Best of America

You Haven’t Been to a Beach Until You’ve Seen the Ones in Bandon, Oregon

Cathy and Gordon Illg/Country ExtraMost of the state’s beaches lie at the bottom of towering 50- to 100-foot cliffs that are reminiscent of the craggy coasts along the Emerald Isle. The air feels cool, with little difference between summer and winter temperatures, and the sky is cloudy more often than not. It’s no wonder that a homesick immigrant, George Bennett, established a new life here with his sons after leaving Bandon, Ireland, in 1873.

By any measure, Bandon, Oregon, the settlement that was named after Bennett’s hometown, is a delightful seaside hamlet, with little traffic and a charming assortment of shops and restaurants. But it is the sea—specifically where the sea and the land collide—that makes Bandon special. Visitors can experience it by walking along the ever-changing boundary between water and land.

Cathy and Gordon Illg/Country ExtraTime your trip with the tides, and you may be able to wander among the remaining bits of Oregon’s ancient shoreline with no more inconvenience than damp feet. Twice a day at low tide, there is a good deal more beach property—at least 5 feet more—to enjoy. And during each new moon and full moon, the combined gravity of the sun, moon and earth can make high tides even higher and low tides lower, exposing up to 12 feet during extreme low tides. During those times, we leisurely stroll across a world that is normally underwater, making this a true paradise for beachcombers.

Cathy and Gordon Illg/Country ExtraHumongous pieces of driftwood, glass balls from fishing nets on the other side of the world—we never know what will wash ashore here. For us, the exciting thing is exploring the exposed rock reefs and along the base of the sea stacks, for here the tide pools offer windows into life along the north Pacific.

Cathy and Gordon Illg/Country ExtraSome of the hardiest life forms in the world, organisms capable of surviving both in saltwater and in dry air, are found here. However, it is not only their tenacity and adaptability that enchants us so. It is also their beauty. Forests of delicate green anemones wave stinging tentacles in saltwater pools until the pools dry up and they retract their tentacles. Bold orange and pale purple sea stars decorate the rocks, at times layered so thickly they appear to be a single creature with hundreds of arms.

Cathy and Gordon Illg/Country ExtraThere are several entrance points to the Bandon beaches—Strawberry Point and Table Rock, Coquille Point and Face Rock—but they all involve climbing many steps down to the beach and then back up.

Countless nice beaches with warmer weather don’t require steep stairs to reach the surf. But Bandon is worth the effort. When conditions are just right, the sky simply ignites at sunset, and viewers thank their lucky stars for the clouds that make it possible.

All of the sea stacks along the state’s coast are part of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Even if we could find a way to clamber up their steep, slippery slopes, they are off limits.

Cathy and Gordon Illg/Country ExtraSea stacks provide important nesting and resting habitat for marine mammals and legions of sea birds, including tufted puffins, pelagic cormorants, common murres, guillemots and auklets.

Cathy and Gordon Illg/Country ExtraWe see most of these bird species at a distance, but occasionally a murre or a puffin will visit the mainland. Meanwhile, harbor seals swim in the water’s eddies and bask on rocks nearby.

Cathy and Gordon Illg/Country ExtraWhether it’s the wildlife, the scenery or both, walking through this landscape is nothing short of rejuvenating. It’s so invigorating to feel the sea breeze and smell the salty air.

The immensity of sand, water and sky along the Oregon coastline makes us feel like we are a part of something grander than our typical day-to-day existence as nature photographers. Combine that with some relaxing moments and good meals, and we could not ask for more from a vacation destination.

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