Out Our Back Door By Tom Baake
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Enjoy Local Attractions Before the Crowds Arrive
By Tom Baake
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Visitors head for a tour of the Cape Blanco Lighthouse near Port Orford.

We’re in that golden zone right now, the last couple of weeks before the official Memorial Day opening of tourist season. A few weeks after that, school will let out and the busy season will really set in.

So why not play tourist over the next few weeks and visit some of the places that make this place so popular? There are attractions in and near all South Coast communities and down into Del Norte County, California. And by the way, don’t get me wrong, especially if part of your livelihood is derived from the visitor economy, I realize how important they are, bless their hearts, we have to make them feel welcome and grin and (mostly) bear it.

Among many potential nearby destinations, few rival Port Orford this time of year. Here again, not only before the throngs arrive, but also before the onset of that annoying north wind that kicks up nearly every summer afternoon.

The folks who run Port Orford’s three main attractions -- Cape Blanco Lighthouse, historic Hughes House and Port Orford Lifeboat Station museum – have for the past few years opened in April to give locals and savvy travelers time to check things out ahead of the season, as it were.

Renovations of these treasures are pretty much ongoing, with volunteers assisting a cadre of dedicated Oregon State Park employees. The Hughes House tours even occasionally feature “historic renactors” who dress the part of early-day settlers and share their stories.

After restoration in recent years, Cape Blanco lighthouse is looking good, right up to its brightly-painted red cap. Not bad for Oregon’s oldest continuously-operating lighthouse, built in 1870. In addition to that impressive record, it’s also the most westerly lighthouse in the contiguous U.S., has the highest focal plane above the sea (256 feet), and had Oregon’s first woman keeper – Mabel E. Bretherton, whose tenure began in March 1903.

The light perches at the tip of the cape as part of Cape Blanco State Park, with nearby hiking trails offering inspiring panoramas.

The park includes the previously-mentioned historic Hughes House. Built in 1898 for a pioneer family, the ornate, Victorian-inspired house has been authentically restored to give visitors a glimpse of what life was like on this far-flung frontier. Each room of the 3,000 sq. ft., 11-room house is decorated with furniture and period pieces.

Equally impressive is the setting, on benchland above the Sixes River, with views of surrounding pastures, forests and the ocean. Below the Hughes House is nifty picnic area along the Sixes River, as well as trails out along the river and to the beach, with imposing Castle Rock just offshore.

Meantime, in town, the Port Orford Lifeboat Station museum in Port Orford Heads State Park occupies former U.S. Coast Guard barracks atop Port Orford Heads, with displays, photos, artifacts and memorabilia about the various life-saving and coast-watch activities, as well as other aspects of Port Orford history, from its founding as one of the first white settlements on the southern Oregon coast to its unique dock onto which fishing boats are hoisted and placed on trailers.

A 36-ft. motor lifeboat is also on display on 100-acre site, and everything’s set beneath and amidst venerable spruce, cedar and pines, along with vintage landscaping plants and a resident population of nonchalant deer.

Well-marked, chip-lined hiking trails lead to impressive panoramas and a look down to Nellies Cove, where lifesaving boats were kept at the ready. All in all, whether hiking a soaring headland trail or absorbed in museum minutiae, lots of stimulus for mind and body on a fine spring day.

Getting There

Cape Blanco State Park is about 5 miles north of Port Orford. Watch for signs along US 101 marking the park turnoff, and follow the access road, which passes the Hughes House in about 5 miles and reaches the lighthouse at about 6 miles.

Access to Port Orford Lifeboat Station museum is via 9th St. in mid-town Port Orford. Proceed west up Coast Guard Hill (follow the yellow line) until you reach the park

All three sites are open from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Wednesday to Monday (including “holiday Mondays”). All three are closed on Tuesdays, so remember that when planning a visit!

Admission to Hughes House and Port Orford Heads State Park is free, while lighthouse tours are $2 for visitors 16 and older, and free for federal pass holders and those under 16. Get more details at www.capeblancoheritagesociety.com

(Shopper columnist Tom Baake is author of regional guidebooks.) 
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