“View South from Arch Rock”

View South from Arch Rock, Arch Rock State Park, Oregon (c) Mike Utley

Arch Rock State Park is located along the southern Oregon Coast between Gold Beach and Brookings. It features a natural arch just off the shore (not included in this image) where incoming waves burst into whitewater explosions as they shoot through the arch. This image was made in October 1995 on a windy late-afternoon as the light turned golden. This is the view south along the coast, taken minutes before this image which shows the view north from the same immediate area. This scene displays the rugged nature of the Oregon Coast: sheer cliffs which drop into the ocean, sea stacks, forests and cobalt-blue waters. My 24mm wide-angle lens allowed me to include a couple of foreground objects while capturing the infinite horizon beyond. I like the varying shades of blue and green in this image and the way the setting sun seems to gild the cliff faces in a golden sheen. This shot was made just before the rainy season began, which would cloak the coast in overcast skies, fog and rain for much of the next six months or so, but regardless of the weather, the Oregon Coast retains its magical allure and continues to call to me all these years later. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“Sea Stacks Near Newport”

Sea Stacks Near Newport, Yaquina Head State Park, Oregon (c) Mike Utley

The town of Newport is situated along Oregon’s central coast and is home to a few notable attractions such as the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Yaquina Head Lighthouse. During my stay in Oregon in the mid-’90s, I visited both places multiple times. In 1995, Keiko, the orca featured in the film Free Willy, was a resident of the aquarium and I was able to see this majestic killer whale in person. It was both exciting and disturbing to see Keiko as he swam restlessly and dispassionately in his tank, his drooping dorsal fin a sign of possible illness, injury or stress from captivity. He was eventually relocated and reintroduced into the wild off Norway’s coast, where he succumbed to pneumonia in 2003. His story is a sad one, and I was fortunate to be able to see this wonderful orca up close. Yaquina Head Lighthouse is north of Newport and oversees the area like a sentry. On this December evening in 1995, I had my back to the lighthouse as I photographed sea stacks in the bay, with Newport in the distance. The soft lighting rendered the scene in a gentle lavender hue, and as I made this image, a nine-inch-long banana slug meandered by in its slow, lugubrious way to the left of my tripod, leaving a slime trail in its wake. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“Western Sword Fern & Spore Pods”

Western Sword Fern & Spore Pods, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon (c) Mike Utley

Silver Falls State Park lies about 24 miles from Salem, Oregon and is home to ten waterfalls along the Trail of Ten Falls loop, with South Falls being the most visited in the park. While exploring near the bowl of South Falls, I came across a particular cluster of western sword ferns which had some of its fronds flipped over by a recent rainstorm. I was immediately fascinated by the multitude of yellow-orange spore pods on the frond’s underbelly. I was raised in an arid region of the southwestern U.S. which was too dry for ferns, so my experience with them was extremely limited. This frond presented both a learning experience and a compositional delight. The long, flowing diagonal line separates the image into lighter and darker halves, and the warmly hued spore pods seem to glow against the cool green background. I always carried a couple of nature guide books in my camera backpack in order to properly identify various plants and animals I’d encounter, and these guides came in handy that day as I’d never before seen a fern with spore pods. This was one of the joys of my nature photography days—discovering things I’d never seen or had never paid attention to before. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“Cape Meares Lighthouse at Sunset”

Cape Meares Lighthouse at Sunset, Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon Coast (c) Mike Utley

BL1-1(S)–Cape Meares Lighthouse at Sunset, Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon Coast
Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge sits along the northern Oregon Coast near the town of Tillamook (Tillamook is famous for its cheese). Besides providing a habitat for old-growth forests and breeding seabirds, it’s also notable for beaches loaded with driftwood. Cape Meares lighthouse is perched on the end of a finger of land that juts into the Pacific. The lighthouse isn’t tall—many lighthouses on the rugged Pacific Northwest coast aren’t, due to the elevated headlands upon which they stand), but it provides a wonderful view of the ocean, with a trail that runs behind it offering a perfect perspective of the lighthouse and the sea. I visited Cape Meares one late-autumn afternoon in 1995 and found myself at the lighthouse at the day’s demise. This image depicts what I experienced at that moment. A customer ordered a large print of this photo, and the resulting 16”x20” image was glorious. I mentioned to a friend recently that when I saw the sea for the first time in my life in 1995, I felt as though I had finally come home. That feeling has never changed, and this image is a good reason why. Nothing compares to the sea, a lighthouse and a sunset. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“Sunset at Cape Arago”

Sunset at Cape Arago, Cape Arago State Park, Oregon Coast (c) Mike Utley

W1-2(S)–Sunset at Cape Arago, Cape Arago State Park, Oregon Coast
Cape Arago State Park is located along the southern Oregon Coast between Coos Bay and Bandon. I spent Christmas Eve of 1995 photographing the southern coast in shirt-sleeve weather and ended up at Cape Arago as evening set in. I wasn’t disappointed. The late magic-hour lighting was glorious and painted the cliffs a magnificent orange, while pastel pinks, purples and blues added a delicate touch to the frothing sea. I wasn’t there long enough to explore, unfortunately. I wasn’t able to visit the lighthouse, which was the only one along Oregon’s coast that I missed. I had plans to return to do more photography, but I ended up relocating back to Utah three weeks after this image was made and I haven’t been back to Oregon since. How I miss the Pacific Northwest… It will always be my heaven on Earth. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia (ISO 50)

“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)

“Breakers on Rocks”

Breakers on Rocks, near Port Orford, Oregon Coast (c) Mike Utley

W17(S)–Breakers on Rocks, near Port Orford, Oregon Coast
I spent the morning photographing breakers crashing like cannon-shots onto huge boulders just off the coast south of Port Orford in southern Oregon. These booms were incredibly loud. During a lull in the action as I was examining tiny fossilized shells in a nearby boulder, I glanced back at the ocean and saw the water rising rapidly. The Oregon Coast is notorious for its sneaker waves, which are like mini-tsunamis. I had climbed down a ten-foot dirt embankment to get to the vantage point for this image, and suddenly I realized I had to scramble back up immediately. Luckily, I was able to find some rocks to climb up and made my way to safety. When I looked again at the water, it had completely overwhelmed the spot I’d been standing on seconds earlier. I learned a valuable lesson that day: never turn your back on the ocean at any time, for any reason. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“View North from Arch Rock”

View North from Arch Rock, Arch Rock State Park, Oregon (c) Mike Utley

Arch Rock State Park lies along the southern Oregon Coast between Gold Beach and Brookings. Its namesake feature is a natural arch just off the shore. This image represents the view north from Arch Rock in the magic hour lighting of late afternoon and early evening, which I found to be more dramatic and appealing than the arch itself (which is not shown in this image). (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)