The first leg of the journey was the drive to Burgeo, a fishing village accessed by Route 480 from the Trans-Canada Highway near Stephenville. The wild and beautiful landscape was covered with deep snow, and the conifers were magically encrusted with a thick layer of hard snow so that, in places, they looked like snow elves. We kept our eyes alert for Woodland Caribou, but didn’t see any on the drive. When we reached Burgeo, we stayed at a small motel that would be convenient for catching a ferry the next morning.
We packed what we would need for the trip in two suitcases and left the rest in the car, since we couldn’t take a car on the Marine Voyager ferry. These communities have no roads and no cars, so all that is needed is a foot ferry, albeit one that can carry enough cargo to meet a small community’s daily needs. We walked up the ramp on the ice-covered boat, then descended into a room for the passengers. Comfortable seats, round portholes, and a soap opera on the television – what more could we hope for? We paid our fee of $6 per passenger, which was clearly subsidized by the government, and settled in for our sailing along the coast.
There were only a couple of other passengers, and they lived in the villages of Grey River and Francois (a French name Newfoundlandized to “Fran-Sway.”) We were invited up to the bridge for a front-row seat and visit with the captain, who was a lifelong resident of Francois. One of the other passengers, a younger man named Cody who owned a fishing boat, introduced himself to us as well. He was also a lifelong resident of Francois and he told us about the community and what he liked about living there.
Hesitantly we asked the captain if he thought the ferry would be running two days later when we wanted to make our return trip, which would give us enough time to drive back to St. John’s and catch our flight back to the USA. He said this was the first time the boat had sailed for a week because of storms but that the weather looked good for our return trip. We had two nights at Francois and could enjoy ourselves. We had been watching the marine forecast every day for the past two weeks of our trip, trying to find a three-day window of weather when the ferry would be running; there were high winds and high seas every day and then finally the forecast looked good.
The south coast of Newfoundland has a series of fjords, which provide sheltered locations and harbors for fishing communities. The village of Grey River was the first village we came to, and was located partway up a fjord. We motored through pancake ice and past colorful houses to the dock, where about ten people were waiting for the boat. All these people helped unload bread and beer and Amazon boxes full of the stuff a small community needs. Snowmobiles and ATVs were the transportation in town.
We soon set sail again, with no new passengers – after all, who would go from Grey River to Francois in the middle of winter? The sea was rough and it started to snow, and was just about dark when we carefully navigated the narrow fjord that ends at Francois. By this time the wind was howling and the driven snow stung our exposed faces. We didn’t know where our rental place was, but the captain and another man showed us the way and took our bags for us on a snowmobile. We settled into our place for two nights, and ventured outside briefly to get a feeling for the town.
We spent the next day wandering the village along its boardwalks and pathways – remember, there are no roads needed in a town with no cars or trucks. All the houses are connected by these paths. The town is small, but has Sharon’s Place, a grocery and liquor store that is open morning, afternoon, and evening, with breaks for lunch and supper. There is a church that sits above the rest of town, and a large school that currently has six students and one-and-a-half teachers. This must be one of the smallest schools in the world in terms of the number of students! But education also arrives by computer, with courses available to older students online. There is a medical clinic, but no permanent doctor in town. There is a helipad used during emergencies.
Colorful houses are a feature of the town, with red and purple and turquoise tones mixed together in a delightful jumble. In winter some are occupied and some are not, with some people leaving for part of the year for jobs. There are stages along the waterfront: small buildings on stilts where fishermen stored gear and later processed the catch. These are a distinctive and wonderful feature of all the Newfoundland coastal towns.
We walked past one house just as a lady in perhaps her late 70s was leaving the house on this snowy morning to meet for morning coffee with two other ladies who were 84 and 85 years old. We spoke with her briefly, and she told us she had lived her entire life in Francois. There were 89 people living in this little town in 2016, and we met perhaps eight of them – all of whom had lived here nearly their entire lives, except for time spent in the military or going to school. This lady was really concerned about the dwindling population of Francois.
As the snow continued to fall, we met up again with Cody from yesterday’s boat ride when he drove up on his Ski-Doo (the Newfoundland name for all snow machines) and chatted with him about the town. After graduating from the town’s school, the St. Simon & St. Jude Academy, he went to work on his father’s fishing boat. Later, he bought his own boat and now fishes for crabs, lobster, scallops, and sea cucumbers with his wife and up to five crew members.
Cody’s diverse fishing activity is a big change from the past, when the fishery was based upon the seemingly never-ending cod supplies. Alas, every time people think that a natural resource is unlimited, they use it up, and Newfoundland’s fishery was no exception. It was devastated by overfishing of the once common cod, a harvest made possible by technological advances utilized by both Canadian and foreign companies. In July 1992, with cod stocks down to less than 1% of historic levels, the Canadian government abruptly shut down the 500-year old cod fishery in order to try and save the fish. This instantly put 30,000 Newfoundlanders out of work and devastated local communities. In the years since some, like Cody, were able to diversify and found a path to the future. Others found a future in tourism, which is starting to take off in Newfoundland. The cod has since rebounded but the fishery is extremely small and limited compared to the good old days. Just try to get fresh cod in Newfoundland most of the year!
A bit later we ran into another man on the boardwalk who was driving his Ski-Doo. He stopped to talk and told us that he was also a lifelong resident, but he didn’t make his living on the open ocean. He was a helicopter pilot who had worked for the Canadian Coast Guard, but now owns his own company and ferries a lot of people on remote hunting trips, mostly for Moose.
As I mentioned, the houses are scattered all around town seemingly randomly, with no clear lot boundaries. We asked one man about this, and he said that all the houses are built on Crown land, which is government land. People own their houses, but not the land under them.
We met another man driving his Ski-Doo who we had seen shoveling snow off a boat, which turned out to be his uncle’s boat. He works fishing for herring, crabs, lobster, and sea cucumbers. He was also a lifelong resident … are we beginning to see a pattern here? People are born here and live their whole lives here, though with a strong tether by ferry and by the internet and television to the larger world. When we asked Cody about his fellow citizens, he said that most everyone gets along well in town, but over time some people are moving away and the population is getting smaller.
