Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Just Another Coastal Sunset....

One of the things on my winter photography bucket list was to catch a sunset on the Oregon coast.  Well, winter came and went and it's cloudy, rainy weather didn't provide many opportunities (plus I'd been busy skiing a lot).  Spring wasn't faring much better - so far it had been unseasonably cold and wet, with sunshine in short supply.   

But then one day in late March, I noticed a break in the weather.  The weatherman forecasted dry and partly cloudy skies at Cannon Beach, the closest coastal town to home.  This was my chance!  I packed up some camera gear and invited my good friend Kim to join me for an evening at the beach.

Blue skies on Cannon Beach

Low tide was around 1 pm, so I left town at noon.  The first stop on my agenda was nearby Hug Point Beach, which had some great tidepools.  But I'd forgotten one important thing - this week happened to be spring break for all the Oregon schools.  A rare sunny day had brought the masses to the coast, and upon reaching the parking lot for Hug Point Beach I found it overflowing.  Time for plan B.....

Incoming waves near Haystack Rock

I pointed my car towards Cannon Beach to try Tolovana Wayside.  The parking lot there was huge, so we stood a better chance of finding parking.  But due to spring breakers the place was just as busy, necessitating a brief search before finally securing a spot.  After parking, unloading, and visiting the restroom, Kim and I headed out for a nice, long beach walk.

Lots of people enjoying a rare dry day

Ahhhhh!  There's nothing more relaxing than walking along an ocean beach.  We spotted Haystack Rock far in the distance and decided to walk towards "the rock."  The beach was packed with people, mostly families enjoying a week free from school.

Classic view at Ecola State Park

The skies started out sunny and blue.  After so many gloomy, rainy days, boy, was it good to see sunshine!  Kim and I walked to Haystack Rock, an iconic, often-photographed seastack that Cannon Beach is known for.  Due to it being low tide, hundreds of people were crowded around the tidepools at the rock's base.  We tried to walk around, but there were way too many folks for our liking, so Kim and I continued on up the beach.

Old Tillamook Rock Lighthouse (aka "Terrible Tilly")

We were both getting hungry.  When I go to the coast there's nothing I like more than to enjoy a hot bowl of clam chowder.  Kim said she knew just the place - a nearby restaurant that had the best chowder.  We left the sand and started down one of Cannon Beach's side streets.  As luck would have it, Kim's recommended restaurant happened to be on that very street.  Inside, we were so impressed by all the menu offerings, Kim and I ended up sharing an order of halibut fish and chips, a shrimp cocktail, and of course I got my bowl of clam chowder.  Everything was delicious!  We washed it all down with a couple of tasty local brews.

My sunset spot 

Tummies now full to bursting, it was time for another beach walk.  Kim and I retraced our steps back towards Haystack Rock, and then another mile further south to Tolovana Wayside and my car.  But arriving back at the parking lot, it was only 4 o'clock, and sunset wasn't until 7:30-ish.  How to pass the time until then?

Golden sky color

I decided to drive over to nearby Ecola State Park, on Cannon Beach's north end.  There was a nice overlook that offered great views of the all the seastacks lining Cannon Beach.  So up the windy, narrow park road we went before entering another massive parking lot. 

Looking back at Haystack Rock

Kim and I walked out to the overlook and I got many shots of the classic Cannon Beach view.  Then we walked over to another viewpoint that gave visitors a glimpse of the long-abandoned Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.  Constructed on a small basalt rock 1.2 miles from shore, this lighthouse served the Oregon coast from 1881 until 1957.  Due to erratic weather conditions, and the perilous commute for both keepers and suppliers, the lighthouse earned the nickname "Terrible Tilly."  Over the years, storms damaged the structure, shattered the lens, and eroded the rock it sits upon.  Today, the lighthouse is privately owned, existing as a columbarium (a structure that houses urns holding cremains of the dead).

Coincidentally, the day after my beach trip this article about the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse appeared in our local newspaper. 

Colors reflecting in the waves

Although sunset was still a couple hours away, I decided to head back to Cannon Beach and find a good spot to watch the sun drop.  Unfortunately in the meantime, clouds had moved in and the lovely blue sky we'd enjoyed earlier was no more.  

What to do?  Should I stick around anyway?  There was still a sliver of clear sky between the cloud layers.  Sometimes clouds provide interesting sunsets.  And....sometimes they don't.

