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Our Journey

Our Journey, Photography

Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck

Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck
Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck
Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck
Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck
Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck
Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck
Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck
Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck
Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck
Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck
Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck
Sea Lions, Sea Stacks, and a Shipwreck

Our next destination was a KOA in the coastal town of Waldport, OR. The lots were amply sized and surrounded by lovely views of the sea. If you went out at the right times, you could even see a myriad of seals beached on the sandbar that would appear in the middle of the outlet, resting with their pups. It was sadly that at this point, our luck with the weather would run out. It is fascinating how quickly you really appreciate something once you lack it long enough. In our case, it was seeing blue skies. The whole week was so cloudy and overcast, that even the slightest hint of blue peeking through was considered a hope for good photos. The area of Waldport was definitely full of exciting places for photography, but for the week we were there the unpleasant weather put a bit of a damper on things.

Despite the ongoing drizzle we did make several excursions to scout out potential locations to shoot. The first of which was to the remains of collapsed sea caves called the Devil’s Punchbowl. Due to several large openings at the bottom of the bowl, waves fill and crash into the interior giving similarities to a punchbowl. At the edge of the parking lot there was a walking path that people had undoubtedly been using for a long time, as it was well worn, but it ended at the steep cliffs near the edge of the bowl. After some investigation, we found an easier path by going down a few streets and following a trail that wound down the hill and to the beach below. We made our way across the beach and over slippery, moss covered rocks to reach a narrow side entrance. Note, that we did this while it was low tide to avoid it being filled with water, and kept a close eye on how the water was moving so as not to let the tide come in on us unexpectedly. We spent some time exploring and marveling at being down inside the hollowed out structure created by wind, rain, and the pounding of the sea, and then made our exit. We walked along the beach back to our truck as the rain became harder. This is definitely a place we will come back to when the weather is more suitable for shooting.

As the week went by we were displeased to see no break from the rain. It was only on the last day that the sun finally burst forth and chased the clouds away. Taking advantage of the weather we decided to drive down the coast and see as much as we could. The Sea Lion caves were our first stop and are known not only for being one of the largest sea caves in the world but also for the abundance of Steller sea lions which visit the area. During this time of year however, most of the sea lions prefer to hang out on the rocks just outside the cave to raise the recently born pups. We made our way out to the cliffs and you could hear the growling and barking of the sea lions long before you could see them. Looking down to the rocks below, you could see them covering every open space they could find. The pups were nestled in between the larger bodies of the adults. A bald eagle hovered over the perches of the sea lions, riding on the currents and scouting for food, before a group of seagulls came whiling in and began diving at the eagle, driving him away back into the interior and towards the forest. Once we were done watching the sea lions we took the single elevator into the belly of the cave.

The viewing area was covered by a wires to prevent people from climbing any deeper into the cave. Initially, it seemed as though the cave was completely empty however, after looking more closely, I noticed what appeared to be a solitary bull sea lion that was quite massive. After several minutes he was roused long enough to use his flipper to scratch himself, very much like a dog, before turning belly up, nestling into the rock, and promptly going back to his nap. Aside from the bull sea lion, the cave was filled with countless pigeon guillemots with bright orange legs and black & white bodies. Up a staircase behind the observation area, led to a great view of Heceta Head lighthouse perched an opposing cliff. Brandon snapped a few photos of the lighthouse and we made our way back to the surface. On the other observation deck above ground you could more readily see the large groups of sea lions sprawled out on the rocks below. They bellowed and barked loudly as they vied for the best spots on the rocks, mothers making sure to keep their pups safe from encrouchers and giving a gutteral howl of disapproval if the other sea lions came too close.

We left the Sea Lion cave and made a stop not ten minutes away at a pull off from the road. A winding staircase lead down to the rocky shore where you could hear water whirling and making odd noises as the waves crashed in and were sucked back out again. This is where we found Thor’s Well. At the edge of a plain covered in volcano rock there was a gaping hole, about a fourth the size of the Devil’s Punchbowl. If the waves hit the hole just right, a large splashing of water would surge out and up into the air with a loud woosh and then be sucked back down again, leaving a dark blackened hole covered in an extraordinary number of mussels and barnacles. The shells glittered from the water and I couldn’t help but pity anyone who was unfortunate enough to fall into Thor’s Well. It promised at the very least a heavy maiming on the sharp edges that filled the entirety of the inside, if you were lucky not to be sucked out and drowned in the swirling maelstrom of the ocean. A group of tourists took a chance and got extremely close, and within a matter of moments the ocean rushed forwards in a massive wave that crashed against the shore hard and drenched them. They laughed and squealed as they hurriedly made their way away from the edge, and I breathed a sigh of relief that none of them had been knocked into the gaping maw. We watched the waves and began to devise a pattern to the waves which would give us a chance to shoot and create some interesting effects with the long exposures.

