Archive for the ‘Pacific Coast’ Tag

Golden Hour on the Olympic Coast   6 comments

On the way to the intended sunset spot, I had to stop & shoot this sea stack. 50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200, handheld.

On the way to the intended sunset spot, I had to stop & shoot this sea stack. 50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200, handheld.

Sometimes I follow up the previous week’s Friday Foto Talk post with one that relates in some way to the topic.  So this post is an extension to Using Foregrounds Judiciously.  It’s an example of how I go about using foregrounds, and in general how I often shoot landscapes (it’s not how most do it).

EXAMPLE – Golden Hour on the Olympic Coast:  

A few days ago I was at Rialto Beach on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  You may have seen pictures of the Olympic Coast on the web; it’s pretty popular with landscapers.  Less popular are sections of the coast away from the road that require hiking.  Backpackers are more common than serious photographers in these areas.

I scouted this one in the afternoon, hiking north along the beach to find good locations for what was looking like a great sunset.  I only took a few photos; mostly I just had fun beach-combing and exploring tide pools.  I don’t always scout ahead of time, but it’s nice when time allows.  It helps to give me ideas of how I want to portray the place.  And it’s fun!  Often I scout but then decide before golden hour to shoot somewhere else.  It’s still valuable though, since I can always return another day.

The coastline north of Rialto is spectacular and much too rugged for a road.  It has a wilderness feel, and it’s wise to take care if you decide to hike here.  Slippery rocks, rough surf, sneaker waves, and giant drift logs that can shift alarmingly under your weight are all potential dangers.

After setting up my camp just inland, I was pressed for time.  I knew where I wanted to hike to: just north of a place called Hole in the Wall (image below), but preferably a 1/2 mile or so farther.  Even though I was in a hurry, I shot along the way.The light was beautiful!  I didn’t take time with a tripod, but it wasn’t strictly necessary with the sun still above the horizon.  These little stops meant I wasn’t going to make it any further than Hole in the Wall, and even then it would be close.

Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast, Washington. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200; hand-held.

Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast, Washington. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200; hand-held.

There is a campsite just before a headland that you have to climb up and over to get where you can shoot Hole in the Wall itself.  Some large sea stacks (formerly one single stack that collapsed several years ago) lie just off the beach there.  This spot is the most popular at Rialto (why I wanted to go further).  A few had their tripods set up, waiting for sunset.  I passed them, shooting a few quick hand-helds.  The stacks there are just too big and close for my liking, at least in silhouette shooting sunset.

From atop the headland over Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast. 50 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod.

From atop the headland over Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast. 50 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod.

This may seem like I’m describing a measured approach, and it would’ve been if I was a bit earlier and the sun wasn’t sinking quickly (as it always does except for higher latitudes).  Truth is I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off!

I climbed the headland and shot a few pictures from up top, looking down and out to the north (image above).  Then I stumbled down to the beach, taking a shot along the way, and still I had not gotten any close foreground.  I spotted a tide-pool that was reflecting the lovely light.  It was on a rock shelf composed of thin-bedded sedimentary rock stood on its end, forming great leading lines.  Running down there, I finally got those close-foreground shots I wanted just as the sun set.  I was actually a tad late for the peak light, more on the cusp of blue hour.  But I was just in time for images that I’m happy with, and that’s what counts.

Post-sunset with turbidite sandstone beds standing on their ends, Olympic Coast. 21 mm., 0.5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

Finally some close foreground, which is turbidite sandstone beds standing on end: Olympic Coast. 21 mm., 0.5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

The forest marches right up to the coast, and the big old-growth trees are eventually toppled and add to the collection of huge driftwood logs. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400; hand-held.

The forest marches right up to the coast, and the big old-growth trees are eventually toppled and add to the collection of huge driftwood logs. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400; hand-held.

As you can see, I try to jam in as much as possible when the light is good.  This is one reason I like to shoot alone.  Most landscapers would look at me and think “there’s a rank amateur”.  Most prefer to be already set up at one place, from which they will shoot for the entire time that light is at its peak.  They don’t miss shots like I sometimes do, but that’s because they’re not trying to get as much as I am.

Sometimes things backfire on me, but I like the variety I can get from a single “light event”.  And even well-planned shots can backfire anyway.  I do sometimes plan or visualize beforehand and stick to a plan to get a particular image.  On those occasions I try not to extemporize (much!).  But that isn’t my main modus operandi, simply because planned shots so often don’t work out.  There are too many variables at play.