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador has had a decades-long effort to move people away from the outports, which require huge government subsidies for ferry and helicopter transportation and education and medical care. By now, most Newfoundland outports have been abandoned, with the people voting to disband their towns and move elsewhere, but Grey River and Francois have been exceptions. In Francois, the question has come up for a vote twice over the years, but both times it was defeated (the latest in 2013) and the people remained. I understood that if the people voted to move out, the government would pay each homeowner $250,000 to compensate for the abandoned homes. It still could happen, but it is wonderful to see a few of the outports still hanging on against the tide of modernization.
I continued to photograph the buildings and waterfront and falling snow to my heart’s content on this wonderful day, when we talked to more strangers than we usually talk to in a week. Newfoundlanders are like that … they go out of their way to make visitors feel welcome, and we did.
There is even a good story that might be mostly true or wholly true about a German submarine that entered the fjord containing Francois during World War II. It came to quietly get fresh water for its tanks at a waterfall entering the sea. It was on a Saturday night and there was a dance at the community center in town; some handsome but unknown young men showed up who knew little English and who danced the night away with the local girls. The young women apparently thought that these might be Basque fishermen who often fished nearby, and didn’t realize that the men were German sailors.
The next morning we prepared to leave Francois for the voyage back, and the ferry Captain came to retrieve us. The morning showed a bit of sun and good weather for an ocean trip, so we went down to the dock and prepared to leave. The trip back was stunningly beautiful, with morning sun kissing the snow-covered headlands. And we got back in time to make the long drive to St. John’s to catch our flight.
To view more of the photographic work by Lee Rentz, go to leerentz.com, where you can see thousands of photographs and purchase a special one for your walls.
There are places where experiences are so profound that they draw you back time after time. Olympic National Park’s Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches is such a place for me. The words in this story are from our 1991 field notes of our first visits to this transcendent place, illustrated with new and old photographs presented in a nostalgic style.
January 18-21, 1991
With a weather report of sunny weather for Western Washington through the long Martin Luther King holiday weekend, we made a quick decision on Thursday to leave Friday for a three-day backpacking trip along the coast at Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches. Little did we know it would be the most spectacular weekend trip of our lives.
We drove to Kalaloch on the Washington coast Friday night and camped in the Olympic National Park campground along the shore. Clear skies, with intense starlight, were followed by a heavy frost the next morning.
Arising early, we drove to Neah Bay and the Makah Indian Reservation. The road between Clallam Bay and Neah Bay hugs the twists and turns of the coast. Along this stretch of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we observed four immature Bald Eagles perched in the trees between the road and the water. Additionally, a male and female Harlequin Duck perched together on a small emergent rock. We also observed loons and scoters offshore, as well as Double-Crested Cormorants.
Neah Bay, the heart of the Makah Reservation, is like a small town on the Newfoundland coast, with scattered houses strung along the shore, a small fishing fleet, and no pretense of being a tourist town. These Indians had a centuries-old tradition of whaling from open canoes.
We followed a convoluted route to the trailhead, through town and along some potholed roads. Along Waatch Creek, we came upon wintering Trumpeter Swans. The brilliant white swans made a wonderful sight as they swam across the peaceful river surface, which reflected the pale blue of the winter sky. Their resonant trumpeting provided a sound track for the experience.
The two-mile hike to Shi Shi Beach was a muddy challenge [much improved in recent years], but the sounds of the roaring surf urged us on.
At our first ocean overlook, we watched waves crashing through the offshore sea stacks. As we started eating lunch, we noticed two mature Bald Eagles majestically perched together atop a high sea stack. Looking through binoculars at the ocean’s expanse, while enjoying a trail lunch of summer sausage and Wheat Thins, I spotted the spouts of three Gray Whales offshore; these were unmistakable columns of mist going straight up from the ocean.
As we shared a chocolate bar, Karen noticed that a “log” rocking on the waves was, in reality, a Sea Otter. Floating on its back, it was holding a Sea Urchin up to its mouth with its front paws. The back paws were stuck up in the air. The otter floated like a cork over crests and troughs of the waves–except when a giant wave toppled toward it–then it would plunge into the wave and emerge on the other side.
Hoisting our packs, we continued down the trail and in a few minutes descended to the beach. We were surprised to see a young man running along the beach and through the surf in shorts, sans top, and barefoot; his girlfriend sat in the sand and watched and shivered at the thought of it.
We decided to set up camp near the Olympic National Park boundary, at a place where a Raccoon-proof cable was strung between two trees [currently ALL overnight visitors are required to bring bear-proof canisters].
Then we hiked north along the beach we had examined from above. From the shells on the shore, it was evident that there were extensive California Mussel beds offshore. We also saw a few Razor Clam and Butter Clam shells; opened and empty, but (like the mussels) the hinges still held the two shell halves together and flexible. A Common Loon dove just offshore, as did a Surf Scoter; we saw the Sea Otter’s head poke up a few times as well. An occasional Bald Eagle sailed overhead.
Karen went around the next small point to the north and saw parts of an old shipwreck. Two large rusted hulks were on the beach, one large section out near a sea stack with a “gun turret” point projecting, and other pieces of metal scattered through the bay. Karen continued north to the beginnings of a cave being formed, and then further to a deeper cave which was still inaccessible because the tide was not low enough. The sun was setting though, so it was time to head back to camp.
When we returned to camp, we discovered that a Raccoon had unzipped Karen’s pack and investigated all its contents. We knew immediately that the culprit had been a Raccoon (and not a person), since Karen’s driver’s license and credit cards lay prominently on top of the pile spread across the ground–the Raccoon apparently didn’t have much use for Master Card. It had chewed up part of a roll of toilet paper, but otherwise no damage was done, since the food was strung safely up on the wire.