Finally the sun popped out between cloud layers

I parked near the north end of Cannon Beach.  Although I'd originally planned to get my sunset close to Haystack Rock, upon entering the beach, we realized that the rock was quite a distance away.  Having already covered nearly 4 miles of beach walking earlier, neither Kim nor I were feeling up to another long trek.  Then I noticed a small creek flowing out from the beach towards the ocean.  A flock of seagulls had gathered on a sandy spit between the creek and the ocean.  The motion of the creek's flowing water was quite interesting and the birds provided some foreground interest.  I planted my tripod, and told Kim we were setting up here.

Evening light on the beach

With still quite a bit of time until sunset and a cloudy sky, initially wasn't sure if I'd stick around until dusk.  But the interesting clouds, motion of the creek, and the ocean waves entranced me, and I ended up filling time snapping lots of shots.  The tide was coming in and the ocean water started to overrun the creek's current.  A slow shutter speed on my camera produced some interesting images of the battling waters.  Before I knew it, the sun had begun to drop.

Down she goes!

Kim and I watched the sun sink lower, lower..... and then suddenly it burst through the gap between the clouds in a blinding orange blaze.  Wow was it bright!  This dazzling light cast a lovely, rose-colored glow onto the beach.

Post-sunset sky colors

As the sun dropped to the horizon, the clouds began to turn colors.  Even after the sun had made it's exit, the sky continued to glow in shades of pink and orange.  Oh my goodness, it was sensational!  Now I was glad I'd stuck around.

More fabulous sky colors

The spectacular sky color lingered long after sunset.  It was so beautiful, I remained on the beach snapping more and more photographs.  I didn't want to leave!  The image below was my final shot, and I love that it captured the silhouette of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse against this vibrant sky. 

Terrible Tilly against an orange sky

On the dark drive home Kim and I agreed our wait for the sunset had been totally worth it.  A great way to enjoy a rare, sunny spring day.  

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Spring Wildflowers in the Gorge

Wildflower season has begun!

The eastern Columbia River Gorge always produces spring's first wildflowers, the lovely purple grass widows.  The best place to see these flowers en masse is at Catherine Creek, on the Washington side of the Gorge.

Grass widow blooms....a sure sign of spring!

One sunny day in late March I rallied friends Debbie and Barry to join me on a hike through Catherine Creek's flower fields.

Hiking above Catherine Creek

The usual loop trail through the Catherine Creek area is a mere 3 miles.  Desiring a bit more distance, my friends and I put our heads and resources together to devise a longer trek.  Barry found a hike recommended on his All Trails app that fit the bill, so off we went to check it out.

I was excited to find yellow bells blooming

Of course, we'd barely left the parking lot when I spied my first clump of grass widows.  The camera came out, and my friends waited patiently while I clicked away.  

More purple beauties

There were much more grass widows to be found, and as we crossed the bridge over Catherine Creek and started up the opposite bank, I spied more of those purple beauties.  Not only grass widows, the slopes also revealed a respectable amount of lovely yellow bells.  The first ones of the season, I was excited to discover these flowers already in bloom.

Another fine specimen

The grass widows were thick out here - they appeared to be at peak.  Other wildflowers were also showing their colorful sides, among them the rare, purple Columbia desert parsley.  I even caught a bee pollinating a clump!

Columbia desert parsley being pollinated

Our trail wound through a wide-open grassland directly east of Catherine Creek's cliffs.  As we climbed higher, wonderful views of the Columbia River looking eastward began to appear.

Grass widows were everywhere!

But, of course, the star of this show was still the proliferation of grass widow blooms.

The flowers carpeted the ground

Not only wildflowers, we heard plenty of birds singing their spring mating songs.  The most beautiful of them all were the melodic tones of the Western meadowlark.  We kept hearing meadowlarks chirping, but being the cagey birds they are, none of us were having any luck actually spotting one.

Meadowlark sighting

We'd started our hike later in the morning, so it didn't take long before my friends and I were ready for lunch.  Spotting a nice log overlooking the grassy meadows, we all agreed to take a break and fill our bellies.  While enjoying our sandwiches, Barry spotted a meadowlark perched on top of a nearby tree.  I zoomed in as best I could and captured a few images of the pretty yellow bird.  We were happy to spot one meadowlark, even if it was a bit far away.

