The Pacific Highway part 1: Portland to Fort Bragg. (July 2015)


We left Portland and headed west, via McMinnville, on Highway 99 towards the Pacific Highway and the 101.

Our first stop was at Depoe Bay on the Pacific. They claim to have the world’s smallest navigable harbor, measuring just 6.4 ha.

Just down the coast is Seal Rock, a huge tourist attraction with hundreds of the smelly mammals sunning themselves.

We continued our way south, past Yachats and on to the Heceta Head Lighthouse. It was near here, at Cape Creek, that we discovered our first Conde McCullough bridge.

In 1919 Conde Balcom McCullough (1887-1946) became head of the bridge division of the Oregon Department of Transport and was responsible for the design of over 600 bridges during his lifetime. His bridges were known for their architectural beauty and he embraced the simplicity and elegance of the Art Deco style.

During the 1930s the Pacific Coast was becoming more densely populated and the inland roads were not coping with the ever increasing numbers of autos that were being pumped out of Detroit.

Driving for pleasure was becoming a pastime of the American public and they demanded better roads with easier access to the coastal town and resorts.

Cape Creek Bridge was one of 14 bridges, designed by Conde McCullough on US Route 101 – a road specifically created to open up the Pacific Coast.

Florence is a delightful seaside town that also sits on the Siuslaw River. It is divided into two very distinct areas.

The Old Town, that runs along the river and the New Town that hugs the 101.

A feature of the old part is the Siuslaw River Bridge, opened in 1936 and also designed by  Conde McCullough.

Just over the river are the Oregon Dunes that extend 60km south from the Siuslaw River. In some placed the dunes rise 150m above sea level and provide entertainment to off-road vehicles, hikers, photographers and campers.

After Florence we continued south towards Crescent City in California.

On the way we stopped off at Umpqua River Lighthouse, which was the first light in the Oregon Territory and built in 1857.

Nearby is the Umpqua River Whale Watching Station at Winchester Bay. There were plenty of people looking for wales but none to be seen.

Within the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park is Lake Marie, a small freshwater lake with a sandy beach and again lots of opportunities for the outdoor type.

Formerly the North Bend Bridge, the Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge was dedicated to its designer in 1947, a year after his death.

We had a coffee at Jason’s Pacific Blues or the ‘Reluctant Cafe’ as we named it.

Jason was the antithesis of the over exuberant service staff we have come to expect. He was gruff, disinterested and, as the owner, not looking for tips.

We obliged him and didn’t leave one.

Our next river crossing was on the Rogue River Bridge or Patterson Bridge. Completed in 1932 and again designed by Conde McCullough it has a strong Art Deco feel in its detail.

We stayed at motels along the coastal route.

This style of accommodation is also frequented by the bikies, or bikers of the west coast.

These are mainly older guys, many with their partners who love to cruise the Pacific Highway on their Harley Davidson motorcycles.

In the main they are friendly, gregarious and very courteous on the road.

The next night we spent in Crescent City, which was a strange place, especially after Florence.

There seemed to be no town centre, the streets were empty and obvious places to eat were few and far between.

We stumbled, with the help of Triposo, upon Tomasini’s Enoteca, a very strange wine bar, cafe.

There was no real food.

It was a Friday night and the place rocked.

‘Warren and Friends’ were playing a mixture of Country, Jazz and Pop.

The locals came and went, consuming ‘sandwiches’ on the way. Some stayed, drank wine and some danced. Now a sandwich in the USA is anything that’s stuck between two pieces of bread. it could be a burger but there are many other options that also make up a sandwich.

Even though there were six beers on tap and many more bottled beers in the fridge, wine was the libation of choice at Tomasini’s Enoteca – even the blokes were drinking it.

This was the first real wine bar we had encountered, but we were now back in California, so I guess this was to be expected.

While the rest of Crescent City was dozing, Tomasini’s Enotec was wide awake.

The next day we drove from Crescent City to Fort Bragg, we were still on the 101 and still heading south.

Before leaving we went down to see the Battery Point Lighthouse. Built in 1856 it was one of the first lighthouses on the Californian coast. It’s situated on an isthmus that can only be reached at low tide.

Luckily the tide was out that morning in Crescent City.

Not far from Orick is the Redwood Forrest of the Prairie Redwoods State Park, a sanctuary for these ancient trees.

One, simply known as the ‘Big Tree’, was 1,500 years old. To put its age into perspective, this was less than a hundred years after the sacking of ancient Rome.

We left the 101 and joined the Pacific Coast Highway 1 and headed to Fort Bragg, another wind blown seaside town, with wide streets and no real city centre.

We again discovered another cultural haven, the North Coast Brewing Company. Founded in 1988 it’s a major sponsor of the Monterey Jazz Festival and the 42nd largest craft brewer in the US.

Good food, good wine, great beer and a very pleasant atmosphere.

There were 19 draught beers to choose from.

Before heading off for the drive to Napa we spent some time wandering around Fort Bragg.

Just near the museum was a section of an ancient redwood tree. This was the oldest known redwood in the area and was chopped down in 1943 to make flooring.

It was estimated to be 1,753 years old.

Now on Highway 1, we passed through through Elk, and then headed south to the Port Arena Lighthouse.

I was chasing bridges and Thea was looking for lighthouses.

The road had fewer twists and turns but the coastline was still spectacular.

We stopped for coffee at Jenner, one of the many small seaside towns along the coast.

It was the weekend and we were just far enough out of San Francisco to get the day-trippers.

The roads were crowded and made even slower by the large number of RVs.

We have seen these ‘apartment block’ size motor homes everywhere but it was now the summer holidays and the numbers had swelled.

The sluggishness of the traffic was exacerbated by the old codgers driving sports cars such as Corvettes and Mustangs.

It goes to prove the theory, that when you are rich enough to afford one, you are too old to drive it.

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