What Makes a Lighthouse So Appealing?

The Coquille Lighthouse sits on a point jutting out into the Coquille River opposite of Bandon, Oregon. Its replacement, an automated beacon, can be seen on the left across the river on the South Jetty. A glimpse of the Pacific Ocean appears on the right. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)


I am sure that there are people who drive by lighthouses never noticing their existence. I am not one. There is something romantic about them that pulls me in. Maybe it is their historic role: saving mariners from crashing into rocky shoals and other shoreline hazards. Or maybe it is their isolation and the thought of a lighthouse keeper’s lonely life. Having a bit of hermit in me, I can easily envision such a life-style, assuming, of course, that I have my good buddy and a boatload of books along. Or possibly it’s their setting along dramatic ocean and lake shorelines. Rocky shorelines offer beauty as well as hazards.

The history of the Coquille River Lighthouse was closely tied to the logging industry. Early lumber barons wanted to get at the virgin forests located along the Coquille River. Access was relatively easy, assuming ships could cross the hazardous bar located at the mouth of the river next to Bandon. A jetty was built out into the ocean, which led to the creation of a deep channel. The lighthouse was built to guide ships along this channel. The 1890 funding proposal stated:

“A light of the fourth order with a fog-signal, at this point, would enable vessels bound into the river to hold on close to the bar during the night so that they would be in a position to cross at the next high water. The light would also serve as a coast light and would be of much service to vessels bound up and down the river.”

“A light of the fourth order,” refers to the type of the Fresnel lens used in the lighthouse. Fresnel lens are made up of multiple lens arranged in concentric circles around the light source. If you’ve been in a lighthouse, you will have likely seen one. They range in size from the first to the sixth order. Fourth order Fresnel lights could normally be seen for 15 miles out to sea and were commonly used to guide mariners into harbor mouths.

A Fresnel lens of the sixth order on display at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon. This light could be seen for about five miles and would be used in harbors and along rivers.

Funding was approved by Congress and the lighthouse was functioning by the mid-1890s. It was operated up until 1939 when the Coast Guard took it over and determined that a less expensive, automated beacon placed on the end of the Bandon South Jetty would work as well. The abandoned lighthouse was neglected up until 1976 when it was taken over by the state of Oregon as part of Bullard’s Beach State Park. A joint effort by the state and the Army Corps of Engineers restored the lighthouse as an historic attraction. Various efforts since have maintained it, much to the enjoyment of thousands of visitors— including us.

Peggy and I stayed at the state park while we were visiting Bandon and used one of our mornings to go over and check out the Coquille Lighthouse, North Jetty and Bullard’s Beach. The following photos record our visit.

Peggy and I walked around the lighthouse to capture photos from various angles. I took this from the river’s edge. Low tide enabled me to shoot from below the tide line. The North Jetty stretches off to the left.

Peggy caught this close up.

And I took this picture looking over sea grass. Parts of Bandon can be seen across the river. We were on our way to walk out the North Jetty.

One of the first things that struck me about the jetty was the amount of driftwood piled up along it. This reflects the power of the ocean. It also warns that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the jetty in a storm.

Peggy posed for me in front of this large stump on top of the jetty, a remnant of logging up the river and along the coast.

I returned the favor posing for Peggy out toward the end of the jetty. A wave can be seen breaking over the end. And this is at low tide! We stayed far back. I would bet that people have been swept off of here while trying to photograph winter waves. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I appreciated the sea gulls adding a touch of sea life to my photo. One wave hits the end of the jetty while another rolls in. Watch out for the ninth!

A pair of seals with their big dark eyes swam along the side of the jetty and checked us out. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A view north from the jetty along Bullard’s Beach shows again how much driftwood (drift logs?) is brought in by winter storms.

Peggy took this shot looking up from Bullard’s Beach toward the lighthouse.

And this photo of a fort someone had built taking advantage of the driftwood. You can imagine the amount of fun kids would have building and playing in such a fort. Adults too. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I added a close up.

Walking along the beach we found a flock of Sanderlings. These small shorebirds are a delight to watch as they charge in unison along the beach following the tide as it rises and falls in search of delectable bugs. I liked the reflection provided by the receding water. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Get too close and off they fly, whirling in unison as they head a few yards up the beach to continue their endless search for dinner.

I’ll close today with this final shot of the coastal land that backs up to Bullard’s Beach.


Wednesday: While Bone waits to be found, we continue our backpack trip down the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail— finding our way through deep snow, crossing a raging river, and running from kamikaze mosquitoes.

Friday: Murals and other wild/weird art of Burning Man.

Monday: I travel north up Oregon’s coast and explore a cave filled with lions, sea lions that is.


Let’s Celebrate the Earth… It’s Earth Day 2017!

Without environmental awareness and action, this magnificent Brown Pelican would no longer be flying. By the 1960s, DDT, which was used extensively in controlling insects, had come close to wiping out the species.

On April 22, 1970, I was running a recruitment campaign for Peace Corps at the University of California in Davis. It was one of those beautiful spring days in the Central Valley of California where green grass covers the valley floor and pushes on up into the foothills, the birds are busy declaring their love, and everything seems to bloom at once.  Inspired, I had gone out for an early morning walk along the American River in Sacramento before heading to work. When I arrived on campus around 9:00, booths had sprung up across the large open quad that is the heart of the University, and a sense of excitement filled the air.