This was actually shot a few days later when I returned to get further north, where many pointed sea stacks lie offshore. 70 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/14, ISO 100; tripod.

This was actually shot a few days later when I returned to get further north, where many pointed sea stacks lie offshore. 70 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/14, ISO 100; tripod.

To me it seems a bit old-fashioned to set up way ahead of time and stick your feet in the same place throughout the shoot.  It’s what was done in the old days with heavy large-format film gear, even glass plates if you go far enough back.  It’s also what you have to do when you’re shooting very popular compositions, just so you beat your competitors to the spot.  But digital gear is pretty darn lightweight.  So if you’re practiced at using your tripod and camera you can shoot different compositions in fairly rapid succession.  And who wants over-done shots anyway?

As you can see only one of my many shooting positions had very close foreground; the rest had either more distant foreground or middle-ground elements.  Some are just subject and sky.  I don’t always shoot like this of course.  Sometimes I like to work slower and get fewer shots, with more time to admire the moment.  But in a place like the Olympic Coast in great light, it’s tempting to make it sort of a workout.  When it goes well (like last night) I don’t feel stressed.  It’s actually sort of a rush, one that I slowly came down from walking back along the beach, the Pacific glinting in the moonlight.  Happy shooting!

Sunset captured from atop a big drift log, the foreground not very close. 50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

Sunset captured from atop a big drift log, almost to my close foreground but not quite there.  50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

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Two for Tuesday: How to Avoid a Sunset   1 comment

16 mm., 1.6 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100, camera movement.

16 mm., 1.6 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100, camera movement.

Unlike many photographers, I don’t think subjects like the sunset or a rainbow are necessarily cliche’.  But they can easily dominate a composition, and it’s that which can get tiresome.  The Milky Way has become exactly the same way in recent years.  But with that said, I do get tired of shooting toward the setting sun.

On a recent afternoon at the beach, after photographing a sail boat in front of the lowering sun (already posted for Wordless Wednesday), I set up to capture the color, which as usual was concentrated toward the west.  But when I put the wide-angle lens on and found some interesting foreground rocks, instead of shooting a standard composition, I started messing around.

The first shot is actually an accident.  I was experimenting with camera movement but ended up not liking any of the results.  Then a big wave came in and I had to quickly grab the tripod and raise it above my head to save my camera from a dousing.  I left the rocks then, not wanting to push my luck (plus I was soaked).  Later when checking out the images I liked this last one the best.

The second picture was well after sunset, when palm trees framed the crescent moon.  The sun was long gone but was still coloring the horizon and high clouds.  It’s a twilight image, but not too long of an exposure, because of the need to keep the moon sharp.

The first image is the kind of thing that happens accidentally but only to those who are giving luck and chance an opportunity.  The second picture is the kind I really like, not only because it happens after other photographers have gone, but because it’s only possible with patience and faith that the show isn’t really over.

70 mm., 1.0 sec. @ f/8, ISO 1250.

70 mm., 1.0 sec. @ f/8, ISO 1250.

The Rugged Sonoma Coast   8 comments

The rugged beauty of Sonoma Coast State Park in northern California.

The rugged beauty of Sonoma Coast State Park in northern California.

On this last trip, returning home to Oregon, I almost missed this place.  Sure I’ve been through there before.  But I never really appreciated it fully.  I even got back on Interstate 5, the main (boring) freeway traveling north-south through California, Oregon and Washington.  Something made me swing back over to the coast north of the Bay Area.  I did it at night, as if it was somehow wrong.

I hit the coast at Bodega Bay.  This is the perfect place to stroll the quintessential California seaside town.  (If you’re heading north of the Sonoma Coast Mendocino is even better!)  Wander the quaint streets, sample salt-water taffy and shop for souvenirs ’till you’re heart’s content.  Then, for more adventurous doings, head north.  But before you do, stock up on things like picnic fixings, drinks, and even gas.  There aren’t any big towns for quite a ways.

Rocks and surf as far as the eye can see.  Cape Mendocino is in the distance.

Rocks and surf as far as the eye can see. Cape Mendocino is in the distance.

