A Scenic Drive in Southwestern Oregon - Curry County

Put very simply, southwestern Oregon has some of the most beautiful coastline in the entire country. The stretch between Brookings and Port Orford in southern Curry County is absolutely spectacular and extremely easy to access. Highway 101 running right along the coast has numerous view points, particularly within the Samuel Boardman Scenic Corridor. (Samuel Boardman was an early Director of the Oregon State Park System. This area is said to have been his favorite segment within the entire system.) Most folks drive straight through this most beautiful part of the coast without stopping and see little more than a highway winding through endless conifer forest with brief glimpses of blue water filtered through tall trees. Some stop at one or two of the view points and get a miserly taste of what lies a short distance below, but very few explore very far from the brink of civilization as defined by the edge of the parking lot. All of these harried, lethargic, hesitant, and cautious people are missing some extraordinarily beautiful corners of our world. There are deep forest glens, hidden beaches, small streams and waterfalls, crashing surf, natural arches, secret caches of driftwood, and dramatic cliffs all along the way and, in the Boardman Scenic Corridor, there are good trails that access all of these natural treasures. If the weather permits, finding a suitable spot for a secluded picnic is made difficult only by the plethora of magnificent picture book locations that beckon.

You would never know it from national weather reports, but this area of the coast not infrequently has hurricane force winds. These powerful winds sculpt land and vegetation into exotic forms. A relentless sea drives against the rock cliffs and carves grottos, arches and islands that rival the most picturesque imaginable. Frequent rainfall nourishes a lush garden of nature that includes a biological diversity that is becoming all too rare in our world. Century old spruce, hemlock, and fir reach high into the sky far above a trail bordered with luxuriant salal, ferns, and incense cedar while the humblest of lichen, mosses and fungi cling to the rocks below. In the spring, a bewildering variety of wild flowers enliven the trails, glens and cliff tops. At low tide the pools and shallows offer wondrous tide-pooling opportunities for young and old alike. Seals and sea lions hunt wild salmon in the cold waters off shore and a multitude of different kinds of sea birds pass overhead. Whales migrate past twice a year and, during the migration, knowledgeable docents staff informal whale watching posts along the shore answering the questions of passers by. Color is everywhere. The azure of the sky and cobalt of the ocean, the verdant greens of the forest, the rich earth tones of the land, the startling reds and yellows of the flowers, the unearthly chartreuse of the urchins, the reassuring ebony of the rock, and the ethereal silver in the sparkle of the rain drop momentarily captured on a leaf or rock. This place is just plain beautiful and it smells good too because the sea air is actually clean.

Just north of the Boardman Scenic Corridor, a beautiful wide beach spans a portion of the coast that stretches from the Meyer Creek Rocks to the bird sanctuary at Mac's Arch. Wind and water etch dramatic abstract designs into the sand that humble any made with mortal hand. Dramatic, sensuous, flowing sand dunes back the beach and offer private refuge from the cares of the world. Pistol River, a small rivulet that obtained its name after a pioneer accidently dropped his weapon into the water, drives through the sand dunes and empties into the ocean in a constantly shifting path depending on the vagaries of stream flow. Sometimes one place, sometimes a mile away. The small lagoon that is formed by the river is a resting place for migrating ducks and geese. North of Meyers Creek the enormous headland of Cape Sebastian juts out into the Pacific Ocean and an excellent trail winds up and over it to a beautiful beach leading all the way to the town of Gold Beach. Gold was mined in the sands of the beach in the nineteenth century and the small community of miners that nestled into the hills behind the beach were known by that name even though they tried to call their community by other, loftier titles. Today this stretch of sand offers a prime location for the imaginative to reconstruct a romantic castle protected by a moat, or a fur-trader's fort constructed of battered driftwood from far away, or a sand tablet upon which to write one's aspirations. No matter your choice, the pristine air is fresh and brisk and the breeze has the power to blow away cares and troubles. It is an excellent place to walk away from stress and anxiety.

