Humbug Mountain, Port Orford

Humbug Mountain, Port Orford

by | Oct 19, 2021

Humbug Mountain rises 1,758 feet (536 m) from sea level on the southern coast of Oregon and lies entirely within Humbug Mountain State Park, about 21 miles (34 km) north of Gold Beach and 6 miles (10 km) south of Port Orford, Oregon. The mountain was originally known as Me-tus by the indigenous Tututni people, a historical Lower Rogue River Athabascan tribe who traditionally lived along the Rogue River and near the Pacific Coast between the Coquille River to the north and Chetco River to the south. In 1543, Spanish explorer Bartolomé Ferrer sailed 12 miles (19 km) past Humbug Mountain and sighted Cape Blanco which remained the farthest north point on European coastal maps until 1778 when Captain James Cook extended the explorations further north. In 1792, Captain George Vancouver sighted land at Cape Blanco but named it Cape Orford after his friend George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford. In 1848, the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, California, and the ensuing California Gold Rush, brought prospectors through southwest Oregon. In 1850 and 1851, miners found gold in the southern Oregon Coast Range on Josephine Creek, the Illinois River, and on creeks near Jacksonville, Oregon. Publicity soon brought miners to the region from California and the Willamette Valley, and before long gold-seekers had staked claims on the Applegate, Illinois, and Rogue Rivers. Miners also worked placers on the coast near Pistol River and Port Orford and at present-day Gold Beach, where black sand held gold and platinum deposits. The miners, primarily men in their twenties and thirties, came from European countries including Belgium, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, and England, and states such as Massachusetts, New York, Missouri, and Tennessee. In 1851, Captain William Tichenor envisioned establishing a community at Port Orford that would be an entry point for gold miners into the Oregon Territory. In June of that year, he arrived on the Seagull, anchored in the Port Orford bight, and landed nine men who skirmished with a band of Tututni. In September 1851, Fort Orford was established and lasted until 22 Aug 1856. Tichenor sent several men on foot through the Coast Range in search of a route to the Rogue River gold mines. Tichenor directed the explorers to go around or near the high mountain south of Port Orford then known as Sugarloaf Mountain. The weary men returned in a few days, having become lost in deep ravines and thick forest and not finding anything like a route to the interior. They disgustedly pointed to the peak and pronounced the whole affair ‘Tichenor’s Humbug’, which eventually was shortened to Humbug Mountain.

The Oregon Coast Range has two distinct geologic regions. From the Coquille River north to the Columbia River the range consists of relatively young rocks, and south of the Coquille the rocks are generally older, highly altered by metamorphism, and more eroded and weathered. These rocks originated as volcanic island arcs far out in the ocean, between 400 million to 100 million years ago, at a time when the Pacific Northwest coast ended near the present Oregon-Idaho border. These rocks are known as ‘exotic terranes‘ because they arrived from other places while riding on tectonic plates that were subducted beneath North America but were too big or too thick to easily slide beneath the edge of the North American continent. Instead, they remained in the subduction zone and welded themselves to the edge of the growing North American plate. The result seen today is an array of rocks including thick slices of oceanic crust, limestone with tropical corals, volcanic seamounts, shiny blue-green serpentinite, and large areas of totally crushed and broken rock called mélange, produced by the incredible forces of two tectonic plates smashing together. As the exotic terranes were plastered onto the edge of the North American continent, magma from deep within Earth was injected into the rocks from below and then cooled. The magma formed large masses of granite and related rocks called batholiths and smaller blobs called plutons that fused the exotic terranes in place. Starting in the early Cretaceous period, about 130 million years ago, the Klamath microcontinent collided with North America causing the uplift of primordial coastal mountains mostly composed of sandstone, shale, and conglomerate. Plutonic intrusions made these mountains relatively resistant to erosion from heavy winter rains. Humbug Mountain represents one of these ancient mountains. Near the summit, evidence of these processes can be found in rock outcrops of granite and sandstone.

Humbug Mountain lies within Humbug Mountain State Park which is administered by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. In 1917, the Oregon state highway system started development and Oregon made its parks program part of the State Highway Department in 1921. The first parks provided waysides along highways and offered travelers roadside vistas. In 1929, Samuel Boardman served as the first state parks superintendent and is considered the father of the Oregon state park system. He was the catalyst for the state’s extensive land acquisition. During his 21 year tenure, the state park system grew from 4,070 acres (1647 ha) in 46 units to 60,000 acres (24,281 ha) in 161 units. Boardman extolled the wild and rugged scenery of the coast and believed that much of the landscape could be preserved in its undeveloped state for the inspiration and edification of future generations. The Pacific shoreline became, under his leadership, the most recognized part of Oregon’s state park system and by 1937 attracted 70 percent of all state park use. Boardman’s most active period of land acquisition came during the Great Depression when land prices were low and public dollars were often available. He often conducted negotiations personally, communicating effectively with rural landowners and drawing from his own experiences as a struggling homesteader only a few years earlier. His network of contacts throughout Oregon allowed for frequent communications with owners of key parcels of land who might consider donating or selling their holdings to the state for less than market value. The original land for Humbug Mountain was 30.6 acres (12 ha) near the mouth of Brush Creek purchased from Carl White. Sixteen other tracts were purchased between 1930 and 1975. Initial development of Humbug Mountain began in 1934 using the Civilian Conservation Corps to build the first summit trail. In 1952, a campground was developed. In 1958, a major forest fire burned much of the north side of the park. Today, a hiking trail of 5.5 miles leads to the summit of Humbug Mountain offering south-facing ocean views. The Oregon Coast Trail also passes through the park with a section north of the campground following Old Highway 101 for several miles. This worn, paved route has long been closed to vehicles and treats hikers to magnificent ocean views. In 1989, the Oregon legislature created an independent Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to administer all the state parks. Read more here and here. Download the latest version of the CoastView app and explore more of Humbug Mountain here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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