In the middle of the Oregon coast just south of the charming town on Yachats is the promontory of Cape Perpetua. It is unusual for Oregon headlands in that you can drive to the very highest point on the cape, affording a tremendous view south down the rugged coastline. In addition, the Cape Perpetua area harbors a small treasure trove for photographers.
The best known feature besides the mountainous cape itself is a gap at the base of the cape called the Devil’s Churn. It is well marked with a parking lot, rest rooms, and even a gift shop. As the waves come into the churn, they are forced down a very narrow cleft where they slam against the rock walls and reflect back toward the incoming waves. The result is a tumult of water crashing and, well, churning. It can make for some very dramatic photos, especially at sunset.
Drive south from the Devil’s Churn for about a mile and you will come to a turnoff by a spot called Cook’s Chasm. This is another gap in the rock jutting out into the ocean. The advertised feature of Cook’s Chasm is a blowhole, which at high tides with high surf ejects a spout of water high above the rock surface.
I discovered the unadvertised feature near Cook’s Chasm one March day while photographing the waves breaking on the rocks with Cape Perpetua in the background. The wave action was strong, though not a storm surf, and some impressive waves were breaking on the rocky shelf. I walked far out onto the rock for my shots. As I was shooting toward the north, I became aware of a phenomenon occurring to my left. A large hole was present in the rock about 10 feet in diameter. The hole communicated with the ocean below, much like a blow hole, but very wide. Instead of spouting up in a jet of water, the ocean surged up out of the hole and flowed out onto the rock. Then, as the surge subsided, the water flowed back down into the hole like a circular waterfall. I turned my camera and started shooting, and the results are here for you to see.
I have lived in Oregon all my life and had never heard of this place or seen a photo of it. When I was unable to find a name for it or even any recognition of its existence, I decided to name it Thor’s Well. If someone reading this knows of an official name for it, please let me know. I am not aware of any other such surf surge rock feature on the Oregon Coast or anywhere else, for that matter, though I doubt it is unique. In any event, it makes a great photo. It occurs at a moderate to high tide with a strong surf. While I think it is best photographed near sunset, I’m sure good photos of it could be obtained almost any time of day. Just be careful. A very strong surge could sweep right up and be very dangerous. The hole can be seen from the parking area at the far end of the rock shelf on the north side of Cook’s Chasm.
Continuing south from Cape Perpetua, the coastline is rocky and rough, a wonderful place to photograph when winter storms bring in the big waves or in the spring when wildflowers bloom on the grassy hillsides. Surprisingly, two federally protected wilderness areas are to be found along the just inland from the highway. Cummins Creek Wilderness and Rock Creek Wilderness are just a few miles apart and are narrow streamside forests at the bottom of deep wooded canyons. Trails lead up each wilderness for a few miles. The protected old growth forests contain lush ferns, grasses and flowers along the creek beds.
At the southern end of this stretch of headlands is Heceta (ha-SEE-ta) Head Lighthouse, one of America’s most photographed and photogenic beacons. It can be viewed and photographed from the south at a pulloff after passing through a tunnel. It is also worth a visit to hike the 10 minute trail to the light itself. It is best photographed from this vantage near sunset, and if the clouds are just right it can reward the photographer with some spectacular views.
Just south of Heceta Head are the Sea Lion Caves. Touted as the world’s largest sea caves, they harbor a large number of California Sea Lions. A privately run enterprise at the top provides elevator service to the caves for a reasonable fee. At the north end of the cave is a gap from which you can photograph Heceta Head Lighthouse from an unusual vantage.
As the headlands recede and are replaced just north of the town of Florence by the Oregon Dunes, there is one last vantage from the high prospect along Highway 101. As the road winds downhill you can pull over and get some shots of Baker’s Beach and the dunes to the south, predictably impressive near sunset when the dunes cast long shadows.