We crawled into our sleeping bags at 8:30 pm, and fell asleep shortly after. At midnight, we awoke to the sound of packs being rifled. Lee checked with a flashlight and caught the eye shine of two Raccoons. He crawled and chased them off. Undaunted, they returned a few minutes later, so Lee crawled out again and escalated the conflict by tossing sticks and stones at the creatures. This worked for a time, but they were back again a couple of hours later. This time Lee was running around barefoot in his underwear yelling and throwing stones at the guerrillas.
Lee awoke to the screeching and snarling sounds of a Raccoon squabble a little while later, but soon the action quieted down and the rest of the night was peaceful.
Waking up groggy and grumpy the next morning, Lee had a hard time getting started–as might be expected. After hot instant coffee and cold granola with powdered milk, we started down the beach in the cold gray of dawn. Again, there was frost whitening all the drift logs and grasses on the beach. The sand above the high tide line was frozen.
Shortly we came upon a dead seal washed up during the night’s high tide. The 5-foot long seal appeared freshly dead; one eye had been pecked out by crows or gulls.
Far down the beach we spotted a live Harbor Seal wiggling its way from the high tide line toward the sea. Obviously uncomfortable on land, it moved vigorously with ripples of fat rolling like ocean waves down its body. It would rest briefly, then struggle on. It finally reached the water and prayed for a big wave to carry it off–one of which arrived several waves later. We examined the tracks, which showed the lines where flippers made their marks, perhaps 2 feet apart. One flipper consistently dug in deeper than the other–perhaps indicating an injury that would have made movement more difficult.
The beach was relatively free of human detritus, though there were the usual fishing net floats, lengths of bright polypropylene rope, and tattered net fragments. At the highest wave line, there was a sprinkling of tiny bits of brightly colored plastic–which looked like plastic confetti. This was the first time we’ve seen such plastic bits. The larger pieces break into small pieces from the incessant pounding of the Pacific.
Never still (even on perfectly calm days under an intense high pressure zone like these days) the Pacific shore here always has the hearty roar of the surf as kind of a white noise in the background. Lee remembered talking with Dad on the phone, when he mentioned being at Kalaloch during the 1970s, and turning the car so its headlights struck the ocean, and being astounded and (if I may read something into this midwesterner’s memories) a bit intimidated by the churning, pounding, roaring surf that never ends. His memories of the violent Pacific were vivid, having stood watch in a crow’s nest atop a WWII destroyer during a big storm at sea.
As we stood among the sea stacks, on rocks exposed by low tide, we were awed by the pulsing power of the surf as it crashed into the monoliths and surged into the bays. The rocks absorbed the power and broke up the waves, thank goodness. Note that the big waves came in surges of a half dozen or more high peaks, followed by a period of relative calm. Reading Ricketts and Calvin’s Between Pacific Tides, the authors say that being within 20 vertical feet of the ocean is actually risking one’s life; clearly we need to be prepared for these big wave surges.
As we sat down for lunch, Lee saw a falcon hunched on the beach just above the wave line. It remained for a minute or so, then took off with powerful wing beats and flew past us along the beach. It was a Peregrine Falcon, the Pacific Northwest dark phase of the bird.
We spent the late afternoon on the exposed rocks, watching the scene and photographing the sunset colors playing among the sea stacks.
We waited until dark to start back toward camp, and enjoyed an enchanting 1-1/2 mile walk along the beach by the bright light of a winter moon. The dance of moonlight on waves, the sound of surf, the call of a distant foghorn, the rhythmic ray of the Tatoosh Island lighthouse, and the Milky Way and stars shining intensely overhead all made for a memorable night walk on the hard-packed sand at low tide.
Another dread night of the living Raccoons lay ahead. This time they attacked even before we got in the tent; but Lee savagely counter attacked with driftwood missiles. After a couple of half hearted sorties around the tent, the Raccoons retreated, granting us peace the rest of the night.
Morning dawned with a light mist over land and sea, and we headed down the beach again.
When we got to Point of Arches, we scrambled out on the exposed rocks. Karen discovered that there were indeed a great many starfish, despite the initial feeling that few were there. A few bright orange individuals stood out from their hiding places because of their brilliant color, but most of the sea stars were camouflaged by their subtle red-purple coloration, which perfectly matched the shade of the red algae covering their hiding place. Scores of them were tucked under ledges in shallow pools.
Another sea star was astounding! With 22 legs and an 18″ legspan, the reddish-purple Sunflower Star moved rapidly (for a sea star) over the rocks as it hunted. It had an orange central (or almost central) spot on the top side of the body.
Karen also noted the abundance of Hermit Crabs: when we walked up to a tidepool it would be alive with movement for a moment, but then everything would freeze and the pool would appear lifeless. In reality, nearly all the shells were inhabited. Karen saw two hermit crabs fighting over a rock overhang. Neither were inside shells, but one of them had two small shells on its smaller claws–like boxing gloves–and it really looked funny.
Two Black Oystercatchers perched on a nearby rock, one facing one way, one the other. They often stayed on rocks that the incoming tide surged over, perhaps finding these conditions ideal for feeding.
We then wandered south along the beach while the tide was still low, exploring sea caves and arches along the way. A mature Bald Eagle patrolled the beach overhead. On the next point there were vast, flat exposed tidal areas.
The highlight here was seeing two male Harlequin Ducks in exquisite low-angle sunlight. They were perched on a rock in the middle of a tide pool, both facing the same direction. Lee grabbed some quick pictures, but scared them into the ocean, where they were joined by another male and two females. These birds float over the crashing surf with ease, ducking under a cresting wave when need be.
We decided that there are up to three hours on each side of the low tide mark when it is safe to round the Point of Arches. Next time we want to spend more time exploring the next point south, which has many arches; we walked through one.
There were Deer and Raccoon tacks on the sand, and people occasionally see Black Bears and Cougars on the beach. There were a few exuberant people sharing the beach these couple of days, and I think everyone felt that it was a special time to explore this most wild and glorious of places.
