Coos Bay

We drove down to the historic town of Coos Bay on the Oregon coast yesterday with a few deviations on the way.

On leaving Portland, we got confused by the some of the freeway directional signs and in places, there were only a few hundred metres to get from one side of a 60 mph five-lane freeway to the other in order to be able to be in the correct lane. As a result, we ended up going over the St John’s Bridge twice and another bridge once. I’m very pleased that we had two things in our favour. The first was a GPS – we simply couldn’t have found our way through the maze of back streets to be able to get back on to the freeway without one. Secondly, I’m glad that none of these river crossings were tollways, otherwise we would be broke!

Our first stop for the day was at McMinnville where there is the large Evergreen Aircraft and Space Museum. It houses many interesting aircraft, but the stand-out exhibit is the Spruce Goose. The Spruce Goose, or Hughes H-4 Hercules is gigantic – the largest flying boat ever built. It was a prototype heavy strategic airlift military transport aircraft designed and built by the (Howard) Hughes Aircraft Company. It was intended as a transatlantic transporter for use during World War II but it was not completed in time to be used in the war. The aircraft made only one brief flight on November 2, 1947, and the project never advanced beyond the single example produced. It was built entirely from wood because of wartime restrictions on the use of aluminium. The Spruce Goose was originally displayed at Long Beach in California. I remember seeing to many years ago when we first took our kids to Disneyland.

PA310548 Pano

Jill didn’t want to look around the museum. so I left her in the coffee shop while I did a quick walk around. I was interested in the great  variety of aircraft that they had – a Spitfire, a Steerman, and a B17 Flying Fortress that was used in Europe in WW2. By today’s standards it looks tiny but in WW2 it was one of the largest aircraft in service.


I could have spent hours looking at all the planes and I didn’t even get to the Space section of the museum to see aircraft like the Blackbird that they had on display. When I picked Jill up from the coffee shop, she asked ”Which one is the Spruce Goose?” It was only the largest and most overwhelming exhibit of all in the museum, but I guess that planes are a much more of a boys thing!

We drove onwards towards the coast so that we could follow Highway 101 down to Coos Bay (and eventually back to San Francisco). The weather was wet and cool and the sky was overcast. I had been looking forward to seeing the very scenic Oregon coast but with a combination of sea spray and rain, we couldn’t get much of a view at all. We joined the coastal Highway 101 at Newport City where we saw a sign to a place called Roads End. This gave us our first view of the coast was all we could see. It certainly didn’t look too good for the rest of the day!


We turned south to travel down Highway 101 and the weather remained the same. We got to one famous place that was named by Captain Cook called Cape Foulweather in 1778. He gave it this name because the wind was too strong to make a landing and he had to stand offshore for a day. Well, it hasn’t changed much. It has one of the most photographed views in Oregon, but all we could see was grey scudding cloud that gave us a visibility of just a few hundred metres.

The road followed the coast – sometimes at sea level and at other times climbing a bluff to be 300 metres or so above the water. We did find a few places along as we continued down the coast where we could get something of a view. There where some beautiful forests and we passed a number of lakes.


We found our motel in the middle of Coos Bay around dusk and went up the road for dinner at a German restaurant which had nice food. One of the differences between the USA and Australia, is that most small town motels don’t have a restaurant (other than for breakfast) so you need to go out somewhere to find a meal.

Coos Bay was established in the 1850’s as a town named Marshfield, but it changed its name to Coos Bay in 1944. It is the largest city on the Oregon Coast and has a current population of 15,470. Its name is derived from one of the area’s Native American tribes and has two Indian meanings – lake, and place of pines, both of which are very fitting. It was in its hey-day in 1910 when dozens of timber mills operated around the bay and it harbour was busy with shipping and tugs that hauled log-rafts to the mills for processing. Its economy is still based on timber, which is still actively milled in this area, along with tourism.


The weather had cleared a little this morning but we still had a few rain sowers. We headed out Cape Arago State Park which is on the ocean and about 20 kilometres out of town. There are many small parks along along the way, each with individual names. In Australia, we would have amalgamated all of these into something like ‘Pacific Ocean Park’ yet here, every headland or main place has its own name. 

We started at Sunshine Park, where a large horse-shoe shaped bay gave some protection from the pounding waves. We went back there late in the afternoon to see if any sort of sunset eventuated but another rain squall came through, visibility decreased and we missed our first sunset over the Pacific ocean. 


Other places around this section of the coast gave us so me superb views of huge waves crying into the rocks and fulfilling our expectations of the rugged scenery along this coastline.



Just to the north of Coos Bay is a vast area of sand dunes. Apparently people from Los Angeles drive all the way up here to drive through them in 4WD vehicles and sand buggies. All you need is a 9-foot high flag on your vehicle and off you go. We checked this area late in the afternoon but we couldn’t get very far into the dunes in our car.


Last night, the time here changed from summer time to standard pacific time, so we are losing an hour of daylight in each day. I guess that we will now have to try to start a little earlier so that we don’t run out off light in the afternoons.

Just near our hotel, and at the site of the old port, is a boardwalk where interesting displays tell of the old days and life in the town over the years. A large multi-storey building on the highway was once the large Tioga Hotel and now provides housing for senior citizens. There are a number of tugs moored at the wharf that are still used to support shipping that services the timber mills.



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