The wonderful Sonoma Coast State Park stretches north from Bodega Bay for miles and miles.  It includes marvelous sea-stack-filled vistas that even a veteran of the Oregon Coast will have trouble getting through in a day.  I must have stopped a dozen times, walking out over a headland or stumbling down to a rugged beach.  I had camped at a quiet spot just east of Hwy. 1, where the county is in the process of turning an old dairy ranch into a park.  Very peaceful and quiet, beautiful weather, the perfect setting for a detour!

I did a longer hike near Goat Rock, just south of the Russian River mouth.  What a spectacular place for a walk!  The trail, which parallels the coastline not far from the road, is easy and flat.  It’s accessible at several points, allowing a shuttle if you want to do the whole stretch (about 5 miles).  I did an out and back hike.  An aside:  since I became a more serious photographer, I have forgotten my former insistence on doing loop hikes.  Now I don’t mind out and backs so much.  I think it’s because you get a completely different view going the opposite direction.  It’s something I knew before, of course; yet didn’t appreciate as much before now.

Highway 1 in northern California passes through eucalyptus groves.

Highway 1 in northern California passes through eucalyptus groves.

For the Russian River mouth, you can simply view it from pull-outs to the north along Hwy. 1, where surfers park to go try the rough surf created by the sea-dominated delta.  Or you can, a mile or so south of the bridge over the Russian, take Goat Rock road down to the spit of flat land that projects north between river and sea.  This is a nice place for a beach walk.

North of the river, the highway climbs up and over a spectacular series of headlands.  You can easily park at one of several small pull-outs and walk the short distance out to the edge.  The views are stunning.  There are also steep trails leading down to pocket beaches which you’ll likely have to yourself.  Highway 1 climbs steeply over the main headland, where you have an incredible, eagle’s eye view down to the rugged coastline.

Traveling north, you would be wise to make time for Fort Ross.  I already posted on this beautifully-situated place last year, so I’ll just say that it’s a fascinating piece of American (and Russian) history.  Check out that post for photos and more info.  For photographers, a huge eucalyptus grows there that Ansel Adams famously photographed.  North of Fort Ross, Stillwater Cove is a lovely place to hunt abalone shells and take pictures.  You’ll need a permit to collect the shells.

Practicalities

You can certainly visit this coast for the day while staying at one of the inland towns (Healdsburg is a great choice).  If you are doing the Sonoma wine-tour thing, this could be the best way to get a first-pass overview of the Sonoma Coast.  But plan to get started early and spend all day; otherwise it will feel like you just drove all day.

Better is to stay the night, in one of the lodges in Bodega Bay or Mendocino, or at one of the many campgrounds.  There are campgrounds in the state park just inland as well as along the coast.  Anchor Bay is a tiny town positioned more centrally on the coast.  It has both lodging and camping options.  And there are a number of B&Bs and other lodging options dotted along the coast, that is if you don’t need town amenities.

If you’re coming down from the north, Fort Bragg is the last big town for groceries, gas and the like, whereas if you’re coming from the south, Bodega Bay is your best option for stocking up.

There are more wonders to the north, in Mendocino County.  And the wonderful Point Reyes is a short jaunt to the south.  The really nice thing about this stretch of coast is that you often find nice weather even in winter.  It can get wild in stormy weather, but when placid it’s downright mild!  Thanks for reading.

The light at dusk is subdued by fog and spray from the Pacific in this view south along the Sonoma Coast, California.

The light at dusk is subdued by fog and spray from the Pacific in this view south along the Sonoma Coast, California.

The sun sinks into the Pacific.

The sun sinks into the Pacific.

 

Single-image Sunday: Tidepooling on the Lost Coast   3 comments

A crab inhabits the shallows along California's Lost Coast.

A crab inhabits the shallows along California’s Lost Coast.

Although I can’t claim this as one of my best images, it’s a memory I want to hold onto for as long as possible in this rainy mess back home in Oregon.  It seems like two months ago I was on a sunny, warm California Coast, focused on one of my favorite activities (it was last week).  Tidepooling at low tide anywhere on the Pacific is just plain fun.  It is rugged on the Lost Coast, a stretch between the towns of Fort Bragg and Eureka in northern California.  But there are plenty of rocky sections accessible at low tide.

I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve been under the mistaken impression I could keep my feet dry.  This was yet another one of those times.  I was rewarded when I came upon an area where crabs seemed to be congregating.  I’ve never seen this crab before.  It was one of two types I saw with unusual projections on the carapace.  I googled but the closest thing I found was the sharp-nosed crab.  And that wasn’t really a great match.  So if you know please tell me!

