When she heard we liked to camp at Sunset Bay State Park, a woman in my Stretch and Strengthen class kindly loaned me a historical novel about the area. A Gathering of Finches by Jane Kirkpatrick gives life and dimension to the area’s past with a romantic flair, elucidating on the Simpsons, who were instrumental in founding nearby Coos Bay and built a mansion at Shore Acres (which later burned down). After reading it, I view the area quite differently, imagining the ships leaving the area with lumber, arriving with much-needed supplies, old vehicles driving dirt roads to bring visitors and goods, and people picnicking in the rugged wilderness – the creators of the paths that are now part of Shore Acres State Park.
Park literature describes that this observation building is seated where the Simpson mansion previously stood. It’s amazing to imagine the parties, the splendor, and the glamour that transpired here – with probably equal parts hardship and isolation.
In the present, the observation building offers sheltered viewing of the rocky cliffs, pounding waves, and a broad expanse of ocean. When we visited in December, we met the nice folks from Whale Watching Spoken Here. They had set up displays and were dispensing educational handouts to teach visitors about the whales that can be seen along the Oregon coast. Volunteers were available to help spot and identify the distant spouts of migrating whales.
About 150 steps from the parking lot or an additional 25 steps past the observation building, you reach a walkway with only a stone wall separating you from the waves pounding below and many miles of vast ocean directly ahead. Rugged cliffs flank the area, and the sea froths over nearby jagged rocks. Put on your rain gear and visit this destination when it is or has recently been stormy for an especially spectacular show. Ocean spray can reach to above the wall!
After they retired in Florence in 2000 and we were not yet Oregonians, my parents took my husband and me to see the holiday lights at the Shore Acres gardens on one of our first visits to the area. We had not returned to the Shore Acres gardens during the Holiday Lights event until this past December (2011). Continued volunteer efforts have definitely amplified the impressive display! Our recent stroll through the gardens at dusk brought views of a lighted ship, breaching whale, frolicking seals, soaring pelicans, and fluttering dragon flies, as well as many decorated trees. We’ve never actually made it to the gardens during a blooming season, but I’m sure the more natural dose of color would be just as brilliant.
September 2013 update: Early fall brings roses and dahlias. It was wonderful to see the gardens alive with color from petals rather than LEDs!
It wasn’t until I was creating the destination map for Shore Acres Gardens that I became aware we had missed the rose garden on all of our former visits. So, while camping in the area in September of 2013, this was a must-see stop. It turns out it was the perfect time of year for rose viewing!
As I rounded the corner, the breeze carried a sweet fragrance with salty undercurrents. I inhaled deeply, savoring. A few steps further along, neatly labeled rows hosting blooms in all colors, shapes and sizes decorated a well-groomed lawn, encased in an enclave of coastal evergreens. Raucous sea lion barks, muted somewhat due to distance, drifted up from the waters below, the cliff edge being not far beyond the garden’s edge.
I was concerned about seating, but my husband scouted ahead and found a bench to the left from the garden’s entrance. I passed beauties with whimsical names such as ‘Scentimental’, ‘Walking on Sunshine’, and ‘Amber Queen’, pausing occasionally to get a closer sniff as I headed toward the paver-encircled resting spot. Offering a wonderful vantage of the rose garden, it also served as a social hub, and we chatted with a couple from Corvallis about the gardens, the area, and other Oregon topics before parting ways and returning to our vehicle (and patiently waiting pups).
It was a wonderful morning outing on what happened to be our 20th wedding anniversary. Always the giving type, my husband took me to a field of roses, rather than giving me a paltry few cut stems!