Monday, July 15, 2019

Springtime at Tom McCall Point

After spending a long weekend on the Oregon Coast, I was itching to get back to the Columbia River Gorge for another spring wildflower fix.  Rumor had it the balsamroot was peaking at Tom McCall Point, so the following Friday I made an early morning visit.

Lupine at sunrise

Although arriving in plenty of time for sunrise, cloudless skies made for a less-than-impressive dawn.  I wasn't satisfied with any of my images (of course, that might have been due to the photographer.....)  The only shot that I felt really turned out well was this backlit cluster of lupine.

Lovely morning light on the Columbia River

Once the sun crested over the hills, I wandered around the Rowena Plateau, enjoying fantastic early morning light on the wildflowers and Columbia River.

Rowena Plateau

I ran into a professional photographer from the East Coast, out scouting locations for future photo workshops.  He had lots of questions about photogenic spots in Oregon.  The guy asked about some of the well-known and photographed spots on the coast and I was able to tell him "I was just there last weekend!"

Riot of color on Tom McCall Trail

After the photographer and I parted ways, I decided to hike up Tom McCall Point.  Rumor had it the wildflowers were at peak on top.  The hike started out well - not far from the trailhead I ran into this technicolor meadow.

Breathtaking Mt Hood view on top

The 1.7-mile climb to the top was a pure delight.  Wildflowers bloomed profusely on the grassy slopes.  I even spotted a few deer happily grazing in the meadows.  With so many photography subjects, let's just say I wasn't a speedy hiker.

Mt Adams peeping over the hills

Visitors making the 1100 foot climb to the very top are rewarded with stellar views.  Mt Hood rises from the southern skyline, while Mt Adams peeps over the Washington side of the Columbia River. 
And down low before you, the Columbia River and it's steep banks spread out east and west, as far as the eye can see.

Columbia River view looking west

This wonderful preserve is owned by the Nature Conservancy, who maintains the trails, studies the rare plants, and keeps this area as pristine as possible.  The name of Tom McCall honors a past Oregon governor, who was committed to conserving Oregon's natural treasures. 

Another grand view from Tom McCall Point

Once on the summit, of course I got busy with my camera trying my best to capture all this floral beauty.

Balsamroot sunshine

The morning was still early, so I shared the summit with just a couple other people.  I chatted briefly with one lady who'd trekked up solo.  After snapping a few images, I turned around and she was abruptly gone.  A few minutes later, I located her lying in the middle of the flower fields, apparently taking a nap.  Going off trail is a big no-no here, as people can trample the plants (not to mention ticks live in the grassy areas). 

Lovely lupine

That's the problem with the onslaught of social media.  Although I love to share my photos of these special places, it does bring more people to visit.  And not everyone is aware of the damage that occurs when you start walking through delicate flower fields.  My message to those reading my blog is this - if you visit, please stay on marked trails and be respectful of nature.  Don't pick flowers, leave litter, or stand in the middle of flower fields for your Instagram shot.

Amazing spring wildflower bloom

Before departing from the summit, I switched to my 60 mm macro lens, hoping to get some close-up flower images on my way down.  Imagine my surprise when a deer bounded across the trail, not 10 feet in front of me.  Only having my macro lens, I did the best that I could trying to capture it.  (Story of my life - I never have the proper lens on my camera at the right time!)

Caught this deer running by

Despite the bungled photo op, I still had a lovely hike down, capturing all the flowers I missed on the way up (or thought I missed!)


These purple penstemon were especially fetching.

Chocolate Lily

And I even found a few stems of chocolate lilies.  One of my favorites!

More amazing lupine

Lower down, the lupine was a lovely deep shade of purple.

Caught one butterfly

I was even able to capture a blue butterfly as it paused atop a flower.

Mother Nature's bouquet

But by far my favorite spring flower is the balsamroot.  It's bright sunny yellow petals make me smile.

Happy flower

As I descended back to the parking lot, I met group after group of people, all climbing to the flower fields.  The advantage of going early, I had the trail and summit nearly all to myself.  I arrived back to an overflowing parking area.  Time to get the heck outta Dodge!

