Our Coast Magazine 2018:OC18
regon’s famously rugged coastline stretches over 363 marvelous miles of crashing waves, windswept vistas and mammoth, jutting sea stacks. Those breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean outside the window are available thanks to U.S. Highway 101. Whether hugging headlands, teetering on the edge of craggy cliffsides, or burrowing deep through dense old-growth forest, 101 faithfully traces our zigzagging coastline from border to border, connecting unique coastal communities rich with character. And every inch of beach along the way is free for anyone to explore. Because of a landmark state law passed in 1967, every beach in Oregon is public land. This is truly the People’s Coast and open for wanderlust.
Prior to the construction of 101, long before roads sluiced through the Coast Range, Oregonians felt that pull to visit the sea, especially when the valleys heated up during summer. But getting here was no easy task. As recently as the turn of the 20th century, inland Oregonians would take a boat ride down the Columbia River, exiting at Astoria or sometimes Fort Clatsop. From there, you could walk, hire a horse and coach, or take the local rail the 17 miles or so to beachfront resorts in Gearhart and Seaside. Just a few years later, you might see a Model T or Packard combing the sands beneath Tillamook Head or trying to traverse the dreaded onelane road blasted into the headland at Hug Point, which could only be accessed at low tide and was the single entry and exit point to the community of Arch Cape. Beach driving splashed into vogue in 1912 after Gov. Oswald West declared all beaches in Oregon public highways for a simple reason: There was no other major road on the coast. This all changed in 1921. Due to popular demand, Gov. Isaac Lee Paterson promoted the idea of a coast highway, and the state’s highway department rolled up its sleeves and started a design. Much of the road was complete by 1926 when the highway was officially dedicated as U.S. Route 101, but the passage still needed plenty of bridges and tunnels to become truly continuous. It would take another decade before work on all of the bridges was complete, but there was still one passage that kept the entire West Coast from being connected: the treacherous mouth of the Columbia River. For many years after the road was complete through California, Oregon, and Washington, the only way to cross the Columbia was by ferry. This would finally be rectified in 1966 when the Astoria-Megler Bridge opened. Back in 1931, the state officially renamed the route the Oregon Coast Highway, as it is still called today. In 2002 the famous road was promoted to become a National Scenic Byway-All American Road. And scenic it is! Now, there’s nothing more quintessentially American than a road trip, and, of course, it is just as much about the stops and the people you meet along the way as it is about cruising with the windows down, a salty breeze in your hair. As you plan your next trip, let Our Coast’s writers show you the quirky and can’t-miss stops along the North Coast and Southern Washington Coast. From majestic Oswald West State Park near Manzanita, Oregon, to the world’s largest frying pan in Long Beach, Washington, Our Coast will be your guide to every stop worth stopping at as you glide through the Lower Columbia, mile after historic mile on a road built to please. — Ryan Hume