It was Earth Day I, ground zero in America’s efforts to save its environment, to return to an earlier time in American history, back before our rivers and air became a cheap way to dispose of industrial wastes, back before the value of our remaining wild areas had only been measured in the minerals that could be mined, or oil that could be produced, or trees that could be cut down, back before agricultural production was determined by the number of poisonous chemicals we could pour on plants and the antibodies and hormones we could pump into our livestock, back before America’s ‘greatness’ was measured in terms of how many times we could blow up the world with our nuclear weapons, and the amount of wealth that could be concentrated in the top one percent of our society.

Rachel Carson had provided the initial impulse for the environmental movement with her classic book, Silent Spring, published in 1962. The original idea for Earth Day had come from US Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, after he had witnessed the devastation caused by the Santa Barbara oil spill. He had noted student activism on American college campuses in support of human rights and in opposition to war and felt that some of the energy might be captured for saving the environment. Nelson had recruited Senator Pete McCloskey, a moderate Republican from California, and the two of them had gone on to organize the nation-wide teach-in on college campuses that had become Earth Day I.

I had quickly given up any pretense of recruiting for Peace Corps that day and instead spent my time walking from booth to booth and talking to young people and organizations about the challenges we faced on the environmental front, about their hopes and dreams for the future. Something happened to me that day. I became a believer in the importance of turning back the clock, of making America great again from an environmental perspective, and of redefining progress to include clean air and clean water, and wild places we could still enjoy and escape to.

Within two months, I had left my job as Director of Peace Corps Public Affairs in Northern California and Nevada and become Executive Director of a fledgling environmental center in Sacramento. On a national level, 1970 saw creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. But the battle was just beginning. And nowhere was this clearer than in California. The then governor of the state, the man who would be president, Ronald Reagan, had already declared in the battle to preserve the redwoods, “…a tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?” The timber industry, and apparently, the governor, still looked at a 2000-year-old forest giant and saw 480,000 board feet of lumber.


This ancient redwood is located in Redwoods National Park on the northern coast of California. Is the approximate three million dollars worth of lumber that cutting it down would bring worth more than its beauty or the 1500 years it has taken to produce it? Or to the joy it will continue to bring to our children and grandchildren for generations to come?

In 1990, Earth Day appropriately went international. Some 200 million people in 141 countries carried the fight for clean air, clean water, and for the protection of wild places and wild animals onto the world stage.

Today, in the US, after 50 years of making progress in cleaning our air and water, in saving endangered species, in setting aside wild and beautiful areas, in developing clean energy, and in recycling our waste, the man who is President has declared war on environmental protection. He has proposed drastic cuts in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and appointed a man to head the agency who is a dedicated opponent of the organization. He has denied the science behind global warming and moved to pull the US out of international efforts to solve the problem. And this is just for starters according to his campaign promises. Apparently “Making America Great Again” includes returning to the days when making a profit always trumped protecting the earth. But who knows? Our President is known to change his mind.

But the battle to save the earth, and that is what it is, is not just a US problem; it is a world-wide problem. It doesn’t matter today whether you are reading this post today from Nigeria, or Australia, or France, or Canada, or England, or Russia, or Brazil, or Singapore, or any of the other 160 countries from which people frequently or occasionally check in on my blog, the fight for clean air and water, for healthy food, for wild places, and for wild animals is a fight for all of us. Future generations of people, not to mention lions and tigers and frogs and trees and elephants and butterflies will say thank you.

The photos today (taken by Peggy and me) are to remind us of just how precious this world we live in is.


Grand Canyon National Park is one of the World’s great natural wonders. There were plans to dam the canyon and flood it with water until people who loved its beauty stepped in and stopped the effort.

The world is full of natural beauty… including this waterfall in Milford Sound, New Zealand.

Sunset at Sea Kayak Adventure's campsite on Hanson Island in Johnstone Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Sunset in Queen Charlotte Strait off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Scotch Broom found on the American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Scotch Broom found along a wild roadside in Scotland.

Yosemite's Half Dome captured on a hazy day. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

John Muir who wandered the Sierra Nevada Mountains was the founder of the Sierra Club and an early conservationist. His love of Yosemite led to national protection for the area, and the photographer, Ansel Adams, would make Half Dome, seen here, world-famous. I have spent 50 years of my life wandering the Sierras.

The deserts of the world have their own beauty. This is Death Valley.

For my last photo today, I can’t resist posting a picture from our front porch in Southern Oregon that I took a couple of months ago. Peggy and I are blessed to live in an area of great natural beauty. Every day we are reminded of the importance of protecting the environment.


Happy Earth Day from Curt and Peggy!


Bandon, Oregon… An Attractive Coastal Town Where Trash Becomes Art

Trash gathered along the coastline near Bandon, Oregon is turned into art by the nonprofit organization, Washed Ashore. In this case, the artists have created a puffin.


Here’s something to think about:

A study carried out by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicts that the plastic we are dumping into the ocean will weigh more than the fish in a short 30 years. While most of this plastic circles the ocean as sludge following currents known as gyres, a significant amount washes up on our beaches creating hazards for wildlife and visual pollution for the rest of us. Even the most pristine locations fall victim to this onslaught.