We made our way back to town, a little put out at the fact this had been our only day to really go out and get any photos, but it made for a wonderful day and we were appreciative to get whatever time we could. We got the RV ready and hit the road, deciding to stop at the Yaquina Head lighthouse on the way. Apparently, it is the same lighthouse that has been used in several TV shows as well as the movie, The Ring. The lighthouse was located at the end of a sprawling cape covered in tall grass and an assortment of blooming wildflowers. Seals could be seen down on the shore below, the beach closed to visitors to try and protect them, since a mother will possibly abandon a pup if a human comes between them. A tiny seal pup was left high up on the beach and my heart ached seeing the poor tiny thing alone. The naturalist said he had been there since the early morning and they hoped that the mother would return when the tide came back in. When we left I checked on him again and the tiny baby had managed to get himself to a sizable puddle formed by the sea in a crag of the rock and it made me hopeful that he would keep fighting and survive. The naturalist on site informed me that they had reached out to local rescues if his mother didn’t return, but that there was nothing that could be done in this case, as none of the rescues had a place for seals and could do nothing else for him.

The drive to Cannon Beach was smooth and simple, a straight continuation up the 101 and along the coast. The RV Park was on the far end of town and located right next to Ecola state park. It was a perfect place to stay for the week. It put us right in the middle of all of the best photography spots in the area. When you first drive through the town, the first thing you notice is the little boutiquey shops lining the streets, the town is full of restaurants and hotels lining the beach. Walking along the beach in the evening a ritual as you watched fires dot the beach as people came out to enjoy the evening ocean air.

Each morning, I did my daily run down at the beach, which is where you can find Cannon Beach’s most famous feature, Haystack Rock. We had heard through some web forums that puffins had come to roost upon the massive hunk of rock that stands alone along the beach. The puffins roost at the very top of hidden within the grass, only coming out to fly around and hunt for food. Unlike most of the other birds that roost there, the puffins are much smaller, and their wings flap madly to keep them in the air. They fly in arching circles around the rock in search of food, preparing for the chicks that are on their way. We spent several mornings going along the shoreline trying to find the puffins, we could see them flying, but had no luck finding a way to get close enough to get photos of them.

When the tide begins to go out, Haystack Rock also provides a habitat for the myriad of life left in the numerous tide pools that form. Barnacles crusting the rocks, kelp, and anemones curl up into themselves and blend in with the rock as they become exposed from the water. If the anemones have enough water, they stay open to reveal a dazzling array of vibrant pinks, purples and greens. A nature preservation group does their best to come out at the low tide and put out signs asking people not to step on the rocks and instead go only where there is sand so as not to disturb the marine life growing there. They also rope off the area to keep wayward tourists from trying to climb up to the main rocks of Haystack so as not to disturb the puffins.

In the afternoons we explored the local state parks. One of the forms that Brandon had read suggested a hidden water fall in the park across the street. The forums said if you went past the toilets, just off the trail there was a small path that lead down to a waterfall about eight to ten feet tall. We walked around the trail, down the path, across the bridge, we even walked down to the beach, and hiked our way up the small creek to try and find the waterfall. The creek was rough to try and navigate and ducking between the tangles of underbrush and picking our way across rocks resulted in wet feet. The only thing we found was a good way to wear yourself. After trying a few other side trails and having no luck, we decided to cut our losses and move on.

Fort Stevens ended up being a much better location for us to shoot. We went out to a nature reserve area and found some terns that were hunting along the coast. They glided along on the harshly whipping wind and dove into the waters, expertly grabbing fish for their meal. We also got to watch a hot pursuit as a seagull chased a tern who had made a large catch, swooping, chasing, diving, and reeling about in the air as the gull tried to steal the fish before the tern managed to shake him off. As sunset was approaching, we headed south down the coast to the shipwreck of the Peter Iredale. We accidentally stumbled into a group out doing a photo workshop, so getting the best spots for the sunset was a bit like jockeying for the best spot at a concert. We managed to find a few spots and get some shots as the sun began to dip below the horizon and a vast array of colors shone through the lattice work of the remains.

