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South Coast offers beauty, fine memories

During the rough and tumble years when the Southern Oregon Coast was being settled, 30 miles would have been a good day’s ride by wagon or horseback.

Coos Bay to Bandon to Port Orford to Gold Beach to Brookings — each town lies 27 to 29 miles apart, and today it takes about 30 to 50 minutes to go from one to another by car depending on weather and the number of motorhomes in the way. There are stretches snuggling up against the scenic edge of the coast that are so outstanding, it’s hard to not stare, which could prove painful or worse. Fortunately, there are ample opportunities to pull off at viewing sites.

My destination was Port Orford. Settled in 1861, it’s the oldest town on the Oregon Coast. Coming from the north, you’d have to have your head in a bag to miss the 30(?)-foot-tall letters and arrows on a road directing drivers to the OCEAN VIEW. I’m glad I took them at their monumental word, because the top overlooked a breathtaking vista of churning surf hammering away at large, stubborn outcroppings. I drove down to the harbor in time to see a large catch of sea urchins being unloaded into a bin.

Back up top, I grabbed a mocha at Redfish restaurant and stopped briefly outside to listen to a street, or in this case, surf musician named Z. When he broached a political rant, I said, “Hey, now, I came over here to get away from it all and to hear you play.” So, he strummed a folk song, and I contributed a mite to his livelihood. He ran up to me with his CD as I climbed inside Fiona.

Next town was Gold Beach, where the Rogue River makes its exit and where we first introduced our daughter, Emily, to the delight of sand between her toes. Ireland’s Rustic Lodges is still in the memory-making business. I recall one year, when we hosted a family reunion there, the lot of us piled into Jerry’s Jet Boat and made the run up river to a family feast in Agness. Even though Gold Beach was more for reminiscing, I did peruse its excellent book store — more than 75,000 volumes available on two floors.

Brookings, too, held a great cache of memories for me. I drove down to the harbor where the Chetco River pours into the Pacific — site of my first salmon-fishing adventure with Dad and Uncle Dick. The Sporthaven is still there, but it hasn’t had Leo’s moniker before it for quite some time. My, how I looked forward to clam chowder and fish and chips at Leo’s after a morning of pulling in a lunker chinook. Herring with just the right bend, and pink ladies did the trick.

Folks were propping up booths for the Pirates of the Pacific celebration. I struck up a conversation with Jack (not Sparrow), who planned to sell decorator fans from Thailand. He wanted to write a book, too. It seemed everyone had a story to tell.

I made my way to the old Azalea Bowl lanes, thinking I might throw a line or two, but there was a for-sale sign where the open sign should have been. It seems bowling alleys have gone the way of drive-in movies.

Returning north, I treated myself to dinner at Spinners in Gold Beach. After an extended wait for a table, I hoped to reach Lighthouse Cove Inn, home base in Bandon, before dark. The delay paid off, as I had the length of coastline and the lowering sun alongside mostly to myself.

Others pulled off to witness the daily routine in an inspiring setting. I followed suit. The sun dipped, flashed green, and spread out over the waves like melting marmalade. A couple of men, perhaps Hoosiers, watched and marveled. I tooted my horn at them as I drove on, and they lifted their arms in kindred celebration. The story ended well.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.