Oregon, synonymous with mountains, beaches and wineries, continues to captivate today. One of the original US highways so designated in 1926, Highway 101 has helped bring together and bond the many small communities of coastal Oregon for over 75 years now. Providing the infrastructure so desperately needed in this rugged part of the country, 101 has helped Oregon to establish its Pacific beaches as a world-class destination. Indeed, a drive along Oregon Highway 101 has become a vacation in and of itself. The state of Oregon and even the U.S. government agree: Oregon's Highway 101 has been designated as both a state and national scenic byway. Don't you dare miss it!
So with this in mind, let's begin our trip into northern Oregon as we enter the state crossing the mighty Columbia...
Tame now as compared to when Lewis and Clark first rode upon it, the Columbia still presents a formidable challenge to even modern Engineering methods and materials. Do you realize that it wasn't until 1966 that the huge, 4.2 mile long Megler-Astoria river bridge was built? You can get an idea of the size/height of this bridge...check out the top of the semi-truck on the bridge in my photo. Until this bridge was built, the would-be traveler was more likely an unwilling sit-n-waiter...waiting for this little ferry pictured at the right to shuttle your vehicle on a choppy, 20-minute adventure across the river. This excerpt is from a 50's era Oregon 101 travel brochure I've managed to come across. Note the comments about Victoria, B.C. being noted as the northern terminus for U.S.101. It makes me believe that perhaps the strip of highway between Olympia and Port Angeles should have been designated as '101E' or something else altogether.
South of Astoria, be on the lookout
for the bustling little town of Cannon Beach. Named for the cannon of a
sunken ship that washed ashore near here, Cannon
Beach today is a thriving artist colony and tourist destination. If you've
seen any Highway 101 postcards at all, I'm sure you're familiar with the images
of Haystack Rock and Hug Point. In fact, I've got two or three great 'now
& then' comparisons I'd like to share with
you. For example, please compare this old postcard of Hug Point with my
current (06/02) photo of the same area. This spot is now in Hug Point
state park (north of the parking area) which is just a few miles south of Cannon
Beach. Upon closer examination, the old concrete from the original road is
still quite evident on this well-worn outcropping. I can't imagine what
the original road builders had in mind...trying to build a road so close to the
Somewhat further south just past the small town of Arch Cape, be sure to stop at the coast overlook at Oswald West state park near MM (mile marker) 41. This photo can only begin to convey the beauty of this place. A favorite spot for whale watching and just plain soaking up nature, take the time to examine not only nature's handiwork, but the work of those early road engineers that helped make this incredible road possible. That's the 101 retaining wall on the left. I've seen old photos of this spot. You're enjoying the view just as your great grandparents did!
Central Oregon along 101 is a study in
constant fascination...fascination with the myriad ocean beaches, and
fascination with the Engineering accomplishments
of the many incredible bridges along this stretch. These bridges are not
only incredible feats of technical prowess, but most were
designed with a concept that unfortunately seems alien in today's functionally-oriented
beauty. Also prevalent in this area, are a myriad of short, cut-off
segments of old and sometimes pre-101 roadways to be explored. One such lovely
segment is the Otter Crest Loop just south of Depot Bay. Closed to through
traffic due to a recent landslide (see pic), Otter Crest Loop road is an exquisite example
of the changes in highway evolution. The Loop is a twisty, narrow
road that skirts the cliffs of the Pacific, seemingly originally designed for pleasure. Today's Highway 101 roughly parallels
this older byway, but tends to plow its way through higher on the
hillside...less scenic, but more functional (see pic-that's new 101 above the
washout). Unfortunately, most people
today seem to prefer it that way.
Although 'born' in 1926, 101 didn't become a 'true' U.S. highway until 1936 when the last of the famous 'McCullough' bridges were built. Finally, many of the small, coastal villages were connected by a true north-south highway. Most of these marvelous structures are thankfully still with us. One such fine example is the graceful structure spanning Yaquina Bay in Newport. This bridge appears unchanged and is still as fine as it was 66 years ago. Please take a little time trip as you examine a couple of postcards of mine...one from the black and white era, another a decade later in the Linen era (no PM on either, so I don't know their dates of issue). The photo is mine, taken in the summer of 2001.
Further down the coast, be sure to spend some time exploring the awesome Oregon Dunes National Recreation area. Miles of dunes to enjoy, and many an outlet where you can rent quads, dirt bikes etc. What a blast! Anchoring the south end of this area, is the bustling town of Florence. Plenty of places to stay, an old historic shopping area down by the river, and of course, another trademark McCullough bridge! The Siuslaw river bridge was completed in 1936, and is another awesome combination of engineering and aesthetic skill. The bridge photo was taken just south of the bridge. Also be sure to check out the great art-deco detailing of the very southeastern-most pylon support as shown in my second pic.
Coos Bay is the economic anchor of the southern Oregon coast. Long a busy port for the export of wood/wood pulp and other lumber products, Coos Bay has experienced the same sort of economic depression as have so many other one commodity towns. The area is still interesting to the 101 roadie though, as several examples from the hey-days of roadie architecture live on. Take for example Molly here. I'd wager a guess that this establishment was not originally the Stockpot...! (Author's addendum...the following information courtesy Rick Pennington...Thanks Rick! "Originally this was an A&W Drive In. The next incarnation came as "The Hop" and that is when this new vintage-style sign was put up. The Hop closed down and then was re-opened as "The Stockpot". The local car club still likes to go down there and show off their cars.")
course, Coos Bay
is home to yet another of the wonderful McCullough bridges. Truly a work of
art, spend some time to explore the pilings and stairwells on either end of this
bridge. You almost get the sense of being in a cathedral!
Just south of Coos Bay, Highway 101 continues straight south along the coast. It always wasn't so. What are now known as Oregon Highways 42 and 42S were part of 101 until being bypassed in the early 60's. This area consists almost entirely of rural farms and marshy slews, but there were a couple of old roadside attractions left over from better times. Check out my pic of the 'House of Confusion'! I wonder how many kids forced their grumbling fathers to pull over for such whimsy!
As we approach California, we still have to cross one last, magnificent bridge-the Rogue River bridge at Gold Beach. Showing definite signs of aging, it was great to see that the ODOT was working to restore the bridge rather than replacing it. Please check out this photo from the late spring of '02. Note the cranes and scaffolding. From here, California is but a short jaunt away!