We also took the time to indulge some of our nerdier vices. We took a day to ourselves and went out hunting for Pokemon in Pokemon GO and going to see the new Star Wars movie Solo, which we both throughly enjoyed. Star Wars being one of those classic nostalgic joys from our childhoods and getting to see the new film gave us a chance to just relax. Sometimes you need to take a little time for yourself when traveling constantly. Sure, traveling all the time sounds ideal and like one long vacation, but constantly being on the move can also wear you out. A small break can be exactly what you need.

This weekend we are headed up to the Olympic peninsula and then back down to the Columbia River gorge for the next couple of weeks.

Our Journey, Photography

Week of Waterfalls

Week of Waterfalls
Week of Waterfalls
Week of Waterfalls
Week of Waterfalls
Week of Waterfalls
Week of Waterfalls

After a lovely week in Bandon, we headed further up the coast and inland to the town of Silverton. It was a pleasant place for me to spend my time while Brandon went back to Virginia for work. Downtown Silverton, while quite compact, was full of numerous restaurants and was a nice place for an evening stroll. The RV park was also only a 20 minute drive from Silver Falls State Park, which is a beautiful park with well maintained hiking trails. The main trail was just a little over 10 miles and boasted nearly a dozen waterfalls. I wasn’t able to finish the full trail but was able to hike far enough to see two of the falls. One of which has a trail that lets you walk behind the waterfall for a refreshing view from behind as the mist swirled about in the air.

While at the RV Park, I also learned about the local birds. There’s a local species of starling that particularly likes to build nests in the hitches of RVs. After clearing out the nest that they had built, I left the materials nearby so that they could use them to build the nest elsewhere. Instead, I returned to find them building the nest in the hitch again. After removing the nest I used a plank of wood to block the hitch so that they couldn’t get back in. The starlings were persistent though, and somehow managed to move the wood out of the way to build yet another nest! Another RV patron was amused by my frustration and told me that the only way to stop them was to completely seal off the hitch using a garbage bag. That seemed to do the trick but what a pain.

It seemed like no time at all before Brandon was back at the RV again. It was time to move again, and this time we were heading back south to Roseburg. The area was beautiful with the campsite right next to a lazily flowing river. Although it was well out of the way, it provided us relatively close access to Umpqua National Forest. The first trip into the forest was a late afternoon visit to the famous Toketee Falls. The trail down to the falls led us past several smaller falls that fed into a deeply channeled gorge. After a short half mile or so we reached the larger falls which carved their way through a layer of basalt columns. There was a side path that descended down to the bottom of the falls using ropes but it was already late in the day and we didn’t have time to visit. It is definitely a must though the next time we are in town as the views from the top are obstructed by an assortment of pines. Instead, we took out the drone and tried to get some footage but it was very difficult with all the trees. A small loss of signal caused the drone to plunge through the branches of one of those trees. We were quite certain that it would be damaged but the resilient little machine managed to escape unharmed. Unfortunately, none of the footage turned out. It seems like the incident with the tree must have smudged the lens because everything captured after was completely blurry and unusable. Despite the mishap, the whole place was serene and worth coming back to visit.

Our next trip out was to Crater Lake. It was much further away so we took our time, driving out to stay at a hotel so that we were much closer for more opportunities to take photos. We were surprised to find that despite the warm weather in the valley we would be trekking through deep snow covered ground. In places the snow drifts were more than five feet deep. Due to the snowfall, most of the roads connecting into the park were closed. This limited where we could visit to exclusively the southern-most rim. The crater rim was covered in streaks of snow going downwards into the icy blue waters of the caldera. Wizard’s Island, the only cinder cone that protrudes high enough to be visible above the water line was covered in pines nearly all the way to the top. The wind was whipping us in the face, sometimes gusting hard enough to cause us to stumble as we looked out at the view. Even during the day the temperature was probably a good 20-30 degrees cooler than the valley.

After the sun set we descended the mountain and headed back into the valley to find food. The only thing that was open was a tiny drive-in shack that sold hot dogs and hamburgers. After dinner we drove back another hour to return to the mountain again to try for some astrophotography. Unfortunately, the wind made it rather difficult even with the tripod. The wind had become a howling gale since we had been there only a few hours before. Trembling in the cold and struggling to stay standing, we decided not to trek into the woods to our previous location, and stay near the truck. With so much wind and the need to keep the shutter open to let in the starlight, there was only so much we could do before giving it a rest. When we finally retreated back into the truck, I could hardly feel my legs, and was very grateful to turn the heated seats on full blast. As we drove back to the hotel to get some rest, what appeared to be a young wolf trotted across the road in front of us, and disappeared into the darkness of the trees.