We found a size 3-1/2 women’s Nike tennis shoe with Gooseneck Barnacles inside. Further down the beach, Karen found the mate to the shoe, also with barnacles inside. There was ship that lost a container of Nike shoes off the coast, and they show up occasionally.
The trail guidebook says the total round trip to Point of Arches and back is 7 miles. There were quite a few campsites along Shi Shi Beach, even fairly close to Point of Arches, and water was plentiful. At a dry time of year there would always still be water available at a stream 2/3 of the way toward Point of Arches. Even though it was sunny, it was relatively cold. Saturday Karen wore jeans, but Sunday and Monday it was wool pants, long underwear, and wearing almost all of the layers we brought. In the shade the heavy frost never melted on Sunday and Monday. With our winter-weight sleeping bags we stayed cozy and warm at night.
Lee ran out of film on this trip; he said it will never happen again.
We hiked back to the car, feeling ecstatic about the wildlife and wondrous landscape we had experienced.
February 15-18, 1991
We camped at Kalaloch campground on Friday night, then left at about 8am and headed for Neah Bay. We saw 20 Bald Eagles on the winding road between Clallam Bay and Neah Bay. A River Otter was sprawled atop a low rock on its stomach, eating a sea urchin or sea star. On a tall rock just 5 feet away, an immature eagle was glaring down at the otter. When the otter finished eating it slid into the water and disappeared.
On a rock surrounded by waves we observed Surfbirds for the first time, with Black Turnstones among them. There were lots of cormorants, with their wings spread to dry them; there were also a male and a female Harlequin Duck swimming at the edge of the water.
We watched a raft of about 200 Bufflehead, mixed males and females, just offshore. The raft moved here and there randomly. Individuals within the group would dive and then “pop” up, but there were no group dives. Also in the surf we observed Common Loons, and White-winged and Surf Scoters.
Along the trail to Shi Shi Beach we took a side trail down to a sandy cove located just beyond the first projecting headland. We observed ten Black Oystercatchers together on one rock, with cormorants drying their wings on the top of the rock and oystercatchers below. It was a beautiful small beach, very secluded. A couple of campsites, but on the Makah Reservation. From the beach we spotted our first group of Sea Otters, rafted together. From that vantage point there appeared to be 6 or 7 Sea Otters [Note that this route has since been closed to hikers, and there is now no trespassing allowed].
We took the next side trail, which led to an old concrete military bunker overlooking the ocean towards the south. From high above the secluded cove we had just visited, we watched nine Sea Otters below us. Five of them were rafted together, floating on their backs, with their back feet sticking straight up. Two of them were diving, going after Sea Urchins in the kelp beds. We watched one come up with an urchin, eating it while using its stomach as a dinner plate. The urchin was purplish-red in color, with numerous delicate spines; when it was broken open, the interior was brilliant orange. A Western Gull watched the Sea Otter eat the urchin, hoping for scraps.
The Sea Otters were extremely sociable, with one gray-faced adult swimming around, coming up beneath the others and touching them; a behavior that we also noted with one darker individual. When they were rafted together they were often touching. We watched a mother with its baby, which was probably one-third the length of the mother. The baby often floated beside the mother, in the area next to the mother’s head. A couple of times the young otter climbed on top of the mother’s stomach and rested there for some time.
We saw a seal off of Shi Shi Beach. After hiking 2/3 of the length of the beach, almost to the stream that flows into the ocean, we set up camp in a nice exposed location overlooking the whole beach. The next morning we awoke at 5:30am. Hit the snooze alarm three times, had granola and coffee, then set off down the beach just before sunrise. It rained off and on lightly all day. There were lots of people, including a Boy Scout troop from Tacoma, whose leader said they usually take the boys to the mountains, but can’t at this time of year. Although last month they had snow camped.
As Lee photographed a couple in bright red jackets sitting on a rock in front of the sea stacks, we talked to them briefly. They seemed so sad; this was their last trip to Point of Arches before moving to Iowa the next week for a job opportunity.
We observed River Otter tracks on the beach; one time the otter tracks appeared on a beach that we had walked a few hours before; they hadn’t been there earlier. We saw two Raccoons running around the point ahead of us, then later saw another running along the base of a sea stack toward the ocean. We observed an eagle on the beach eating a fish or other prey. Half a dozen crows gathered around and two other eagles sailed overhead, while the eagle tried to eat its meal in peace. One crow even went so far as to try to sneak up from behind and snatch the prey from between the eagle’s legs. That was the last straw, and the eagle flew up to a tree with its meal clutched in its talons. We watched it tearing off pieces flesh and eating them.
We also watched as a male Peregrine Falcon zoomed up and down the beach, then landed in a tree perhaps 150 feet away from us and 60 feet above the ground. This is the same area along the beach where Lee observed a Peregrine Falcon in January. It was the best view we had ever had of this falcon; we could see the barring across its chest and its distinctive head patterns.
We watched a raft of 4 or 5 Sea Otters in the bay just south of Point of Arches. These were in rougher water than those we had observed on Saturday.
That night we had a sliver of moon overhead, and could see the Big Dipper, North Star, lights of crab boats working far offshore, campfires down the beach, and the light from the Tatoosh Island Lighthouse.
We awoke early again the next morning and headed down the beach. The day was gray, with leaden clouds and a more persistent rain than we had had the day before; but we still enjoyed periods without rain. We hiked to Point of Arches and arrived at low tide; it was a lower tide than we had seen before at Point of Arches.
Then we decided to hike on to the second point, arriving as the tide was coming in. We knew we didn’t have much time, but were fascinated by all of the arches we found; many of them multiple, complicated arches. At the furthest point we scared up a large group of Black Turnstones. They have a beautiful, bold, black and white pattern when they fly, but when they land their camouflage allows them to blend into the rock. We saw hundreds of Ochre Sea Stars (which are actually in vivid shades of orange, ochre, and purple) clinging to the rocks as the waves crashed.
