It’s lunchtime on the second day of 2014 and Taylor’s Sausage is teeming.
Twenty-somethings, teens on winter break, parents with kids young and old and seniors peruse the menu or pore over the meat sticks, sausages and jerky piled high in the deli case. Every now and then an employee’s voice breaks through the hum of activity, calling out lunch orders.
“It’s a common thing for people to stop here on their way from the Rogue Valley to the beach and vice versa,” said Scott Taylor, whose family has been making sausage in Cave Junction, Ore., since 1970. “It’s related to the weather. When we get cold foggy spells, people head down there to get the sunshine. Folks I’ve talked to said it’s 65 on the beach and no wind.”
In the summer, of course, those roles are often reversed as the cool, sometimes foggy coast attracts inlanders looking to beat the heat.
Cave Junction is the only city between Crescent City and Grants Pass. The town, population 1,883, and Taylor’s Sausage in particular, is a popular stop for folks headed to the Interstate 5 corridor. But many inland Oregonians pass through it headed west for a day at the beach.
Del Norte’s casinos are a popular draw for some folks while Brooking’s balmy microclimate is a welcome escape from the freezing fog inland. Others visit Crescent City to try their hand at crab fishing or disc golf.
“It’s a good weekend vacation for family,” said Josh Leedy, who was with his wife Lori and their children 3-year-old Rya and 3-month-old Jasper. “We like the beaches on both sides, and the Damnation Creek trail is one of my favorites.”
The Leedys finished up their lunch at Taylor’s Sausage before continuing their westward journey from Medford.
“It’s a nice place to just leave her on the sand and let her just be,” he said, referring to his little girl. “(At the beach) she’s happier than she ever is at home.”
Inside the Illinois Valley Visitors Center, on the road to the Oregon Caves National Monument, Norah Latzke pointed to brochures advertising Trees of Mystery, Ocean World and other coastal attractions. Traffic through the visitors center increased by about 75 people in 2013, she said.
“We had 190 visitors in the month of November and 109 in December, but we were closed for the last two weeks of December,” Latzke said, adding that Cave Junction is a popular stop for snowbirds headed south. “We get a lot of Canadians and people who live in Northern Oregon and Washington going down to the Bay Area. The coast (route) is more interesting.”
For many travelers, particularly those from Portland and Northern Oregon, Cave Junction is one stop on a massive loop, Latzke said.
“They come down the I-5 and go down to Crescent City and drive back up the coast,” she said. “That way they can do Crater Lake, the Oregon Caves and redwoods in one trip. And they can either do the mail boats on the Rogue River in Grants Pass or on the other side in Gold Beach.”
Even if they like the coast, not everyone is a fan of U.S. Highway 199, which can get pretty curvey south of the Collier Tunnel.
Cathy Putney, who works at the Senior Center Thrift Store in Cave Junction, said she often gets car-sick traveling to Crescent City. But that doesn’t stop her from showing guests the beaches.
Many coastal residents also patronize the thrift shop, Putney said.
Once they’re past the windy canyons of the Smith River, travelers face a choice when North Bank Road meets the Redwood Highway. Do they go north on Highway 197 toward often-balmy Brookings and the rugged Oregon Coast? Or south through Crescent City and Del Norte’s towering redwoods?
Barbara Elmendorf, who mans the cash register at Caves Pharmacy, said she encourages folks to bypass the Highway 197 cutoff even if they are headed north.
“You miss the deeper redwoods,” she said.
Rather than choose one over the other, Elmendorf said she and her family typically head to either Harris Beach or Lone Ranch north of Brookings to play on the sand and travel down to Crescent City for dinner.
“We play frisbee, fly a kite and eat lunch, unless we’re going to the Chart Room,” she said, adding that the clam chowder there is her favorite. “We love going to the Chart Room.”
Beginning today, the Saturday edition of the Del Norte Triplicate is for sale at various locations in Cave Junction and O’Brien, Ore.