A Bandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

“Rain was the country's main export. It had rain mines.”
    Terry Pratchett, Soul Music

In March, 2017, I wrote about a visit to the Oregon coast and running around in the rain and wind trying to make photographs of the amazing geology of the famous “sea stacks.” We kept to the northern part of the state's coastline focusing mainly on Cannon Beach and trying to stay dry. Considering the weather and the short duration of the trip, I did OK, coming home with several keeper photos, determined to return and hoping for better weather.

We got it half-right. We did return, in April, 2018, but we didn't see better weather. On the other hand, we learned that the weather could be worse than we experienced a year earlier. Way worse.

The Long Shot

For this trip we flew to Eugene, Oregon. A drive of a bit more than an hour in our rented car brought us to the coastal town of Florence, where we spent our first night. After exploring the town and having our supper, we turned in. The sun set under mostly clear sky, while the wind came up and howled most of the night. Sometime in the wee hours the rain came.

We planned to spend our time farther south, but I wanted to see Castle Rock off the coast of Seal Rock, a town about 40 miles (64 km) north of Florence. On the Web I'd found photos of Castle Rock; I think it's a spectacular formation and wanted to try for a picture with good light on the rock exposed at low tide. Getting that would be the highlight of the trip. However, I knew from checking tide tables and reviewing the layout with the PhotoPills app on my iPad, that the timing was wrong. Still, I really wanted to see Castle Rock. We got up before 5:00 am and fought our way under a black sky across the hotel parking lot in wind-driven rain. At times during the drive the headlights wouldn't penetrate the pouring rain. The sky had lightened slightly by the time we arrived at the appropriate spot, but the rain continued, and the wind blew so hard it rocked the car. Through sweeping wipers we looked at Castle Rock for a few minutes, turned around, and aimed back toward Florence. Two hours after we left, we arrived at a restaurant across Highway 101 from our hotel.

The plans for the rest of our trip had us far from Castle Rock. I knew I'd have only one brief chance for a picture there. This time, it wasn't meant to be.

Briefly Better in Bandon

Coquille River Lighthouse, Bandon, OR, U.S.

The Coquille River lighthouse during a brief break in the rain.

Properly fueled and caffeinated we hit the road for Bandon. From Florence the drive south to Bandon is a little over 70 miles (115 km). The rain continued most of the way; we made a few stops to scout for photo locations, but the wind and rain made looking around outside the car less pleasant than we liked. As we arrived in Bandon the rain stopped, the sun peeked through the dark clouds, and the character of the day changed for the better. To stretch our legs we stopped at the Coquille River lighthouse, built in 1895 and first lit during the winter of 1896. The tower is only 40 feet (12 m) tall, but the octagonal room housing the fog signal (horn) equipment made the lighthouse an interesting subject, especially when lit by a touch of sun and backed by dark storm clouds. I'd later make a few photos of the lighthouse from the opposite side of the jette. For now, the stiff breeze kept our visit short.

The sunshine wouldn't last. A brief exploration of the town led us to a nice lunch in a deli while watching the rain pour down outside. We spent the afternoon in the car, driving to various parks and beach overlooks, generally getting a feel for the place.

The view from our hotel, Bandon, OR, April, 2018

The view from our hotel in Bandon, OR. Wind constantly drove the rain into the windows. It never changed much.

There'd be no shortage of really great photography subjects if the rain abated. The geology is amazing. The wind-driven waves are impressive. As Charlie Brown said, “There is no heavier burden than a great potential.”

We found our hotel and checked in, and waited for better weather or dinner time, whichever came first. Dinner won easily, but despite the rain we did venture out onto the beach to look at the rocks and sea stacks. We never got a break from the wind, but the rain did let up now and then. Each time that happened I'd set up the camera gear, frame a composition I'd seen earlier, and make a few exposures. Extremely flat light left little contrast between the rocks and sand, and it seemed that by touching the shutter release I triggered a new round of rain showers. I tried hard not to be discouraged; after all, I had a couple of mornings and a couple of evenings before we had to leave. Surely there'd be a break in the weather!

A Wet And Windy But Still Impressive Sunset

The weather did improve. The wind stayed constant at just below supersonic speeds, the rain slackened to a drizzle, and during brief moments of optimism I could imagine that it had stopped. Still a couple of hours from sunset we grabbed a quick and mediocre dinner, and then drove to an overlook high above the beach. I put a slicker over my fleece jacket, more to break the wind than the rain, and climbed down the long stairway to the sand. At nearly high tide the off-shore rocks seem smaller and I'd not be able to get close to them. The other side of that coin is the water from shore to the rocks might reflect any color that appeared in the sky. The dark and threatening sky. This might be a very short session, so I set up quickly and went to work photographing compositions seen earlier in the day. I don't have a rain jacket for my camera and lenses, instead using a plastic bag, which I kept over the camera more for protection from wind-driven salt spray than from the occasional drizzle. The sky faded to black very quickly, but for a few glorious moments the sun appeared, and I could move to place it exactly where I wanted it over Coquille Rock.

A massive pile of drift logs made for a challenging scramble as I walked toward Table Rock, but the flat and dark sky in that direction didn't inspire, so I turned to head back to the car. Looking for a way around the log pile I stumbled across my favorite photo from the trip, a black & white vertical of sand, rock, and dramatic sky. An incoming wave nearly swamped me, and the rain had returned with some vigor, so I only got a single exposure of the scene I wanted. One will do, and so my day ended.

Stormy sunset, Elephant and Coquille rocks, Bandon Beach, Oregon, U.S..

The sun sets over Coquille Rock, with part of Elephant Rock on the left. The glorious light and reflections lasted only a few minutes.

Winding Down And Drying Out

The wind wailed all night with sometimes scary force, driving rain against our windows. Getting an early start we drove south, stopping infrequently, when the highway approached the coast, to look for interesting scenes. The gloomy sky, wind, and rain stayed with us, thwarting our efforts. We stopped for breakfast in Port Orford, and while the terrible coffee (TJ's Cafe and Coffee House should perhaps consider a name change) and so-so food did little to improve our mood, the comment of the trip came from our server, who'd moved to the area a few months earlier. “It rains here ALL THE TIME”, she said. So it would seem.

Thanks to the weather, there'd be no more photography that day, nor that evening, nor the next morning, when we returned to the airport for our afternoon flight home. Considering the weather and the short duration of the trip, I'm happy with the three or four keeper photos I managed to get. We saw some beautiful places, and, perhaps the highlight of the trip, we had a memorable dinner at Angelo's in Bandon's Old Town. That alone made it a great trip; don't miss Angelo's the next time you find yourself anywhere near Bandon. If you do, tell Angelo the couple from Polson, Montana, say “Hello!”

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

April, 2018