Best way to spend a spring morning!

No better way to spend a sunny spring morning than chasing wildflowers in the Columbia River Gorge.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Back to Bandon

(The final installment of my early May trip to the Southern Oregon coast)

Oh Bandon, how do I love thee?

One of my favorite places on the Oregon coast, the charming beach town of Bandon stole my heart the first time I visited in 2015.  With the exception of 2017, I've returned every year since.

Classic Bandon beach photo

After spending three days in the coastal town of Brookings, I eagerly loaded my car for the 90-mile drive north.  Oh, it was fabulous to be back in Bandon!  I visited my favorite seafood joint and then headed to Face Rock Wayside to capture some classic beach views.  Gorse, a yellow-flowering plant, was in full bloom atop the steep cliffs.  Although considered invasive, it sure made for stunning photos.

Sea stacks

I loved the pointy sea stacks jutting up from the water.  Great lens candy!

Evening fog is rolling in

Once settled into my yurt at nearby Bullards Beach State Park, I returned to the beach in hopes of capturing sunset.  After being skunked by fog the past two evenings, the afternoon's clear skies had been encouraging.  But....climbing the stairs down to the sand, I noticed a cloud bank lingering in the distance.  (cue ominous music...)

Birds in flight

Waiting for the sun to drop, I wandered among the rocks, looking for tidepool life.  A few hours too late for low tide, the tidepools were already covered with water.  I did spot a bunch of seals perched on nearby rocks and kicked myself for leaving my zoom lens back at the yurt.  Oh well, it was fun to watch their antics. 

Sea stack peek-a-boo

As the clock edged closer to sunset time, the lingering offshore clouds began moving in until the entire beach was cloaked in a heavy fog - again!  Trying to make the best of another disappointing situation, I wandered among the tall sea stacks, looking for other photo ops.  I ran into a bunch of photographers, part of a photo workshop, tripods planted along the sand.  I chatted with one man who'd traveled all the way from Illinois, hoping to capture some magnificent beach sunsets.  I felt bad for him, paying big bucks for the workshop only to be skunked by Mother Nature.

Tender moment between momma and baby

The following morning, I awoke to overcast skies.  With clouds obscuring the sun, there was no hurry to photograph sunrise.  However, I did want to be on the beach early enough to beat the crowds, and hopefully see some wildlife.  This time I brought my zoom lens just in case.

Seal giving me the eye

I was in luck!  The seals were back on the same rocks as yesterday.  Not only were there lots of full-grown seals, I even spotted one baby with his mother.  Oh was he cute!

Mother seal and baby

I spent over an hour watching the seals, capturing lots of images.  But the seals soon tired of my presence, many sliding into the water and swimming away.  That was my cue to move on.

Baby seal scooting over the sand

There was other wildlife to see.  I spotted a pair of oystercatchers perched on a nearby rock.  Their black bodies blended so well with the surroundings, if not for their bright orange beaks I would've totally missed these birds.


After missing low tide the night before, I arrived with plenty of time to catch it that morning.  I began to notice green anemones clinging on the undersides of nearby rocks.  Every once and awhile I'd also spot an orange seastar.

Tidepool sea life

Some of the pools were quite colorful - purple and orange seastars blended with the green hues of the anemones.

Colorful sea stars

Once out of water, the anemones would transform from a light green color with fuzzy tentacles into an olive green slimy tube.  Looked like a bunch of saggy, one-eyed Dr. Seuss creatures!

Interesting tidepool creatures

The only good thing about the day's cloudy weather - even light for photography and overcast skies made the tidepool creature's colors pop.

Sea anemones

After moseying around the beach for a good two-plus hours, I was getting cold and hungry.  Time to head to my favorite bakery to fill up on cranberry-white chocolate cookies and a breakfast burrito.