The next morning we began the drive back to the RV and decided to hike to National Creek Falls. Since we had the dogs with us and the trail seemed largely empty, we thought they might enjoy the exercise and took them on the hike with us. Most of the trail was a series of switchbacks making the descent downwards much easier. Paatos was happily trotting along in the lead, eager to smell everything he could and enjoying the nature. Loki was a different story, not liking to be behind, she pulled and tried to take any short cut she could to try and take the lead again. Once we made it to the falls, Brandon had to cross some logs to make it across the stream to get below the waterfall. This made both of the dogs rather anxious and on multiple occasions they nearly dragged me into the water as they tried to cross the logs. After Brandon had captured his shots and crossed back over they relaxed and just enjoyed the fresh air.

The waterfall itself was a gushing torrent of water that sent up spray, cascading down the rocks and tucked away in the forest, surrounded by undergrowth. The whole area had a surreal, almost fantasy feel as you gazed up at it through the forest. The whole area was alive with green growth, whether it was the trees, vines, or the moss that covered everything else. The hike back up was a bit slower, but both of the dogs were content to pull us up the trail and it seemed to take no time at all. Once we made it back to the truck, Paatos and Loki hopped in, and took a long nap on the trip home. While we didn’t get to cover all the areas we had hoped to cover and actually discovered some new ones, we enjoyed what we were able to see and look forward to the next visit. In the meantime, we are heading back to the coast to continue our goal of making it all the way up 101.

Our Journey, Photography

The Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast

Brookings is a sleepy little town that stretches along US 101 with a few small off shoots that lead to the shoreline. The true gem of this town, for us at least, was that just five minutes outside of town was a scenic highway with gorgeous sea stacks. Compared to the east coast, where such sights are rare, these jagged rock islands, dotted with occasional trees, are quite impressive. We also enjoyed the intensity of the ocean here. In Virginia, the waves are much tamer and you typically only see comparably sized waves when hurricanes approach. Here however, it was just another day at the beach.

Despite the fortune of being so close to so many places to shoot, we quickly learned that it was not going to be as easy as we thought. While most of the sea stacks were visible at odd angles here and there along the twisting highway, they were nearly inaccessible by foot. This was due to the fact that the highway ran alongside steep cliffs that were covered in an overgrowth of ferns and dense brush. Once you made your way through the brush you were faced with the decision of whether it was worth it to slide down the nearly 90 degree angled muddy embankment to the beach itself. Having spent the past several weeks seeing firsthand the number of mudslides that had damaged the area, we decided that was probably not the best plan and made due with what we could access with reasonable safety.

One of the places that we found to be fairly easy to consistently get to was called Whales Head Beach. Here we found numerous large boulders that were surrounded by shallow tidal pools which, as the sun set, made for beautiful reflections. Despite being aware of the tide tables, there were occasionally rather defiant waves that swept much further up the beach than predictable. One such wave left me quite soaked as the wave crashed into the rock I was standing on before I could make a run for it. We both got a good laugh out of it but I learned my lesson after that incident and kept to higher ground.

Consistently, the biggest problem we faced was the erratic weather along the coast. Every day it would call for rain but it was 50/50 as to whether it would actually amount to anything. On some days you would find thick, dense clouds that would make their way along the coastline, dumping rain continuously as they blew through, and then would suddenly give way to brilliant blue skies. Other days it would do nothing but pour all day long. Needless to say, it made things a bit more challenging.

On one afternoon we decided that the weather looked fairly promising and thought that we would go capture some drone footage of the area. We drove down to a viewpoint with a high angle of visibility for tracking. I will say, that when DJI makes a product, they do an excellent job of it. We flew the drone along the coastline and had the controller suddenly give out on us. We couldn’t see any visual from the drones camera, only the distance away and elevation. We tried desperately to find out where the drone had gone, but to no avail. A passing cloud of rain began pelting us with large rain drops and we feared that after so many adventures with it, we had finally lost our drone. Just when we had started to give up hope, we began to hear a recurring beep that let us know the home function was kicking in as the battery was about to die. I scanned the skies, squinting to try and keep from getting rain in my eyes as I quickly became soaked. Several minutes later and the buzzing of the drones rotors soon became loud and the drone made a delicate landing right back where we had first taken off. We hastily packed it back up and went back to the RV. When we finally got a chance to look at the footage, we were startled to find that the drone had gone from along the coastline directly into the thick forest nearby. By some miracle it had barely avoided hitting trees all around it and had made its way back to us.

