The Southern Coast of Oregon

This is one of those entries that doesn’t require many words - pictures will do far more justice than anything I could say. Plus, I’m exhausted from this trip and my brain isn’t functioning in a creative writing sense, not that it does often anyway.

That prefix to this aside, I can give a little backstory to this trip…

I had some very good news on Monday the 10th and thought I’d treat myself to a quick trip somewhere - it’s been quite some time since I’ve gone on a trip with no intention other than taking photos, so this felt like the perfect opportunity.

I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go - the forecast for most of the Northwest was rain or snow; not exactly the conditions I wanted to be out in. I have Gold Beach, Oregon as a pinned location on my weather app and just happened to look - some sun mid and late week. Sounded promising, so I started to look for places to stay. Out of curiousity I decided to check the surf forecast for the southern coast.

The southern Oregon coast is home to Shore Acres State Park which is known for it’s big waves during the winter months. High surf from approaching winter storms sends walls of water crashing into the rugged coastline of this park - it’s not uncommon for some of these waves to break and exceed 100 feet in height upon impact.

I’ve been to Shore Acres numerous times, but never once have I been during a big winter storm. To my pleasant surprise, the surf forecast was calling for high surf Wednesday and Friday. That news solidified my trip and I booked a place to stay in Coos Bay.

I packed the car and drove down from Seattle, filled with excitement to finally catch some big waves down at Shore Acres. That aside, I just love that part of the coast - it’s incredibly beautiful with a hundred miles of changing landscape - sandy beaches, stunning sea stacks, rugged cliffs - you name it and you’ll find it along the southern coast. I was very much looking forward to this trip.

I made a quick stop at an elk viewing area outside of Reedsport. I recently purchased a Sigma 150-600 lens - this lens has made me find a new outlet with photography: wildlife. I grabbed a few shots of some bull elk, getting an opportunity to use this lens some more (it’s much trickier to shoot with a big lens like this than my typical wide angle lenses). After a quick stop, it was back in the car and a non-stop drive to Shore Acres.

Upon arriving at the parking area you are left with a bit of deception. You park and walk across a grassy meadow towards a shelter that’s been built for people to view the waves. You can’t hear much as the coves tend to muffle the sound. You also don’t see much as the cliffs are relatively high above the water. At first I assumed it must not have been as active as I had hoped as nothing looked or sounded as though there were any big waves. Foolish thoughts. The closer I walked toward the viewing area, the more defined the sound of the crashing waves became and the more clearly the massive swells became to my eyes. It looked as though the ocean were dancing as the waves made their way toward the coastline.

I walked up to the wall at the viewing area and watched the ocean - beautiful and terrifying at the same time as the sea sent wave after wave into the cliffs. This is what I had been waiting for - massive swells pushing huge walls of water into the rocks, the waves exploding upon impact sending water shooting into the sky. It was amazing! I thought to myself when I was driving down that there was no way I would be able to occupy the remainder of the day at just Shore Acres (nearly 4 hours) - after all, it’s just waves. How can one not get bored watching the same thing over and over? Well, rest assured, I was there until the sun went down, mesmerized and not the least bit bored.

The following morning I headed down to Bandon for sunrise. I’ve posted about Bandon before as I think it’s one of the most beautiful beaches. The sea stacks make it incredible to photograph, and even though I have photographed this beach numerous times, I continue to go back - it’s that wonderful of a place. The surf and tide were quite high leaving not a whole lot of beach to walk on. I couldn’t get as close to some of the sea stacks as I had hoped, nevertheless, I was able to make the most of it and get some beautiful photos. I made it down to where I wanted to shoot just before the sky lit up and provided me with some beautiful morning pinks and blues. I shot the sunrise and then hung out to get some early morning light illuminating the marvelous rock features.

From here I made my way down to the Redwoods. Like Bandon, I have posted about it before and the same holds true - I just love this place. I go back to the same spot when I make a quick trip to the Redwoods and I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of it. The sun was low and provided for some dramatic light creating spectacular sun rays through the trees.