When Peggy and I drove into the small town of Bandon on the coast of Oregon two weeks ago, we spotted several colorful sculptures of marine life that immediately caught out attention. On closer inspection, we found out they were made out of trash collected from the local beaches and turned into sculptures by a local organization named Washed Ashore.

The non-profit is the creation of Bandon artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi who decided to do something about the pollution that was cluttering local beaches in 2010 and begin turning the trash into art.

“First you just want people to stop and look at the art,” Angela noted. “And then you want to have them stop and think about the problem.”

It certainly worked with us.

Today, hundreds of volunteers join with Angela and her staff in creating sculptures that travel the country and even the world creating awareness about our use of the oceans as a garbage dump. Last year, a number of Washed Ashore’s sea creatures even made it to the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC.

This delightful fish is another example of Washed Ashore’s artistic endeavors. Note the old phone on the fish’s nose right above the child’s sand shovel.

Here is the puffin featured at the beginning of the post…

And this is a view of tide pool life created from trash.

A closeup of the feathers on the puffin’s chest.

A head on view of the fish with it’s scary teeth and trashy mouth.

Peggy, who always makes sure that her trash is properly disposed of and recycled, can stick her hand in the fish’s mouth without any fear of retribution.

But here’s what it might be like if she dumped her trash in the ocean! (She really is a good sport when serving as a model. “Look like it is biting you,” I had told her.)

Most towns along the Oregon coast spread out along Highway 101 like strip malls and feature the same motels, gas stations and fast food joints you can expect to find anywhere else in the US. Peggy and I have discovered, however, that most of these small communities also had the foresight to save their historic districts. These in turn have become attractions for tourists, a source of important jobs and dollars.

Bandon welcomes visitors and provides activities that range from walking on its beautiful beaches, to shopping and eating in town, to playing golf on some of Oregon’s finest golf courses.

The other side of this sign over Bandon’s main street welcomes you to Old Town. This side looks out on busy Highway 101 from the historic district.

Such is the case with Bandon. Peggy and I wandered around Old Town and did our bit for the local economy. We bought books in a fun little bookstore, nibbled our way through a chocolate store, and quaffed a couple of pints of Guinness at an Irish pub. We even checked out a store that is dedicated to producing and selling candy made with cranberries. It turns out that Bandon grows over 90% of Oregon’s cranberry crop and 5% of the nation’s!

I would describe the Old Town area as fun and funky. The nature of the original town has been preserved without pretensions.

As you might imagine, the town’s access to the ocean guarantees an abundance of fresh seafood. I liked the sense of humor reflected by the fish.

An attractive boardwalk featuring several works of art fronts the Coquille River and forms the northern border to Old Town. We concluded our visit to Bandon by strolling along the walkway, checking out the marina, and admiring the art.

A world globe we found on Brandon’s Boardwalk conveniently located where we were.

A regal seahorse checked us out…

A carved turtle grinned at us…

And led me to focus in on its smile.

A friendly harbor seal…

Gave us a look that seemed to say, “Feed me a fish, please.”

And a crab did what crabs do so well— look crabby.

My favorite, however, was this octopus. I took several shots.

Back lit by the sun, he looked a little scary, like something out of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

I decided to use my last photo to introduce my next post on Bandon (next Monday). Peggy and I will cross the Coquille River to check out this lighthouse and the ocean beach next to it. We are looking at the lighthouse from Bandon’s Boardwalk.



Wednesday: I begin a three-part series that focuses on a backpack trip near Lake Tahoe where we found Bone.

Friday: I will continue my photo essays on the art of Burning Man.

Monday: I’ll wrap up the Bandon, Oregon series with a trip to the Coquille Lighthouse and the surrounding area.




Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint… The Oregon Coast Series

This gallery contains 33 photos.

  Peggy and I have driven through the town of Bandon several times without stopping on our journeys up and down the Oregon Coast. We decided to correct that oversight this past week. I had googled the small town along … Continue reading

Astoria, Oregon… Where the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean Meet

A rainbow hangs over the mouth of the Colombia River and ships that are waiting their turn to head out into the Pacific. Special pilots are brought on board to navigate the treacherous waters, now looking quite calm.


I visited Astoria a while ago and didn’t get around to writing about it. Since Peggy and I are now off playing on the Oregon coast, I decided today would be a good day for featuring this city that sits on the edge of the Colombia River.


The area off of Astoria, Oregon, where the Columbia River flows into the Pacific Ocean, is called the Graveyard of the Pacific. A combination of high seas with 40-foot waves, shallow, shifting sand bars, and the mighty Columbia River have sent some 2000 boats to their watery demise since 1792. It is considered one of the most dangerous navigation passages in the world.

This map, which is located in the Columbia Maritime Museum, shows where some of the shipwrecks can be found.

It’s no wonder that  you are greeted by a sign that proclaims Astoria is an Official Coast Guard City when you enter the community. The town is grateful that the organization is there when someone needs to be pulled out of the turbulent water. A dramatic, full-sized diorama of a Coast Guard rescue effort is featured at the Maritime Museum.

Astoria wears its Coast Guard connection proudly.

A full size diorama of a Coast Guard rescue effort is on display at the Columbia Maritime Museum.

