Monday, March 29, 2021

Lucky Day at Mirror Lake

Of all the trails around Mt Hood, the hike to Mirror Lake is by far the busiest.  No matter the season, it's trailhead parking area is always full.  Online hiking forums commonly post multiple trip reports for this trail every week.

So why did in the world did I decide to snowshoe here one sunny Wednesday morning?

Snow covered bridge

Well, this trail is popular for a reason.  Easy access off the highway, a relatively short (2 mile one way) trek, and the reward of a lovely alpine lake with Mt Hood views are why the Mirror Lake trail gets so much love.  And that's precisely why I decided to make a visit.  

Little snowman on bridge also snow-covered

One Wednesday in late February the weather looked promising.  After overnight snowfall, sunny skies were predicted.  Perfect weather for a snowshoe trek to Mirror Lake!  Although I realized this forecast would bring out the masses, I decided to suck it up and go anyway.

Frosty forest

My rule for hiking on a busy trail - go early!  I did just that, arriving at the trailhead around 8 am.  Although not as early as I'd planned, I wasn't prepared for what awaited me at the parking lot.  I was the first vehicle - nobody else was there!  

First view of Mirror Lake

Stunned, I exited my car, looking around.  Did I miss something?  A sunny day with newfallen snow and I was the only person in the parking lot at 8 am?  Was there something wrong that I didn't know about?

My footprints were the only ones!

Not believing my good fortune, I quickly gathered my hiking stuff, strapped on my snowshoes, and headed for the trail.  Might as well get a jump on the other hikers, I reasoned.


A good 3 inches of snow had fallen the night before.  I got to make first tracks through an untouched canvas of new-fallen snow.  Although I worried that the trail would be hard to find with the snow cover, navigation turned out to be easy.  The snow underneath was packed down enough that I could make out a slight depression where the trail was located.  Also, I'd hiked this trail before, so the route was familiar.  And if all else failed, I had my trusty gps as backup.

Classic Mt Hood view from the lake

So off I went, through a forested winter wonderland.  The first mile of the trail wound through relatively flat woods, crossing a creek multiple times on sturdy wooden bridges.  The bridges were draped with a thick white blanket, snow piled high on the railings.  On one of the bridges someone had built a small snowman on the rail, which was now nearly unrecognizable under the previous night's accumulation.


For the second mile my path climbed steeply through snow-flocked trees.  Again, I was breaking trail the entire time, which was mostly fun, except for having to detour around a large downed tree.  It took a couple minutes of pondering the best route around this obstacle, and then climbing above and sliding over the tree trunk before returning to the trail.

Selfie fail

Although I made a few photo stops along the way, I kept them to a minimum.  I really wanted to be the first person at the lake - I had visions of awesome photos of the lake and adjacent woods with untracked snow as a backdrop.  I kept waiting for other hikers to pass me by, but I arrived at the lake without having seen a soul.

Ahh, that's much better!

Snow-covered Mirror Lake was so beautiful!  The surrounding forest and higher hills sparkled with untracked, powdery, newly-fallen snow.  The sky was a blinding bright blue.  And I had it all to myself.  I couldn't believe my luck!

Snow-flocked trees

It almost seemed a shame to stomp tracks through this virgin white canvas.  But the desire to explore overrode preservation.  From previous visits, I knew which side of the lake offered Mt Hood views.  Plowing through sparkly snowdrifts, I made my way there.

Snack break view

It was the photograph I'd dreamed of capturing.  Mt Hood framed by the snowy forests and surface of Mirror Lake.  After clicking several images, I sat myself down in the snow for a quick snack break.  

Hole in the lake's ice

Then it was time to get the official "selfie" for my blog's 2021 hiking page.  Propping the camera on my backpack, I set the timer and clumsily hustled to my chosen spot in front of Mt Hood.  However, the first attempt didn't quite go as planned.  In my haste to make it to my desired selfie spot, not only did I accidentally bump the camera, I also tripped over my snowshoes and landed on my back in the snow.  It did make for a funny photo (which I've included for comic relief).