Foggy ocean view

Before heading to breakfast I made one final stop at Face Rock Wayside.  Although the light wasn't great for beach landscape photos, I did notice a dozen people on the beach raking lines into the sand.  It was the famous "Circles in the Sand" crew creating another labyrinth on the beach.

Volunteers making a labyrinth on Bandon beach

Circles in the Sand is a public art project that draws intricate patterns in the hard, wet sand of low tide.  It began in 2015, and is enthusiastically supported by local fans and sponsors.  A group of dedicated volunteers are assembled for each project, all using sticks to create the winding labyrinth designs.  Once complete, the creations are opened to the public, and remain on the beach until being washed away by high tide.  To learn more go to this website:  Sandy Path Bandon.   

I chatted with one volunteer about the day's pattern.  As his group was just getting started, he invited me to stop back in a couple of hours to view the finished product.  Unfortunately, after having breakfast and packing up to go home, I never did return.  Something to save for next year's visit.

Overview of the design in progress

Yes, I will be back.  I've already got a May 2020 Southern Oregon Coast trip bookmarked on my calendar.  And hopefully next year I'll miss the fog!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Foggy Southern Oregon Coast

Fog ruled the weekend.

In early May, I scheduled a repeat of last year's wonderful Southern Oregon coast trip, again traveling to Oregon's most SW corner, the border town of Brookings.

Harris Beach

After an insanely busy month at work, I was more than ready for a few days on the coast.  Driving down the highway, the stress melted away with each passing mile.  By the time I reached my yurt at Harris Beach State Park I'd nearly forgotten all my real life woes.

First night's sunset was a stunner

Upon arrival, of course the first order of business was to head for the beach!  I was more than ready for a spectacular ocean sunset.  And that night the skies delivered.

Sunset afterglow

Oh yeah, this was what I'd traveled here for!  Lingering on the beach after the sun had finally dropped watching waves crash against the rocks, I was totally relaxed.  Here for three days, I looked forward to more colorful evenings.

Second night's foggy sunset wasn't so great

Except.....that sunset was as colorful as things got.  On day two, driving back from my jet boat ride (read about it here), I hit a fog bank about 5 miles North of Brookings.  The state park, along with it's shoreline, were totally socked in.  Although I still went to the beach that evening, all I got was one quick burst of light before the sun sunk behind the clouds.

Meyers Beach

Day three, I awoke to fog and mist.  I'd planned to hike several short trails along the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor that were known for fantastic coastline views.  But the blah skies wouldn't make great photographs, so I headed north to see if I could escape the fog.  Nope.

Not much color

I finally ended up at Meyers Beach.  The sea stacks rising out of the clouds were kind of scenic and drew me in.  And there was a short 2-mile hike along the beach concluding with a quick climb up to Cape Sebastian.  Better than nothing.

Foggy hills above the beach

I followed Meyers Beach to its very north end, past tall sea stacks and wave-sculpted rocks.  I was totally by myself save for a small group of vultures congregating on a nearby hill (hmmm.....maybe that's not a good sign)

Deep purple wild iris

The beach dead-ended into a tall, sandy slope.  Someone had left a rope tethered into a few stakes to help hikers scramble uphill.  Although it looked kind of sketchy, I successfully hoisted myself up the steep section.  There was actually a trail on top, and it wandered through a thick coastal forest.

Cape Sebastian

Adventurous curiosity won out over caution, and I followed the trail as it climbed past a few patches of lovely purple iris.  It didn't take long before I came to a clearing.  A huge expanse of light-colored rock dropped off to the churning ocean below.  This must be Cape Sebastian!

Churning waves below Cape Sebastian

By now the fog had cleared enough to glimpse the ocean and  a few nearby sea stacks.  Considering the weather, I was happy for any views.

Selfie for the blog

I had a snack, snapped a quick selfie, and then retraced my steps back through the forest and down to the beach. 

Another lovely iris

One portion of the beach was a bit narrow and with the incoming tide, I was concerned about getting trapped.  That was my motivation not to linger too long on Cape Sebastian.  But no worries, although the tide had come in a bit, there was still plenty of sand to walk on.


