Saturday, June 22, 2013



When Irish immigrant George Bennett arrived at the mouth of the Coquille River on the southern Oregon Coast he brought the name of his Irish hometown, Bandon, to the new settlement.  Additionally, he brought an Irish shrub called gorse (ulex europaeus) and planted it as a fence hedge surrounding his property.
Gorse is plentiful along Oregon's South Coast
This ornamental evergreen with its bright yellow blossoms soon infested the area, spreading along the sand dunes and throughout the town. Unfortunately, the high oil content of its foliage made the plant extremely flammable, a factor that would change Bandon forever.

In 1936, the town was a thriving community: a logging and fishing center, home to cows and cranberries, and the busiest port between San Francisco and Portland. On a warm and dry September evening, a shift in winds brought a nearby forest fire closer to town. When it reached the gorse, the fire exploded into an inferno completely destroying the entire commercial district in a short time and leaving 1800 inhabitants homeless.

Coquille River Lighthouse
Like the mythological Phoenix, the town rose from the ashes and rebuilt itself. Today, Bandon-by-the-Sea, as it is known in tourism parlance, is a favorite destination on the Oregon Coast. The Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, a complex of five courses just north of town, attracts players from all over the world. Set on a bluff overlooking the ocean and dunes, it consistently appears on any list of top ten golf courses and compares favorably to some of the best in Scotland and Ireland.

There is more than golf to keep visitors coming back. Like any coastal community, the ocean is the big draw, and the setting in Bandon couldn’t be more spectacular. Wide, sandy beaches are easily accessible and offer a plethora of driftwood, agates, jasper, and petrified wood. Offshore are wildly sculpted sea stacks and monolithic rock formations providing sanctuary for a wide variety of sea birds. Where the Coquille River meets the ocean, an octagonal lighthouse with a tall round tower stands guard over the perilous bar. Built in 1896, it was the last lighthouse constructed along the Oregon Coast. It was decommissioned in 1939, but volunteers and lighthouse enthusiasts keep this landmark maintained and opened to the public during summer months.

Wooden, welcome arches lure travelers along Highway 101 to detour into Bandon’s Old Town. This compact downtown offers a variety of shops, galleries, restaurants, an excellent history museum, independent bookstore, and plenty of free parking. A walkable waterfront lines one of the two main streets allowing close access to fishing boats, charters, and fresh seafood. Bandon Fish
Market makes a tasty stop for fish and chips followed by a dessert visit to Cranberry Sweets located across the street. This local institution features all sorts of cranberry candy goodies, and they are most generous with their free samples.

Cranberries are an important business here and Bandon boasts of being “The Cranberry Capital of Oregon.” The acidic, sandy soil and mild climate make it a perfect place for cranberries and there are nearly 1600 acres under cultivation. Bogs can be seen along Highway 101 north and south of town with most of these berries destined for bottles of Ocean Spray juice.  On the second full weekend in September, the town celebrates this crop with a four-day cranberry festival.

Bandon Fish Market
Bandon is also known for its dairy industry and for years, Bandon Cheese was a popular stop for visitors traveling the coast. After the business was sold to Tillamook Cheese, the creamery and retail store closed, but a new cheese factory opened this spring. Face Rock Creamery will be offering a variety of their locally made cheddars as well as squeaky cheese curds and Umpqua ice cream cones.

The town of Bandon is bookended by two state parks. To the north is Bullards Beach State Park with a large campground, sandy beach, and access to the lighthouse. To the south, is a string of state owned lands including Face Rock Scenic Viewpoint and Bandon Natural Area offering beach access and close-up viewing of the rock formations offshore. Beach Loop Road parallels the ocean, connecting all these scenic vistas. No trip to Bandon would be complete without a stop at 11th Avenue and Beach Loop Road at Coquille Point for a calendar view of the very best of the Oregon Coast.

From Coquille Point

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