Another shot of snowy trees

Snack devoured and selfie-taking finally accomplished, I shouldered my backpack and explored the trail around Mirror Lake.  The surrounding trees were covered in thick, frosty snow.  Mirror Lake appeared to be frozen over, except for one small hole of open water.  I'm not sure what caused it but the opening made for an interesting photograph.

Pristine snow

I must've spent at least an hour roaming around Mirror Lake's shoreline, exploring and snapping photos.  Although I initially planned on navigating the trail around the lake's shore, an area of deep snow and steep slopes made me decide to retrace my steps back the way I came.  

Hood beginning to cloud over

Making my way to the main trail, I stopped once more at the Mt Hood viewpoint.  By now, clouds were beginning to gather around the mountain's summit.  Once again I was glad for my early arrival.  Not only did I have the lake to myself, I also got great unobstructed views of Mt Hood.  It appeared clouds were now moving in to cover up the mountain.

One more cool snowdrift

Snapping one final photograph before leaving Mirror Lake, I ran into my first hiker of the day.  By now I was so used to solitude, the woman startled me.  Luckily I was just leaving - I'd had the lake to myself the entire time.  By then it was nearly 11 o'clock in the morning.  Starting back down the trail I couldn't believe it had taken that long before I'd encountered another hiker.

Sun shining through the forest

But......the rest of the world had finally awoken and made their way to the Mirror Lake trail.  On my way down, I ran into hiker after hiker.  My trail, just a single set of tracks on the way up, was now a well-packed rut in the fresh powdery snow.  Returning to the fallen tree, I was amused to see that everyone had followed my detour - nobody had thought to try an alternate route.

Snow-plastered tree trunk

The nearer I got to the trailhead, the more people I encountered.  I think I counted at least 40 hikers (and their dogs) in the final mile.  It was just one conga-line after another.  Arriving back at the parking lot, I found it nearly at capacity.  Definitely time to get the heck out of there!

Snowy happiness!

I still can't believe I hiked one of the most popular trails on Mt Hood on a good weather day and didn't see a soul for nearly three hours.  It was definitely my lucky day.  

(I should've stopped and bought a lottery ticket on the way home!)  

Friday, March 26, 2021

My Favorite Beach Town, Bandon

The title says it all.  Bandon-by-the-Sea with it's gorgeous beaches and charming downtown has stolen my heart.  

Light-rimmed tidepool and the Wizard's Hat

I try to visit this favorite coastal town every year.  However, COVID thwarted last year's travel plans so I was overdue.  After spending a couple of days at Shore Acres State Park, a short drive south down Hwy 101 brought me back to Bandon once again.  It was like coming home to an old friend.

Sunburst as the sun begins to drop

After checking into my yurt at nearby Bullards Beach State Park, I grabbed my camera gear and headed for the beach.  Capturing sunset was on the agenda.

Cloud reflections in beach puddle

Bandon boasts a shoreline of absolutely gorgeous beaches featuring interesting tall rock columns called seastacks.  My favorite is a rock nicknamed the "Wizards Hat."  

Pink clouds!

When planning a sunset shoot, I always try to find a good foreground subject.  For tonight's subject I chose the Wizard's Hat.  

Red shaft of light

While waiting for the sun to drop, I busied myself and my camera capturing reflections and light on nearby tidepools.

Red skies 

Sunset comes quickly in the winter, and before I knew it the sun began sinking into a low cloud layer hovering near the water.  I clicked the shutter furiously trying not to miss anything.

Seastack reflection

Once the sun dropped behind the cloud bank I thought sunset was done.  But then a few stray light rays escaped turning the adjacent clouds a beautiful shade of pink.  Then the light transitioned into a red hue.  One lone ray of red light broke through the clouds, creating a tall column in the sky.  It was an amazing sight!

