Friday, October 17, 2008

Road Trip Day 2, October 3: Cruising the 101, Oregon Style

Every time I drive Highway 101 down the Oregon coast, I fall in love. Oregon is blessed with having some of the most beautiful, pristine, and yet accessible beaches anywhere. True, they don't offer the magic of swimming in tropical aquamarine waters or lounging under palm trees on warm sand, but even under gray skies the Oregon coast astounds me. On Day 2 of our journey Michael and I headed from the small town of Sheridan, where my family lives, to Lincoln City on the coast, continuing along 101 as far as Bandon.

True to form, the weather was windy and blotted by off-and-on rain showers. But the beauty is still there in the windswept pines and craggy cliffs and sea stacks that are routinely battered by swirling white surf. In October, bursts of fire red and golden orange punctuate the grey and green landscape as maples and alders show off their fall colors amid the evergreens.

When the weather is truly bad, however, it can be most enjoyable to enjoy the scenery from the warmth of one's car. Michael and I made only one stop for sightseeing purposes, pulling over at the viewpoint for Heceta Head Lighthouse, a sight familiar to just about anyone who has ever received free scenic calendars from their local bank or drugstore. In those calendars, the sky is always a freshly scrubbed blue that reflects off the water and dotted with no more than a few benign white puffs of clouds. In person, there is a depth even under an overcast sky that can't be captured by a camera.

The other bonus to stopping at Heceta Head was the view of hundreds of sea lions lying on the rocks directly below us. Dozens more could be seen bobbing up and down in the sea as waves came crashing in. Just down the road not even half a mile is the famous (or infamous) Sea Lion Caves, where you can pay to take an elevator for a closer look at these blubbery sea mammals, but I would say you get a pretty good look at them from here for free.

We arrived at Bullards Beach State Park, just north on Bandon, in mid-afternoon and checked into our yurt for the night. This was our first yurting experience, but I can say that we are now true yurt fans. For only $30, many Oregon State Campgrounds, especially those on the coast, offer yurts for the night. For that low price you get a cute canvas-sided, cone-topped tent with a tiny front porch, picnic table, and fire pit. Inside is a bunk bed with a double bed on the lower level, a futon, small table and chairs, a heater, and an electric light. A bubble skylight lets in plenty of sunshine (if there is any), and windows on the sides can be covered for with sturdy canvas flaps for privacy or opened to the light. We were pleased to note that the heater really did work, and the yurt made a perfectly cozy little cabin, the only downside being that rain pelting against the tarp roof is loud enough to be a real disturbance when you're trying to sleep (not so different from a regular tent, after all).

When going yurting, remember to bring your own bedding, and you'll still have to share the campground restrooms unless you spring for the "deluxe" yurts they offer at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park (still a good deal at $66.00 per night in high season, with enough room to easily sleep seven).

Also, Oregon yurts are insanely popular and book up well in advance. I went online two months before our trip to try to book one and Bullards Beach was one of the only places, out of more than a dozen coastal parks offering them, that had any available - and this was for a date in October, not exactly peak season! But if your least favorite part of camping is setting up and tearing down the tent, and you always wished it was just a little more, well, comfortable, yurts are the way to go.

If You Go:
Oregon State Parks (info on where to go, including Heceta Head and Bullards Beach, and how to reserve yurts!):

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