Yes, the waves were crashing and we knew we couldn’t stay long, though it was an exciting spot. We saw a few groups of barnacles and then Lee discovered a Blood Star, small and bright red. Karen convinced him to photograph it, even though it was so dark and he had trouble focusing.
When we packed up to head back we discovered that we had dallied too long, the tide had risen and cut off our return to the beach. It seemed that the tide was rising very fast, so we waded through a thigh-deep channel; getting our boots full of water and our pant legs wet. Walking on the kelp-covered (i.e. slippery) rocks is a challenge with heavy packs, demanding a good sense of balance and careful attention to the placement of each foot.
We continued to be fascinated by the tide pools, which seem alive with hermit crabs scurrying around everywhere in all sizes and shapes of shells. Where are shells with their owners to be found? There are all sorts of kelp too, as well as anemones, mussels, and barnacles.
We hiked back, stopping for lunch at the campsite closest to Point of Arches. This campsite had a large (6′ long) wood sculpture (totem) of a bear or beaver [and is no longer there after the ensuing decades]. Under the trees we were protected from the rain and ate brownies that Lee had baked.
Back at camp we changed into dry socks and Karen put dry pants on; making the hike out a little more comfortable. The hike out was in a steady rain and the route back to the car was long and muddy. Lee discovered that singing helped to shorten the distance and lighten his mood. We were glad to reach the car, though.
We are so thankful for this seaside wilderness!
If you wish to hike to Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches in 2018 or beyond, you will need to check out the current regulations and permits needed. Here are some links to get you started with obtaining the necessary permits:
Olympic National Park’s Wilderness Camping Permit. You can get this permit and a mandatory bear canister at Olympic National Park’s Wilderness Information Center at Port Angeles. The cost is $8 per person for overnight wilderness camping as of 2018.
Makah Nation’s Recreation Permit. As of 2018 this was a $10 per year hangtag for your car.
Parking Permit Bring cash of $10 per dayas of June 2018; this link also has great detailed information about the hike.
In addition, you really need to know how to read tide tables, both for safety and to get the most out of a coastal hike. Go to tides.net as a place to start, using the nearby Tatoosh Island and Cape Flattery tide charts. We prefer to explore tide pools when the tides are minus tides, such as -2.3 ft. or thereabouts. Read up on tides.
This is one of the premier nature hikes in North America: GO!
Boardwalk along the headlands above the Pacific Ocean in MacKerricher State Park
When I was just 19 years old, I drove to the California coast for the first time. I had two days off from my job as a U.S. Forest Service firefighter in the Cascade Range of northern California, and I decided to drive to the coast for the first time. I left the ranger station and drove west, through Lassen National Park, then down into the scorching Central Valley, which was about 100°F in the shade, of which there was very little.
I got out of the valley as quickly as possible in my little fire engine-red Buick Opel, then drove past golden hills covered with grasses and scattered oaks, up into the Coast Range, which was covered with soothing green Douglas Firs. This was California State Highway 36, which turned out to be the slowest road I’ve ever been on. It snaked its way up into the mountains, following closely the contours of the deep ravines and steep mountainsides, with one hairpin curve leading immediately into another. Imagine a really long strand of spaghetti noodling around the mountains, and you get an idea of the playful road. It took most of a day to drive.
In the Coast Range, the roads twist and turn incessantly; making these roads faster to travel would mean moving mountains
When I reached the hamlet of Mad River, there had been an accident in which a man had been thrown out of the back of a pickup. I stopped to help his family lift him back into the pickup, supporting his head rigidly as we lifted. It was going to be a long three-hour trip for him to the nearest hospital while laying with his neck and back badly injured in the back of the pickup. Life was more primitive then; today a helicopter or plane would be dispatched.
I drove on from Mad River through two more hours of twisting roads until I descended from the sunny mountains into the cool and foggy California Coast. It was soothing and new. I saw my first Coast Redwood trees as I approached Highway 101. I learned about ocean fog. I drove north to Redwood National Park on my whirlwind tour, stopping at a roadside cafe in redwood country where burly guys were talking about the huge size of a redwood they had just cut–one of those trees that took up an entire logging truck all by itself.
I hiked some short trails in the redwoods and walked the Pacific Ocean beach to explore Fern Canyon in the fog. It was magical. Too soon, I had to hightail my way back to my job, but at least I had experienced a bit of the storied California Coast.
Immense Coast Redwoods form magnificent groves along the northern California Coast
Since that early summer, I’ve returned many times. One summer, my wife and I explored the Menocino Coast while I was stationed in Mad River, where I had helped administer first aid several years before. We saw our first sea stars: this is embarrassing, but we were very young and from the midwest and were so excited to sea starfish that we attempted to take several home with us. Of course, they died and we were left with a stinking mess and a guilty conscience. Live and learn.
Many years later, in 2013, I drove up Route 1 and 101 from San Francisco, after participating in an art show in a redwood grove in Marin County. The road was as twisty and slow as I remembered it, and there didn’t seem to be many more people living out there along the lonely coast than there were before. It is a hard place to make a living, with much of the logging industry diminished.
The old-fashioned tourist industry struggles along this coast; I suspect that Californians spend far more of their money fashionably sipping wine in Napa Valley than in walking among ancient redwoods. But there is still a drive-through tree for travelers who want to show their kids what the tourism experience used to be like.
But there were reminders on the radio that there are alternative ways to earn cash. There was a report of several black SUVs heading north on a back road near Mendocino, with a wood chipper being hauled behind one of them. It seems that the government uses its black SUVs to search-and-destroy marijuana crops, which are then fed through the chipper (maybe the mulch is then fed to pigs; and perhaps it gives the pigs the munchies which helps fatten them up). There is apparently a whole network of people who call in reports of the government agents and where they’re headed. This seems to be a contemporary twist on the moonshiners and revenue agents that made up so much of the popular view of Appalachia.
