The Magic of the Pacific Northwest
After working on the Auto Show circuit for 8 years, one area has always eluded me: The Pacific Northwest. I've always heard about this magical place. The epic mountains, the waterfalls, the cliffs along the Pacific Ocean, but never actually seen it. Well, after so many years, the time finally arose and I was sent to Seattle. Originally I was going to try to get over to Mt. Rainier, but then I quickly realized that Mt. Rainier in November is not exactly super accessible to someone with just a rental car and no snow chains. I needed a new idea...
Well, it also so happened that my friends over at Photog Adventures (Listen to their podcast - they are a riot!) were doing a listener adventure along the Oregon Coast during that same week. Aaron , from the podcast, let me know when and where they will be each day. That settled the deal. I would be going to Cape Kiwanda, Oregon. That's *only* a 4.5 hour drive from Seattle! No biggie, right? Right.
Since I have this habit of trying to to everything in virtually no time, I also found a neat spot along the Washington Coast to hit up prior to Oregon. This is a spot called Cape Disappointment. And with a name like that, how could you NOT go visit? That would end up being the "plan." Head to the coast after landing, shoot at Cape Disappointment, then head to Oregon, and then back up to Seattle and go to work.
What was my first reason to seeing the PNW for the first time? Awestruck would be a decent adjective to use. The image above was taken with my cell phone upon approach to SEA-TAC. I knew that Rainier was visible from Seattle, but was no prepared for this. I looked out the window and my jaw dropped. I even dropped the phone. The view was better than I could have imagined!
The other game I like to play is "rental car roulette". These are those "internet" specials they offer sometimes when booking online. The rates are usually super cheap, but you never know what you're going to get. I was fully expecting some goofy little subcompact, but I ended up with a Toyota 4Runner. Dang it - I COULD have went to the mountain! I would have to resist multiple attempts of taking this truck off road - or on the beach in Oregon. Other than fighting Seattle/Tacoma traffic in rush hour, the drive down the coast was full of twists and turns, and quite frankly, a real fun drive.
Ilwaco, WA is a cute little coastal town and full of charm. I really could have spent a week there exploring the coast. The best part is the mom-and-pop hotels that operate there. I mean, when was the last time you had an actual key to a hotel room? I'm kind-of a sucker for things like this.
Now, I was going to make an attempt at trying to get some Milky Way shots, but I underestimated how limited access there is to some of these State Parks. Also arriving after dark doesn't help in scouting locations. Decided to get some much needed rest and head out at 4:30AM for sunrise.
There is this little beach, oddly enough, called Waikiki Beach located in Cape Disappointment. This looked to be easily accessible, and it was. I didn't have any intentions of shooting the sky that morning, but the airglow in some of the test shots convinced me otherwise. I'm a sucker for good airglow. The above image is of Orion and the Pleiades star cluster over the Pacific. However, the focus of the morning would be this lighthouse on the cliff.
Now, to those of you who may know this area, you are aware of how epic this location could be with the right conditions. Nick Page, a very talented photographer, has some of the most jaw dropping images from this very same spot. When the weather takes a turn, it will create HUGE waves. It's hard to believe its the same place! Regardless, this is a beautiful spot, and worth the visit.
After sunrise, more of the park was opened up for exploring. I made an attempt to find a place called "Dead Man's Cove". I made the mistake of letting Google guide me - and it almost did guide me right off the a cliff. Luckily, I do know better than the GPS at times. After circling back a few times, eventually found it. This cove be better to be at around sunset. I didn't have great lighting, but it was still neat to see. One thing I love about the PNW are these little trees that seem to sprout out of rocks, and looks like a cartoon. I've never seen this anywhere else.
Now it was time to head to Oregon and meet up with the Photog Adventures crew of Brendon, Aaron, Drew, John, and Kirk.
The image above would end up being my favorite image taken during "Milky Way Season" this year. Will circle back to this shot in a bit.
Oregon is such an interesting state - from the fact you still cannot pump your own gas in certain areas to the sheer natural beauty. The ENTIRE drive was spent ogling out the darn window rather than really paying attention to the road. Protip: Pay attention to the road. Resist the temptation. I ended up pulling over a number times and acting a fool with the camera. Total tourist mode, I know. I was also trying to meet up with the crew in a decent time. I ended up beating them to Cape Kiwanda by a few hours, as they had a few misadventures of their own.
Apparently Oregon beaches are public domain, and as such you can drive on them. I did not know this! That's when the temptation to drive the 4runner out on the sand surfaced its head. Until I saw this:
I refrained from some gratuitous baja-ing in the rental. Instead I walked along the beach and explored the area. Aaron texted me to let me know that they planned on going up over the cape. I was kind of confused, as nothing looked like something you could climb over. Well, he told me to walk towards the rocks, and there was a dune you can climb up and over. Glad he did, as I would have never guessed there was more to his beach.
I hiked around for quite some time, laughing at the thousands of footprints in areas where there were signs saying you shouldn't go. Eventually the crew arrived and we all set up for sunset and milky way shots. The sunset was peaceful, as they always are over the ocean. It was really cool to have some company this trip. As one who typically does adventures solo, having some people to talk to added to the whole experience.
As the sun faded, we all split up to find our compositions for the Milky Way shot. This day marked the last time this year that the Milky Way core would be visible in true darkness until next year. In fact, it would be about 7 minutes of total time. I was grateful to spend this time with fellow Milky Way addicts. We reflected upon this past year's adventures, what we learned, the misadventures, and what next year holds. I honestly couldn't have thought of a better way to cap off the season.
After a moment of silence watching the core set on the horizon, we went and had dinner. The crew filled me in on all their adventures so far as they trekked along the Oregon coast. That only added more things to me never-ending list of places to visit. I was slightly jealous to have missed out and was going to miss the end of the trip, as well, since I had to be at work in - now less than - 12 hours.
Around 10:30pm or so, started the drive back to Seattle. During these longer drives in the dark, alone, and somewhere you've never been are the times where I question my sanity. I swear, us photographer types make some weird decisions in the name of getting those shots! However, that's why God invented Monster and Red Bull. Ha!
I roll up to the hotel sometime around 2:30am. The plan was to get a few hours of sleep, then drop the rental at the airport and go to work. However, the valet guy at the hotel tells me that the price was going to be $50 to park. I mean, I knew it would be pricey, but I honestly wasn't expecting Chicago-like pricing. After looking at the sidestreets, and the amount of people shooting up in the immediate vicinity, I made the decision to drive back to the airport and drop the car now. I got into bed at 4:30am.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Absolutely.
Of course, I wouldn't leave without exploring the city! During the course of the show, would make multiple trips to Kerry Park to get a skyline shot with Mt. Rainier. Met some awesome photographers up here, as well! I laughed as they were complaining about how the sunrise wasn't as colorful as they hoped for. And I reminded them that back in Chicago we have nothing this epic. They laughed, as well, and agreed.
I could now go home. :)
Until the next adventure....