“Heceta Head Lighthouse”

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Heceta Head State Park, Oregon Coast (c) Mike Utley

W6—Heceta Head Lighthouse, Heceta Head State Park, Oregon Coast
In late March 1995, I took a solo road trip to the Oregon Coast. I’d never done anything remotely similar prior to that, and it was a long drive from my residence in southwest Colorado, but it was Spring Break at the tech school where I was studying and I had the opportunity, as well as a brand new bottom-of-the-line Canon SLR and a 35-80mm f/4.5-5.6 lens. I spent a week along the coast, heading from Coos Bay in the south to Astoria at the northwest tip, and was in awe the entire time. I shot about ten rolls of “typical touristy snapshots,” but this image spoke volumes to me when I had the film developed and viewed the prints for the first time. This is the image that changed my life and set me on a path of pursuing nature photography, something I’d immerse myself in for the next decade or so. This location is my favorite spot on the planet. I was there during a vicious early spring storm system that produced gale-force winds and massive waves most of the week. This image exemplifies the ruggedness and sheer power of the Oregon Coast. I keep coming back to this simple photograph when I need reassurance that there is still beauty in this world, that perhaps hope still exists. This is a transcendent locale for me. I’ve walked the trail to that distant lighthouse and placed my hands on its alabaster skin and gazed out across the endless sea and felt the sun and salt breeze on my face. It’s my heaven, and when I die I hope to have my ashes spread there. It feels like home to me. So, while this image may not evoke or inspire rave reviews, it is the most important image I’ve ever made and resonates deeply within my heart and soul. I wanted to share it with the good folks in this wonderful WordPress community to spread the beauty and hope I found that seminal day at the Oregon Coast. (Canon gear, Kodak Royal Gold 200)

56 thoughts on ““Heceta Head Lighthouse”

    1. Thank you so much, Thattamma! I appreciate your kindness! And yes, I just now noticed it’s 2/22/22! 🙂 I hope your day is a happy one, and thanks again for the nice comment! 🙂

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    1. Thanks a bunch, Michelle. Memories are interesting things. I almost backed out of this trip. I’d never been anywhere in my life–especially not on a solo road trip–and that not-so-encouraging part of my mind kept telling me “You don’t deserve to go…just stay home…” For once, I didn’t listen to the depression, and it was so worth it. It was an amazing, liberating experience, and when I finally made it to the coast, I had this sensation of finally arriving “home” after a lifetime of feeling I never belonged anywhere. I felt a very similar sensation when I first saw the Tetons. I’d never seen the ocean until I made this trip at age 31, but it felt as though I was supposed to be there. Those memories are so clear in my mind. I know you love nature so I know you understand what I mean. 🙂

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      1. Oh I’m so glad you followed your heart on this one. And yes, I know the feeling. I had that feeling of “home” as soon as I saw Mt. Zion for the first time and the Tetons were very similar for me too. You not seeing the ocean until you were older is kinda like me never seeing snow fall until I was 18. It was a magical experience. You must’ve just fallen in love with the ocean the first time you saw it. The ocean is where my heart feels the most joy. But I suppose that’s because it was my safe haven during my growing up years. I go back on occasion just to get lost in the sound of the crashing waves and to breathe in the scent of the sea. Those memories never fade. What a wonderful remembrance and perhaps you’re due for a repeat adventure. 😉

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    2. You wax so poetic, Michelle! I’m glad I took the chance, too. Time goes by so quickly and we don’t always have opportunities to do something outside of our comfort zone. My first sighting of the ocean was one of those cliche’ breath-taking moments. It was so huge and expansive! I hope to get another chance to visit it again. I think all of us are due for some repeat adventures! Thanks for your wonderful words. I always appreciate your thoughts. 🙂

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      1. I know what you mean, we must seize the moment while we can. It’s too bad it’s hard to acquire ocean view property these days, or I think I’d quite like to own a small beach cottage for summer use. Oh wouldn’t that be the life? I can picture the sparkling sea before me even now. 😉⛵️🏖

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  1. Such a visionary view, revealing a lot in the future than in the present. I mean, it looks like one of those places where when one is, they’d be focused on and thinking more of the future than the present, it seems to me. What a lovely spot on this planet. I feel its magic and resplendence. 💚🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟💚

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    1. Thanks, Lamittan. You’re right: this location is an introspective place where the mind is encouraged to peer forward, look ahead and find hope and inner strength to keep going. How can a person look at the vast sea and not feel inspired to do great things? Adventure awaits, right? It’s a mystical, magical place indeed. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, David! Glad to hear it. I’ve always felt that nature is poetry, and nature photography is the earth’s own poetry book (and a massive volume at that). Posting my old nature images is helping in keeping me inspired while I work through some stuff. The memories are all good, and that’s important to me right now. Thanks for your constant support, my friend. Much appreciated. 🙂