I camped overnight at MacKerricher State Park north of Fort Bragg. I’ve heard that this park is where the movie set for the house in the great movie Summer of ’42 was built. That film, which came out in 1971, starred Jennifer O’Neill as “Dorothy,” a woman living on Nantucket while her husband was away and fighting during World War II. It was an enchanting story, and based upon a real experience in the screenwriter’s life. See it if you haven’t.
MacKerricher was filled with ocean fog during my visit, so it was wonderful for photography. The roar of heavy surf hitting the rocky shore lulled me to sleep.
Glimpses of my misty afternoon and morning in MacKerricher State Park
The next day, I drove north through the redwoods, eventually reaching Oregon, the words to a Jimmy Webb song so memorably sung by Linda Ronstadt making for an unusually pleasant earworm in my brain:
“Going up north where the hills are winter green
I got to leave you on the California coast …”
And, so, that’s where I’ll leave my memories until my next visit.
The sea stacks of Cuffy’s Cove
Cemetery at Cuffy’s Cove, with Surprise Lilies in bloom in autumn
Monterey Cypress trees have been planted along many stretches of Highway 1
A daring hiker crossing a sea arch in Mendocino Headlands State Park
Ice Plant, an invasive succulent originally introduced to stabilize slopes, has really taken over the headlands along parts of the California Coast
Highway 1 leads over a classic steel bridge spanning the Eel River in redwood country
Redwood grove along Avenue of the Ancients viewed from a fish’s eye
Redwoods were used to create these classic old theater and bank buildings in Scotia, a company town located south of Eureka in the heart of redwood country
To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (just ask to email you a small version of a particular photograph you like if you can’t find it on the site; my website is not up to date).
Karen Rentz and our friend floating over the Kapoho coral reef
Our lives have moments of pure awakening, when we experience a place (or a new idea or fresh music or a great book) for the first time. That was our experience snorkeling in the Kapoho Tide Pools, a wonderful coral reef south of Hilo.
Dappled by sunlight, the coral reef casts its reflections up on the surface
Snorkeling was entirely new to us. The idea of safely breathing underwater while encountering strange creatures was so alien that we wondered if we could even do it. A variety of relatives and friends had tried it and had trouble with trying to breathe and swim underwater at the same time. We were apprehensive, but how can you go to Hawaii and not even try? On the other hand, we didn’t try surfing, the other great Hawaiian form of water play.
We started by visiting a dive shop, and getting lots of advice on masks and snorkels. After purchasing our first masks and snorkels (from an online source, without fitting the masks first–a big mistake!), we visited our local high school swimming pool during free swim hours, and learned how to breathe through a snorkel, knowing that a life guard might be able to save us if we inhaled water instead of air. I took the risky step of investigating–then purchasing–a truly expensive underwater camera housing so that I could potentially take some coral reef photographs. That step forced me to make it a success!
For snorkeling wear, we each obtained a shorty wetsuit, which covers the torso and thighs and upper arms, and gives some warmth in cool seas. In May in Hawaii, it proved to be just right, though on land I felt like I had been stuffed into a casing like a sausage. We also wore neoprene caps to keep our heads warm and out of the sun. Finally, we wore neoprene booties to prevent the abrasion of the upper foot surfaces that flippers can cause. After all these purchases, we read that two Washington State snorkelers had just drowned while trying this new activity off the Hawaiian coast. Oh oh …
We flew to Hawaii, then drove around the island to visit some old friends who are now living on old lava flows south of Hilo. They had agreed to host our first few days in Hawaii, and to teach us how to snorkel in a place that has the reputation of being among the best snorkeling places on the Big Island. First they took us to a small cove along the coast that features water heated by volcanic activity. It was like snorkeling in bathwater, and was a shallow and forgiving place to try the basic techniques. There were even a few coral reef fish enjoying the water with us.
After graduating from the kiddie pool, we went with our friends to the Kapoho Tide Pools, which is actually a narrow and small bay that provides a relatively protected coral reef experience. We walked a short trail to a public access point, then donned our flippers and masks, and apprehensively floated off into the bay from a lava shelf.
My beautiful legs at the edge of the Kapoho Tide Pools; this small cove is bordered by cottages and a community park where visitors can enter the sea
We immediately experienced magic, with bright yellow Raccoon Butterflyfish and vivid lavender Blue Rice Coral and a hundred other creatures. The crystalline aqua waters revealed the promised new world to us, and it was even more wonderful than we could have imagined!
On our first day at Kapoho we gradually grew more confident about snorkeling, learning to expel water from a mask, clear a snorkel that had taken on water, and deal with leg cramps from flippers that were too long. Eventually we grew physically tired and hauled ourselves out for the day–wonderfully satisfied with what we had seen and learned.
We each used a camera underwater to try and capture the magic
We returned the next day, enthused about seeing the place again. This time we had more challenges: we ventured out to where waves were roiling the reef, and found out that swimming and photographing under wavy conditions was more difficult than it had been in the bay’s more protected areas. Karen got a little seasick while trying to photograph where waves were tossing us around, and I was shoved by a wave into some coral, which left a coral-shaped bloody pattern on my knees and lower legs. Fortunately there weren’t any sharks nearby! We also found that saltwater tastes really salty, after ingesting too many mouthfuls.
A school of Raccoon Butterflyfish in the aqua waters, watching us get our snorkeling lessons
Vivid purple of the Blue Rice Coral, a species found only in Hawaii and becoming rare
The corals are incised with dark lines; these are the recesses where Petroglyph Shrimp live
Slate Pencil Urchin, with its fat reddish-orange spines, lives among the corals and other species of sea urchins
Ringtail Surgeonfish were one of approximately 35 species of fish we saw in this reef habitat
We were finally tired after two hours in the waves, and swam back to haul ourselves out. When I looked down at my legs, I realized that the backs of my Seattle-white legs were suddenly vivid pink. As were Karen’s. Not good. We had forgotten to apply sunscreen, and hadn’t realized that we could get such an intense burn while snorkeling. Unfortunately, these burns were painful for Karen the rest of the trip, and she used a great deal of aloe vera to alleviate the pain and heal the skin. Live and learn.