A photo featuring the front of the Columbia Maritime Museum. I liked the way the glass reflected the clouds.

I thought that this anchor that sits out in front of the museum, is an apt symbol for both the museum and the city. The lightship Colombia is seen in the background.

In the days before modern navigation equipment, the lightship Columbia served as an offshore lighthouse, aiding ships entering and leaving the Colombia River. The lightship maintained its position for weeks at a time and stocked in 12 tons of food, 13,000 gallons of fresh water and 47,000 gallons of fuel.

This crows nest mast on the Columbia was used for powerful lights and foghorns as well as observation.

Astoria’s connection with the fledging United States dates all the way back to the Lewis and Clark expedition. The explorers sent out by Thomas Jefferson spent the 1805-6 winter in the area and built Fort Clatsop for shelter and protection. John Jacob Astor, who gave the city its name, followed up by building a fur trading post there in 1811 that became the first permanent settlement the US had on the west coast. Both the Lewis and Clark expedition and Astor’s post helped in the debate with England over who owned the land.

This map from the museum shows Astor’s trading routes.

Traveling by sailboat through the world’s oceans was hazardous. An early fear of sailors was having encounters with sea monsters. I found this illustration of a Kraken in the museum and laughed. If you are familiar with Pirates of the Caribbean, you will recognize it.

Now here is something more real to worry about! I also found this shark jaw and teeth in the museum.

Logging and fishing followed fur trading as the mainstay of the area’s economy. By the mid-1800s, fisherman from around the world called Astoria home. Only 13 percent were born in the US. The majority came from the North Atlantic countries where over-fishing had caused the fishing industry to collapse, a fate that would eventually befall Astoria. A major canning industry that grew up to process the fish also faded when the fish ran out. The canning industry employees were mainly Chinese immigrants. An educational display in the Maritime Museum notes that the most efficient of the Chinese workers could clean a 45-pound salmon in 45 seconds and up to 1700 fish in a standard 11-hour work day.

An ad photo for the Bumble Bee salmon cannery. The bee has a fishing pole.

I suspect that these pilings once supported several thriving canneries..

Now they support a thriving seagull population.

With the boomtown days of fur hunting, logging, and fishing behind it, Astoria has turned to tourists to help support its economy. Nearby Portland  (100 miles away) helps assure a continuing supply, as does the almost constant flow of tourist traffic up the Oregon coast in the summer. The museum, historic sites, fun shops, and several restaurants help meet the needs of visitors.

Downtown Astoria has preserved several historic buildings that add to its ambience.

This shop was packed to the gills with tourist merchandise. Nice kitty. I think you are probably a Mexican immigrant, however, and I doubt you have papers. Watch out.

T. Pauls has an eclectic menu and a foot on the ceiling. I ate under the foot.

It seems only appropriate that I wrap up this post with an old piling and the rainbow across the Columbia River.

Wednesday’s Blog: You are going to meet the world-famous Traveling Bone.

On Friday we will return to Burning Man.


On the Road to Las Vegas… Was It Winter or Spring?

This is what Peggy and I saw what we looked out our window on Thursday morning. It was beautiful but possibly not the best conditions for a road trip.

This is what Peggy and I saw what we looked out our window on Thursday morning. It was beautiful, but possibly not the best conditions for a road trip.

We are watching the Oscars in Las Vegas, which may be the best ever, especially in recognizing what is positive (and wrong) about our nation, with humor. They just sent a tweet to Trump.

The Oscars can go on, however, so I have time to put up a blog on our trip down here. We woke up at our home in Southern Oregon on Thursday to several inches of fresh snow. It was beautiful, but I immediately begin to fret over road conditions. Would I have to put on chains to get over the Siskiyou Pass? If so, it pretty much guaranteed I would be delaying the trip for a day. I hate putting on chains.

As it turned out the road was dry, the Siskiyou Pass and Mt. Shasta were gorgeous, and the Sacramento Valley was showing signs of spring.

There was a bit of water about, however. The Yolo Causeway, which is normally farmland, looked like an ocean with overflow from the Sacramento River.

Anyway, here are some photos that Peggy and I caught along the way.

The Madrone in our backyard had a new coat of snow.

The Madrone in our backyard had a new coat of snow.

Our ceramic jay was looking cold.

Our ceramic jay was looking cold.

The sun came out, however, and the highway report told us that no chains were required over the Siskiyou Pass.

The sun came out, however, and the highway report told us that no chains were required over the Siskiyou Pass.

And Doodle, our rooster, was glad to warm up.

And Doodle, our rooster, was glad to warm up. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I had the first shift driving, so Peggy used my camera to get these shots of the Siskiyou Pass.

I had the first shift driving, so Peggy used my camera to get these shots of the Siskiyou Pass.

Another snowy shot going up the mountain. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Another snowy shot going up the mountain. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

It was looking more like spring along the Klamath River.

It was looking more like spring along the Klamath River.

And even flowers.

There was even a crocus blooming.

Peggy found Mt. Shasta peeking out from behind the clouds.

Peggy found Mt. Shasta peeking out from behind the clouds.

Black Butte, which hangs out next to Mt. Shasta looking small was free from clouds. (Photo by Peggy.)

Black Butte, which hangs out next to Mt. Shasta, was actually free from clouds. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Central Valley was showing signs of spring.

