Go West, Young Man: Where mountains meet the sea

Secret Beach, Oregon

Last week, I shared about my trip to visit the Redwood National and State Park. After leaving the Redwoods behind, my attention turned from the mountains to the sea.

Just off the coast of Northern California lies a peculiar lighthouse well offshore. The weather was nothing short of terrible along the coast the day I visited, with plentiful spray, occasional downpours, and extremely strong winds. Despite all that, I was able to get a snapshot of the St. George Reef Light.

This striking offshore lighthouse was built in 1891, six miles offshore and has withstood storm after storm since then. It is 90 feet tall and was used from 1892-1975. The foundation itself is 50 feet tall, making the entire structure just under 150 feet. You might think this would be tall enough to avoid getting the light wet, but in 1952, the windows at the very top of the tower were broken by waves.

St. George Reef Lighthouse from a distance

The ocean has always been a bit scary to me. Not being able to swim is certainly part of it, but its unpredictability is frightening. However, that didn’t stop me from pushing onward up the coast.

My next stop would be back in Oregon, just over the state line near the town of Brookings. After grabbing some fish tacos from a small local joint, I stopped at Natural Bridges on Highway 101.

Here, the ocean can be truly terrifying.

The view from Natural Bridges, Oregon (Tyler Penland)

Hundred-foot-tall cliffs and countless offshore rocks and boulders dot the coastline. A brave soul can get some absolutely astonishing views like the ones above and below by venturing out along these cliffs. Here, the water is squeezed in between the rocks, and swells can reach impressive heights.

The rough waters are hard to describe, but the sound is nearly deafening at times, especially when combined with strong winds.

Even here, life finds a way, though. Trees grow up to the edge and moss and lichen line the offshore rocks. Birds are everywhere, taking advantage of these offshore spots to nest and avoid land-locked predators.

The view from Natural Bridges, Oregon (Tyler Penland)

Just north of the Natural Bridges area is Arch Rock. Ever since visiting the American Southwest, my fascination with arches of all types has grown. Thus, it was incredibly cool to see them sitting in the ocean surrounded by water. Seeing the waves come crashing through the arch itself is mesmerizing.

Arch Rock, Oregon (Tyler Penland)

My next stop was Secret Beach, where I had hoped to shoot the sunset. A very steep trail leads downhill to an extremely secluded and small beach. On the day I was there, a solid stream flowed into the ocean, thanks to all the rain.

This spot is unsafe, if not impossible, to visit at high tide but fortunately I was there near low tide. Even then, sneaker waves can easily reach the rocks at the back which makes being on the beach below quite dangerous.

The saying goes: “Never turn your back on the ocean.” Sadly my sunset hopes were looking pretty slim. The moody clouds made for some spectacular imagery but obscured the sun from this location.

Secret Beach, Oregon (Tyler Penland)

I made my way back to my campsite at Harris Beach State Park and hopped out on the local beach. There, I was greeted by some nice colors in the sky and a lot of beautiful rocks to look at.

Unlike the East Coast, where seashells are the main attraction on the beach, out on the Oregon coast, the waters are too cold and rough to support much in the way of shell life but instead offer up beautifully polished rocks and agates. I flew back home with quite a few specimens of just about every color of the rainbow.

Sunset near Brookings, Oregon (Tyler Penland)

I got some sleep that night as a storm rolled in, dumping plentiful rain. I would start the next morning off in a downpour and wet, but to paraphrase Dr. Zeus: “Oh, the places I would go”…..

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