At the end of the week, we packed up our things and headed further up the coast to the even smaller town of Bandon. The area is well known to photographers for such rock formations as Face Rock, the Wizard’s Hat and the Cat and Kitten’s Rock. Once we had setup camp we headed down to the state beach area and began to scout ideal locations to shoot from. Along the rocky cliffs you can find small caves worn into the stone as well as countless arches and spires. Just a few hundred feet out into the waves were dozens of jagged sea stacks that the waves hammered on furiously. Compared to the rest of the area which looked rather calm, this area seemed to be teeming with activity and waves. In addition to the choppy seas, there were also a few springs of water that ran off from the cliffs and into the sea. If you stood long enough in the path of these tiny streams your feet would slowly be swallowed up. One of the most appealing characteristics of the area was the amount of light that was reflected back from where these streams met the ocean. Coupled with the golden light of sunset and a set of filters made Brandon quite transfixed with getting as many shots as he could. We were warned though, that minding the tide was crucial throughout the area, as the tide comes in fast, and people have been trapped, and even drowned being caught up in the tides and washed away by “sneaker waves”. It became my task to ensure that while he was focusing on the camera that I give warning whenever the waves got too high. All in all, the first evening we were there we were treated with one of the most intense sunsets of the trip so far.

One afternoon while Brandon was working, I went to visit the nearby West Coast Game Park Safari. It was a small area that had a variety of large cats, wandering deer, goats, sheep, and peacocks. I had the amazing opportunity to pet several of the hand raised creatures during their exhibits. Despite this unique experience, I felt a great sadness here. In my opinion, the cages were much too small for many of the animals. Three foxes were in a cage together and two of them were fighting one another. In the cages with the big cats they were either pacing or just sleeping. They didn’t really have much to stimulate them other than the families calling out and making meowing sounds. When the staff were around customers they were smiling and friendly, but once they alone they looked rather more annoyed at being there. They had two chimps which were frequently disrupted by families harassing them and making them agitated. When I asked a worker about it he said it was fine, but it seemed abundantly clear to me that they were upset. The two snow leopards they had were beautiful, but also were often seen mating, much to the females annoyance. It made me wonder if they were keeping them together to try and promote them to breed in captivity. If you are interested in a chance to pet a lynx or bobcat, it’s a good place to accomplish that, but for those who are generally don’t enjoy the atmosphere of a zoo, I would recommend avoiding it.

Later in the week we decided to visit an area to the north of us known as Cape Arago that boasted a now inaccessible lighthouse. What had once been a part of an outcrop of land where the lighthouse was built, had become an island due to erosion and lack of maintenance. The lighthouse itself was used until 2006 upon which it was decommissioned and as of 2008 was turned over to the Coos tribe which historically had used the site as a burial ground. Despite being more than a mile away, we were still able to fly the drone over to the island to get a better look at the lighthouse. Video coming soon. Afterwards, we visited Simpson Reef which is a known pull out for a large population of sea lions and seals. The tide was high and only a few places had room for the creatures to find land but there were hundreds of them basking in the last light of the day. A local who had also come out to watch the wildlife informed us that if we were really luck, we might catch sight of a female humpback and her calf that often frequented the area. We were not so lucky but we enjoyed a nice chat before we moved on and made our way back to the RV.

The rest of the week was mostly spent indoors as the rain had picked up again. One night we got lucky and were able to get some additional shots from the beach but otherwise that was about as much luck as we could warrant. As the week concluded it was time to head back towards a big city so Brandon could return back to D.C. for a couple of weeks for work. In the meantime, I will be holding down the fort in Silverton.

Also, as an added bonus this week, we have included a link to drone footage taken near Brookings!