I passed by the vultures once again, and remembering the tips from my friend Cheri, tried to capture a few action shots.

Cape Sebastian from Meyers Beach

I took one final look back at the tree-lined cape in the fog before returning to my car.

Lovely unnamed cove off of the Boardman Scenic Corridor

Where to go next?  It was still extremely foggy.  But after traveling a long distance to be here I wasn't about to sit in my yurt.  Bad weather or not, I headed back to the Samuel Boardman Scenic Corridor. 

Oregon Coast Trail wound through here

Stopping at an unmarked pullout I'd noticed earlier I walked along a short portion of the Oregon Coast Trail to an overlook.  Below was a pretty cove, it's green-blue waters surrounded by lush cliffs.  Time to have a closer look.

The iris were thick!

I followed a rough user trail nearly all the way out to the point of the furthest rocky sea stack.  Along the way I passed fields of lovely purple iris.

Iris patch

The flowers were so thick here!  And one advantage to cloudy skies, it made the colors pop.

View from Thunder Cove

Moving on, I returned to my car and drove to the parking area for Thunder Cove.  One of my favorites from last year's trip, I followed a short trail to this breathtaking ocean viewpoint.  The rugged coastline stretched out before me with rows of seastacks.

Beautiful mossy coastal forest

Through photography forums I'd heard of a nearby place called Secret Beach.  It was supposed to be an especially lovely location to capture sunrise and sunsets.

Secret Beach

From Thunder Rock Cove, a primitive sign directed hikers to "the beach."  Tired from a long day of hiking, I'd skipped this trail last year and regretted it.  I wasn't going to miss out again.  Time for more exploration!

Sea stacks at Secret Beach

This steep, rooty trail dived downhill and wound through thick, mossy forest.  Parts of these woods were downright spooky.  I began to wonder if this was a good idea.

Fairy Bells

But after a long downhill trek (at least it seemed to take forever!) I came upon a clearing.  Perched on a rocky peninsula, it jutted out over the ocean.  About 10 feet straight below was a tiny beach lined with sea stacks.  It was indeed a pretty place.  However, I could see that I'd have to slide down a rocky slope to access.  Tired from my downhill trek, and seeing the incoming tide (and not wanting to get trapped) I decided to admire from above. (Later that evening, reading my guidebook, I found out that this isolated place was indeed Secret Beach.)

Thunder Rock Cove

On my way back, I made one final stop at the overlook to Thunder Rock Cove.  The series of wave-eroded arches always make good photo subjects (even on cloudy days!)

The fog cleared for a decent sunset

That night, I again headed down to Harris Beach for another sunset try.

Sinking through the cloud layers

Although a bit better than the previous night, I only got one brief flash of color before the sun hid below a band of low clouds.

Looking into China Beach

My final morning I had time for one quick hike before checkout.  I decided to hike down to China Beach, another scenic spot recommended by photographers.

Wild strawberry flower

Again, as with many of the trails along the Boardman Scenic Corridor, this beach trail is not signed, and I relied on vague directions from an online source.  From the parking area, right away I took the wrong trail and ended up on a clifftop looking down at the beach.

China Beach

The forest had a lot of primitive user trails, and I took one more dead end before finally getting on the right track.  The trail to China Beach wasn't very long, but I probably traveled double the distance just trying to find the correct trail.  And sadly, once I arrived, the foggy weather didn't really produce good light for photography.  Guess I'll have to try again on a sunny day.

Of course, the fog cleared as I was leaving!

Speaking of sun.......After packing my car for the day's trip north to Bandon I headed up Hwy 101.  Not 10 miles north of Brookings, the clouds suddenly cleared.  I could see blue sky again!  Of course the sun decided to come out on the day I was leaving.

Sea stack view from Arch Rock Pullout

But my trip wasn't over yet.  I planned to spend a night in Bandon, one of my favorite towns on the Oregon coast.  Surely these sunny skies would hold on for sunset photos.

Or would they?  Find out in my next post.....