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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 327
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A Jetty, a Bridge, and a Lighthouse
Friday 30 May 2014   —   Category: Outings
A couple of weeks ago I made a 17-hour, one-day outing to the Oregon coast. Much of that time was spent hiking in the Tahkenitch Dunes area. For more details on that part of the trip, see my article The Amazing Diversity of the Tahkenitch Dunes and the companion Tahkenitch Dunes 2014 photo album.

While walking along the Tahkenitch beach, I saw that there were a couple of vehicles on the sand. One is shown in the photo to the right. The other was an ATV which an older man was riding with his little dog, after doing some shore fishing.

As I was walking north, he was passing me as he headed south. I don’t usually talk with strangers, so I just tipped my head towards him in greetings. But he stopped and asked me where I was going. After explaining my hike, I asked him the questions that was burning inside me: where is the access road to bring vehicles onto the beach? He told me it was down south a ways, at the end of the four-mile-long Sparrow Park Road.

With that juicy tidbit of information, I knew what I was going to be doing after I got back to my truck a few hours later! Earlier in the year I had driven on the beach in California for the first time in decades ... see California Cruisin' — In the City and Off-Road for more details. So two months later I was very eager to drive on an Oregon beach for the first time as well.

Once I finished my hike and arrived at my truck, an ice-cold drink and a short rest readied me for the remainder of that day’s adventures. It was 3:30 and I was planning on arriving for dinner at the ever-popular Waterfront Depot res­tau­rant in Florence by 5:00. So it seemed like I had enough time to drive down to the beach for a while.

After winding south on U.S. Route 101 for exactly four miles, I turned right onto Sparrow Park Road. I was expecting at least some sort of sign saying “coastal access” or something like that, but there was absolutely no indication that this road would take me to the beach.

Fortunately, in addition to the ATV man’s words, I had my indispensible Topo Map for iPad app, which con­firmed that I was on the right track. In the image to the right, U.S. 101 is marked in cyan, and Sparrow Park Road is marked in magenta. Only four miles to the beach! Off we go!

For the first two miles the gravel logging road was pretty good. But after that things went downhill, in more ways than one! The last two miles the road had dozens and dozens of potholes, as well as three big puddles which covered the entire road. With my 4x4 2009 Toyota Tacoma it was really no problem at all — I just had to make sure not to hit the potholes going too fast.

At the end of Sparrow Park Road I arrived at this point. Only 300 more yards west, and I was on the beach! Because I had already been to the section north of here during my hike, I decided to turn south and drive to the Umpqua River North Jetty five and a half miles away.

About a quarter of a mile south of the Sparrow Park Road beach-access point, Threemile Creek empties into the Pacific Ocean. As I approached the crossing, I was a bit apprehensive. Way back when I was a teenager, I had witnessed big, powerful 4x4 trucks having a very difficult time crossing the two-to-three-foot depth of water in the Santa Maria River where it meets the ocean in the Guadalupe Dunes of California.

Out here on this Oregon beach about five miles north of the Umpqua River, I was all alone with no help in sight if I were to have difficulties. But, as you can see in the photo to the right, Threemile Creek looked pretty shallow. I would estimate that the deepest part was less than a foot, so I was able to cross without any problems at all. Yee-ha!

Because I was a bit pressed for time, and because the part of the beach closest to the ocean was moist and smooth, I decided to crank up the speed a bit. Unlike the Oceano Dunes in California which has a posted speed limit of 15 MPH, there was no posted speed limit here at all. Nor were there any other trapping of civilization. There was only empty, isolated coastal wilderness. I cruised most of the way to the jetty at 45 MPH, and it was as smooth as Highway 101 just a handful of miles to the east!

Once I made it to the southern end of the beach, I climbed up the Umpqua River North Jetty to see what I could see. And you can see it too, in this 33-photo, 360° panorama. After about 15 minutes of taking pictures it was 4:30, and although I was still hoping to get to the restaurant by 5:00, it was not looking very likely. The four-mile trip along Sparrow Park Road took a lot longer than I had anticipated because of all the potholes.