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    1. Thank you kindly, Jane. I’m so glad you find these photos appealing. These images represent my heart and soul, and sharing them just feels like a natural thing to do. It means the world to me to know you and others enjoy them. Thanks so much! 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Mark. Oh man, those waves were enormous. If you look at the waves by the sea stacks near the lighthouse, you can get an idea of how immense they were that day, as well as seeing how frothy the ocean was. It was unreal, and such a vivid and breath-taking introduction to Heceta Head Lighthouse. There’s a cool bridge that spans Cape Creek as you get close to the lighthouse. Cape Creek is a nondescript stream that feeds into the ocean, but it’s a magical place to me. I followed it upstream a ways into the woods one calm, overcast day. It was like stepping into another world. Conifers, hardwoods, hanging moss, the crystal-clear stream filled with smooth river rocks, fireweed and other flowers, ferns, and an ever-present sense of absolute calmness and peace. It’s such a secret, meditative place. I’m sure it probably only has meaning to me, but that’s okay. I’m weird that way, I suppose! 😀 If you’re ever in the Pacific Northwest, be sure to visit this lighthouse. It’s beautiful. 🙂

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  2. What a special, pivotal moment in your life Mike and what a beautiful photograph of the place that means so much to you. This is the kind of place you can revisit in meditation whenever you feel the need. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story with us here 💛🙏

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    1. Your kind words are so true, Xenia. This is the apotheosis of a meditative safe place for me. Even now, all these years later, I can close my eyes and it feels as though I’m right back there, walking up the wild blueberry-bordered trail to the lighthouse, then peering into the distant western horizon as the sun slips languidly down the sky to meet the sea. It’s a sense of being exactly where I’m supposed to be, you know? All that’s missing in my reverie is having a couple of wonderful doggos with me to chase balls on the beach! 🙂 Much thanks always for your kind words. 🙂

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  3. It’s a lovely one, Mike.
    The crashing waves and the whole serene atmosphere must be overwhelming in a good way especially when one’s physically present. I can understand the vibes you must have felt there. Sometimes a person just feels and knows. Your words are deeply moving and I hope you get to go there again. Sometimes home is a place that we couldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams. I’m so glad that you found your passion for photography there. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Terveen. Even when the weather was horrible, this place exuded a sense of serenity and stability. I visited it several times while I lived in Oregon in the mid-’90s. I was there during dense fog, bright blue skies, calm surf, raging storms, rain, wind, overcast skies, heat, cold, you name it. The place was steady as a rock no matter what was going on around it, and that’s so symbolic of why it resonates with me the way it does. Depression fosters a sense of chaos and instability, but a place like this counters those feelings of hopelessness and uncertainty and provides tranquility and peace. It sounds as though you’ve experienced something very similar, and I’m glad to hear it. If I ever return, I’ll make some new images and share them. 🙂

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  4. That’s a gorgeous shot, Mike. The lighthouse seems to glow against the dark landscape. I can feel how special that place is to you. We talked on your Teton post about how some places speak to us on a core level. I think they remind us that we’re “of” this place, not simply “on” it, that we belong, intrinsically linked to nature and beauty through our planetary DNA. I walked to the lighthouse a couple of years ago, and I share your awe.

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    1. Thanks, Diana. I agree with you–we really are part of everything, not above everything. I think I developed this attitude growing up on the farm. There’s a kinship we share with nature and to think otherwise is simple human hubris. Those years I was involved in nature photography were among the happiest of my life. I’d enter The Zone, things would quiet down in my mind, time would slow down and I would feel a sense of belonging. Focus and concentration came easily during those moments, and I could see mundane things in new ways. It was so cool to just notice things, you know? Little seemingly insignificant things like lichen on rocks, bits of color in a distant copse of trees, unique cloud shapes, the way a stream heliographed in the sunlight…it was magical, and it just proved your point: we are part of the natural world, not above it. Okay, I’m getting carried away again. 😀 But yes, I agree with you. This topic holds deep meaning for me. I’m so glad you’ve been to this location and have felt how special it is. 🙂

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      1. I’ve experienced exactly what you’re describing. The beauty of this planet and the diversity of life is stunning if we simply pause an notice. Thanks for getting carried away, ha ha. I go right there with you, and it’s a pleasure. 😀

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  5. The image is nice and the place is probably great (no disrespect of your feelings intended) but your writing is transcendent. The way you describe things lights them up for me like no other writing I’ve seen other than that of those at the very top of their profession.
    Kind regards,
    Robert.

