Seven Devils, Whiskey Run, and Merchants Beach

Whiskey Run

The Coos County Gold Rush of 1853 lured men to Whiskey Run Beach to pan the sands in hopes of striking it rich.  —Oregon State Parks

Seven Devils and Whiskey Run . . .

Off the beaten path, just north of Bandon from Highway 101, we took the Seven Devils cutoff—a twisting, paved, backroad.  Formerly called the Randolph Trail, it leads to Randolph, a gold mining boomtown of the 1850s (now a ghost town) near Whiskey Run.  The trail in Randolph was originally established by the Coquille Peoples that led north to Empire.  The road is steep and winding with narrow hairpin curves that can send you right off a cliff.  There are no marked speed limits, and log trucks entering the road are a definite hazard.  The views are sprawling, and I tried to imagine this forest in its primordial state before the axe and saw.  Now, all one sees are scars, miles of clear-cut’s that will forever dominate.

Along this route, is a place called Whiskey Run State Park.  With a name like that who could resist?  It had to be interesting.  Although I must have visited this place during my childhood, I have no memory of it.  Nearing the end of the road, we found ourselves in a deep ravine with hillsides ablaze with deep yellow flowers; beautiful, blinding yellow flowers as far as the eyes could see.  It was common gorse (Ulex europaeus)—a European native that was first planted in a garden in Bandon, Oregon in 1894.  This large, invasive shrub with wicked spines, whose oils are highly flammable, fueled the devastating wildfire that burned Bandon in 1936.  To-date, gorse has smothered more than 50,000 acres of Oregon’s native plants.  Along this stretch of the coastline, gorse has taken over the hillsides that were once thick with shore pines.  Today, there are only a few skeleton trees.  

Gorse on the hills of Whiskey Run.
A skeleton tree. Death by Gorse at Whiskey Run.
Gorse hillsides and driftwood at Whiskey Run Beach
Gold panning the black sands of Whiskey Run Creek
Whiskey Run Creek
Whiskey Run Beach
Sand patterns etched by wind and waves on Whiskey Run Beach
More sand patterns etched by wind and waves on Whiskey Run Beach

We parked in a tilted lot along Whiskey Run Creek that gently trickled from the hills to the beach, and to the sea.  On Whiskey Run Beach a park official was winching logs from a jam in the creek.  Pausing, he said, “This is one of the best beaches to drive on.  Give it a try some time.”  It was a fine gesture, but today we decided to walk.  We couldn’t help notice two men sitting in the middle of the creek; one in a chair, the other on a bucket.  There they sat, with heads down as logs winched slowly past.  The men took little notice.  They were gold-panning.  Their equipment was a minimal setup of blue gold pans, some extra buckets, and a metal sluice box to separate rock from gold.  From 1942-43, miners worked the nearby hills for chromium, a hard white metal that produces a chemical used in stainless steel and alloys.  It is said that in the ancient black sands along the beaches, and in the mines hidden in the hills, are treasures of gold, platinum, and chromium just waiting to be found.   

Merchants, Agate, and Sacchi Beaches . . . 

Northern harrier hunting the marsh at Merchants Beach

Our next stop was 1.3 miles north of Whiskey Run at Seven Devils State Wayside overlooking Merchants Beach, named for a prominent pioneer family Charles and Mary Lincoln Gunn Merchant, and their sixteen children who settled here in 1862.  Charles Merchant ran a successful mercantile, shipbuilding, and timber business, and became one of Coos County’s most prominent financiers and landowners.  The Wayside was the homestead of the Merchant Family Farm, a 500-acre parcel (just a small portion of the family acreage) that was given to two of their sons as a wedding gift. 

Beyond a hill of grasses, we could see the ocean and hear the breakers crashing onto the Beach.  The hills, untouched by gorse, supported native trees and shrubs that grew thick, bordering a large, grassy marsh.  A northern hairier, aka marsh hawk, swooped from the hillside coasting low across the marsh, and made numerous passes.  While the harrier had hunted without success, it in turn, rewarded us with its wonderful self.

Just north of Merchants Beach, and well worth exploring, is Agate Beach, aptly named for the beautiful agates that wash in from the sea, and Sacchi Beach named for the Sacchi pioneer family.  At the information plaque, it read—Maggie Sacchi was a local midwife.  In an era before modern medicine and when women often bore twelve or more children, midwives were highly valued. —Oregon State Parks

Our fun ended all too quickly.  We will go back though, and when we do, we’ll do some gold panning and hunts for agates.

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