Daffodils in February

Wherever there is light, one can photograph.
    Alfred Stieglitz

Daffodils in February, Ecola State Park, Oregon

Daffodils in February, Ecola State Park, Oregon.

Cold, snow, rain, more dark than daylight. February in northwest Montana. Through the first twenty days of the month in 2017 daily high temperatures ranged from 15° to 46°F (-9 to 8 C). Nighttime lows averaged 19° (-7 C), and none reached freezing. Overall it seemed fairly warm, but that made the precipitation either rain or very heavy, wet snow, that totaling over 14 inches (36 cm). Six inches of that snow fell in one day. Fourteen inches of snow the consistency and weight of wet cement isn't fun to relocate out of one's driveway. And this sloppy stuff froze solid each night, making for icy morning commutes. To make up for all of that, the period also featured a number of very foggy days.

Add it up and it becomes clear conditions are perfect for being somewhere else. On 18 February Pat and I flew to Portland, Oregon. From the airport in Missoula, Montana it's a short flight, under an hour and a half. I realized it had been decades since I'd got on an airplane at home, and got off that same airplane at my destination, no connecting flights, no layovers. If you don't fly much, or if you never have direct flights to your destination, you won't know what a treat that is.

We collected our rental car, drove in the rain and darkness to a Portland hotel that should have been much nicer than it was, had a decent meal and a miserable night, and checked out fairly early to make the two-hour drive to Oregon's Cannon Beach. It being a Sunday morning we escaped the city in light traffic, and then, except for heavy snow and fog we encountered for a short span of the drive, enjoyed the ride in the rain to the Pacific coast and then down to Cannon Beach.

I'd been in Oregon only once, and then only driving along the Columbia River to Astoria, where we crossed the river into Washington to spend a few days in and around Long Beach and a day at Mt. Rainier National Park. For this short scouting trip we'd stick to the northern part of the Oregon coast. I expected to get few photos, instead traveling the area to learn what's there, what the light and weather are like, and where I might photograph on a return trip. We'd also look for camp sites because we'd likely drive and pull our little camper next time. I did the usual research via the Web, and had in mind a couple of photos I'd try to get. I used TPE to determine where to be, and when, and formed in advance pretty good ideas about how I'd set up my shooting for those pre-visualized photos. I'd also looked at weather forecasts as the trip approached. The bad news is, the weather looked miserable. A different miserable than the weather at home, but still cold, wet, and foggy. I don't have much faith in weather forecasts, but the trend didn't look positive. The good news is, as my brother-in-law commented, “Sucky weather is when you should be out there photographing.” So, that's what I did.

The Waves

We stayed at The Waves Cannon Beach which, as you might have guessed is right on the beach. I don't often mention the hotels at which we stay, but the balcony off our room became the platform for many of the photographs I made during this trip, making the hotel an important piece of my photographic equipment. Besides, we really enjoyed staying there.

Cannon Beach, looking north toward Oregon's Ecola State Park

Cannon Beach, looking north toward Oregon's Ecola State Park. This is a curvy cell phone panorama made from the balcony of our hotel room. The picture was made early on the morning we left for home; the best half-hour of weather for the entire trip! Ecola Creek flows from bottom-right into the ocean.

Rain fell all of that Sunday, with only the occasional break, but to make up for that it was very windy; even the wet sand blew across the beach. From the hotel we had perfect views of Bird Rocks, a series of rocks a mile north. The famous Haystack Rock is a couple of miles south, but a slight bend in the shoreline blocked our view from the hotel. Haystack Rock is nice enough, but I thought Bird Rocks nicer.

Weather complaints aside, the climate in this area, along with much of the Washington and Oregon coast, is temperate rain forest. Snow is rare. While the wind and lack of sunshine made it feel chilly, we saw daily highs of 50° (10 C), and only once below freezing at night. During brief moments of sun it felt quite warm, a pleasant change from winter at home.

The Drive

Thanks to bad weather during our first full day (Monday) we decided to explore up and down the coast in the car. We headed north from Cannon Beach, our first stop a quick tour of Ecola State Park, only a couple of miles north of town. I found some very nice photo opportunities there and planned to return later when (maybe) it wouldn't be raining. Continuing north from the park we wandering through uninspiring tourist traps and stretches of US 101 with limited access to the ocean. Much of the route struck me as depressing and ugly.