The Central Valley was showing signs of spring. The Coast Range is in the distance.

Rice paddies were covered in water with thoughts of draught far behind.

Rice paddies were covered in water with thoughts of draught far behind. The mountains show recent snow.

A reflection shot.

A reflection shot.

The Sacramento Valley was filled with blooming fruit trees.

The Sacramento Valley was filled with fruit trees in bloom.



And finally...

And finally…

The Yolo Bypass filled with water reflecting the extensive flooding that Northern California has experienced this winter.

I’ll conclude with this photo of the Yolo Bypass filled with water reflecting the extensive flooding that Northern California has experienced this winter. Normally, this is farmland.


Sorry, Sully, I Was Distracted… Oregon’s Gorgeous Harris Beach State Park

This is what you find on a sunny day at Harris Beach State Park near Brookings, Oregon. Peggy and I had to deal with stormy weather.

This is what you find on a sunny day at Harris Beach State Park near Brookings, Oregon. I was particularly pleased with the seagull who decided to photo-bomb my picture. Peggy and I had to deal with stormy weather when we visited there last week.


So, I was going to write about Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III today, the heroic American Airlines pilot who saved 155 people in 2009 by landing his goose-disabled US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, but I got distracted. It happens, you know.

Peggy and I took a trip over to the Oregon Coast for Valentine’s Day and ended up at Harris Beach State Park in Brookings. It was a stormy three days filled with 40-60 MPH winds, slashing rain and crashing waves— the perfect weather for romantically snuggling down in our 22-foot RV and eating chocolate as the world roared by outside.

We had our rain hats, rain coats and rain pants, however, so we got out for a couple of walks: once when the sun was threatening to shine and once when the heavens were threatening to open up and dump oodles of rain. And we took our cameras. Peggy wanted to play with her new Canon EOS Rebel T6i with a Tamron 16-300 mm telephoto lens. I took my trusty little Canon Powershot G7x. The conditions weren’t ideal for photography— grey skies matched grey seas matched grey rocks, but we had fun seeing what we could capture.

Harris Beach State Park near Brookings, Oregon

This sea stack was in the background on the lead picture for this post. Again, I took this photo on a sunny day. Note the large crack/cave on the front. (Sea stacks are rocks in the ocean that have been created by the endless waves eroding the shoreline.)

Storm tossed seas at Harris Beach State Park.

This is what it looked like last week. A wave is crashing into the cave. (Because of a high tide abetted by the stormy weather, I had to take this photo from a different angle.The sea stack on the left is included in photos below. Brookings is on the distant cliff.)

When we arrived home, I was eager to see the results and process the photos. I did that instead of working on the photos I took of Sully’s plane at the air museum in Charlotte, North Carolina when we visited there in early January. Bad Curt. As a result, today’s post is on Harris Beach. Sorry, Sully. Next Monday is yours. But then I will be in Las Vegas. Hmmm.

Harris Beach State Park sits on the edge of Brookings and is about three scenic hours away from where we live. We followed back roads to Highway 199, otherwise known as the Redwood Highway, to US 101 on the Pacific Coast and then followed it north to Brookings. It is a gorgeous park filled with imposing sea stacks and Oregon’s largest island, which happens to be reserved for the birds. Some 100,000 hang out there during mating season, including tufted puffins who use their webbed feet to dig their nests into the ground.

The island is off-limits for two-legged types like us, however, so we were left with taking photos of rocks, waves, and driftwood.

Split rock at Harris Beach State Park allows waves to go under rock.

Our semi-sunny walk took us behind the large sea stack (small island?)  and showed us that the large cave we had seen on the front went all of the way through. The waves coming in had developed a small cove. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Harris Beach State Park on the Oregon Coast.

The waves created this interesting, fan-like look. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Massive rock face at Harris Beach State Park.

As we hiked down to the cove, I turned around and photographed the rock cliff we were walking around. Note the couple on the lower right for perspective. I felt that the grey sky set the cliff off more than a blue sky might have.

Peggy Mekemson hiking down trail at Harris beach State Park near Brookings, Oregon.

I caught a photo of ‘my Valentine’ appropriately dressed in red as she made her way down the trail. I had her move to the center of the trail so the Pacific would outline her and provide depth.

Rock 'bower' along trail at Harris Beach State Park on the Oregon Coast.

This rock overhang provided a bower for the trail. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Rock overhang at Harris Beach State Park near Brookings, Oregon.

I took a close up of the overhang.

Water caught in crevice at Harris Beach State Park near Brookings, Oregon.

Another close up that intrigued me was this water caught in a small crevice that provided something of an abstract photo.

Down on the beach, Peggy caught a shot of a wave come through the split in the rock.

Down on the beach, Peggy caught a shot of a wave coming through the split in the rock. Blue skies may have provided more depth but I felt the grey skies placed the focus on the wave.

Split rock at Harris Beach State Park on the Oregon Coast.

I moved back to capture some yellow rocks in the foreground to add color to our grey day.

Photo of sea stack rock by Peggy Mekemson at Harris Beach State Park near Brookings, Oregon.

A sea stack  just south of the split rock caught Peggy’s attention and she filled her lens with it.

Photo of sea stack rock by Curtis Mekemson at Harris Beach State Park on the Pacific Ocean.