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    1. Thank you so much, Robert. This is such a humbling compliment. I suppose we all have our own style when it comes to writing Everything that makes us who we are also contributes to the way we communicate. By nature, I’m a quiet, introspective person, but when it comes to writing I feel liberated, tossing off those chains of self-doubt (most of them, anyway) and just being myself. I think being deaf has contributed to my writing style since I rely on the written word to such a large degree. Also, I can be passionate about certain subjects (like this lighthouse image) and i suppose it shows in my writing. At any rate, I’m grateful for your kind words. It means a lot to me and I’m glad my words connect with you. Thanks again! 🙂

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      1. Interesting to hear you say that writing makes you feel liberated (did you know that we use different parts of our brain to talk and to write) because I was speaking to a colleague at work yesterday and writing terrifies him. And yet he has other strengths that make him a wonderful fit for his job (a data analyst). Not sure why I’m sharing this. Something about how wonderful it is to have so much variety in this world I imagine.
        Have a great day. 🙂
        Robert.

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    1. “Thinned ocean water” in an apt description indeed. The lighting was changing rapidly due to stormy conditions and I was fortunate to get some brief, decent lighting for this image. It does have a rather painterly aspect to it. Thanks as always for your kind comment. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for the nice comment, Aaysid. I agree with you completely: lighthouses are magical. During my time in Oregon, I’m pretty sure I managed to see all the lighthouses along the coast. I spent a few months on the Atlantic coast in South Carolina, too (Myrtle Beach, in the northern part) but wasn’t able to see any lighthouses in that state. A curious thing about lighthouses in the US is the ones on the east coast tend to be much taller than the ones on the west coast. This is due mostly to the elevation of the headlands. Along the Atlantic shoreline, the slope of the land is gentle and flatter, so lighthouses need to be taller to be seen more clearly and further out to sea. Along the Pacific shoreline, the land can be much more rugged, with headlands towering hundreds of feet above the surf. Because of this natural height advantage of the landscape, western lighthouses needn’t be nearly as tall. In comparing personal experience and photos of both shorelines and their lighthouses, I much prefer the rugged Pacific landscape, which has so much more personality to me despite the shorter lighthouses. Man, I miss these things. Lighthouses are so profound when it comes to symbolism and sheer beauty. 🙂

      A really cool tower I saw (and climbed) on the Oregon Coast in Astoria isn’t a lighthouse at all but more of a monument overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River where it empties into the Pacific Ocean. The Astoria Column is 125 feet tall and has 164 steps (and yep, I counted every one!). It’s got an amazing view of the surrounding landscape. As for lighthouses, one good memory I have is my visit to Cape Blanco Lighthouse on the southern Oregon Coast. It was dreary and overcast that day, and as I peered off into the gloomy Pacific, I spotted a pod of gray whales breeching a ways off the shore. I was mesmerized and just stood there watching them for awhile. There’s nothing like seeing one of nature’s most iconic creatures in its natural habitat. There were even several calves in the pod. That made the entire rainy and overcast trip to the coast worth it that day. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Filipa! I just responded to Aaysid’s comment above about my love for lighthouses. I have a special place in my heart for them, that’s for sure. They’re fascinating structures and have such distinct personalities. I’d love to return to Oregon and revisit all the lighthouses I saw years ago. 🙂

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    2. I saw your wonderful lighthouse photos and poem–so beautiful! Your words captured the magic of lighthouses perfectly. I’m so far from the ocean now, and how I wish I were there… Your poetry is stunning. Well done! 🙂

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  6. This is a stunning pic, and I completely get why it would resonate so deeply with you, Mike. I’m going to the coast next weekend, Yachats, one of my fav places on the Oregon coast. Astoria is awesome too, by the way. ☺️

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    1. Thanks, Jeff I remember Yachats, and a few other tiny towns along the coast. When I lived in Salem, my apartment managers had a weekend home in Lincoln City. I remember big storm waves in Depoe Bay, ordering a pizza in Coos Bay, staying the night in Bandon to do dawn photography (only to wake up to overcast skies and thick fog), and other little wide-spots-in-the-road like Brookings and Gold Beach, Seaside and Cannon Beach and others. Astoria was cool. I loved the Column and the maritime museum there. I wish I’d been able to explore more. I never even scratched the surface of the Cascades, and only made it to Crater Lake once (extremely cold and windy day). I hope your weekend trip to Yachats is a good one! 🙂

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      1. You’re welcome, Mike. Ah, lovely reminiscence. I’ve been to most of those places and love them all. Thanks for the well wishes, I’m so ready for my walks along the beach and the cliff side trails. ☺️

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    1. Ah, to be able to live near this place… I haven’t been to Oregon since 1996 and I still miss this lighthouse. It’s remained at the top of my “Heaven on Earth” list of locales I’ve visited. Before all is said and done, I’d really like to experience this place one more time. Thanks for your comment. Much appreciated. 🙂

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    1. That would be a fantastic way to spend a weekend. I walked up Cape Creek near the lighthouse a ways one time and found a secluded area that was incredibly peaceful and silent, hardwoods with hanging moss, conifers, crystal-clear stream, ferns everywhere. I’ve never forgotten that place. Hopefully I can make it up there again sometime. 🙂

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