An easy trip from Roseburg to Bandon offers many points of interest and a great way to spend a winter day.
Story by Bentley Gilbert, Photos by Samantha Starns
Oregon’s human history, natural history, geology, riparian and ocean life and “life” created from the detritus thrown up on our shores appear throughout the course of a day trip to the coast from Roseburg.
Born predominantly from two streams, one emerging at nearly 6,000-feet elevation in the Mount Thielsen Wilderness, the other from more than 2,000 feet high in the Cascades, the Umpqua River begins its 111-mile descent to the Pacific Ocean six miles northwest of Roseburg.
“Any river is really the summation of the whole valley. To think of it as nothing but water is to ignore the greater past,” naturalist Hal Borland wrote in the middle of the last century in This Hill, This Valley.
That’s a good way to look at the Umpqua River. The fifth-largest in Oregon by discharge, the Umpqua is one of the few rivers to cut through the Coast Range. The North and South Umpqua forks come together to form the main stem at Douglas County’s River Forks Park.
There, the Master Gardeners’ Discovery Garden shows a welter of different species in well-tended beds, xeriscape (low-water), children’s, herb and butterfly gardens among them.
Continue on Old Garden Valley Road toward the crossroads at Umpqua, past filbert groves and several wineries, among them Reustle Prayer Rock with its well-known wine cave, and the Henry Estate, one of the valley’s oldest.
At Umpqua, the Lighthouse Center Bakery serves soups and sandwiches from its all-vegetarian menu. Jellies and jams are for sale. On a rotating basis, the spiritual community that owns and operates the bakery offers a portion of 14 different loaves made from all-organic ingredients.
Continuing west, the Umpqua River will appear on your left. Several waysides and boat ramps offer views of the stream. At this point, the shallow water exposes flat-lying bedrock of the Tyee Formation in the channel.
Don’t overlook Elkton, about 39 miles from Roseburg on Highway 38, along the Jason Boe Corridor, named for a longtime Oregon State Senate president. In this quaint burg, Brandborg Winery offers its vintages for tasting and sale.
If it’s lunchtime, delicious home cooking and wood-fired pizzas can be found at Tomaselli’s Pastry Mill and Café across the street.
If you’re bringing children, or if you’re a fan of butterflies, the butterfly pavilion, native plant nursery, park and gardens of the Elkton Community Education Center is at the western edge of town.
The 30-acre site also features a replica of historic Fort Umpqua, the southernmost outpost of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
At Scottsburg, about 20 miles west of Elkton, the Umpqua becomes an estuary, where its fresh water mixes with the salt water of the ocean. This brackish water teems with life. It is wide and slow and swollen. A county park at river’s edge offers excellent views upstream and down.
Not to be missed as you approach Reedsport is a herd of about 100 Roosevelt, or Olympic, elk which reside year-round at the Dean Creek Wildlife Area, jointly managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Generally visible (binoculars help), their white rumps or large racks of antlers rising from the field as the ruminants chew their cud make them easy to spot.
As exuberant as the garden was where we began, the garden at Shore Acres at Cape Argo, just south of Coos Bay, is formal. A showplace of the late timber magnate Louis J. Simpson, the gardens display year-round flora with seasonal peaks: the blooms of 300 dahlias show themselves in early fall, with spring bulbs and daffodils later. Roses, thousands of annuals and perennials, rhododendrons and azaleas bloom in their season. Evergreen shrubs and trees define the garden throughout the year. A holiday light show glows nightly from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve.
Contrasting the serenity of the gardens is the surf crashing against the cliffs and headlands of titled sedimentary rock. A more sheltered beach can be reached by a stairway adjacent to the gardens. A fully-enclosed observation building affords spectacular views of rugged seascapes, towering storm waves and, from December through June, glimpses of migrating whales. A hiking trail connects the other two parks to the north and south with excellent views of tidepool life and marine mammals.
Our last stop is in Douglas County’s adopted beach town, Bandon, and the Washed Ashore workshop. The nonprofit “creates art to save seas” and is the inspiration of artist and educator Angela Hazleton Pozzi. Through exhibits of aesthetically powerful art, the project aims to educate a global audience about the plastic pollution in oceans and waterways.
From this flotsam and jetsam come colorful shorebirds and marine animals. Sharks, turtles and puffin are among their creations. A whale skeleton greets visitors to the workshop’s home in “Old Town” Bandon.
Founded in 2010, the project collected 38,000 pounds of bottle caps, plastic bottles, beach toys and even flip-flops washed ashore on Oregon’s beaches. From this seaside community, 78 miles to the west, Washed Ashore exhibits all over the country in such places as the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, botanical gardens in Florida and currently, at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Washed Ashore also has been featured on PBS’s NewsHour.
DAY TRIP FACTS
River Forks Park to Reedsport, with stops for roadside attractions, historical markers, scenic views, and meals:
7 1/2 hours
Return trip, Bandon to Roseburg, with no stops:
All publicly-owned parks and facilities on this trip were scrupulously clean, well-interpreted, and offered some wheelchair accessibility.
MORE DAY TRIP SUGGESTIONS
Umpqua River Lighthouse at Winchester Bay
• Bandon Dunes Golf Course
• Bullard Beach Lighthouse
• Bandon beaches
• Face Rock Creamery