I placed the sea stack in its surroundings, again using a yellow rock on the beach for a splash of color.

I then rendered it in black and white to honor the black and white of the day.

I then rendered it in black and white to honor the black and white of the day.

Conglomerate rock at Harris Beach State Park near Brookings, Oregon.

A conglomerate rock and driftwood caught my attention next.

Photo of conglomerate rock by Peggy Mekemson at Harris Beach State Park on the Oregon Coast.

Peggy focused in on the incredible color and texture of conglomerate rock…

Driftwood at Harris Beach State Park.

While I went for the driftwood and the rock it had managed to capture.

Our second walk took us down to the main beach area at Harris Beach State Park. The weather was more iffy so Peggy was more careful with her camera, but my small Power Shot G7x is used to being abused.

Scotch Broom photo at Harris Beach State Park near Brookings, Oregon.

I used Scotch Broom to add color to a shot looking north up the beach.

Peggy's telephoto lens provided a better view of just how many sea stack rocks are found on Harris Beach State Park.

Peggy’s telephoto lens provided a better view of just how many sea stacks are found on Harris Beach State Park, and a sense of the grey day.

Sea stacks at Harris Beach State Park near Brookings, Oregon.

I used these waves to provide a lead in to the sea stacks.

Drift logs at Harris Beach State Park on the Oregon Coast.

Talk about a lead in… What about this drift log? The driftwood speaks to the power of storm-tossed seas. Note the colorful roots on the left.

Flat roots on driftwood at Harris Beach State Park.

I also found these ‘moose antler’ roots interesting. With a little imagination I found the moose’s eye and nose.

Turtle-like rock at Harris Beach State Park near Brookings, Oregon.

While I am on the subject of wildlife, I dubbed this Turtle Rock.

Another clear day shot take from the beach area. Bird Island is in the background.

Another clear day shot taken from the beach area. Bird Island is in the background.

Peggy took this shot of the turbulent Smith River on our way home. She really like the contrast of the green moss growing on the oak tree.

Peggy took this shot of the turbulent Smith River on our way home. She really liked the contrast of the green moss growing on the oak tree with the white rapids. The weather had been so wet we found 74 waterfalls careening off of the mountain and into the river as we drove up Highway 199.

I'll conclude with this hill hugging rainbow we found welcoming us back to the Applegate Valley. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I’ll conclude with this hill-hugging rainbow we found welcoming us back to the Applegate Valley.  Peggy shot this photo through raindrops on our windshield. Note: there is a slight double rainbow.


Wednesday: It’s back to the Sierra Trek and a 16 mile day without any water sources. One Trekker is lost and I face a rebellion and a rattlesnake.

Friday: More great mutant vehicles at Burning Man.

Monday: Will it be Sully?


Three Hundred Cups of Tea and The Toughest Job… More Tales from West Africa

Three Hundred Cups of Tea and the Toughest Job by Asifa Kanji and David Drury


Peggy, who is President of Friends of the Ruch Library, came home from a Jackson County Library meeting this summer and told me that two Returned Peace Corps Volunteers had just given a program at the Ashland Library on a book they’d written about their experience in Mali, West Africa. She also had their names, David Drury and Asifa Kanji, and contact information.

Given the book I’d written about my Peace Corps adventures in Liberia, it caught my attention.  I called immediately and reached David. Asifa was off in Hawaii attending to business. Within a few minutes we had a picnic set up for Lithia Park in Ashland. We’d bring the wine. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ashland, it’s the first town you come to when following I-5 north from California into Oregon. The community is renowned for its Shakespeare Festival.)

By the end of lunch, we were on our way to becoming friends and had exchanged books. Asifa and David’s books, Three Hundred Cups of Tea and The Toughest Job, are combined under one cover. My book is The Bush Devil Ate Sam. 

I immediately took their books home and begin reading them. I was fascinated. Both are good writers, have a great sense of humor, and have interesting stories to tell.

I joined the Peace Corps when I was 22, right after I graduated from UC Berkeley in 1965. David and Asifa joined almost 50 years later in 2012 when David was 60 and Asifa 57. They had to have vastly different experiences from mine, I thought. And yes, there were differences. I certainly didn’t have a cell phone or access to the Internet. They still weren’t invented. And David worked in a cybercafe! In 1965, I would have been running to the dictionary for a definition— and not finding it.

But in the end, I was more impressed by the similarities of our experiences than the differences. Working in an impoverished third world country while struggling to accomplish something in a totally different culture is slow arduous work, and often unsuccessful. Both of their book titles reflected this. Asifa’s 300 cups of tea was the number of cups you had to drink with someone to get their attention. Patience and, I might add, a strong bladder were called for. David’s book got right to the point; it was the toughest job he had ever had.

If you want a good tale that will transport you into another world with both compassion and humor, I recommend David and Asifa’s book. It’s available here on Amazon.

The Bush Devil Ate Sam, Tree Hundred Cups of Tea, and the Toughest Job: Books on Peace Corps Experiences in West Africa

If you are among my blog followers in Southern Oregon, Asifa, David and I will be doing a program featuring tales from West Africa on this coming Saturday, January 20 at the Ruch Library from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. You are invited! The address for the library is 7919 Highway 238 (one block past the Upper Applegate River intersection if you are coming in from Jacksonville on 238).

