In autumn, the trumpeted dares of bull elk can be heard near the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area.
For 35 years Ken Silva crisscrossed the lower 48 in his big rig. He hauled freight to fill his wallet and cruised small-town garage sales to satisfy his heart in a lifelong quest to find the world's best rod and reel.
Last October—more than 3,000 fishing poles later—Silva opened Ken's Rod and Reel Repair in Reedsport, Ore.
"I tell people, 'If you want a graphite rod, go to Kmart,' " Silva says. "But if you get a big salmon on the end—and our salmon are big—older rods are better. They're more flexible. And every one has a story."
Roughing it in Style
Each of the six deluxe yurts at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park in Winchester Bay sleeps seven and features a kitchen, bathroom, microwave, refrigerator, and VCR. $45–$65. (800) 452-5687, www.oregonstateparks.org.
Resilience and rich character can also be ascribed to Reedsport and Winchester Bay, twin tidewater towns that neighbor each other along the broad, lazy mouth of the Umpqua River. Situated nearly 90 miles southwest of Eugene, Reedsport was once a thriving logging port; Winchester Bay, which faces the sea, was a commercial fishing hub. Although remnants of those industries linger, both towns had to bend to survive economic storms. Each now embraces sportfishing and tourism with a down-to-earth warmth that stops short of T-shirt shop kitsch. Plenty of lodging; a clever regional museum; revitalized waterfronts; ample fishing, clamming, and crabbing opportunities; and some of the most astounding scenery in the West (including 500-foot sand dunes and lush, wildlife-rich wetlands) make the region an easy place to call home—for a lifetime or a weekend.
Start at the beach in the morning, before the breeze picks up. You can't tell from the highway, but the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches 40 miles south from Florence to Coos Bay like a giant sheet of tufted meringue, with Winchester Bay at its center. The largest expanse of coastal dunes in North America, it's much more than pulverized rock. Freshwater lakes, grassy meadows, rhododendron dells, and islands of forest grace the shifting ridges of sand, which are vast enough to accommodate both dune-buggying thrill seekers and the quietest bird-watchers. The visitor center in Reedsport has an excellent exhibit on the geology and ecology of the dunes, as well as good maps and trail info (some boardwalks are wheelchair accessible). Hike the varied paths or "sandboard" the way local kids do down a sky-high pile of deep powder; rented boards are speediest, but a flattened cardboard box works fine.
Call of the Wild
In autumn, the trumpeted dares of bull elk can be heard as the regal beasts spar for females near the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area, three miles east of Reedsport on Hwy. 38.
Try crabbing for a Dungeness lunch from the docks in Winchester Bay; the Sportsmen's Cannery & Smokehouse rents crab traps by the day. No luck? No worries. Griff's on the Bay serves up cracked crab and a view of the marina every day of the season. For a rosy outlook, gaze at the sea through the red prism lens of the 1894 Umpqua River Lighthouse. (At night, red and white beams from its revolving beacon dance across nearby trees like ghostly sprites.)
At the Umpqua Discovery Center on the river in Reedsport, you can step into a plank house to hear a recording of a creation story from the Kuuich people, first in English, then in the Kuuich language. Or listen to locals reminisce about how they used to row up the Umpqua to all-night "platform dances" held on piers every weekend in the days when the river was the only highway.
At twilight, return to the water. Launch your skiff from a ramp next to the museum, or cast a line from shore and listen to red-legged frogs and red-winged blackbirds harmonize as you reel in a husky sturgeon or a coho or chinook salmon. Herons, mallards, and wood ducks get ready to turn in for the night; muskrat and beavers set out for an evening swim. In this land of water and sand, rich possibilities ride in on every tide.
Photography by Robbie McClaran
This article was first published in September 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Area code is 541 unless noted. Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington map and TourBook and Northwestern CampBook. Contact the Reedsport–Winchester Bay Chamber of Commerce, 271-3495, (800) 247-2155, www.reedsportcc.org.
Ken's Rod and Reel Repair 984 Laurel Ave., Reedsport, 271-1921. Sportsmen's Cannery & Smokehouse 182 Bayfront Loop, Winchester Bay, 271-3293, www.sportsmenscannery.com.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area Trail maps, fishing guides, tide tables, and birding brochures are available at the visitor center, 855 Highway Ave., Reedsport, 271-3611, www.fs.fed.us/r6/siuslaw. The three-mile John Dellenback Dunes Trail off Hwy. 101, just south of the Eel Creek Campground, crosses several eco-systems through a pocket of dunes.
Umpqua Discovery Center Excellent interactive exhibits highlight the area's cultural and natural history. Take a peek at the river estuary through a 35-foot-tall periscope. 409 Riverfront Way, Reedsport, 271-4816, www.harborside.com/~discover.
LIGHTING THE WAY
Umpqua River Lighthouse Tours of the historic 68-foot-tall sentinel are available May–Oct. 1020 Lighthouse Rd., Winchester Bay, 271-4631.
LUNCH ON THE WATER
Griff's on the Bay 142 Bayfront Loop, Winchester Bay, 271-2512. Schooner Inn Café Crab cakes, sandwiches, and salads. 423 Riverfront Way, Reedsport, 271-3945.
Village Roastery Fresh-roasted beans and a high-speed Internet connection. 140 Coho Point, Winchester Bay, 271-3424, www.villageroastery.com.
Best Western Salbasgeon Inn & Suites $66–$145. Fifty-seven rooms located near downtown Reedsport. 1400 Hwy. 101, 271-4831, www.bestwestern.com. Cozy Cattail $100–$165. Myrtle-wood details are everywhere in this two-bedroom guesthouse just outside Reedsport. 1125 Hwy. 101, 271-4222, (877) 697-8533, www.myrtlewoodgallery.com. Rose Wood Cottage Bed & Breakfast $75–$95. A three-room, country-style gem. 140 Westwood Ct., Reedsport, 271-2436, www.rosewoodcottagebb.com. Salbasgeon Inn of the Umpqua $73–$130. Each of the 12 rooms at this motel seven miles east of Reedsport offers peaceful views of the Umpqua River. 45209 Hwy. 38, 271-2025, www.salbasgeon.com
Tsalila Sept. 18–19. Enjoy a tasty $10 dinner of salmon smoked over an open fire as part of this celebration of Reedsport's wetlands. The event also includes storytelling, crafts, and free admission to the Umpqua Discovery Center. 271-4816, www.harborside.com/~discover/tsalila.