Posted by: kerryl29 | September 6, 2022

The Story Behind the Image: Oregon Coast Sunset

I have complained at length, on this blog and elsewhere, about my experience with the marine layer on the Pacific Coast during my time in Washington and Oregon in 2009–the year I began this blog. When I returned to the Oregon Coast in the spring of 2015, it was with the hope that things would be different, because I hoped to do some seaside sunset shooting and, for the most part, the marine layer squashes sunsets. I largely got my wish, though the mere absence of a heavy marine layer doesn’t, by itself, guarantee good sunset conditions. But on one evening in May, 2015, everything came together.

During one of my extensive scouting sessions during the harsh light hours early on the trip, I made the descent from the elevated Coast Highway all the way down to China Creek Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, roughly halfway between Gold Beach and Brookings. The short version of the story once I got there is, I liked what I saw. A long, empty beach (there was no one else there; perhaps people were dissuaded by the approximate 15 minute hike to the sand?), seastacks offshore, a tallish cliff, marking the cove’s edge, to the south and China Creek itself, emptying, as so many waterways on the Pacific Coast do, directly into the ocean. This was a place worth coming back to, on an evening when a sunset seemed promising.

There’s some irony involved in the story behind this image because it was the presence of the marine layer that led me to make the trip to China Creek Beach at sunset one evening. Allow me to explain.

I had made a trip to Bandon Beach–roughly an hour north of China Creek–for sunset. I’d had a successful shoot there the evening before and returned for another opportunity, partly because I’d spent the latter half of the afternoon nearby. But the marine layer had rolled in late that afternoon–I’d seen this before. I made the short drive up to Bandon, just to be sure, but I was almost certain that I’d see heavy coastal fog there and, sure enough, I did. There would be no sunset at Bandon that evening, I concluded.

But my experience on the coast in 2009 had taught me something: not infrequently, a trip south, in the direction of Port Orford (and beyond), would reveal a thinning, and eventually, disappearing marine layer. There was something about the contour of the coast, I surmised, that left the marine layer hanging right on the beach at Bandon but offshore at Port Orford….and more or less not even extant as one moved further south, closer and closer to Brookings and the California state line. Whatever the explanation, I was determined to see if I my assumption was correct. I jumped back in the car and headed south. I had about two hours until sunset; that would be plenty of time to get to China Creek Beach if I turned out to be right about the marine layer.

By the time I got to Port Orford I could see that the expected trend was playing out. I could still glimpse the marine layer, but the sun was shining brightly there. And as I looked to the southwest, I saw partly cloudy conditions, and not a hint of the marine layer. Perfect!

I drove the rest of the way to the China Creek Beach trailhead, quickly gathered my things, making sure I had my headlamp and flashlight as an expected return to the car in the pitch dark was hopefully in the offing. (If the post-sunset glow was nice, it would be good and dark before I started back on the heavily forested trail.)

I got down to the beach with about 45 minutes until the sun went down and things looked just about ideal. There were some–not too many–clouds to the west; the wind was light; I had the beach entirely to myself; and the marine layer was nowhere to be seen.

While I was waiting for the sun to sink closer to the horizon, I noticed just how strong the reflections were on the wet sand near where China Creek emptied into the Pacific. I’d seen just how vivid these reflections could be at Bandon the previous evening and I planned to make use of the phenomenon again. And so I did.

China Creek Beach Sunset, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

There was still some ambient light on the beach when I packed up and headed out, but that disappeared completely when I entered the thick woods on the trail. It was a bit of a spooky hike back to the car, but I made it without incident, thanks to my trusty headlamp. And I did so with the satisfaction that I’d finally been able to scratch my Pacific Coast sunset itch, which had been six years in the making.


  1. Looks like it was worth the wait! 🙂

    • I thought so. 🙂

  2. Kerry, it’s wonderful that conditions worked out for you, and that you knew enough about microclimate variations to head south. Looks like a great location! Every once in a while, Mother Nature can be kind…

    • Thanks, Steve.

      The implicit moral of the story has something to do with, in situations like the one I described, the incalculable advantage that lies in being familiar with a location. It was more or less a fluke that I found myself in that position.

  3. Your diligence and perseverance paid off with a truly beautiful result.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

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