Our Journey, Photography

Last Days in California

Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California

The week went by rather quickly due to a busy work schedule and the numerous outings to watch the sea otters in the evenings. On Thursday, we were able to join the The Sea Goddess Whale Watching Tour and based on the past few days it looked like sightings were plentiful. After a late start getting on the road, we hurried over to Elkhorn Slough Harbor to catch the boat. They had clear rules stating they wouldn’t wait and would leave without you and we didn’t want to be those people. We quickly grabbed our tickets and scurried to the boat just as they were closing up. Only a minute or so after we got on, they began to push off and before long we were out of the harbor and out to sea. With luck, we almost immediately spotted a pair of humpback whales hunting just outside the harbor and rather close to the shore. Our captain was extremely adept at knowing where the whales would pop up next and successfully maneuvered the ship to give us the optimal views of them as they came to the surface, blowing spouts of water high into the air. For all their size, the whales were noticeably graceful creatures. They would come to the surface, take a few deep breaths, lift their tails in a fluke and dive back downwards to hunt for more food. The only trace left behind were small motionless wakes called fluke prints that were created by their massive size. We followed them for a good hour before the captain decided to do a quick exploration further out.

We made a wide sweeping arc across the Monterey Canyon hoping to scout additional whales but with limited luck. Despite the fact there was another ship following a pod of Orcas three miles out, the likelihood of getting there in time was minimal. The Sea Goddess’ speed couldn’t compare to that of an Orca, and we wouldn’t be able to catchup to them. As the sun came out we noticed thousands of Moon Jellies just beneath the surface as well as large schools of anchovies that glittered and shimmered as they swirled past. After some time, the captain decided it was best to turn back and stick with the two humpbacks discovered earlier.

As we neared the whales again, we noticed countless splashes around the whales. Very much like a pack of dogs, sea lions were moving in a large group along the surface and diving down in a synchronized routine as they hunted with the humpbacks. When they burst up to the surface again, it almost always meant that the whales were not far behind. The sea lions traced the movements of the whales which made easy pickings of the anchovies that the whales missed. This clearly proved to be a much easier method of hunting than trying to chase the schools themselves.
Every now and then, the Humpbacks would decide to stay at the surface a bit longer, turning on their sides and raising their fins up out of the water, as a dancer raises their arms in a slow circular arc, before turning and bringing it back down. A friendly wave of sorts to show off for the boat of onlookers. They had no fear of the boat, at one point swimming directly beneath it making everyone aboard seem to run from one end to the next in hopes of catching a closer glimpse of these gentle aquatic giants. Before long, the captain informed us that our tour was over and after watching them surface one last time, we made our way back to the harbor as the humpbacks turned and made their way further out to sea. Even if the tour was three hours long, it didn’t feel like long enough and I sorely wished that we could dedicate a full day to watching these beautiful water dancers.

The next day was our last in the area and due to the rainy weather we decided to spend the evening visiting the Monterey. When we arrived, the downtown area was packed with people hustling about in the drizzle. We made our way down the main street to the aquarium where we found numerous families enjoying their afternoon. Children squealed in delight as a scuba diver fed the multitude of fish and sharks behind one of the larger tanks simulating a kelp forest. The whole aquarium seemed to be geared towards getting younger children involved and interested in marine wildlife. One of my favorite parts was a section that had a variety of tanks full of jellyfish that were floating about, a slight current created to give them movement as they moved in everlasting circles. As much as they terrify and scare me, I can’t help but find them fascinating and beautiful in their own way. Although the whole aquarium is lovely, it seemed like it was had far more to do for kids than adults.

While we were sad to depart California, it was time for us to continue our journey ever northward. The drive from Moss Landing to Bandon Beach was something like out of a dream. When I was younger, I used to imagine rainforests to be a bit like what you see in the Jurassic Park movies. Rich ferns in the undergrowth of moss covered logs, mist seeming to float about between ancient trees. More so than anywhere else I have visited, the coast of northern California and Oregon fulfilled these picturesque imaginings. As we moved further north, we drove through what exists of the remaining stands of coastal redwood trees. Many of which were draped in thick moss and the ground surrounding them was covered a mix of gnarled roots and branches. Eventually, the trees gave way to coastal vistas and the rugged coastline. Waves smashed against giant sea stacks as we passed by craggy beaches littered with countless bleached logs. While it was a simple drive, it was definitely one of the better ones for scenery. When we arrived, the sky was overcast with seemingly ever present clouds to account for the moisture that gave so much life to the forests nearby. We will be spending the next few weeks working our way up the Oregon coast and enjoying the coastal life for a bit.

Our Journey, Photography

Big Sur & Sea Otters

Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters

The drive from Yosemite to Moss Landing was rather long and simple. It was mostly on the same road all the way until the exit where our campground was located. The KOA we stayed at was large but provided easy access to the highway with a couple of small shopping centers nearby. We also were not far from the Moss Landing State Beach, which made day trips out to see the wildlife extremely easy.