Well, as I was saying, it was getting late and I was in a hurry ... and I had to take a leak. Seeing that I was all by myself, five and a half miles south of the Spar­row Park Road beach-access point, it seemed like I could save some time by doing my business here rather than at the restaurant restroom. And at that very mo­ment, a brilliant idea flashed into my head!

Suddenly I could picture the album cov­er of Who’s Next by the famous British rock band, the Who. With all of the huge boulders which make up the jetty right in front of me, it would be easy to imitate that album cover. I didn’t have time to set up the tripod so I could get into the shot as well, therefore I just did my business, and as a tribute to the Who, I took this picture. So, who’s next?

I made it back to the beach exit at Spar­row Park Road in record time, flying over the sand at 55 MPH the whole way! Then back through the torturous pothole-and-puddle obstacle course until I finally reached U.S. 101 once again. From there it was still another 17 miles to the Waterfront Depot res­tau­rant in Florence, and I didn’t arrive at the reception until 5:30.

I was told that if I wanted a table, because I didn’t have a reservation, I would have to wait until at least 7:00. As another option, I was offered the one remaining seat at the bar. Because I had already been anticipating this turn of events, I agreed immediately. It was a bit uncomfortable, with no back to the stool I was sitting on, and the bar counter coming halfway up my chest. But at least I was going to be able to eat dinner there without waiting for hours.


The very nice bartender, Tom, was also my waiter. The last time I ate there I had had a delicious, tender, exquisitely-​sea­soned flat iron steak topped with an excellent brandy/bleu-cheese sauce, with a glass of Oregon Merlot to wash it down. This time around I was thinking more along the lines of seafood.

Because previously there had been no printed menu, I was surprised when I was handed one. However, the dish I ended up ordering, some sort of Cajun halibut, was not on the printed menu but only on the large chalkboard menu hanging on the wall behind me. While I was waiting for it to be cooked, Tom gave me a sample of a white wine from southern Oregon — I don’t remember what it was. It was good, so that took care of deciding which wine to have with my meal.

I was dismayed when my halibut arrived and it had some mango salsa on it! If I had known that, I would have ordered their very popular crab-encrusted halibut instead. But I guess my ignorance wasn’t too harmful, because the mango salsa was actually pretty good on the fish. This was definitely a day for new experiences!

After my meal I walked around old-town Florence a bit and took some pictures of the historic (built 1936) Siuslaw River Bridge, which is practically next door to the restaurant. Then it was time to head out to my fourth and final destination for the day.

Only eleven miles north of Florence is the historic (built 1892) and newly-restored 56-foot Heceta Head Lighthouse. Here I hoped to get some dramatic shots of the sun setting behind the lighthouse. I had already checked ahead of time that sunset was at 8:30, so I had plenty of time.

After relaxing a bit in my truck and taking a few photos around the beach area, around 7:45 I decided to mosey on up the half-mile trail from the parking lot to the lighthouse. When I got about halfway, near the Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s House (now a bed and break­fast), I was shocked to see the sun already sinking behind the hill on which the lighthouse is standing!

Then I suddenly realized my mistake! Even though the sun was going to reach the horizon by 8:30, it was going to pass behind the lighthouse much sooner be­cause it’s up on a 150-foot cliff. I had imagined that I was half an hour early, when in reality I was already too late! The best-laid plans....

Although my faulty reckoning had ruined my expectations, I was still able to get quite a few nice shots. But unlike my time at the Tahkenitch Dunes earlier that day, I didn’t take enough photos at any one of these three other location to warrant individual albums. Therefore, I've sorted through the 152 photos, whittling them down to the best 27 which are presented in the catch-all Oregon Coast 2014 album.

I left Heceta Head shortly after sunset, and in my heavy-footed eagerness to get home, I made it back in only two hours instead of the two and a half hours that the GPS estimated. All in all, it was a wonderful 17-hour outing, resulting in two new photo albums, two blog articles, and a lifetime of good memories.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 327
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Reader Comments
On May 12, 2016, Tom wrote:
Thanks for the info on Sparrow Park Road. I just moved to Reedsport and have been looking for an easy route to the beach (via car/truck). I had discovered this route doing virtual flyovers with Google Maps, but didn't know much about the road conditions. I'm hoping to go next week.
 
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 327
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