I recently drove up Hwy 101 to visit a friend who lives just outside Newport, Oregon. I’ve driven this road in all kinds of weather, but this trip was in warm sunshine with a bit of wind, and it was lovely! The rolling hills with rocky outcrops begin at Smith River in California, and continue north for quite a ways into Oregon. Occasionally there are places where the foothills drop right into the ocean, creating rocky coves and spectacular cliffs. Cape Sebastian just south of Gold Beach comes to mind, as does Humbug Mountain south of Port Orford. Hecate Head (north of Florence) has a very photogenic lighthouse. Much of the coast north of Hecate Head is very rocky, and Hwy 101 makes some interesting twists and turns. The coast north of Coos Bay all the way to Florence is the land of dunes, and Hwy 101 goes a bit inland, to skirt along the edges of various small lakes east of the dunes.
While I’ve driven this stretch of Hwy 101 before, it’s been a little over a year since my last trip over it, and before that there was a gap of several years. I saw changes last year — Oregon put a lot of money into upgrading the bridges (or at least their appearance) and to creating obvious crosswalks for pedestrians. I also noticed the slide that used to occasionally close Hwy 101 south of Pistol River appears to be stablized — there are small trees and brush growing on that slope. This year I noticed more changes in the small towns south of Coos Bay. Port Orford still has empty buildings for sale, but there is building going on, and some of the storefronts have been revamped and filled with interesting little shops. Langlois always struck me as a company town (Ocean Spray Cranberry) that seemed rather sad and rundown. But this time there was fresh paint on buildings, planters full of flowers in front of some businesses, and a sign for a Montesori School. Looks like new blood is moving into the area.
The towns from Yachats up to Newport tend to be picturesque. (I don’t usually use that word, but it works here, and is obviously what they are striving for.) There are plenty of art shops and gallaries, bed and breakfasts that look interesting, and you get the feeling they might be places worth visiting for a relaxing weekend. Things get busier around Newport — the University of Oregon has an nice aquarium, and the old town sections (including along the wharf, under the bridge) have a variety of cute shops and interesting places to eat. Some of the shops are frankly kitchy, but that just makes them fun. I have never seen a bigger selection of windchimes than in the stores along the wharf. If you visit the Newport, Oregon, website you will find a listing of all the things to do in that area.
The best part of this drive is the scenery, however. Sandy beaches, rocky beaches, rolling hills, windswept trees, rocky outcrops — it is so beautiful. The blues, browns, beiges, greens, black rocks, and ocean whitecaps — I want to fill our house with those colors. And today there were the smells of ocean, and green things growing and blooming. I am thankful to live on the West Coast, in this area that still has such wild beauty.