Once we had settled in, we took some time to go down to Moss Landing State Beach, and right from the start you could see a raft of sea otters floating about on their backs just by the entrance to Elkhorn Slough. They were absolutely fascinating, flipping about in the water, twirling with stunning grace and dexterity. They would move about easily with a small kick of their webbed feet as they floated on their backs. Some of them would come together and join hands, settling down to grab a quick nap and floating on the gentle tide. Seals were basking on the sand not far from a small marina, quietly sleeping for the most part, but a few were occasionally swimming about not far from the sea otters. They would stick their heads out for a look and make a wailing sound before diving back into the waters. This became our favorite place to haunt and watch the wildlife. Going down to the rocks at an outcrop, you could see thousands of tiny jellyfish bobbing about as the waves moved them. You could also sometimes find massive starfish clinging to the rocks, bigger than your hand, bright red and purple hues surrounded by a tiny army of jellyfish tendrils and pieces of loose kelp. That evening while watching the otters we met another photographer who was also out attempting to capture images of the playful creatures. He gave us a some information about local areas we should check out as well as discussing great places around the world for landscape and wildlife photography. He also informed us of a couple worthwhile tours in the area to increase the odds of seeing wildlife.

The next day after work, we decided to take an excursion along the coast just south of Monterey. The long, winding road over-looking the coastline of Big Sur is a wonderful day drive. It seems as though there are continuous magical views around each and every corner. Sometimes it’s lush pastoral hills rolling towards the ever moving sea, sometimes jagged and harrowing cliff faces with waves crashing against them. It’s a slow, meandering drive but it is varied enough to make it seem like it goes by quite quickly. We made our way down the coast in hopes of reaching McWay Falls while racing the sun looming on the horizon. We took a few stops along the way to admire the bridges that had been built where the land had been eroded away by water and time. Here and there you would spot recent evidence of the rock and mudslides that have caused so many problems of late.

When we finally arrived at McWay Falls, we were sad to see it had also been impacted by the weather. Although the waterfall cascading into the sea inside the little cove was incredible, it was far beyond our reach. Due to a series of landslides, the pathways and boardwalks that had been built to give people a complete view of the falls were blocked off by a fence. Streams of tape proclaiming “CAUTION” fluttered in the breeze and criss crossed over the area where the ground had heaved downwards toward the sea and began pushing the structure away from the base. The only paths that looked even remotely viable for a better vantage point, also looked extremely dangerous and likely would have caused further damage to the site. In the past, people have died trying to reach that picturesque beach with the waterfall, and we had no intention of meeting a similar fate. Footprints on the beach and a peace sign made of rock down below seemed to taunt us of the fact that others had been able to make the journey down, probably before the landslide, but we would not be so lucky.

When we had first pulled up to the view point, a young woman also out to shoot the sunset informed us that the trail we were looking for had been blocked off by fences for restoration areas. She had a rich accent of a Londoner, and we chatted about British humor and traveling. She informed me that she was a bit anxious, as she had hitch hiked her way to the location, and was not sure if she would be able to find a ride home. When we finished our photos she was still there and we gladly offered her a ride. It was getting dark, and we didn’t want her to be stranded along the road trying to find a ride back. As we rode along in the truck she told us a bit more about herself. She was a travel photographer based out of Singapore but had grown up in London, she didn’t like driving, so she hitch hiked almost exclusively. We chatted about places we had both been to, places we recommended, and throughly enjoyed her company.

I was a bit sad to say goodbye when we dropped her off at her hotel, but glad she had made it back safely and we had ample room in our truck to give her a ride back. It reminded me vividly of the couple we had picked up in Grand Staircase Escalante, so desperate for help they had considered riding on the roof of the Jeep we had rented just to get back to their car and out of the heat of the desert. We had squashed into the Jeep and the poor woman half sat in my lap as we jostled about in the cramped space. If we had had our truck back then, it would have been a much more comfortable experience for all parties, but I wouldn’t have turned them away either way. Before we began traveling I never really considered picking up a hitch hiker. Too many horror stories of people slitting your throat after asking for a ride, always being told never to pick someone up from the side of the road. Now that we travel more, I’ve come to appreciate that sometimes it’s ok to take a small risk to help people, particularly in cases where it could mean life or death for those stranded.

