There are so many great choices of places to visit on the Southern Oregon Coast that we had a tough time picking a “home base” from which to explore. The forecast was for stormy weather, so we were focused on finding a good spot from where we could do some stormwatching.
We chose Winchester Bay because it was right around the corner from the Umpqua River Lighthouse, which we missed seeing last year, near beautiful sand dunes, and within day trip distance to the charming town of Bandon.
There is a county RV park by the marina that offered a decent rate for a weekly full hookup site. We chose a site with a view of the mouth of the Umpqua River and the ocean surf just beyond it. Check out my review of the Winchester RV Resort here.
We drove over to the Umpqua River Lighthouse right after we settled in. Unfortunately, guided tours of the lighthouse only run through September so we missed exploring the inside. That of course is the downside of traveling in the low season, but the up side was that we had almost an entire row of campsites at the campground to ourselves.
We definitely planned to return to the lighthouse at night to see the light in its full glory.
Next stop was Umpqua Beach. The beach is part of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, the largest stretch of coastal sand dunes in North America, with sand dunes rising up to 500 feet above sea level.
There are dunes as far as the eye can see and all the way down to the beach. We climbed a couple of smaller ones by the beach with Angel.
As we reached the top, we could see some really massive sand dunes in the distance. These are very popular for off highway vehicles, but this time of year there were none. Lovely.
Looking towards the beach on the other side was a thick coat of sea foam, looking like a frothy milk shake and stretching along the entire beach. The sea foam was deceiving, just when I thought it was a thin coat above the sand, my feet would sink down to the ankles. But it was very cool to see so much of it.
The driving rain with high winds is not the kind that you casually go out in. So we worked on plans for the drive to California, a few indoor projects and did some laundry in our little washer/dryer combo.
Then the rain subsided a bit and we headed to Bandon. This adorable little town has a beach with stunning sea stacks and lots of little shops and restaurants in its old town area.
On the way into Bandon, we stopped to visit Washed Ashore, a non-profit whose mission is to “educate and create awareness of ocean debris and plastic pollution and its effect on marine life species”. Since 2010 thousands of volunteers have collected over 17 tons of trash and used it to create over 66 giant sculptures of sea life most affected by plastic pollution.
I first saw an exhibit of these ocean trash sea creatures in Sea World in San Diego and was fascinated by the work. But both years we have stopped to check out the organization in Bandon, it was closed. Still, we are fans and will try to visit them again whenever we are in the area.
We had another chance to walk on a wild and beautiful Oregon Beach – always a treat. This beach also has a great view of the Coquille Lighthouse, still stately sitting out on the point although decommissioned long ago.
But the sun was going to set behind clouds, so we left the beach just before sunset and headed to Old Town Bandon.
Our destination was Coastal Mist, a “chocolate boutique” that specializes in desserts, cakes, pastries, and stunning artisan chocolates. They also offer a selection of fresh sandwiches. But we were there for the drinking chocolate, which we had tried for the first time last year.
This time I tried a flight of drinking chocolates that included a drinking caramel – delicious. Their drinking chocolate is unbelievably rich and yummy.
As we headed out, we had one other surprise, Bandon was wearing its Christmas garb and even a couple of the boats on the harbor were decorated with bright lights. Truly a lovely little town.
We stopped back at the Umpqua River Lighthouse on our way back to the campsite. It is an incredible sight at night. Its red and white first order Fresnel lens glitters like diamonds and rubies. And its beams of light bounce like giant Christmas balls across the pine trees that surround it. Breathtaking.
I am always in awe of these beacons of light; the resilience of the structures and the people that worked there and the history that surrounds them. They are a reminder to all of the force and power of the sea. Lighthouses have so many stories to tell.
It was very dark and a photography challenge for Hector, as the Fresnel lens created such an intense light. His first reaction to the very cool scene was “how the heck do I shoot this?!”.
We tried a “painting” technique where I shone a flashlight on the lighthouse’s base to try to balance the light a bit. And then Hector tried a lot of different settings without the “painting” technique.
The next day the rains returned with even more force than before. The wind was loud with fierce wind gusts. It was what they call a “sideways rain”. It knocked our barbecue off its table and unrolled the top of the aluminum table off its base. Fortunately, we were able to retrieve everything and stow it during a brief calm period.
After a couple of days the winds died down a bit but the rain continued. Although raining, our last night was Hector’s last chance to photograph the Umpqua River Lighthouse. He learned a lot while reviewing the previous photographs and was intent to return.
He spent quite awhile taking photographs in the rain while I watched the lighthouse from inside the car. This is one of the most magical lighthouses I have seen at night. And Hector captured some nice images after all of his hard work.
The river rose quite a bit during our last few days there, not enough to force anyone to move, but enough for Hector to keep a very close eye on it. It was a good time to leave.
We had hoped for clearer weather for our departure but the rain continued. Fortunately the winds had subsided. But it did not make sense to wait, since no clear days were in the forecast.
Bandon was on the way so we opted for one last quick stop at their indoor Farmers Market, held every Saturday until right before Christmas. It is a small but enjoyable farmers market with jams, baked goods, meats and eggs as well as arts and crafts. And super delicious clam chowder from the fish market that is onsite. No produce this time of year though.
We met a vendor at the market who told us that the lower part of her farm was submerged. She said she only had three animals there, so she was able to move them. The rest of her animals were on top of a hill and we sure hope the water never got that far.
We are glad to have experienced the powerful storms the Oregon Coast is so famous for. Mother Nature put on quite a show.
Our intent that afternoon was to continue our drive until we crossed the California border – but would we make it in the rain?