|The gardener's cottage|
Today a fully-accessible observation pavilion occupies the site of the mansions. It's easy to see why Louis chose this spot for his showplace home; the views out to sea are unparalleled and the wave watching is never-ending. A trail leads to a tiny, secluded beach, and clifftop paths offer more views over the wide Pacific.
But there is more to discover at Shore Acres State Park. Follow a path into the woods and you will find the Simpsons' gardens, fully restored and flourishing in the shade of both local and exotic trees. A central fountain sings its little tune, backed by the whisper and "shush" of the sea below. Crane statues preside over the Simpson's Japanese garden. Alongside all of this the little gardener's cottage still stands, its lace-hung windows looking out onto year-round blooms. Walk along cliffside trails to see the views that inspired Lewis to construct his home here so many years ago.
|Empire boat launch, AKA The Hollering Place|
If you should journey to Cape Arago, plan to spend at least most of a day. From Highway 101 in Coos Bay, follow the well-marked route through town toward Shore Acres/Cape Arago. When the road swings to the left, note a marker for Louis Simpson's beloved Empire City, once a booming harbor but now a boat launch beside some rotting piers; only a few historic buildings remain. Here you will also find The Hollering Place, where the bay was narrow enough for the local Native Americans on either side to call for a canoe ride across the water.
Drive through Charleston, a salty fishing community, and continue to Sunset Bay State Park. To your right you will see a delightful, sheltered bay and tiny beach surrounded by dramatic cliffs. Stop for a picnic or a beach walk. This small bay would be a great place to learn to surf, as a girl was doing at our last visit. Drive northward through the parking lot to access a simple boat ramp onto the beach. Across the road from the bay, the state operates an excellent campground. A trail leads up over the wooded point; click here for a map of the roads and trails on the cape.
Driving on up the hill, Shore Acres is on your right. There is a parking fee charged, but any State Parks permit will suffice, or, better yet, use your campground tag. If all else fails, pay the fee; it's more than worth it. Take your time strolling through the gardens, photographing the views, and exploring the grounds. Plant lists are available for armchair botanists or the merely curious. If the greenhouse is open, take a peek at the lushly blooming container plants inside. There is a gazebo for weddings, and from time to time it is even possible to tour the humble gardener's cottage where the Simpsons lived while their fancy new mansion was being built.
Continuing from Shore Acres, watch for a pullout with a rare view of the Cape Arago Lighthouse. This long-decommissioned beacon on its storm-ravaged little island has been handed over to the Confederated Tribes. Known as Chief's Island to the Coos people, this piece of the Oregon shore is not accessible to the public, so photographers have to be content with these glimpses through the trees.
Watch for another pullout across from a hiking trail that follows an old pack road up the hill through thick coastal forest. Hidden in the trees lies an abandoned World War II bunker. These concrete remains have been heavily coated in graffiti, but the walls still stand as a silent reminder of the soldiers who guarded our misty coastland during a time of war.
Further up the road you will find accessible parking and picnic tables above Simpson Reef, an incredibly diverse intertidal area. Here you can look for four species of seals and sea lions, resident grey whales, migrating blue and killer whales, and a wide variety of sea birds. Binoculars are very helpful for spotting the offshore wildlife. Follow the road to its terminus at the end of the cape for more views of the reef and the rugged coastline. A new viewing platform is almost accessible; a wide, barrier-free path leads to a few stairs onto the platform. From here, the road loops back around and heads toward Shore Acres again.
Cape Arago makes a great stop along the way; better yet, book a spot at the campground and stay a few days. Spend some time discovering both native and white history on a forested bluff that has faced weather and waves for centuries. Find a few of the many creatures who have lived along this wild coast for millennia. Drive out through the old harbor town, past the Hollering Place, to the tiny bay and the rocky cape that the Simpsons called home.
|Shore Acres, at the site of the mansions|
|The Simpsons' view|
|Into the gardens|
|Old pack road near an unassuming pullout|
|WWII bunkers. Please leave the spray paint at home.|
|The other side of the reef, viewed from the picnic area at the end of the road|
|Looking south from the almost accessible viewpoint. You had one job, guys.|
|Stopping back by Sunset Bay on our way off the cape. The low tide reveals preserved tree stumps normally hidden by the gentle bay.|