To be fair, we didn't give it much time, as I wanted to get up to Fort Stevens State Park, located on a spit of land near Warrenton, OR. The park has a massive campground. Just off-shore in the park is the wreck of the Peter Iredale, once a four-masted steel bark (ship) that ran aground in October, 1906. The rusting steel ribs above the water make an interesting subject to explore in better conditions. A quick Web search will show you plenty of pictures. One of the photos I had in mind for the trip required being there after dark. I'd planned to set up to photograph star trails; I'd artificially light the shipwreck for my foreground object. I hadn't seen any similar photos, but perhaps there's good reason for that. In my case, this didn't happen because 1.) heavy cloud-cover hid the stars, and 2.) park rules don't allow access to the beach after sunset. Problem 1 resolves itself with some frequency and regularity, but problem 2 might be more of a challenge. Perhaps one could plead with the park's manager and get permission to be there at an appropriate time. This is something I'll explore when we return with our camper in August, 2017 to view the solar eclipse.

From Warrenton we retraced our route back to Cannon Beach, and then continued south another 40 miles (64 km) to Tillamook. In the first 20 miles of that we found numerous state parks, sea stacks and rocks, and plentiful public access to the ocean. We found little to inspire in the second 20 miles, so we returned to Cannon Beach to warm up and dry out.

Sea Rocks and Stacks

Bird Rocks near the end of a blustery, rainy day, Cannon Beach, Oregon, U.S.

Bird Rocks near the end of a blustery, rainy day, Cannon Beach, Oregon, U.S. A couple walking on the beach provide scale.

From our hotel room's balcony we had a direct, unobscured view of Bird Rocks and Chapman Point. That easy access helped make the three large Bird Rocks my favorite subject during this short trip. Just step out the door, set up my tripod and long lens, and go to work. The balcony had no roof, but the orientation of the walls provided some protection from the wind and rain. I captured hundreds of frames of the rocks, during high tide and low, in clouds, rain, fog, and even, one evening, a bit of sun bringing out the color in the rocks and vegetation. A warm, dry room and hot coffee waited just the other side of the door.

Although I preferred Bird Rocks, the iconic photo subject at Cannon Beach is Haystack Rock and The Needles. The 235 foot (72 m) tall Haystack is aptly named, as are the two nearby spire-like “needles”. Haystack is a marine park, to which one can walk at low tide. From the beach it can be viewed from both its north and south sides, as well as directly, and most closely, from the east. Haystack is impressive, and perhaps in better light than we had one could spend many a golden hour working the subject. We had gloomy, cloudy sky, fog, and rain, with periods of wind making the mornings frigid, and 50° (10 C) afternoons dank and chilly. The rain forced us to wear our hooded slickers, often with heavier jackets underneath. Keeping photo gear dry proved challenging.

I worked Haystack up close from both sides during our last day there. We got a break from the rain, and even saw a bit of blue sky, but never had anything but flat light on the rock. As mentioned, we found traffic generally light, but there were few moments on the beach when I could photograph the rocks without people and kids, dogs, bicycles, and other distractions (Frisbees, kites) I didn't want in my pictures. We did a lot of waiting, and I'd photograph in those seconds-long people-free intervals. During some of the waits I played with photographing some interesting, almost geometric patterns in the sand.

Ecola State Park

My favorite photo from the trip came on our last full day in Oregon. During a dry and partly sunny period of several hours we returned to Ecola State Park. Its massive, moss-covered trees, giant ferns, and lush greenery are hallmarks of the rain forest and, for me, subjects for another visit. What areas of the park we could access sit high above the water.

Ecola park is a mess, with chunks of roadway, hiking trails, and coastline breaking away and falling into the ocean. Access was quite limited. For safety, fencing, rails, and other barricades, some of that also falling off the cliffs, had been erected; it all looked rather questionable. I found it a challenge to make photos that didn't include any of that “hand of man”, but the views from there are quite impressive and worth the effort to work around the decay. I suspect the only reasonable fix to those problems is to replace picnic areas, accessible paved trails, and some of the park road, relocating it farther from the crumbling edges, while leaving the decay to simply fall away. Still, my best picture came from the park. I found if I climbed up onto a picnic table, extended my tripod, and stood on my toes, I could get the bottom of my frames juuuust above sagging cable railings, broken pavement edges, and the countless warning signs. Interestingly I didn't see any knuckleheads ignoring those signs and trying to fall over the edges onto the rocks below.

Bird Rocks, Haystack, and Silver Point on a blustery, rainy day, Cannon Beach, Oregon, U.S.

Bird Rocks, Haystack Rock, and Silver Point on a blustery, rainy day on Cannon Beach.

Looking south from Ecola Park one can see easily a dozen “stacks”, all the way south past Haystack to Silver Point. For this photo, bright sun at noon filtered through clouds to cast a silvery light on the water and bring out detail in Bird Rocks (foreground), and Haystack (center), with the distant rocks and hills softened by fog. It's very monochromatic, but I exposed to bring out the color in Bird Rocks and Haystack.

Back home there are still no daffodils, but warmer days are upon us,the snow is melting, and birdsong fills the air. It won't be long.

We have a gallery of photos from our trip to Cannon Beach.

March 2017

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