Moving from south to north along the Oregon coast, the next historic lighthouse in my sights is Cape Arago. I check to see if it is close enough from Bandon to make a run after work one day, particularly since I work Central Time hours, and can start out as early as 3:00pm. I consult my “Oregon Coast Lighthouses” State Parks brochure to find that it is only about 25 miles north of Bandon, up a smaller two lane road, so I wouldn’t even be backtracking all that much when I continued on up Highway 101 come the weekend.
But then, I see the bad news. “Cape Arago is not open to the public. An overlook a quarter mile south offers a good view.” HUH???? An overlook?? A quarter mile away? That’s as close as I can get??
I decide to park at Sunset Bay State Park, a scenic, serene little cove, very atypical from the rough wave action along the Oregon Coast. There is a trail linking Sunset Bay with nearby Shore Acres State Park, and it is from this trail that I have my best chance of getting a shot of the Cape Arago Light.
I hike out the quarter mile toward Shore Acres, and get a glimpse, but think, “Surely this can’t be it. There has to be a better view.” I have two cameras in my bag, and this is the best shot I can get.
One camera is wide angle, but the zoom is broken. The other is a DSLR, but at only 55mm lens, it is not powerful enough. I am irritated and frustrated! Why? It’s just a photo of an empty building. I cannot explain, other than to say that “I can’t FEEL it from here!”
I keep walking down the trail, but I am getting further away. The aspect is getting worse, not better, so I turn around and head back to the car. Perhaps there is another trail on the north side of Sunset Bay.
I remember seeing a road named “Lighthouse Road,” upon my approach to Sunset Bay, so I try that first. It is a “Dead End, Private Drive, No Trespassing, Chain-linked Fence, Keep Out, This Means You!” kinda road. Turns out, the Cape Arago Lighthouse has been deeded back to the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, and it is now considered private property. Okay, I respect that. But if I can just find a closer view…
I drive back down to Sunset Bay. As I pull into the parking lot, there is a couple parked near the end. I notice they have Oregon plates. The window is down, so I approach. “Excuse me. Are you guys from around here?” “Yeah, sorta…how can I help?” “I am wondering if there is a path on this side that’ll get me a closer view of the lighthouse?” “Yes, but it’s not an official trail. You’ll have to do some navigating through the brush. Just head up this bluff, keep your eye on the path, and keep to the left.”
Halfway up the bluff on an ankle-busting, tree-rooted path along the cliff, I am really wishing for those dee-luxe hiking boots back in my car. I see a clearing through the brush, but it looks more like a deer trail than it does a human trail. But the cliff-side path has ended, and there is no other way except into the woods, or back to the car. So into the woods, I go.
I decide I will only go in so far as to not lose sight of the cliff’s edge. About the time I have decided it is too risky, I notice a small, orange plastic ribbon (the kind they use for marking trees to be cleared) dangling from a limb overhead. I think it is odd to see such a marking in such thickly wooded area. Why just this tree? Then, I look ahead in the distance, and I see another! They are leading me through the forest! (Yes, but leading me to WHAT, my family is worrying!)
The underbrush is thick, but I can still see the daylight of the cliffside path through the trees behind me, so I keep going. I am bushwhacking my way through tall shrubs, low hanging limbs, and downfallen trees, but I never lose sight of the orange ribbons. I do wonder what this could lead to, but then how is it really any different than a blazed hiking trail? I tell myself I will keep following it, but the minute I lose sight of the next marker, trail or no trail, I will turn around.
Finally, after what seems like an hour, but is probably only 15 minutes, I can see a clearing. I come to what looks like an old abandoned road. To the left, I see it!!
There in the beautifully landscaped clearing is a Native American cemetery. And just beyond the clearing, a beacon, on isolated, illusive, forbidden territory, standing stoically alone on its own island….Cape Arago Light.
I take what must be a hundred photos, all which look exactly alike, but I keep on until I am satiated.
Hoping not to have to retrace my “bushwhacking path,” I follow the old abandoned road for a while, until I realize I am on the inside of the “Dead End, Private Drive, No Trespassing, Chain-linked, Keep Out, This Means You” fence. I see a small path off to the right, and hope that it leads to an opening around what appears to only be a façade of a fence. I have to cut across the back of someone’s lawn like a paparazzi, wearing a black hoodie with a Nikon camera around my neck, and I wonder if someone is watching me from their bedroom window thinking “There goes another nut…”
Now having my Cape Arago Quest satisfied, I decide to continue on to explore Shore Acres State Park. A crossroads sign along the path indicates “Botanical Gardens” to the left, “Simpson Beach” to the right. I have about 30 minutes before sundown, so I decide to see if the gardens are open. There is no gate, so I stroll through. I am completely blown away by what I find here on the edge of the sea cliff. I would have never expected a formal garden at the beach!
This beautiful garden was built in 1906 as a part of the Simpson Estate. The three story mansion no longer stands, but the gardens and lily pond were restored and maintained, just steps from the sea cliff. Once more, I find myself in a magical place, all alone, as there is not another car in the entire park.
I head toward Simpson’s Beach in time to grab a few photos from the overlook before sundown. But the park gate is locked promptly at 9:00pm, and I can see the Ranger’s truck approaching. So I have to leave this magical place all too soon…
(Note: No bloggers were harmed during making of this post. Had I been hatcheted in the woods by an axe murderer, my family knows my credo: “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”)