There are two certified "wild rivers" that run into the sea along this part of the coast. The Chetco at Brookings and the Rogue at Gold Beach. A short distance inland from the coast a band of low coastal mountains is blanketed by the rich emerald green of the Siskiyou National Forest. Within the Siskiyou National Forest there are several important wilderness areas - the Rogue, Knob, and Kalmiopsis Wilderness Areas. Major wildlife populations including elk, deer, bear and mountain lions abound. Birds include everything from nesting bald eagles to the tiniest humming bird imaginable. For those willing to drive on gravel roads, eat a bit of dust, and hike a few miles there are some unique treasures hidden in these remote locales. The Kalmiopsis is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the United States and even with the devastation that was brought about by the Biscuit wildfire a few years ago it is still a wondrous venue for nature in all of it's grandeur. There are ancient pine trees that are twisted into dramatic Japanese bonzai shapes, narrow trails that run along dramatic rocky ridges, views that extend over vast distances of wilderness, and there are some of the largest douglas fir trees left in the world. The streams feeding the Chetco River run full to the brim with the very freshest, cleanest, purest water imaginable. The exceptionally rare kalmiopsis flower is flourishing.

One of the easiest ways to visit the Rogue Wilderness Area is by raft, kayak, or small boat. Launching near Grant's Pass tour guides offer excellent float trips of varying lengths. If you have the time and stamina, the very best way to experience the area is via the Rogue River Trail. The Rogue River Trail is fairly well utilized and becoming more so as time marches on. If you are quiet on the trail it is still possible to round a corner and find that you are sharing the path with a rather startled buck or doe. Massive black berry patches still have trails blasted through them as bears collect the sumptuous fruit. In some places it is still possible to rest near a boiling caldron of water in the river below and watch eagles fish for salmon. If it is the right time of year sow bears will be teaching their cubs how to dig termites out of rotted logs and, if you have the river between you and mom, the show is phenomenal. River otters still frolic in the river eddies below the bank and an occasional stately elk may be encountered in one or another of the meadows along the way. The salmon runs are not as spectacular as earlier, but they are still a sight to be seen as countless legions of fish stream up the river to spawn and perpetuate the existence of their kind. Nature is alive and well along the Rogue and it is a rare sight to be seen by a lucky few. If you are not attracted to the wild section, the lower part of the Rogue River can be accessed by a road from Gold Beach to Agness or one can experience a wild power boat excursion out of Gold Beach.

This region of the country was extensively logged during the twentieth century and an extensive network of logging roads and trails extend throughout the area. The resultant mystifying maze of misshapen tracks is poorly mapped and the routes are not well-maintained. Some of them cross private land and there is virtually no sign-age. One should be extremely careful in using them. There are also a number of forest access roads in the area and these are somewhat better maintained and information about their use can be obtained from the Forest Service. If one plans to drive or hike into the interior it is always best to let someone know where you are going and when you intend to return. Unpredictable weather can cause roads and trails to be impassible in a wide variety of ways and an accident on a wild river or unfrequented trail can quickly create a life threatening situation. In the wilderness there are no communities, cell phones and blackberries don't work, there is no routine trail or river patrol, and most importantly you are all alone. People who ignore simple, common sense precautions can die and some actually do die frequently enough that it is necessary to remind folks of what should be readily apparent to all. This remote portion of this region is very beautiful, but it is also very rough and can be exceptionally perilous.

The small towns of Brookings and Gold Beach both have all of the amenities necessary to support tourism. RV parks, inns, and restaurants are abundant and prices are reasonable. A couple of big box stores are located in Brookings. Accommodations in both towns are usually easy to obtain, but there are times when it is necessary to have reservations, particularly when the fish are running. Fishing for salmon is one of the prime attractions and when one of the salmon runs is in progress the area can be swamped with people and boats. When you plan a trip to the area, give yourself a few days to explore the many facets of life in this remote corner of the country. Spend a day exploring the many short trails of the Boardman Scenic Corridor, another day upriver on the Rogue, and a third into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Stay on the beach in Gold Beach or in one of the riverside accommodations along the Rogue. If you have the time, take a day and explore the northern part of Curry County. Port Orford Heads is a dramatic thrust of land out into the Pacific Ocean and is the site of a nineteenth century life saving station. Be sure to visit the museum and get an insight into the lives of some very brave men in oversized lifeboats whose motto was "you have to go out, but you don't have to return." A bit further north along the coast is Cape Blanco State Park which includes the Cape Blanco lighthouse as well as a pioneer homestead.

Curry County Links