A couple days later we were able to arrange a tour of the Elkhorn Slough by boat. The boat was an open topped pontoon, bench covered, and flat, making it ideal for being able to see everything around. A phone call to the owners of Elkhorn Slough Safari and Brandon found out that they had a special seat in the very back for photographers. It gave him the ability to stand up whenever he wished to get shots from either side of the craft. The Captain was a good spirited man who loved to make jokes. Our two naturalists who were on board were knowledgable, and helped create fun activities for the children on board while imparting their information.

As soon as we set out we saw an abundance of sea lions stacked on top of one another like an unceremonious dog-pile upon anything they were able to reach that floated in the Harbor. Some were rather small, which we were told were mostly the females which comprised the harems of the males. The few males we did see however, were massive. Glittering sleek fur, rounded domed heads, hulking bodies, and loud cries that showed rows of large and sharp teeth. A scuffle would churn up the piles of sea lions every now and then and would raise into loud, guttural growls and barks before one of them was driven off their perch and into the water. Very quickly the rest would re-settle into their piles and sleep again. Some of them swam in the water of the harbor, not at all disturbed by the presence of the boat.

Leaving the narrower part of the harbor, the amount of sea lions petered off and a stench immediately smacked into your face from the blowing wind. On abandoned pylons of a once destroyed old pier, were nests holding Brandt’s cormorants. It was the middle of breeding season and dozens of nests holding females were to be found on the tops of every pole. We were told that the smell was because the nests primary building component was actually their poop. It made for a very fishy, pungent aroma. The males were finding materials by diving into the waters and pulling up chunks of kelp to present to their mates. If the female approved, she would take his building material and add it to the nest. The male would puff up his throat, a vibrant teal blue patch just under his beak, and show his pride at having brought back his prize for her and providing for their future offspring. Brandt’s cormorants are not the most consciences birds though, as a good majority of the material found in the nest is found to have been stolen from neighboring nests. The males seemed almost to pose for the camera as they puffed up and preened themselves readily and eagerly at their audience.

Once we had drifted past the pylons, the naturalists pointed out the group of sea otters we had been photographing and visiting over the past few days and gave us some more information about them. The raft we had been observing was apparently known as the Bachelor Raft, consisting almost entirely of males. As we passed under the bridge into Elkhorn Slough proper, we were greeted by the sight of female sea otters tending to tiny fuzzy balls of fur that were their pups. The pups we were told, are rather helpless until they get to be older. Their fur is so buoyant when they are young, that the only thing they can do is float, they can’t swim, or dive beneath the water, leaving them rather helpless without their mother. Their mother will drag them along trying to teach them to swim, how to tend their fur, grooming and caring for their fur till they can do it themselves, and feed them. More often than not the baby sits upon its mothers belly as she swims about on her back. When the mother leaves them to hunt, they make tiny wailing cries which we heard to a round sound of “Aww” and happy squeals from the onlookers. The naturalists said that because of this they call them “wailers” as they float about, sometimes wrapped up in kelp so mother can find them again. The males do not take part in raising the pups, instead they will actually ‘kidnap’ a pup, holding it ransom until mother returns, and only give the pup back if she will give up whatever food she has hunted for. The mothers we saw were never far from their pups, and would hold them tightly as we passed by. One mother was struggling with an older pup who had learned to swim and would rather play then pay attention to anything else, much to the mothers agitation from what we could see as she struggled to keep herself above water between her offsprings pounces.

As our journey took us further inland the shore became dotted with numerous seals. We learned that the reason there were such large seals was because it was time for the female seals to give birth, and so they would swim into the safer waters of Elkhorn Slough to give birth. We saw a few of the swollen mothers basking on the shore for a rest as well as a few that had already given birth. Their pups were small, fuzzy, wrinkled, and pudgy little things. We had the luck to see one suckling milk from their mother as we passed by. The mother watched us closely but made no move as it might disturb the feeding pup, and we kept a safe distance so as not to upset them.

Towards the end of the journey they had a few more activities for the kids, cookies, hot chocolate and coffee as we headed back towards the marina. The naturalists pointing out birds and a restoration project to help replace land that had been washed away by erosion to make sure the wildlife would continue to have a safe spot to breed and raise pups. Overall it was an extremely pleasant tour and I would highly recommend it to anyone who goes out that way looking for a chance to get up close shots of the wildlife.

Later in the week we will be participating in a whale tour before heading up to San Francisco and eventually to the Oregon coast.