. Visitors today will enjoy easy access to the sandy beaches for beachcombing and bird watching,
excellent tide pooling, and calm water for swimming and boating. The park offers plenty of picnic tables and a campground with tent and RV camping as well as eight yurts. A public golf course is located nearby. 2. Cape Arago Lighthouse Located on Chief ’s Island, the Cape Arago Lighthouse tantalizingly beckons just off shore. This is the third lighthouse to stand on this island. The first was built in 1866 and both it and the next were lost to erosion. The present lighthouse was constructed in 1934. Chief ’s Island was returned to the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians in 2013. Though access to the island is no longer possible, the Cape Arago Lighthouse viewpoint provides a nice vantage point. 3. Shore Acres State Park In the early 1900s, lumberman Louis Simpson built a grand estate at Shore Acres on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Today, an observation building now stands at the site of Simpson’s mansion, offering interpretive panels of the estate’s history and protection for winter storm watchers. All that remains of the grand estate are the lush gardens which change along with the seasons – rhododendrons, roses, and dahlias all have their time to shine, with the Festival of Lights each winter perhaps shining brightest of all. 4. Shell Island Interpretive Stop The observation platform at the Shell Island Interpretive Stop offers views to Shell Island and Simpson
Reef. The Island and reefs are part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which provides breading grounds and resting areas for many marine mammals and sea birds. 5. Cape Arago State Park At the very end of the highway, Cape Arago State Park sits on a bluff high above the ocean. A State Park since the early 1930s, this scenic headland provides outstanding ocean panoramas. Two steep trails take visitors down below the cliffs. The North Cove Trail offers views of Shell Island, plus access to the beach for fishing and beachcombing. Picnic tables dot the trail, some located in protected nooks with excellent views out to the ocean. The steep South Cove Trail takes you to a secluded cove with access to tide pools. With all that Cape Arago provided over the long weekend – sandy beaches, impressive ocean views, manicured gardens, local Oregon history, and nursing harbor seals at Simpson’s Reef – I spent the last afternoon descending the South Cove Trail at Cape Arago State Park. It was an outing timed to coincide with low tide. In contrast to the windbuffeted bluffs above, the secluded beach provided a peaceful break. I took off my jacket to enjoy the sunshine, while searching the tide pools for sea anemones, hermit crabs, and other critters rarely seen. It was a fitting end to an enjoyable weekend. Colette Kimball is a writer and blogger who enjoys exploring Oregon and sharing her experiences on her blog at www.MySouthLane.com.
Biking, Fishing, Diving, Hiking, Golfing, Picnicking, Picture Taking, Four-Wheeling, Sea Lion Viewing, Visiting a Flower Garden, Or Just Taking a Drive Tour Inquire at Davy Jones Locker for details www.OregonCommunityConnection.com