After some time in the forest, I drove back up to Brookings and made my way to Harris Beach for sunset. High tide was at the same time I arrived, so like Bandon in the morning, there wasn’t a lot of beach for me to work with for shots. I found a variety of locations to shoot on the beach and even managed to capture a lovely image of the moon just after dusk.

Friday was my final day of this trip. I had stayed in Gold Beach the night before which left me with a few options for places to photograph for sunrise. I decided to shoot at Cape Blanco as I haven’t spent much time there. I packed up and headed north - the sky didn’t look very promising for color as there were clouds on both ends of the horizon. I turned off 101 and headed down the road that leads to the lighthouse. As I was approaching the last 2 miles of the drive, the sky started to light up - pinks lit up band of puffy clouds as the rest of the sky glowed blue. I sped up as I knew I didn’t have a big window to capture the colors before they faded out. As I pulled up and parked on an overlook perched above the ocean, the sky came alive with gorgeous morning light. I went to open the door of the car and it wouldn’t open. I figured I must have locked it, so I unlocked it, tried again, and still the door wouldn’t open. Puzzled, I thought somehow the door must have been stuck. I pushed it and it slowly opened, but felt like a force was trying to close it on me. Well, that’s because the wind was insane - that really is the only word to describe it. I had to park the car parallel to the blowing wind to open the car door, and even then the door slammed shut the moment I let it go. I can say without hesitation that I have never experienced winds that strong before. This made it extremely difficult to shoot - I had to weight down my tripod with my camera bag, which happened to be loaded with a second camera and three lenses - even still, I had to hold the tripod with both hands to keep it from blowing over. Not a single image I shot that morning doesn’t have blur, but frankly I don’t care as those images have a story to go with them. I later checked the forecast and it called for gale force winds gusting upwards of 68mph. I didn’t experience a gust, but rather a relentless onslaught of wind that never once let up.

After that hurricane experience, I headed up the coast to make another stop at Shore Acres - originally the surf forecast called for the biggest waves coming in on Friday, but unfortunately that didn’t hold and Friday was supposed to be significantly lower surf than it was on Wednesday. I figured I was in the area so I might as well stop and see how it compared to Wednesday… I’m glad I did.

Though the surf wasn’t as high, the waves that were breaking were more consistent and bigger than they were Wednesday. The breaks were blasting higher than they had on Wednesday and the early morning sunlight lit them up nicely. The forecast had called for a nasty storm rolling in that morning around 10am. Out over the open water you could see a dark wall of clouds - the storm front staring down on me as I continued to shoot. I knew it was coming in, but it didn’t look like it was getting any closer. About an hour went by and then suddenly, after being under some sun and lighter skies, ominous dark clouds quickly took over the sky, the wind I experienced further south no more than two hours earlier came in and the sky opened up and pelted heavy raindrops. It was time to pack up and get out of there.

As I drove towards Coos Bay, it felt like being in a hurricane when you see them on the Weather Channel. Branches falling down, trees blowing back and forth, heavy rain - it was terrifying. I made it out of Coos Bay and toward the Oregon dunes where the storm hadn’t quite hit yet. Keeping ahead of the storm, I drove up the coast, not entirely sure where I was going to turn to head back inland.

I made a few stops on my drive up, Cape Perpetua to watch and photograph the waves, just north of Yaquina Head, Depoe Bay and eventually Lincoln City. Each time I stopped, I was welcomed with calm weather and no rain, but each time I stopped the storm caught back up to me. When it would be back on my heels, I knew it was time to pack up and get back on the road.

The day ended on a perfect note. I was greeted with a break in the clouds revealing blue skies over the water as I made it into Lincoln City. I parked at one of the beaches in town - the sun behind a cloud giving off truly magical sun rays. I didn’t put much effort into grabbing photos at this point - I was tired and I had thousands of photos to go through from the past few days.

From there I drove back to Seattle. I’m glad I took this impromptu trip. I needed a trip to enjoy the simpler side of photography and remind myself of just what it is I love about photography - it’s the sense of adventure, the sense of spontaneity. It’s my way of sharing the beauty of the world I see and hope that it encourages others to get out and explore.


TJ SimonComment