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North Olympic Wilderness Coast – a Guide (Part 2)

Sunset at Chilean MemorialIn my last post, I started describing the hike along the North Olympic Wilderness Coast, covering from Shi Shi Beach to Sand Point. Today I finish, covering from Sand Point to Rialto Beach.

As I mentioned, the hiking near Sand Point is perhaps the easiest of the entire 32 miles. This is particularly true south of Sand Point, where the beach is broad and sandy. Though hiking in the dry sand can be tiring, it is possible to walk on wet sand at all but the highest tides (which in summer occur at night on this part of the coast).

We found these whale bones that someone had arranged on a log. That big one near Izzy weighs at least 50 pounds.

We found these whale bones that someone had arranged on a log. That big one near Izzy weighs at least 50 pounds.

South of Sand Point proper, the beach extends for about 2 miles. Then, after going around an easy headland (passable at 5-foot tide or lower – no overland trail), you come to another nice beach at Yellow Banks – so named for several cliffs made of yellow rock inland off the beach. The campsite at Yellow Banks is the furthest south campsite where reservations are required.

South of Yellow Banks is a long stretch of about 4.5 miles with only one headland (passable on a 6-foot tide – no overland trail), but also without a nice walking beach (at least at the tide level we saw it at; we hiked this section on a rising tide). Here the beach is mostly cobbly, instead of sandy. At high tide, the area could be difficult to hike due to the lack of beach (the tide appears to come quite close to the treeline) and due to downed trees that stick out into the water at high tide.

When hiking this stretch of the coast, we came upon a Boy Scout troop heading north. We stopped to talk a minute to get news of the headland we needed to round before coming to our next camp at the Norwegian Memorial. One of the men with the troop was carrying a rib bone from a whale, which, he said, he intended to carry the rest of their hike. (We wondered about the wisdom of that, first because it probably weighed 20 pounds, and second we doubted the park rangers would let him keep it.) They said bone was from a collection of whale bones in the next small cove. A short distance later, we found the bones, many of which someone had placed together on a large drift log.

We rounded a broad, rocky area north of the Norwegian Memorial close to high tide without too much difficulty and rambled out onto Kayostia Beach, a long sandy beach in front which is home to the Norwegian Memorial. The memorial is dedicated to the crew of the Norwegian vessel Prince Arthur, which struck a reef, broke apart, and partially sank just offshore on January 2, 1903. Only 2 of its 20 person crew survived. The memorial is reportedly on a bluff overlooking the northern end of Kayostia Beach, but wanting to get our camp set up, did not go look for it.

Hiking near high tide, just north of the Norwegian Memorial.

Hiking near high tide, just north of the Norwegian Memorial.

The backcounty campground at Kayostia Beach is about south of the memorial by about half a  mile. There are many nice, large sites set just off the beach in the trees. At the southern end of the beach, there is a particularly attractive sea stack and some nice tidepools.

Around the small headland at the end of Kayostia Beach (passable at a 5.5-foot tide, but there is also an overland trail) is an even more beautiful beach. At the northern end of this beach is the Cedar Creek campsite (which we did not visit). The beach lasts for a mile, ending at headland that can be passed on a 4-foot tide (or by overland trail). Past this headland is another nice sandy beach just less than a mile long, which ends a small headland that can only be crossed by going over the top on a short trail (with ropes of course).

South of this headland, the beach becomes rocky again. About midway down this rocky beach, there is a small waterfall in cleft in the rock face a the top of the beach. We spent five hours waiting the the tide near this waterfall because at the south end of this rocky beach is a headland that is passable only at low tide (5.5 feet or lower). Further, a short mile south of the headland is Cape Johnson, which also must be traversed at low tide (4 feet or lower – neither have overland trails). We made the trip around these two headlands on an outgoing tide, with the water level just below the highest recommended levels. The traverse, particularly around Cape Johnson was not easy; but perhaps it is easier with a lower tide. We did see a large number of seals hauled out on the rocks just offshore from the cape.

South of Cape Johnson is a beautiful cove which is home to the Chilean Memorial – which is the resting place of the crew of Chilean ship, W.J. Pirrie. The W.J. Pirrie was torn apart just offshore here in November 1920, killing all but two of the crew of 20.

