Oregon’s “Banana Belt” – Brookings, Oregon

The Oregon Coast keeps beckoning us back. We have traveled there a number of times and have explored different parts of this rugged coastline. Previously we had been to the central and northern sections but this time we headed to the southern coast.

The southern coastline lies just north of the California border and is often referred to as the “Banana Belt” due to its more temperate weather. The winters are warmer than other parts of the Oregon or California coasts. Because of the warm temperatures, fog is common even in summer months. While we were there, many days the beaches were foggy in the early mornings. Usually the fog lifted as the day warmed.

The southernmost town in Oregon is Brookings. Founded in 1908, it was named for John E. Brookings, the president of the Brooking Lumber and Box Company. Today the largest employer is a lumber company, South Coast Lumber. They specialize in processing Douglas Fir timber.

Brookings is a small, quaint town that has a very nice park and many trails within its city limits. Azalea Park, located in the heart of the city, is a scenic 33-acre park that lies between the Chetco River and Hwy. 101. This park is known for its ancient flowering azaleas, thus the name. Some of the azaleas were growing there when Lewis and Clark arrived in Oregon in 1805. There is an Azalea Festival every Memorial Day when the azaleas are in full bloom. The townspeople have also enhanced the park with walkways and additional flower beds. There is a half mile loop trail through the forested area along the Chetco River. Along with the lovely landscaping and river trail, the park’s Capella by the Sea offers a view of the Port of Brookings Harbor and the Pacific Ocean.

There are many activities and events held at Azalea Park throughout the year. During summer months, the American Music Festival has free concerts at the park’s band shell. David went to see the “Monkeymania/Summer of Love” concert and he really enjoyed it.

Azalea Park is a great place to picnic, to play ball or pitch horseshoes, to take in a concert, to stroll or hike, or just to soak in the beauty of this setting.

Near the City of Brookings are three state parks: Crissy Field State Park, Harris Beach State Park, and Samuel Boardman State Park. David and I had a great time visiting each of them.

Crissy Field State Recreation Area is a 40 acre park just north of the California border that opened in 2008. In fact there is a Welcome Center located there and that is a good place to find information about the area and the state. The volunteers were very friendly and knowledgeable. There are several trails in this recreation area. Most notable is that this park marks the end of the 362 mile Oregon Crest Trail. This trail winds its way up the coast through 28 cities and across scenic forest and hidden beaches.

From the Crissy Field Welcome Center you can access the Winchuck River and there is also easy beach access. We visited this park in the morning and when we walked out to the beach it was very foggy. This stretch of beach was very quiet and the fog gave it a sense of mystery. It truly is a real gem.

Harris Beach State Park is located on Hwy. 101 just north of Brookings. Named for the Scottish pioneer George Harris who was a cattle and sheep rancher here in the 1880s, Harris Beach is very popular with the local residents and tourists alike. The day use area provides access to a rocky picturesque beach. A series of distinctive sea stacks offshore add a lot of interest to this beach area. There were many folks strolling up and down the beach and some were climbing up on top of the rocks formations. Beachcombers were checking out the tidal pools where you can often find mussels, sea stars, and black turban snails. Children were having a great time jumping into these shallow tidal pools.

Bird Island (Goat Island) is the largest island along the Oregon Coast and is a National Wildlife Sanctuary. It serves as a breeding ground for a variety of birds, including the tufted puffins. There were many marine birds everywhere since their nesting area was close by.

Sunsets at Harris Beach are beautiful. We enjoyed watching the sun slide behind the sea stacks and melt into the Pacific Ocean. It was just breath-taking!

Samuel Boardman State Park covers a 12 mile stretch of coastline north of Brookings. Samuel Boardman was the first superintendent of the Oregon Park Division and he advocated for the protection of this part of the southern coastline. You can actually drive through this area on Hwy. 101 in about 30 minutes or you can stop at the various viewpoints and do some hikes. If you do the latter, plan to spend half a day in the park because there are a lot of trails and special features to see. Here are some of the highlights:

Arch Rock is a natural arch that can be see from Arch Rock Point. You can walk a short distance to a viewpoint that overlooks it. Arch Rock is 500 feet offshore and is flanked by another small island. From that high perch, you can also see one of the many small hidden beaches that are sprinkled along the southern coast.

After crossing the Thomas Creek Bridge, the highest in Oregon at 345 feet above the creek, you come to another unique set of rock formations.

Natural Bridges is another geological wonder. You can reach these via some trails that take you down the steep cliffs where you can get a closer look at them or you can view them from the platform above. We actually saw people who had climbed up onto the rock bridges. It is not advisable to do so because strong winds can blow you of the bridge and a fall from that height is usually fatal. We were happy to view these natural features from afar.

Whaleshead Beach is a large mile long beach. You can hike down to it or you can drive down a very rough gravel road to a parking area. This beach is surrounded by high cliffs and just offshore are several sea stacks. One of them looks like the head of a whale and when a wave hits the rock, the water spurts out like a whale spout. When we arrived, we trekked out to the gray sand beach. Parts of the beach was covered in small rocks and there were three streams that ran across this rocky area. We decided to turn back once we realized that there was no way to cross the streams without getting wet (we didn’t bring our beach shoes.) The wind was blowing a lot of sand around. Even so, we like Whaleshead Beach. Next time we will come more prepared.

Samuel Boardman State Park was worth visiting. We were glad that we did not miss any of these marvelous sights.

The City of Brookings had one more surprise: the Fujita Sword. In the Cheto Public Library, which is currently being renovated, there is a Samurai sword on display. We learned that during WWII, Nobuo Fujita, a Japanese pilot, bombed the U. S. coast. He dropped incendiary bombs near Brookings but, because the weather was so damp, the bombs did not cause any damage. This was the only time that the Japanese managed to bomb the U. S. mainland. In 1962, the Brookings Jaycees invited the pilot to visit Brookings. During his visit, Mr. Fujita donated the Samurai Sword that he had carried with him on the bombing run to the City of Brookings as a sign of peace and goodwill. The Fujita Sword is a unique historical artifact.

The City of Brookings and the surrounding area was full of surprises. The southern Oregon coastline certainly did not disappoint. We hope to visit this area again in the near future.

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