Sky reflection in the wet beach sand

As the colors faded, I stayed put on the beach watching it all, not wanting to leave.  Before the skies went totally dark, a small bit of light remained glowing on the horizon.  One of my final shots captured these sky colors reflecting in the wet beach sand.

Sunrise on Bandon Beach

One the nice things about winter - early sunsets and late sunrises.  Sunrise wasn't until after 7 am, so that meant no early wake up alarm the following morning.  I arrived back at Bandon's beach at a reasonable time of 6:45 am.

Pink-hued sunrise

After the previous night's fantastic sunset, sunrise was sort of disappointing.  The eastern sky turned orange and there was a bit of pink on the western horizon.  But nothing too spectacular.  

Sea and colorful sky

Still, any day you can watch morning break over the ocean is a good day.

Seastacks at sunrise

I then turned my attention on the Coquille River Lighthouse.  Located on the banks of the Coquille River, Bandon's local lighthouse - named after the adjacent river - is an often-photographed landmark.

Coquille River Lighthouse view from across the river

The Coquille River Lighthouse is no longer in use.  After being decommissioned, it fell into disrepair.  However when the adjacent Bullards Beach State Park was created, Oregon State Parks assumed maintenance responsibility and it now functions as a tourist attraction.  A local group offers tours in summer months (which I assume have been paused due to COVID).

Coquille River Lighthouse

I discovered a great viewpoint of the lighthouse on the Coquille River's south side.  Then, I drove to the north side and got up close and personal with the lighthouse structure itself.

Lighthouse, up close and personal

The lighthouse is perched on the river's edge, adjacent to some slippery rocks.  I gingerly edged my way over the rocks to get the best view for my camera's lens.

Tall tower!

After my lighthouse photography session, I returned to Bandon's beachfront.  Although it was now high tide, I walked the narrow sand strip between the water and tall bank, capturing waves, or whatever else caught my eye.

Huge wave splash on Bandon Beach

I'd planned for two days at Bandon.  However, a huge ice storm was predicted to hit the Portland area the next day.  Reading the dire forecasts on my phone made me reconsider my plans.  Not wanting to drive through inclement weather, I cut my stay short, heading home that afternoon.  

Despite the early departure, it was great to be back in my fave Oregon coast town.  And now that I'm retired, I think my visits will become more frequent.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Winter Waves at Shore Acres State Park

Shore Acres State Park - a picturesque portion of the Oregon coast where ocean waves crash onto tall sandstone cliffs.  Known for ginormous wave action during high tides and furious storms, it's many local photographer's first choice for capturing turbulent ocean images.  Rumor has it winter is the best season to visit, as the probability for tempestuous storms is much higher.  

Wave action at Shore Acres State Park

Wanting to capture a bit of this ocean action myself, I booked a yurt at nearby Sunset Bay State Park for early February.  Since my reservation was a month in advance there wasn't any way to guarantee favorable wave-producing weather.  As it turned out, although I didn't hit the storm window, I did get two lovely cold, but sunny days.

Beautiful sandstone cliffs

After sanitizing touch points and unloading stuff into my canvas-walled home for the next 2 days, I grabbed my camera and headed up the road to check out Shore Acres' wave action.

Green shore rocks at sunset

Although waves were crashing against the tan sandstone cliffs, they weren't of any remarkable size.  Still the path along the clifftops had amazing views of both the Pacific Ocean and the vast shoreline, which were duly captured by my lens.  

Sun sliding under a cloud layer

Sunset was fast approaching, but since Shore Acres closed their gates promptly at 5 pm, I had to find another spot to capture the show.  Driving further down the road, I came upon a viewpoint created specifically for spotting sea lions.  From the information boards I learned a huge colony liked to congregate on nearby offshore rocks.  I could hear their barking yelps even though the blubbery creatures were quite a distance away.

Better sunset at Cape Arago

I stood by the sea lion viewpoint and watched the sun drop....right into a low-lying cloud bank.  Ugh - sunset prospects weren't looking so good right now.