Sunset Bay: Up Close and Personal… The North Coast Series

Millions of years ago, Sunset Bay was part of a large delta where layer after layer of silt, sand, and marine deposits were laid down over eons creating sedimentary rocks. Once flat, these layers were tilted upward by plate tectonics as the Pacific plate crashed into and sank under the North America continent.

Millions of years ago, Sunset Bay was part of a large delta where layer after layer of silt, sand, and marine deposits were laid down over eons, creating sedimentary rocks. Once flat, these layers were tilted upward by plate tectonics as the Pacific plate crashed into and sank under the North America continent. Varying layers of hard and soft rock attacked by waves, wind, storms and salt crystals have created beautiful rock sculptures like this one.


Landscape photography is known for its grand views. I enjoy those views, always, but I am also intrigued by small things that catch my eye, a leaf perhaps, or a rock. Today I am going to focus more on the ‘up close and personal’ part of Sunset Bay and Shore Acres State Parks on the Oregon coast as well as touch on the geology of the area. This is my Friday photographic essay. Enjoy.


Sedimentary rock warn down by waves at Sunset Bay State Park on the Oregon Coast.

A close up of the tilted sedimentary rock shown in the opening photo. The holes in the rock at the right, BTW, are created by growing salt crystals from salt left behind by tides and waves. Algae grows on the sides of the holes and limits the growth of the crystals, thus creating the rounded shapes.

Another view. The white rocks have broken free from on of the tilted layers of sedimentary rock.

I found this view of the weathered sedimentary rocks at Sunset Bay fascinating. The late afternoon sun added the color. The white rocks had broken free from one of the sedimentary layers.

Sedimentary layers of rocks create tracks into Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast.

Here, the sedimentary layers stretch out along the beach creating a ‘path.’

Coastline of Shore Acres Park on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay, Oregon.

The next door Shore Acres State Park provides a different perspective on the erosive forces of nature on the tilted sandstone and siltstone rocks.

Erosion at Shore Acres State Park on the Oregon Coast.

A different perspective of the Shore Acres coastline.

Concretion rock found in Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay.

This weird rock is known as a concretion. Calcite forms around a small object such as a broken shell. Layer after layer is applied (think pearl in an oyster) until you get a rock like this.

Concretions found on the beach of Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast.

If one is good, more are better, right?

Ancient spruce roots at Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay.

I figured this was just driftwood on the beach until I did some research. Apparently, this is the root system of an ancient spruce. A massive earthquake struck approximately 1200 years ago and sank major portions of the coast, covering local forests with water. The earthquake was the result of plate tectonics where the Pacific Plate is crashing up against and sinking under the North American continent. Known as the Cascadia Subduction Zone along the Oregon coast, this geological region is still active today and is threatening a major earthquake in the not too distant future. Coastal communities are all involved in disaster planning. We are told that if the Applegate Dam above our house breaks, flood waters will crest right about where we live, even though we are high above the river.

Just for fun, I found this ivy leaf adding a splash of green to the beach.

Just for fun, I found this ivy leaf adding a splash of green to the beach.

A rock added a dash of color...

A rock added a dash of yellow…

A rock with a barnacle found on Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast.

Another yellow rock, which is part of an exposed sedimentary layer, displays a single barnacle.

Barnacles attached to a rock at Sunset Bay State Park on the Oregon Coast.

This one had a whole tribe of barnacles.

Sea anemones found in a tide pool at Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay.

Ever since I was a little kid visiting with my grandparents on the Central California coast, I have been unable to resist tide pools. These are sea anemones— an oldster and a youngster. The tentacles carry a toxin that is injected into prey such as a small fish. The prey is then moved to the center and stuffed into its mouth, which also serves as its anus, a fact I am sure you were just dying to learn!

Seaweed on the beach at Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast.

This seaweed exists in the intertidal zone and is built with dense root system to grab onto rocks and withstand crashing waves. Recent storm had succeeded in breaking this one free. Tracks show that a seagull has stopped by to check it out. I also liked the reflection captured by water that barely covers the sand.

Another reflection shot, which includes seagulls.

Another reflection shot, which includes seagulls.

Seagull at Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay.

And a seagull up close with a touch of attitude that says feed me! Check out the knobby knees.

Dead tree with impressing root system on Sunset Bay near Coos Bay on the Oregon Coast.

Peggy has roots. This magnificent tree has been on the beach for a while.

Downed tree with roots reaching skyward on the beach at Sunset Bay State Park.

Another view.

Natural root sculpture food at Shore Acres State Park on the Oregon Coast.

I’ll use this fantastic creature that lives next door in Shore Acres State Park to wrap up today’s photo essay blog. I’ve used this jumble of roots in a previous blog.

Monday’s Blog: Revolutionary Boston and its message for today. Peggy and I were just there and walked the Revolutionary Trail. “Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.” —Longfellow

Wednesday’s Blog: The Sierra Trek Part 3— Meet the incredible cast of characters that sign up to go; travel with Steve and me as we preview the route and Steve pees around the camp to scare away bears.

Friday’s Blog: It’s time to start thinking about Burning Man! Sign up is in February. For the next few weeks, I’ll be digging into my archive of thousands of Burning Man photos taken over a ten-year period for my Friday photograph essays.