We came away from our two snorkeling trips to the Kapoho Tide Pools newly aware of the wonderful world of the coral reefs. Sure, we had visited such reefs vicariously on television, but nothing can compare to actual experience. We learned new skills, and came away enthralled by a place of transcendence that we shall never forget.
When we swam to the mouth of the cove, the waves became more powerful and it was easier to lose sight of one another
I used a fisheye lens in this fisheye kind of place; this proved wonderful for showing the expanse of coral reef, often including reflections and the sky, as in this photograph of Karen
I even did a self-portrait with the fisheye lens, in which I come out looking a lot like a fish
I did a bit of what is called “over-under” photography here, simultaneously revealing the surface and underwater scenes
A fat sea cucumber and a Saddle Wrasse add color to the reef
Ringtail Surgeonfish and reef reflections up to the surface
Yellowfin Goatfish rest the day away in sandy alcoves among the coral, then feed at night
I found the surface reflections of the shallow reef endlessly fascinating; these are best where the reef is topped by shallow water, as it is here
I haven’t figured out what caused all these bubbles floating in front of the lens
With small waves and a bright sun overhead, the surface casts this network of sunlit wave patterns on the floor of the reef
Convict Tangs are named for their prison-issue uniforms
For those who haven’t tried it: snorkeling involves a mouthpiece attached to a hollow plastic tube that goes above the water. The nose is stuck inside the face mask, and isn’t used for what God intended it to be used for. Snorkelers become mouth breathers.
Karen and Alice gliding through a liquid passage between sky and earth
Lined and Threadfin Butterflyfish above a sandy spot in the reef
Raccoon Butterflyfish were approachable, often coming within inches of my lens
Rice corals remind me of some of the shelf fungi that grow on trees–but on a much bigger scale
Who knows what we’ll next find as we swim the length of the reef?
We used an excellent ebook snorkeling guide for advice on snorkeling hotspots. The Big Island Hawaii Snorkeling Guide is available at Tropical Snorkeling.
To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (just ask me to email you a small version of a particular photograph you like if you can’t find it on the site; my website is not up to date).
To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.
Anacapa Island Lighthouse at dawn; the air alive with thousands of Western Gulls against the distant Santa Monica Mountains
The Beach Boys never harmonized the joy of scaling the rocky cliffs of Anacapa, yet this jagged stone island stands just 11 miles off the celebrated surf of southern California’s iconic sandy beaches. Ventura and Malibu are neighbors across the Santa Barbara Channel. Anacapa is one of five islands designated as Channel Islands National Park, which are accessible only by boat. Once visitors get to the islands, travel is by foot or by sea kayak.
Western Gull with full moon rising behind, in a forest of Giant Coreopsis
We chose to visit two of the Channel Islands in April, a month when there would be abundant wildflowers and nesting birds on the islands. Departing the harbor at Oxnard, we took a small commercial boat to Anacapa. Seasickness is one of my banes, so I chose to wear half a Scopolamine Patch in order to face the waves of the storm that had roiled the sea just prior to our arrival. Upon leaving the harbor, the Pacific Ocean greeted us with roller coaster waves, but I survived the passage with aplomb. Upon reaching the cliffs of Anacapa, the boat’s captain turned his boat around so that the stern faced the cliff and ladder, then held the idle against the dock while we unloaded. We climbed the rungs to the landing platform, then huffed up 157
steps, with all our heavy camping gear, to the top of the tableland that is East Anacapa. Then we backpacked half a mile to our campground, which consisted of seven sites and two wooden outhouses.
This is not a quiet island, at least at this time of year. The Anacapa Island Lighthouse is an active navigational aid, and its foghorn blares almost constantly when visibility is low. Even louder are the mating Western Gulls, nesting everywhere on East Anacapa since the National Park Service exterminated thousands of Norway Rats that had infested the island since the wreck of the Winfield Scott some 150 years ago. The gulls are used to people, and enjoy sitting atop picnic tables in the campsites whenever campers leave for a few minutes. Despite all the cacophony of gulls and foghorns and waves and sea lions, I slept better in my sleeping bag on Anacapa than I do at home.
View from Inspiration Point toward Middle and West Anacapa, and Santa Cruz Island
Trails lead around the island, and we explored the birds and wildflowers and cliffs with pleasure. The most unusual wildflower, the Giant Coreopsis, looks more like a small tree than a wildflower. One man told me that in good years, the island in spring has a golden glow, as viewed from his coastal home. This year the rains came at the wrong time, and fewer of the coreopsis bloomed, and most of those bloomed before we arrived, so the golden glow never materialized for us in 2012. The coreopsis is actually, at four feet high, the tallest tree on the island, and is a favorite perch for the gulls.
Two views of the Giant Coreopsis that is native to the five Channel Islands and to a small area of the mainland; this plant is also known as Tree Sunflower
At sunset and sunrise, we hiked to Inspiration Point, a cliffside perch looking toward Middle Anacapa, West Anacapa, and Santa Cruz Island. This is among the most dramatic coastal views in North America, with jagged cliffs and mountains rising from the sea for miles in the distance. The other Anacapa islets are off limits to hikers, because of nesting seabirds that could be disrupted by our presence. In fact, a good share of the western Brown Pelican population breeds on West Anacapa.
Cathedral Cove gives another dramatic view of the cliffs, but also features an overview of the kelp forests and California Sea Lion groups cavorting in the aquamarine sea. Sea kayakers love exploring this cove, and we saw several kayakers disappear into the gaping mouth of a sea cave, never to return. Actually, the apparent cave was an arch, and kayakers could travel right through it at high tide, but we couldn’t see them emerge on the other side.
