Coolest Small Town ~ Bandon, OR

Cute little eatery

Back in 2010 this small town of ~3300 was named one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America” by Budget Travel. We wholeheartedly agreed as we wandered her streets and shops.  With 20+ eateries, this town relies on  tourists who come here for the temperate climate, rugged wind-swept beaches, fishing, crabbing, golf, and storm watching.  Also drawing in the crowds is the annual Cranberry Festival, which takes place in early September. We learned that 95% of all Oregon cranberries  are grown here and Bandon is the first location of “wet harvested” bogs, where dikes are built around the bogs then flooded in the fall and the cranberries rise to the surface, ready to be gathered.

cranberry bog
Cranberry bog, photo by Wood Sabold

This little town that sits at the mouth of the Coquille River was named by George Bennett, an Irishman who settled here in 1873, naming it after his beloved Irish hometown of Bandon.

bandon marina
Bandon marina

He brought with him a plant common around Ireland, gorse.  Little did he know at the time the impact this spiny hedge-like plant would have on this community.

Colorful harbor view

In the early 1900’s Bandon’s  population of roughly 1800 was considered to be a booming town.  Being a heavily forested area, fire was always a possibility but not much of a worry until the fateful day of September 26, 1936.  The Bandon residents had no idea the destruction the gorse plant would cause when a fire erupted.  This plant, being very oily, reacted as gasoline thrown on a fire and no amount of water added to the mix would have a positive outcome.  What remained of the town after the fire died was 16 buildings, of the approximate 500 standing before the burning began.  Ironically, a week before the fire, a local plant pathologist warned the residents of the hazards of a fire with so much gorse in the area.  Today you can still see remnants of this plant but it is strictly regulated as to its height and thickness.

coquille river lighthouse
Coquille River Lighthouse as seen from Bandon harbor.

Spending time at the Bandon Historical Society Museum is a great way to soak up the history of the area, we had heard, but unfortunately  we ran out of time so we relied on Nina and Paul of Wheeling It, to educate us about the area, given they are volunteering as Lighthouse Hosts at the Coquille River Lighthouse.

This cute little lighthouse stands at the mouth of the Coquille River and is the second smallest of the 8 lighthouses still standing in Oregon, with a 47 foot tower.  It is also the last, built in 1896 and replaced in 1939 by an automated light constructed on the south jetty.

Fog lifting from the jetty

Our last evening in Bandon was spent with Nina and Paul having dinner at the Alloro Wine Bar & Restaurant, a definite must if you are in this coolest of small towns.  The entrees were yummy and the chocolate mousse was almost too pretty to eat, almost.

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RV Friends, Fabulous State Parks, and Hunting Strange Rocks

We are staying at one of the many wonderful Oregon State Parks, Bullards Beach, on the southern coast.  Nina and Paul of the blog Wheeling It are here as well, volunteering as interpretive hosts at Coquille River Lighthouse.  We are anxious to take a tour of this lighthouse with them as our guides but first we are looking forward to just catching up and seeing their great pooch and kitties.

We always look forward to reading both their blogs, Nina’s full of information on RVing (RV tips, places to go, things to see), their adventures, fabulous photos, great writing style and Paul’s Investing for a Living has made me realize I need to devote more time to this topic.  Nina recently posted about her cousin visiting and of scouting out concretions, which I had never heard of before.  I read more and was fascinated so she took us along with her to find the elusive giants, only able to be viewed at the lowest of tides.  There was no signage saying “this way to the giants” but Nina was determined to find Fossil Point and we are discovering with a focused Nina, look out!  Fossil Point is very aptly named, wouldn’t you say?

Oh so lovely fossilized shells!

I am totally enthralled with these rocks and urge all to read Nina’s fantastic post on this topic.  What is a concretion you ask?  To quote Steven Michael, it is “a compact mass of mineral matter, usually spherical or disk-shaped, embedded in a host rock of a different composition”.  They are more common than you might think and in Oregon the largest concentration can be found throughout the Cape Arago Headlands, right outside our back door.  So, if you like rocks or the study of geology, you are gonna love concretions!

Spotting these giants from afar at Fossil Point, I would have jumped up and down if we weren’t already slip-sliding through seaweed and mud.  Nina didn’t say it was going to be easy to get to them but we knew it would be worth it, and boy was it!

Nina, giving some perspective to the giant concretions

From Fossil Point we headed to Yoakam Point north of Sunset Bay State Park to “The Wall” where more amazing creations awaited us.  Guiding ourselves down a short, slippery hill we hit the beach and took a minute to take in the views.  Wow!

Cape Arago Lighthouse from Yoakam Point

A great view of the Cape Arago Lighthouse can be seen from here and is one of the few ways left to see it, as it was decommissioned back in 2006.  The bridge leading out to it is in disrepair and no longer safe to cross.

The concretions at Yoakam Point are nothing like the giants we had just seen but rather looked like someone had thrown them into a wall of mud and they stuck there.

“The Wall” at Yoakam Point
Was it something I said?

From here Terry and I headed to Shore Acres State Park to check out Simpson Beach, where we were told there are must-see concretions.  Simpson Beach would be special without these most unusual rock formations but they are indeed the icing on the cake!

Seat fit for a queen!
Looks like the spine from a prehistoric mammal.

Another stop to make while driving through Shore Acres is Simpson Reef, where you can look out to Shell Island, a popular breeding area for many sea birds, Stellar and elephant sea lions, and harbor seals.  If you are lucky, as we were, a couple will be there with spotting scopes offering a peek to anyone interested.

From here definitely stop at the botanical gardens.  What began as a private estate and grand gardens for shipbuilder Louis J. Simpson is now a beautiful public botanical garden with over 600 rose bushes with a breathtaking mix of colors and a lovely pond.  If you happen to be in the area over the holidays, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, an annual tradition is “Holiday Lights at Shore Acres“, which looks quite lovely.

Lovely setting to sit for a spell
Lily pads
Rose garden beauty

Cape Arago State Park was to be our last stop for the day and what a treat it was.  From the scenic headland we watched with a small gathering of folks while two gray whales spouted, breached and shook their flukes for all to see!  It was an exciting ending to the day.

We have only a couple more days to spend in the Bandon area and already are dreaming about our next visit here.  We have enjoyed reconnecting with friends Nina and Paul, spending time in the fabulous states parks that are so well maintained, and hunting for the most unusual rocks.  Life is good!

Cape Arago Headland

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