My apologies to all of my blog friends for my slowness in responding to comments and tardiness in reading blogs over the past month. I will catch up. After a month of travel and visiting family (including five grandsons) on the East Coast, Peggy and I returned to some of the same weather that many of you have been facing. Our property was buried under two feet of snow. As a result, much of my time has been spent shoveling snow off of driveways and roofs, dealing with power outages and frozen pipes, and trying to persuade a roaring creek that it does not want to run down our driveway. Some fun! We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, however. Or at least the dirt under the snow.




Sunset Bay: A Hidden Treasure on the Oregon Coast… The North Coast Series

The setting sun illuminates the cliffs surrounding Sunset Bay, giving support to its name.

The setting sun lights up the cliffs surrounding Sunset Bay, providing support for the bay’s name.

The Oregon Coast is world-renowned for its combination of hidden coves, towering cliffs and crashing waves. Peggy and I are fortunate to live only a couple of hours away from this beauty and have resolved to spend much more time exploring the coastline in 2017. It should be one resolution that is easy to keep.

The Oregon Coast is noted for its crashing waves such as these at Sunset Bay near Coos bay, Oregon.

Towering Pacific Ocean waves crash on rocks just outside of Sunset Bay.

I called and made reservations to stay at Sunset Bay State Park on the Oregon Coast in November. Normally I wouldn’t bother with reservations during late fall, but the Christmas light show at nearby Shore Acres Park attracts up to 50,000 people annually. Odds were that a number of them would be staying at the campground.

I needn’t have worried. The park was under two feet of water when I called. A high tide had joined forces with a flooding stream. The park reservation company in California had happily collected its seven-dollar reservation fee and failed to fill us in on the little detail that we might need a boat to get to our campsite.

Peggy and I already had that experience. We had camped in our small RV at a private campground near Mendocino a few years ago and woke up to discover a seagull floating by our window. Water was lapping at our doorstep. We had departed quicker than a jack rabbit on steroids, not even stopping to pay our campground fee. They probably would have charged extra for the seagull. Besides, a warning in the night that the area was flooding would have been appreciated.

Fortunately we lucked out at Sunset Bay. We weren’t even aware of the flood until we arrived and the water had already receded. Apparently we had missed the flood by a day and a gang of prisoners had swept through the campground and cleaned up the debris. Other than the campground host, we pretty much had the area to ourselves.

Sunset Bay is a hidden jewel, snuggled in along the coast near Coos Bay. It is part of a 6000-feet thick geological formation known as the Coaledo Formation after the coal deposits found in the area. For a while, starting in the 1850s, coal mining was a major industry in the area. By 1904 there were some 40 active mines. The coal was used primarily for running steam locomotives. The appearance of diesel engines in the 1920s had reduced the demand for the Coos Bay coal, however, and the last coal mine was shut down in 1940.

Coal fired steam locomotives are mainly a footnote in history now, but Peggy and I ended up on a train being pulled by one just before Christmas. Our son Tony and his wife Cammie had purchased tickets for the family to travel on the Polar Express out of Essex, Connecticut. We arrived just about dark and the locomotive was warming up to leave. Manny Mistletoe entertained us on our way to the ‘North Pole’ where Mr. and Mrs. Clause greeted us and entertained our grandsons who were appropriately decked out in their pajamas. Hot chocolate was served.

Steam train rides are featured throughout the year in Essex, Connecticut.

The ‘Polar Express’ locomotive of Essex, Connecticut prepares to leave the station on its journey to the ‘North Pole.’

The sedimentary rocks of the Coaledo Formation, laid down in layers over millions of years, have been tilted steeply upward by the crashing Pacific and North American tectonic plates. Varying levels of hardness found among the sedimentary rocks have allowed for different levels of erosion and account for the interesting land formations found at Sunset Bay. I am going to do two posts on our visit. Today’s photos are focused on looking out toward the ocean. On Friday I will do a photographic essay on the fun things we found along the shoreline. (Wednesday’s blog returns to the Sierra Trek.)

Low tide at Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay.

Looking out toward the Pacific Ocean at low tide from the beach at Sunset Bay.

Seagulls and sunset at Sunset Bay near Coos Bay on the Oregon Coast.

Seagulls take advantage of the low tide to search for dinner.

A November sunset at Sunset Bay.

Shooting toward the sun provided this view. The sun is more centered on the bay during the summer months.

Tide pools at Sunset Bay in Oregon near Coos bay lit up by the sun at sunset.

I also liked the ‘black and white’ feel the sunset provided with these tide pools.

Early morning at Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay, Oregon.

Early morning light the next day and high tide provided a totally different scene at Sunset Bay.

Sun lights up small waves at Sunset Bay on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay.

I liked the way the sun lit up these wavelets.

Backlit wave crashes over rock at Sunset bay near Coos Bay, Oregon.

And how it lit this wave as it crashed over a rock just outside of the Bay.

Waves crashing over rocks outside of Sunset Bay near Coos Bay, Oregon.

And a final view of the restless Pacific Ocean outside of Sunset Bay.

WEDNESDAY’S  BLOG: Part 2 of the Sierra Trek, a nine-day hundred mile backpack trip across the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

FRIDAY’S BLOG: The wrap up on Sunset Bay… a photographic essay.