Time for some uphill hiking!

Lunch now finished, it was time to explore more of Barry's All Trails loop.  Our trail intersected with an old road that took up further uphill past a grove of gnarled oak trees.

Interesting gnarled oak tree

Past the oak forest, our trail kept leading uphill through another grassy meadow.  

Another big patch of grass widows

I spied a huge patch of grass widows that made all of us smile.

The abundance of wildflowers made Barry smile

According to his app, Barry said this route headed uphill to the top of the bluffs before heading west and crossing a ravine.  Although the trail we were following was getting a bit faint, we put our faith in All Trails and Barry as a navigator and kept on going.

Open grassland

Three trail runners came bombing down the hill going the opposite direction.  Seeing other people on the trail reinforced that we were indeed going the right way.

Columbia River view looking east

The Gorge views from on top were spectacular.  I snapped a few photos and then it was time to head west across the top of the bluffs.

Through the oak forest

Our route took my friends and I through another oak forest.  Once through this forest, we came across another grassland.  The trail then dived steeply into a drainage, before contouring downhill back towards the river.

Wonderful river views

The river views here were nothing short of wonderful.

Yellow desert parsley lined our trail

But now eager to get back to our car, we didn't linger long.  We kept traveling downhill, through intermittent oak forests and grasslands.  Desert parsley lined the trail, adding a splash of yellow to all the green vegetation.

Looking back from where we came

A high voltage utility line cuts through a lower portion of the Catherine Creek area.  As we wound downhill, I spied one of the huge metal towers.  As luck would have it, our route took us right underneath it.

Hiking under a huge utility tower

This trail ended up intersecting with the main trail (an old road) through the heart of the Catherine Creek area.  The rest of the way was very familiar.  Having hiked this portion of the trail many times, we enjoyed seeing the well-known rock arch that sits high above the creek and old ranch.

Famous Catherine Creek arch

It was fun to hike through the old fences and corrals from a long-ago ranch.

Old corrals

Lastly, my friends and I crossed the upper portion of Catherine Creek via a wide board that has been in place for many years.

Crossing Catherine Creek

Climbing the final half mile to the parking area, the west banks of Catherine Creek put on one last wildflower show.  Tons of grass widows interspersed with small yellow buttercups, white prairie stars, and other colorful flora that I couldn't identify.  I tried taking photos, but my images just didn't do it justice.  So you'll just have to take my word for it, the wildflowers were outstanding!

The final half mile was chock full of flowers

We all agreed the loop Barry had found on All Trails was a winner.  It came in just over 5 miles with 1500 feet of elevation gain, which was perfect.  And we'd had sunny, but chilly weather, a good display of wildflowers, and even a meadowlark sighting.  Spring days in the Gorge don't get any better than that!

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Blossom Time

 After enduring the dark, rainy months of winter, when spring finally arrives, Portlanders are rewarded with dazzling displays of tree blossoms.

Waterfront Park's famous cherry blossoms

There's no better place to witness spring's finery than at downtown Portland's Waterfront Park.  A linear greenspace paralleling the Willamette River, it's north end features a huge grove of cherry trees.  Every year around mid-March these trees erupt in a riot of pink blossoms.

Pink tunnel

After getting word that the cherry tree bloom was happening, I invited my neighbor and photo-mentor Cheri to join me for a photography session.  

Close up of the glorious blooms

It was your typical rainy spring day, causing Cheri and I to reconsider our trip.  However, despite numerous raindrops on the trip over, we were delighted when the sky dried up upon our arrival.  The yearly cherry blossom bloom typically draws a crowd, but today's wet weather had kept most visitors away.

Closer up

Cheri and I noticed quite a few flowers yet to bloom, so we'd definitely caught things in the early stages.  However, despite the less-than-full blossoming trees, I still thought the floral show was quite stunning.

Flower-lined walkway

We climbed up to the top of the adjacent Steel Bridge for an aerial view.  Not too shabby!

Trees in bloom with Steel Bridge towers

A wide walkway follows the Willamette River.  When the cherry trees are in full bloom, this walk is full of blossom-peepers.  A week later, I saw several social media posts of the cherry trees and people were all over the park.  I was lucky to only have a few folks in my shots.  

A lovely time of year!

A great way to usher in spring!  I can't wait for more wildflowers to bloom - my camera and I are ready.