Cathedral Cove’s aquamarine waters
Sea kayakers exploring the cliffs and kelp forests of Cathedral Cove
California Sea Lions hunt and play among the giant fronds of kelp
From our vantage point high above, we counted about 20 California Sea Lions lollygagging in Cathedral Cove
Sea kayakers entering a big arch at high tide among the rocks of Cathedral Cove
Geologically, the Channel Islands are a dramatic result of the slow motion collision between Planet Earth’s North America and Pacific Plates–the collision that leaves California particularly susceptible to earthquakes. During this giant meeting and grinding of the plates, the Channel Islands have rotated about 100 degrees from where they once stood. It sure would be nice to watch the Channel Islands on Google Earth over a span of say, 20 million years.
One problem with a northwesterner visiting southern California is that songs from my musically impressionable college years keep playing on an endless loop in the brain. This time the worst offender was “Ventura Highway,” a 1972 song by America with its reference to “alligator lizards in the air.” I had just about conquered my brain’s addiction to the song, when a young guy we met talked about seeing an Alligator Lizard on the trail toward the lighthouse. And off the brain goes on its never-ending musical soundtrack …
Speaking of the lighthouse: it is still an active lighthouse and island visitors can’t go beyond a barrier to see it up close and personal. There is a warning that the foghorn can damage the ears; given that my hearing is already marginal (and the Coast Guard has guns), I decided to obey the sign.
Anacapa Island Lighthouse at twilight, with hundreds of gulls scattered across what will be their nesting grounds
An old Fresnel lens on display in the island’s visitor center
Ecologically, Anacapa is an island in recovery. The aforementioned rats and an invading army of Ice Plants, originally from South Africa and planted by a long-ago lighthouse staffer, have devastated the island. The National Park Service is waging war on these invasives, and has already completely removed the rats. Now it is working on the Ice Plants, using herbicides and volunteers to remove acres of the invading succulents. They even have a new greenhouse on the island, with staff successfully raising Giant Coreopsis, Live Forever, and other native island plants from seeds harvested on Anacapa. Volunteers are welcome to help with the efforts. In the areas of the island where the native Giant Coreopsis still created extensive pygmy forests, the diversity of wildlife and plants was greater than in areas infested with a monoculture of Ice Plants.
Western Gull resting between sessions of fighting and love making; note the beautiful but undesirable invasive Ice Plant that the gull has chosen as its bed
Undeniably beautiful flower of an exotic invasive, the Ice Plant from South Africa
During the ice age, Anacapa and the other Channel Islands were essentially one long island, when sea level was lower. At that time, Dwarf Woolly Mammoths roamed the island. That was only a little more than 10,000 years ago, a blink of the eye in time. People arrived about 6,000 years ago, and probably used the island as a place to gather seabird eggs and other foods.
Today on Anacapa Island, there are a few clustered Coast Guard buildings that the National Park Service now uses for a visitor center, staff housing, and maintenance facilities. There is no water, so we lugged about five gallons of our own water up the stairs and up the island to our campsite, where we stayed for two nights. Native Deer Mice are plentiful on the island, and we were repeatedly warned not to inhale soil contaminated with their droppings, because we could contract Hantavirus–a life-threatening disease that features symptoms similar to the flu, only more so. I only saw one mouse, and it was checking out our campsite after dark. Fortunately, the National Park Service ranger kindly provided a Rubbermaid container for our food, so the mice couldn’t get to it in camp.
We shared camp with Western Gulls, who used our sites and picnic tables as soon as we would leave
Gulls are not clean animals. A National Park Service ranger came around each day with a power washer to wash the guano off the picnic tables.
The National Park Service started installing whirligigs on the picnic tables during our visit; these rotated in the wind and were completely effective at keeping the gulls off
The moon was full on our visit, and we walked quite a bit after dark, navigating using moonlight and headlamps. Perched atop a cliff on the south side of the island at deep twilight, I suddenly heard a blood-curdling screech (it made me jump–fortunately I didn’t jump over the cliff!) and saw a ghostly presence in the sky. It turned out that Barn Owls nest on the cliffs, and I was seeing one that was unhappy that I was invading its space.
Telephoto view from the campsite of an oil pumping platform in the Santa Barbara Channel between the mainland and the Channel Islands
Bird diversity on the island was relatively low, because of the limited size and diversity of habitats. We did see Brown Pelicans, White-Crowned Sparrows, Orange-Crowned Warblers (actually, these were little green birds that mostly hide their orange crowns), and two species of cormorants. Anacapa is breeding home to various other seabirds that are highly protected by the National Park Service and thus unlikely to be seen.
Orange-Crowned Warblers foraged among the island’s plants
The Western Gulls in breeding plumage are extraordinarily beautiful, and they preen to stay that way
Love was in the air all over the island
On Anacapa we could actually use our iPhones to check email and news stories, which is kinda sad for a National Park experience, but what can I say: like almost everyone, we are addicted to the web. When we first lugged our gear up to the visitor center, there was one visitor sitting at a picnic table using her iPad, another guy using his MacBook Pro, and almost everyone checking their smartphones. Multitasking has even come to the national parks.
This is a small island, and after taking 650 photographs over two days, I was ready to go on to our next adventure, a visit to Santa Cruz Island just a few miles away.
Boardwalk along trail through a bed of Ice Plant
Some visitors moor boats close to the island for an overnight visit
View from Inspiration Point overlook toward Western Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands
Arch Rock viewed from the water
Old U.S. Coast Guard buildings clustered at one end of the island
Another view of iconic Arch Rock
Wave rolling in off the vast Pacific Ocean, viewed from above
To get to the Channel Islands, Island Packers offers boat access to each of the islands. Check their web site for all details and schedules. The National Park Service has excellent descriptions of Channel Islands National Park, including information about the biology and geology of the islands, and the rules for visiting. T.C. Boyle has a new novel, “When the Killing’s Done,” about the ethical implications of the National Park Service’s replacement of exotic species in the Channel Islands with native species; it’s an excellent and timely novel for anyone interested in National Park policy.
To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (Just ask if you see a particular photograph you like; my website is not up to date)
To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website