Orange skies

Thinking I'd been skunked, I got into my car and drove a mile to the end of the road at Cape Arago.  Imagine my surprise when pulling into the parking area, I noticed the heavens turning a lovely shade of orange.  Sunset was salvaged that night with some images from this beautiful sky show.

Sunrise bust

The following morning I set my alarm early in hopes of catching sunrise.  However, cloudy skies didn't produce much sky color, so it was all for naught.

More wave watching at Shore Acres

But I was up early enough to be the first arrival at Shore Acres State park when they opened their gates at 8 o'clock sharp.

One of many inlets

Following a path along the clifftops, I meandered for about a mile taking in the beauty with my camera.  Although cloudy, the diffused light was good for photographs - no shadows.

Interesting wave-sculped sandstone

This breathtaking area was once the grand estate of timber baron Louis J. Simpson.  In 1906, Simpson built a huge mansion on a promontory overlooking the sea and a grand formal garden nearby.  The garden boasted plants and flowers from all over the world.

Cliff scenery

The original mansion burned to the ground in July 1921.  It was rebuilt, but financial losses suffered in the Great Depression caused both the house and garden to fall into disrepair.  The State of Oregon purchased the land in 1942 and slowly restored the garden (the house was too far gone).  Now an attraction on it's own, this formal garden has something blooming nearly every month of the year, and offers a colorful light display during the Christmas season (except in 2020).

Waves hitting a rock barrier

Since most of Oregon's geology is of volcanic origin (think dark basalt rock), the light-colored sandstone cliffs of Shore Acres are sort of an anomaly. 

Tilted sandstone at Shore Acres

Near the old mansion site, the cliff rock layers are tilted, which make for interesting scenes.

Classic Shore Acres view

I spent a happy morning exploring the trails at Shore Acres, trying to capture the biggest wave splashes.  See for yourself......

Big wave splash!

More rowdy waves

Lovely afternoon light

In the afternoon, looking for a better sunrise location, I parked near Sunset Bay, and walked a primitive dirt path around the bay's outer edges.  I found a clearing looking due east with nice views of the Cage Arago lighthouse.  Perfect!

View towards former Simpson mansion site

Then I followed the dirt trail around the clifftops until it joined my morning's turn-around point at Shore Acres.

Waiting for a sunset that didn't happen

Since Cape Arago provided such a nice sunset show the previous night, I returned again hoping for an encore.  I found a most scenic overlook in the day use area, complete with a strategically placed picnic table.

A metal plaque inset into the table proclaimed it Rick and Bonnie Barron's most romantic and favorite spot on earth.

Loved the plaque in the picnic table

While the ocean panorama was indeed outstanding, thick clouds obscured any chance of a decent sunset.  Foiled again!

Pink skies

But I now had my ace-in-the-hole sunrise spot that I'd scoped earlier.  Hoping for a clearer sky, I again rose early the following morning, and hiked the short distance to this vantage point, toting my tripod, camera, and cup of tea to ward off the morning chill.

Sunrise is getting started

Persistence paid off - this time the sky delivered!  First I noticed pink and blue streaks along the horizon.  Then, low-lying clouds began to glow with orange hues.  

Morning has broken

Finally, morning light began to illuminate the Cape Arago lighthouse, situated on a narrow strip of land jutting out into Sunset Bay (Interestingly enough, although named for it's neighboring cape, this lighthouse is located in Sunset Bay instead of Cape Arago).

Cape Arago lighthouse at dawn

It was a perfect way to start the day!

Song sparrow in Formal Garden

My final morning at Shore Acres State Park was spent exploring the Formal Garden.  I'd visited here once before in May 2016 when several flowering plants were in bloom.  However today nothing was really showing color, so photo opportunities were minimal.  The most interesting capture was of a friendly song sparrow who perched on top of a bush and miraculously held still for several minutes.

Now it was time to pack up the car and head down Highway 101 to my next destination - the charming town of Bandon and it's scenic beach.  Coming in my next post!