He was hiding in a mass of kelp that I stepped on.  I was walking carefully and didn’t put my full weight on it right away.  I felt the kelp moving under my foot and pulled back in surprise.  When I peeled the kelp away I almost got a rude surprise.  He was a feisty fella!  Who could blame him, being stepped on.  Pulled my fingers away just in time.

I found myself wondering what he tasted like.  That’s my childhood talking.  In summer we would go down to the nearby Chesapeake Bay, bare feet in the cool mud, and catch blue crabs.  I let him be.

Single-image Sunday: Peaceful in Baja   8 comments

I find Baja to be a peaceful place, by and large.  It’s not like some other areas of Mexico, which can be bustling (or even dangerous in a few cases).  To use the correct term, it’s ‘tranquilo’, a reason Mexicans give for visiting and even moving here.  The non-resort areas of Yucatan are similarly peaceful.  I wanted this shot to express that peace and I think it did.

I walked out here from Ensenada looking for a good shot of the bay and possibly a good overview shot of the town with a big cruise ship sitting in harbor.  That shot wasn’t possible, as the best vantage point was either from an off-limits naval yard or the top of a steep hill I didn’t have time to climb.

I watched the sunset develop as I walked.  I passed a wedding where the photog. was happily shooting his couple with great light.  After a rather plain sunset, I waited until near dark hoping for that glow you sometimes get.  Mostly I wanted the kind of low light that makes long exposures like this easy to shoot without an extra filter.  The vibrant sky was a nice bonus.

Bahia Ensenada under a peaceful dusk sky.  Please click image for purchase options.

Bahia Ensenada under a peaceful dusk sky. Please click image for purchase options.

 

Single-Image Sunday: A Cool Embrace   9 comments

In the Pacific Northwest one heads to the coast in order to warm up in winter or cool down in summer.  With the Japanese Current bringing cold water from the Gulf of Alaska, this coast is often foggy.  The current also causes cold, nutrient-rich waters to well up along the coast, helping to support the region’s rich marine life.  While the cold currents nourish life in the sea, the fog they create nourishes dense forest on land.  The foggy conditions, not surprisingly, have also caused many a shipwreck over the years.  The entire Pacific NW coast is rugged and studded with lighthouses, but the north Olympic Coast in Washington is an especially big graveyard for ships.

I captured this image on my recent trip to the Olympic Peninsula.  The narrow, curvy road out to Cape Flattery runs along a rugged, forested coast facing the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Cape Flattery lies on the Makah (American Indian) Reservation.  It is the northwestern-most point of the United States (excluding Alaska).  Fog came in and out during my one-night stay out there.  I wanted to capture the primal feel of this place where rugged rainforest-clad hills meet the sea.  During summer, this kind of weather is not nearly as common as it is in winter, so I felt pretty lucky in that regard.

The rugged and wet north coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington faces the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is prone to foggy weather.

The rugged and wet north coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington faces the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is prone to foggy weather.

Hope you enjoy the picture.  Please click on it if you’re interested in purchase options.  It is copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry ’bout that.  Please contact me with any questions about this image or anything else you’re curious about.  Thanks for checking in!

Quick Trip to the Coast: Part II   8 comments

Low tide at the Oregon Coast

Low tide at the Oregon Coast

This is the second of two parts on a section of the Oregon Coast between Cannon Beach and Depoe Bay.  It’s a part of the coast where you can make a sort of loop from Portland.  Just take Highway 26 west from town and head all the way over to Cannon Beach.  Then travel south on Highway 101 through Tillamook (did somebody say “cheese tour”?) and on to Lincoln City.  Past this large town is a beautiful stretch of coastline to Depoe Bay.  From here you can backtrack to Lincoln City then take Highway 18 back to Portland.

Perched Gull

On the way south to Depoe Bay, a beach stop I can definitely recommend is Fogarty Creek.  This state park has two access points about 1/4 mile from each other; turn east off the highway.  Either one takes you to a large grassy and treed area where you can park and picnic.  But the real show is out on the beach.  Walk the short trail along the pretty creek to a wild beach where you can explore for fossils and agates.  It’s easier to walk north; southward you’ll soon be blocked by a headland in all but very low tides.  The fossil clams and other concretions are very easy to find in the rocks along the beach.

Exploring somewhat inaccessible rocky areas of the Oregon Coast is my favorite thing to do there.

Exploring somewhat inaccessible rocky areas of the Oregon Coast is my favorite thing to do there.

Depoe Bay is one of those little towns that make the Oregon Coast popular with those who like cute towns and plenty of gift shops.  It has an excellent little whale-watch museum/station where volunteers are very eager to show you gray whales if they are visible.  There are also whale-watch tours that leave from the snug little harbor.  You can see them year-round, but spring and late fall are probably best.

Oregon_Coast_7-18-13_5D3_008

Boiler Bay is a great place to explore.  You will see a sign for it on the left as you drive out of Depoe Bay heading north.  You can pull off and get a view of the bay.  This is a good place to watch for whales.  But to access the shore of the bay for its excellent tide-pooling and exploration you’ll need to do a little more work.

Working your way down this is the first sight of Boiler Bay.

Working your way down this is the first sight of Boiler Bay.

Boiler Bay

Boiler Bay

 Access is impossible from the viewpoint, but if you’re adventurous enough to handle the slippery rocks, you can certainly handle finding the access.  So I won’t spill the beans here (I might anger a local!).  This is the second time I’ve explored down here.  There were a healthy number of tourists up above, but despite the fact they could see me from the viewpoint, I had the bay to myself.

Tidepooling!

Tidepooling!

I see you sea anemone!

I see you sea anemone!

The rocky coastline at Boiler Bay is really only navigable during low tide, and my timing was good in that respect.  Making my way over slippery rocks, around small headlands and into coves where you never know exactly what you’ll find, peering into tidepools at sea-stars, anemones and crabs: this is what I love best to do on our coast.  The old rusty boiler for which this place is named has been sitting in this spot since 1910 when the ship it came from exploded and sank.  For me it made a good subject despite average light for photos.

Boiler Bay

Seastar not starfish!

The old boiler in Boiler Bay is used as a perch by seabirds.

The old boiler in Boiler Bay is used as a perch by seabirds (murres I believe).

What a spectacular place and day!  A couple gray whales were spouting just offshore of the bay mouth.  I watched them for awhile but they were too far for pictures.  This is a fine spot to go tidepooling, and I want to come back for sunset pictures someday, hopefully when we have unusually low tides.  All in all a great foray to the Coast.  Hope you enjoyed the pictures and story.

Edge of Kiwanda

Quick Trip to the Coast: Part I   8 comments

Cannon_Beach_7-17-13_5D3_001

I rarely go to the Oregon Coast during summer, since it tends to be too busy and also because other times of year (especially early Spring) are generally better for photography.  Recently it’s been on the brain, however, so I decided a quick trip was in order.  I went during the week, but it was still as busy or busier than I like it.  The weather was sunny but windy and a bit on the cool side.

Haystack Rock and Cannon Beach.

Haystack Rock and Cannon Beach.

The typical summertime weather pattern for the coast is morning clouds breaking for brilliant sunshine by mid-day.  The closer to the ocean itself you get, the cooler it is.  Drive inland for 20-30 minutes and the temperature jumps a good 15-20 degrees.  On the beach itself the wind makes it a little chilly but hide behind a dune and you can be in shorts with no shirt and not feel cold.  The highs adjacent to the beach were in the mid- 60s to low-70s (Farenheit) during the day.  At this very same time much of the rest of the U.S. was suffering through incredible heat.  And even Portland just over an hour away was in the mid-90s (but with low humidity).

Crescent_Beach_1-23-11_50D_052

In other words, our coast was the place to be, despite the fact that it would have been perfect had it been 10 degrees warmer.  I’d rather be someplace where you need to move it out to feel comfortable in shorts and T-shirt than be where you make any movement whatsoever and you’re drenched in sweat.

I only spent two nights, heading over to Cannon Beach for sunset then down the coast to the Depoe Bay area before heading back.  This section of our north-central coast includes some great natural sights along with several cutesy towns for strolling.  Cannon Beach is scenic but a bit too popular for me.  I headed down to the Manzanita area to spend the first night.  This is not far south of Cannon Beach yet is less crowded and with a bit more of a natural emphasis.  The huge bulk of Neahkahnie Mountain guards the north side of the little town of Manzanita, where you can rent a house for a weekend or week and enjoy a super-wide beach.

Coarse Sand

The hiking here is among the best on the Oregon Coast.  You can do a short but fairly steep hike up Neahkahnie Mountain from either the south or north.  The south side access is up a little dirt road just south of Highway 101’s high point as it traverses up and over the mountain.  The north side trailhead is on the highway across from a pull-out.  You can also hike the opposite way from this point toward the high sea cliffs and down a switchback trail that eventually leads to spectacular Short Sands Beach.

A pond just inland from the coast has abundant water lilies.  Or are these lotus flowers?

A pond just inland from the coast has abundant water lilies. Or are these lotus flowers?

A much shorter trail to Short Sands starts from a bigger and busier parking lot not far north along the highway.  In either case, a trail continues from Short Sands a couple more miles out onto Cape Falcon.  This is a fantastic hike, well worth it.  Short Sands, which has become quite popular with surfers in recent years, occupies a rocky cove marked by dramatically tilted layers of sandstone.  In summer the beach is plenty wide for standard beach goings on.

I like to combine Neahkahnie and Cape Falcon in a longer hike.  A car or bicycle shuttle makes it a very feasible dayhike.  Leave a car at the main Short Sands parking lot then start at the south trailhead for Neahkahnie.  Hike up and over the mountain down to the north trailhead.  Cross the highway and continue down to Short Sands Beach, then out to Cape Falcon.  Return to the Short Sands parking lot where you left your shuttle vehicle.  This  9- or 10-mile hike gives you an outstanding taste of the wilder side of the Oregon Coast.  It’s just the ticket if you have spent too much time wandering through gift shops in Yachats, Seaside or Cannon Beach.

Gray volcanic rocks are smoothed and polished by the surf.

Gray volcanic rocks are smoothed and polished by the surf.

I drove part of the wonderful Three Capes route, a detour from 101 that takes off from Tillamook & rejoins 101 further south.  For photos, I think Cape Kiwanda is the best of the three.  But Cape Lookout certainly has a lot going for it, including a hike out to the tip of the cape and a great campground & beach.  At Kiwanda, I hiked over the big dune marking its south side, where it’s two steps up and one step down.

The view south from Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast.

The view south from Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast.

I scrambled down to the two rocky coves incised into the soft rock of the cape.  This “almost-sandstone” is buff and orange in color, which is partly why this place is so popular with photographers.  In the largest (and most difficult to reach) rocky cove, a spectacular tall archway is only visible if you walk all the way to the northern tip of the cape.

A nice sunset captured earlier this past spring down in one of Cape Kiwanda's rocky inlets.

A nice sunset captured earlier this past spring down in one of Cape Kiwanda’s rocky inlets.

Your reward is a running and hopping descent of the huge dune on the south side of the cape.  A real return to childhood it is, and since it faces the beach you’ll have an audience!  A further reward is had adjacent to the beach, where friendlies at Pelican Bay Brewery are ready to pour you a mega-pint of IPA (the p standing for pelican not pale).  This little travelogue of the Oregon Coast continues next time with the second of two parts, so stay tuned.  Thanks for reading!

The sea stacks just offshore of Cannon Beach, Oregon are set against a peaceful summer sunset.

The sea stacks just offshore of Cannon Beach, Oregon are set against a peaceful summer sunset.

Russia in America   2 comments

Fort Ross, the only evidence of Russian occupation of North America in the early 1800s, is located on the northern California Coast.

Fort Ross, the only evidence of Russian occupation in North America south of their territory in Alaska, is located on the northern California Coast.

An often-forgotten chapter of the American West’s history concerns the “Russian occupation”.  In the early 1800s, not long after Lewis and Clark completed their journey to the Pacific Coast (thus cementing America’s claim to western North America), the Russians made their way down the coast from Alaska.  At the time it was mostly about support for their Alaska territory, but it’s believed that the Tsar probably had ideas of imperial expansion.

They set up shop on the northern California coast.  On a broad terrace sitting well above the Pacific they built a very fine fort.  They established two villages, one for Russians, the other for Native Americans.  Native groups living and working there were Californians and Creoles (mixed Russian-Native).  Aleuts from Alaska were brought to help hunt sea mammals, among other chores.

This wooden chapel at Fort Ross State Historic Park in California is a rebuilt version of the original.

This wooden chapel at Fort Ross State Historic Park in California is a rebuilt version of the original.

The fort and settlement were constructed not by the Russian government but by a private fur-trading company, the Russian American Co.  The site is now protected within the Fort Ross State Historic Park.  The park is located along the Pacific Coastal Highway (Hwy. 1) a bit more than two hour’s drive north of San Francisco.

The roof of Fort Ross's chapel does not exactly soar like the onion domes back home, but the Russians who occupied the site took some care in construction of their place of worship.

The roof of Fort Ross’s chapel does not exactly soar like the onion domes back home, but the Russians who occupied the site took some care in construction of their place of worship.

The reason the Russians came here from Alaska?  Food.  Their settlements in Alaska were consistently running short of food, and the Spanish missions in California grew an overabundance.  They needed a market.  It was a win-win for everyone involved, and this explains more than anything else the good relations between the Russians and Californians (native and colonial alike).

This is actually a large park (3400 acres), and the coastline north of the Fort is worth exploring as well.  But the fort is the star of the show, and I recommend taking your time walking around.  Rangers there give informative talks regularly; these happen in the open grassy area inside.

One of the many cannon that were actually never fired in anger at Fort Ross, the old Russian settlement on the northern California Coast.

One of the many cannons that were actually never fired in anger at Fort Ross, the old Russian settlement on the northern California Coast.

Make sure to check out the blockhouse on the NE corner of the fort.  The above photo is from there, and the view of the fort from the cannon ports is fantastic.  The photo below is of the Rotchev House.  This is the only 100% original structure leftover from the Russian occupation, and the slice of life it offers makes a little walk around its interior a must-do here.  The Rotchev’s were apparently a very fine family.

This shaped-log house was built for the last manager of Fort Ross on the northern California Coast, Alexander Rotchev.  It is the only original structure remaining at the mostly restored Russian fort.  It is also the only surviving structure built by the Russians in North America south of Alaska.

This shaped-log house was built for the last manager of Fort Ross on the northern California Coast, Alexander Rotchev. It is the only original structure remaining at the mostly restored Russian fort. It is also the only surviving structure built by the Russians in North America south of Alaska.

The fort was never really used in the way it was intended.  It was never attacked, but perhaps this was the point.  It was built to repel all but a sustained heavy naval bombardment.  Nearly all the residents lived outside its walls, because the danger from attack was so low.  The local natives saw it (correctly) as a way to gain wealth.  It offered a place to trade and work, so the Russians were largely a welcome presence.

It was a busy place for the 30 years they were here, but they eventually retreated back to the north.  Why?  The marine life near shore, including sea otters and fur seals, had been hunted out.  The enterprise was in the red, so there was not much money to purchase the extra food they needed to send to Alaska.  They could only grow enough at the site to feed themselves.

One of the corner blockhouses at Fort Ross State Historic Park, California.  These were built as a position from which to make a last defense in the event that the attackers got in through the gates.

One of the corner blockhouses at Fort Ross State Historic Park, California. These were built as a place from which to make a last defense in the event that attackers got in through the gates.

John Sutter (of California goldfield fame) bought the remaining buildings and materials.  The Mexican government claimed the land, and what remained fell into disrepair.  The great earthquake of 1906 in San Francisco inflicted damage as well.

We should thank the many Californians (too many to list) for this slice of history; it’s been a park for over 100 years!  The settlement’s restoration and preservation, an ongoing process that aims to restore the atmosphere present during Russian occupation, including the villages outside the fort.  It’s definitely worth a visit anytime.

The (crowded) California Coast   Leave a comment

A late afternoon winter's sun illuminates the rugged California Coast.

A late afternoon winter’s sun illuminates the rugged California Coast.

I’ll say right off that California is one of the most beautiful states in the U.S.A., and is arguably one of the most gorgeous places that I’ve ever been in the world.  But I wish I had been born earlier and could have experienced it in the early 20th century, no later than the 50s.  While I’m in the wishing mode, I’d actually like to have roamed around here in the missionary days.  Or trapping and exploring with Jedediah Smith!

The California Coast is the attraction to driving Highway 1.

The California Coast is the attraction to driving Highway 1.

Other than the desert, and the far NE and far NW corners of the state, California is really too crowded and developed for my tastes.  The coast has about three times more traffic and people than I prefer.  And so despite its physical beauty, it falls down on my list of favorite states.  It’s not in the bottom half, but it doesn’t quite crack the top 10 either.  Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon are the top 3, in case you’re curious.

An Anna's hummingbird feeds on flowers in a garden on the California Coast at Big Sur.

An Anna’s hummingbird feeds on flowers in the garden at Big Sur Coast Gallery.

The traffic and pollution in southern California are pretty bad, and the traffic in the Bay Area is a big turnoff as well.  I particularly don’t like the fact that in southern California both the air and immediate offshore marine environment are polluted.  Light pollution, the disappearance of stars from the night sky, is also a huge negative for me.  All that said, the high Sierra, the Redwood Coast, parts of the wine country (the Alexander Valley for e.g.) and of course the Mojave Desert are places I will return to again and again.  These are very worthwhile destinations for anyone who loves the natural world.  Mostly these places are not very crowded.

A garden on the California Coast draws hummingbirds with its blooms, even in winter.

A garden on the California Coast draws hummingbirds with its blooms, even in winter.

I am currently on the Monterrey Peninsula. I had traveled almost all of the California Coast before now but had missed out on the section north of Santa Barbara and south of Santa Cruz.  So on the way home to Oregon now, I am taking the opportunity to drive up this coast.

It’s a very beautiful piece of coastline: rocky headlands, crashing waves, mountains which plunge directly into the ocean.  It reminds me strongly of the Oregon Coast.  But here is the problem, as far as I can see.  If you want to travel a coast that has abundant natural beauty, along with quaint towns, picturesque lighthouses, etc., why not go to Oregon?  It’s less crowded, there is more of the spectacular stuff, and beach access is much much better than in California.

Winter waves on the California Coast near Big Sur hit the legs of the tripod.

Winter waves on the California Coast near Big Sur hit the legs of the tripod.

Granted, this time of year, between Christmas and New Years, I should not be surprised that it’s crowded.  Many people take off during this week, families with kids on school break especially.  But I’ve been on the Oregon Coast at this time of year, and it is nowhere near as busy as the Big Sur/Monterrey area.

I have seen so many folks from other countries, particularly Europe, while traveling this coast over the past few days.  While for Californians this is closer than Oregon (so I get why they are here), I don’t really understand why I don’t see so many visitors from other countries on the Oregon Coast.

Have a Seat

Those from other countries are planning this as a travel destination.  Of course they also want to see San Francisco.  But why not fly into that city and travel north?  I simply can’t understand why anybody would want to see L.A.  The San Diego area is awfully warm this time of year, compared to Oregon, so that makes sense.

I am sure this part of the California Coast would be much more calm and uncrowded during a different week.  When I was south of Big Sur, on Christmas night, the highway north was blocked by a landslide.  It was deserted, and I loved being perched high up on a cliff, camped while the wind and rain from an overnight storm buffeted my van.

An inlaid sculpture highlights one wall of the Carmel Mission in California.

An inlaid sculpture highlights one wall of the Carmel Mission in California.

The day after Christmas was beautiful, and the number of people on the road stayed low.  But over the next few days, and as I moved north, the car numbers increased steadily, until now on the weekend before Christmas in the Carmel area it is downright overcrowded.

When the road finally opened (I snuck through at night after the workers were gone) boy did the cars ever come from the north.  Just north of Big Sur I watched long lines of cars heading south, and was glad I got in a hike and otherwise enjoyed Big Sur before the rush.  It’s a little frantic around here, and I’m not used to it.  Now before you write a comment and point out that I am one of those visitors, I am already well aware of this.  I had to see this area at least once.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

I am going to post a strong travel recommendation.  I would never do this if I had a legion of followers.  I prefer that people continue to come here and leave Oregon alone.  But if you are considering a trip along the California Coast, reconsider.  If you started in Portland, Oregon and headed south to San Francisco, or began in the south and headed as far north as the central Oregon Coast, that would be an epic trip.  If you don’t want to do the one-way rental car, you could always return via the quicker Interstate 5 inland.

So that’s enough of my whining.  I will end by saying that it would be much much worse if the people were not so darn friendly here.  Most everyone I’ve met, travelers and locals alike, has been nothing but warm and friendly.  So there!  I’ll post some recommendations next time.

Near Point Lobos on the central California Coast, the sunset illuminates the beautiful groundcover that characterizes this part of the coastline.

Near Point Lobos on the central California Coast, the sunset illuminates the beautiful groundcover that characterizes this part of the coastline.

 

 

 

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