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Exploring the Oregon Coast

On the way home from our summer in Alaska in 2016, we visited the central Oregon coast including my favorite spot, Heceta Head named for Spanish explorer Bruno de Heceta who explored this part of the coast in 1775. The light sits on a promontory overlooking the Pacific and Devil’s Elbow cove. I’ve photographed the Heceta Head lighthouse many times before, so this time I wanted to try something different, a night shot. Needless to say, I was the only one there that night, except for the occasional passing car on Highway 101.

Heceta Head Night Light

After focusing on the lighthouse for many minutes, I noticed the moonlight coming over my shoulder and turned around to witness this scene with the moonlight, stars and clouds on a fairly pacific ocean.

Moonlight Heceta Head

I spent a week traveling up and down the coast re-exploring familiar scenes and finding new locations to explore. Lots of small towns dot the coast each with its own charms and attractions. The ice cream store at the south end of Yachats (pronounced Yah-Hots) was a particular favorite with Tillamook ice cream.

I spent one day re-exploring Newport including the Oregon Coast Aquarium which I enjoyed, but appeared to be in need of a facelift.

Tufted Puffin Captive
Pacific Sea Nettle

New to me were the two lighthouses in the area, Yaquina Bay and Yaquina Head lights. The Yaquina Bay light is an actual house with its light sitting on the roof. It sits on a bluff overlooking the harbor entrance. Tiny by today’s standard but beautiful, snug and cozy, it was a delight to tour with the aid of docents from the Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses. Below the house are paths to the beach and its sand dunes which were pretty much deserted on the day I visited. North of Newport is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse maintained by the BLM as the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.

Yaquina Head Light

There’s a nice visitors center that has a nesting pair of Peregrine falcons off its parking lot. I took several shots while there, after a large crop have 1-2 decent shots. They’re small birds high on a cliff face and quite small even with a 600mm lens, but great fun to watch.

Peregrine Falcon

Across from the visitor’s center is a stairway leading down to appropriately named Cobble Beach with cobble stones both large and small hindering your progress. You can walk carefully over them to gain access to tide pools full of Sea stars, Sea urchins and anemones.

If you’re fortunate, you’ll also spot a local pod of grey whales, sometimes surprisingly close to the cliffs. I’ve seen any number of Humpback whales especially in Alaska, but this was my first experience with Grey whales. While on the subject of whales, I should mention the small town of Depoe Bay, “The Whale Watching Capital of the Oregon Coast”, 13 miles north of Newport. The downtown area sits right on the bay and you can walk the seawall and see the resident pod of grey whales very near to you, much closer than the typical whale watching trip allows and completely free. There’s a small whale watching center at the south end of the sea wall with docents, binoculars and books. The only downside is the parking which is extremely limited on the sea wall.

Grey Whale spouting

Finally, my other favorite spot was Neptune Beach, officially known as Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint. It is a nice viewpoint, but even nicer are the tide pools that can be easily reached after a short hike.

Ochre Sea Star

This is one of those spots on the coast that you have to be aware of the tides. If you venture south along the beach past dunes and rocks, you could easily be cut off at high tide against steep cliffs. There are lots of tide tables available everywhere along the coast and of course there are apps.

Besides safety, your best bet for good tidepool subjects is also at low tide or ideally a minus tide. Neptune Beach is a great place for orange and purple Sea stars, also known as Starfish. According to Wikipedia, there are 1500 species of Starfish. Who knew? Also common here are anemones, green being the most common.

Green Anemone

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of the central Oregon coast. It’s a great location with endless places to explore. If this has gotten you in the mood, I plan to offer a week-long workshop there in September 2018. So, stay tuned.