The beach in the cove is mostly gravel and cobbles, with only a small stretch of sand. That sandy spot forms a small campground. When we arrived on an early Friday evening, the campground was crowded with four of five other groups. One moved over to allow us a spot to camp. Of all the campsite we visited on the trip, this was smallest and most crowded (a result, most likely, of being only 3.7 miles north of Rialto Beach).

South of Chilean Memorial to Hole in the Rock, the coast is formed by two more small coves and plenty of sea stacks offshore. Hole in the Rock is at the last headland before Rialto Beach. The “hole” is a small arch in the bottom of the headland, and at low tide you can walk through it. At high tide, you will need to take the short trail over the top. We took the low route, and the tide was just a little too high to make it without getting wet feet. There is a backcountry campground at Hole in the Rock, but we did not see it.

At the Hole in the Rock

At the Hole in the Rock

South of Hole in the Rock, it is an easy beach walk to the parking lot at Rialto Beach. The stretch of coast between the northern end of Rialto Beach and the Chilean Memorial was, in my opinion, some of the most scenic of the entire trip.

Photography Considerations

This hike is high on scenery, and it is very worthwhile to take your camera. I carried my Canon 6D, two lenses (a 28-300mm zoom and a 17-40mm zoom), a tripod, and several filters (a polarizer, a split neutral density filter, and a 10-stop neutral density filter), as well as extra batteries and other small accessories. I used most, if not all, the equipment I brought (partially because if I was carrying it, I thought I should use it). Of course, weight is a consideration as well!

For lens selection, you probably want everything in your bag. There are many sweeping scenic shots for wide-angle lenses. Short telephoto lenses are useful for isolating sea stacks off shore. And longer lenses are a must if you want good wildlife shots (we saw raccoons, deer, a coyote, dozens of bald eagles, great blue herons, seals, and a few sea otters).

A polarizing filter helps a lot with glare, wet surfaces, and minimizing the common sea mist. It is essential for minimizing reflections when shooting tidepools. I found having the 10-stop neutral density filter fun, being able to take long exposures to totally remove wave action. A split neutral density filter was handy at sunset. The tripod was definitely worth taking for those long exposures, sunset shots, and tidepool shots.

Being the west coast, sunsets were good photographic subjects. At most places, with short walks from the campsites, there were almost always sea stacks or islands that could be used in sunset compositions. I didn’t bother much with sunrise, which was typically blocked by the bluffs rising eastward off the beach.

This headland area north of the Norwegian Memorial is only passable at low tide.

This headland area north of the Norwegian Memorial is only passable at low tide.

Small buck on the beach south of Yellow Banks

Small buck on the beach south of Yellow Banks

This bird was hanging around the tide pools a the south end of Kayostia Beach. If anyone knows what kind of bird it is, please let me know.

This bird was hanging around the tide pools a the south end of Kayostia Beach. If anyone knows what kind of bird it is, please let me know.

Sea stack and tide pools at the southern end of Kayostia Beach

Sea stack and tide pools at the southern end of Kayostia Beach

The headland at the southern end of Kayostia Beach

The headland at the southern end of Kayostia Beach

Sunset at Kayostia Beach

Sunset at Kayostia Beach

Another shot of the sunset at Kayostia Beach

Another shot of the sunset at Kayostia Beach

Though sunrises are more hit and miss than sunsets (due to the coast facing west), there is sometimes good morning light just after the sun rises above the trees.

Though sunrises are more hit and miss than sunsets (due to the coast facing west), there is sometimes good morning light just after the sun rises above the trees.

Cedar Creek Beach

Cedar Creek Beach

Easy hiking on the Cedar Creek Beach

Easy hiking on the Cedar Creek Beach – if only all if it was this easy!

Just another sea stack, this one south of Cedar Creek

Just another sea stack, this one south of Cedar Creek

Needing something to do while waiting out high tide, I took this shot with a 10-stop neutral density filter.

Needing something to do while waiting out high tide, I took this shot with a 10-stop neutral density filter. Exposure data: f/22, 155 seconds.

Sunset near the Chilean Memorial. The featured image at the top of the post is also from the same sunset.

Sunset near the Chilean Memorial. The featured image at the top of the post is also from the same sunset.

Sea stacks near the Chilean Memorial. You can certainly see why this area is hazardous for ships.

Sea stacks near the Chilean Memorial. You can certainly see why this area is hazardous for ships.

Anemones in a tide pool near the Chilean Memorial

Anemones in a tide pool near the Chilean Memorial

More sea stacks, these north of Hole in the Rock

More sea stacks, these north of Hole in the Rock

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Cape Disappointment State Park – A Photo Guide

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse as seen from Waikiki Beach shortly after sunset

Last Friday, Tanya, Nahla, and I drove down to Cape Disappointment State Park for the day. We couldn’t have asked for a better early Spring day. Other than a brief rain shower on the way down, the day was sunny and warm (for early March anyway). We were extremely lucky weather-wise, Friday was the only day without significant rain in the week. Rainfall totals at Astoria, Oregon, the closest weather station to Cape Disappointment, over the past week were 0.33 inches on Monday March 3rd, 0.15 inches Tuesday, 1.43 inches Wednesday, 0.33 inches Thursday, 0.03 inches Friday, 1.38 inches Saturday, and 0.86 inches Sunday.

North Head Lighthouse

North Head Lighthouse

Cape Disappointment State Park, which is also part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, is one of Washington’s larger state parks covering 1,882 acres. It offers 2 miles of ocean beach, two lighthouses,  and old-growth forest. The park is located at the very southwestern tip of the state, at the mouth of the Columbia River. The park encompasses two rocky headlands, North Head and Cape Disappointment, both with their own lighthouses. Between the two is a broad, sandy ocean beach. An ocean coast with both headlands and sandy beaches is unique in this part of the state. The coastline to the north is mostly either low sandy beaches or shallow estuaries, without headlands, for the next 70 miles. I have nothing against broad sandy beaches, but for photography, headlands are generally much more photogenic.

The key photographic highlights of the park are the two lighthouses. Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse on the United States west coast, guarding the mouth of the Columbia River. The lighthouse is reached via a 1/2 mile trail from the parking lot for the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at the southern end of the park. (The interpretive center, by the way, is one of the better Lewis and Clark museums in the Northwest, if not the whole country.) The trail approaches the lighthouse from the east, and the lighthouse is not visible from the trail until near the end of the trail. Further, the approach is from below the lighthouse. These factors make the lighthouse backlit for most of the day from the approach, and the ocean is not visible beyond the lighthouse until reaching its base. Space is extremely limited on the northern and western sides of the lighthouse and non-existent on the southern side. Additionally, there is a more modern, small boxy building just to the west of lighthouse. All these restrictions make it difficult to photograph the lighthouse near its base. However, the walk out to it is worth it for the view – the wide, sweeping expanse of the Columbia River entering the Pacific Ocean, with the Oregon coastal mountain range to the south. The mouth of the Columbia contains some of the most hazardous waters on the west coast, and the Coast Guard keeps a close watch on ships and fishing and pleasure boats entering and leaving the river.

In fact, the small building is manned by the Coast Guard. When we were there, the seaman in the station invited us inside to look through his binoculars (I don’t know what size lenses these things had, but if I had to guess, there were at least 600 mm; ie. they were huge) and tell us about his job. We talked about the waves, how big they get, and what it’s like bust through them on a small boat while doing surf training or going on a rescue. If the Coast Guard is surf training when you’re there, with a long lens, you should be able to get some great shots of  boats busting through and over breaking waves from the lighthouse.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse 2

Mid-afternoon light on Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, again from Waikiki Beach

The best shots of the Cape Disappointment lighthouse itself, however, are not from near the base, but from beach level. The view from just to the west of Waikiki Beach ( a small beach, complete with big waves and surfers, just not the same climate as its more famous cousin) is particularly good. Because this is north of the lighthouse, the best light will be late in the afternoon and near sunset. You can try to capture waves crashing against the rocks beneath the lighthouse or frame the lighthouse with driftwood. Another possible, and more elevated, shot is from the interpretive center, again with the best light in late afternoon or near sunset.

The North Head lighthouse, located near the northern end of the park, has a bit more room around the base, making photographs possible from more angles close to the base. The lighthouse is accessed from a 1/4 mile trail from the historic lightkeeper’s and assistant lightkeeper’s houses and nearby parking lot.  The North Head lighthouse sits a bit lower than the much of the land near it, so it is much easier to get a shot of the lighthouse with the ocean in the background than is possible at Cape Disappointment (okay, it’s probably impossible to get that type of shot at Cape Disappointment unless you have a plane or a drone). For example, you can easily walk up the hill behind the lighthouse and capture it with the setting sun over the Pacific.

Other good shots of the North Head Lighthouse can be taken from the beach south of the lighthouse and from an extension of the headland north of the lighthouse. To access this northern area, take the paved trail from the lighthouse parking lot to Bell’s View. Near the wooden view platform, wander off the trail to the west and pick up the informal trail which ends at a small cement pillbox (left over from WWII). But be careful, you’ll be near the edge of a cliff, and it’s a long way down to pounding surf below. While there, it’s also worth taking a peak at Bell’s View, which is northward to the seemingly endless beach and surf on the Long Beach Peninsula.

Other opportunities for photography include the beach between the two headlands, views of Deadman’s Cove along the trail to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse (beach access is not allowed), old growth forest (probably best on the North Head trail), historic artillery bunkers (the park was home to Fort Canby, active from 1852 through the end of World War II), and potentially wildlife. And if you like small fishing towns, visit the harbor at Ilwaco, which is located just outside the park.

North Head Lighthouse 2

North Head Lighthouse viewed from the north.

On the Beach

Tanya and Nahla playing on the beach.

Ilwaco

Fishing boats in the harbor at Ilwaco


Out of the Smoke and into the Fog

Ruby Beach FogSeattle, widely known for its rain, has had 0.03 inches of rain so far this September. Combined with no measurable rain in August, we’ve had one of the driest periods on record. Nor is rain falling much elsewhere in Washington State. All month-long there have been forest fires burning in the mountains and eastern Washington, and the smoke is really messing up the air quality. So when I took a day off to go do some photography earlier this month, I decided against going to the mountains which are full of smoke and instead Tanya, Carson and I headed for the beach. We decided to head for Kalaloch and Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park, a 3-hour drive from Tacoma. It’s 156 miles from my house to Kalaloch, and only the last 5 miles is along the ocean. And when making the drive over, it was sunny and the closer to the coast we got, the less smokey the air was. Then, at approximately mile 151 from my house, we entered a fog bank. That’s right, all this sun all over the whole state, and the beaches along the Olympic coast were fogged in. The good news for photography – no boring totally blue skies. The bad news for photography – no great sunset shots either.

We spent the first part of our trip at Ruby Beach, which has some nice sea stacks and a creek on the beach. The fog made for some interesting compositions, and several other photographers also had their tripods out. We walked north on the beach. The fog closed in around us, and it was if we were alone in the world, just the ocean on one side and a wilderness forest on the other. No sounds but the crashing waves. Hunger eventually drove us back to the car and we headed back down the highway to find a viewpoint where we could eat a picnic dinner with a view, or as much of one as the fog would allow.

It was nearing sunset, and the fog bank started to roll off shore such that it wasn’t actually fogging on the beach, but the fog still blocked the sun. Ever optimistic and still hoping for a good sunset, we stopped in at Beach 4 (which is between Kalaloch and Ruby Beach). No luck on the sunset, but as it was shortly after low time, there were tide pools to explore and starfish to photograph.

All in all, it was a good day, and I didn’t have to worry about forest fire smoke ruining my photographs. Given the choice of smoke or fog, I was happy to have the fog.

Foggy Beach

The view where the trail from the parking lot comes out at Ruby Beach. The whole state of Washington is sunny except within a couple hundred meters of the Pacific Ocean.

Forest above Ruby

View of the forest above Ruby Beach

Cedar Creek at Ruby Beach

Mouth of Cedar Creek at Ruby Beach

Beach Cliffs

Fog, cliffs, trees and driftwood at Ruby Beach

Low tide at Beach 4

Low tide at Beach 4 as the fog bank rolls off shore near sunset

Beach 4 Starfish

Beach 4 starfish

Incoming Tide

Incoming tide at Beach 4


On the Coast (part 2)

Cannon Beach from EcolaThe second half of our long weekend on the Oregon coast started with Mother’s Day. Since it was also the first great weather weekend of the spring, the beaches were crowded. We stopped at Hug Point State Park and barely found a parking spot. People were everywhere, and I didn’t take any photos there. We then went to Ecola State Park at the northern end of Cannon Beach. It was also crowded (we had to wait for a parking spot at Indian Beach, and the Ecola parking lot was only had a few spots available), and I mainly scouted for views I’d come back for later. After scouting, we drove back to our camp for an early dinner.

I drove back to Ecola about 2 hours before sunset, going first to Indian Beach, than up to Ecola Point; it was much less crowded. While shooting at Ecola Point (taking the classic shot south to Cannon Beach), a couple named Sean and Lisa shared the viewpoint with me. After a short while, Sean got down on his knee and proposed to Lisa. Very romantic (except for the photographer trying his best to to interfere). They asked if I took “people pictures” (which I do) and asked if I’d take a few photos of them during this special moment. I shot off a few dozen shots and we traded contact information. A bit later, we both enjoyed the sunset, Sean and Lisa holding each other, me shooting away at the sun sinking into the Pacific.

The featured image above is a 3-shot panorama of the classic shot of Cannon Beach from Ecola Point. All the images below were taken in Ecola State Park, except the one of Carson, which I took on the beach near our campground in Nehalem Bay State Park.

Indian Beach

Three-shot panorama of Indian Beach.

Ecola Point

Ecola Point as seen from the northern end of Indian Beach.

Sean and Lisa

The happy couple; oh I forgot to mention above; she said yes!

Sunset into the Pacific

The sun setting into the Pacific near Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.

Cannon Beach after Sunset

The sunset lit up some clouds over Cannon Beach.

Carson at the Beach

I had to add a shot of Carson and his new summer hair cut. He had a great time at the beach as you can see from the sand incrusted slobber (for comparison, check out this image of Carson, from an earlier post, taken in April before his haircut).


On the Coast (part 1)

Oceanside SunsetEarlier this month, Tanya and I packed up Carson and the camping gear and headed south to the Oregon coast for a 4-day weekend. Being a Washington native, I suppose it is sacrilegious to admit I like the Oregon coast better than the Washington coast. Most of the easily accessible ocean beach in Washington consists of broad sandy beaches like those at Ocean Shores, which I posted about recently. I prefer a few rocky headlands to provide variety, tide pools, and wave action, like is found along much of the Oregon coast. Additionally, because of longshore drift bringing sediment north from the Columbia River, the water in Washington is silty and usually has a brown tint. Without any large rivers flowing into Oregon’s coast (south of the Columbia), the water is much cleaner.

Not wanting to drive too long, we chose to camp at Nehalem Bay State Park, about a 3 to 4 hour drive from Tacoma. This site gave me fairly quick access to the Cannon Beach and Three Capes areas. The weather couldn’t have been better (well, that’s not true, a photographer is never satisfied with the weather, there could have been a few more clouds to help create interest in the sky). The main problem was that the trip was over Mother’s Day weekend, which when combined with the nice weather, really brought out the crowds to the beach. As a result, most of the images I took were in the golden hours of early morning and late evenings, which not only had less people about, but better light than mid-day.

The photos featured here are from the Friday and Saturday portions of the trip. I’ll show images from the 2nd half of the trip in my next post.

West Mooring Basin

Boats in the West Mooring Basin at Astoria. The Astoria Bridge over the Columbia River in the background.

Nehalem Sunset

The sunset wasn’t great our first night in Oregon, but it sure was nice being on the beach. Here’s the sunset at Nehalem Bay State Park.

Haystack Rock

Morning light on Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach.

Forest Floor

Forest floor at Oswald West State Park.

Cape Meares Light

Late afternoon sun at Cape Meares Lighthouse.

Oceanside Beach

The beach north of Oceanside, south of Cape Meares.

Waves at Sunset

This shot, as well as the featured one above, are of the sunset the 2nd night of our trip – much better than the first night. Both were taken at the beach past the tunnel, looking toward the Three Arch Rocks, at Oceanside.