Cape Blanco State Park
Four miles north of Port Orford, west of U.S. 101, is Cape Blanco, whose remoteness gives you the feeling of being at the edge of the continent—as indeed you are, here at the westernmost point in Oregon.
From the vantage of Cape Blanco, dark mountains rise behind you and the eaves of the forest overhang the tidewater. Below, driftwood and 100-foot-long bull kelp on slivers of black-sand beach fan out from both sides of this earthy red bluff.
Somehow, the Spaniards who sailed past it in 1603 viewed the cape as having a blanco (white) color. It has been theorized that perhaps they were referring to the fossilized shells on the front of the cliff.
With its exposed location, Cape Blanco really takes it on the chin from Pacific storms. The vegetation along the five-mile state park road down to the beach attests to the severity of winter storms in the area. Gales of 100-mph winds (the record winds were clocked at 184 mph) and horizontal sheets of rain have given some of the usually massive Sitka spruces the appearance of bonsai trees. An understory of salmonberry and bracken fern help evoke the look of a southeast Alaskan forest.
Atop the weathered headland is Oregon’s oldest, most westerly, and highest lighthouse in continuous use. Built in 1870, the beacon stands 256 feet above sea level and can be seen some 23 nautical miles out at sea. Cape Blanco Lighthouse (541/332-6774, 10 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Tues.–Sun. Apr.–Oct., $2 adults, $1 children under 12) also holds the distinction of having had Oregon’s first female lighthouse keeper, Mabel E. Bretherton, who assumed her duties in 1903.
Tours of the facility include the chance to climb the 64 spiraling steps to the top; this is the only operational lighthouse in the state that allows visitors into the lantern room to view the working Fresnel lens.
Over the years, several shipwrecks have occurred on the reefs near Cape Blanco, including the J. A. Chanslor, an oil tanker that collided with the offshore rocks in 1919 with the loss of 36 lives.
Near Cape Blanco on a side road along the Sixes River is the Hughes House (541/332-0248, 10 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Tues.–Sun. Apr.–Oct., free), a restored Victorian home built in 1898 for rancher and county commissioner Patrick Hughes. Owned and operated today by the state of Oregon, the house offers an intriguing glimpse of rural life on the coast over a century ago.
In addition to the regular season, it’s also open during the winter holiday season, when punch and cookies are often served on the weekend before Christmas.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel