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.


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

  1. It’s a beautiful spot, for sure. Still, I got caught when I read about the “no warning” experience at that campground. If they’re still in business, I hope they’re a little more attentive to things. Flash flooding’s flash flooding, but it’s still possible to know when conditions are right: at least, for the most part.

    That steam engine’s impressive. There’s a train exhibit at the Houston Museum of Science now that’s made up of models. It’s not your circular track in a store window version, either. It’s the size of two tennis courts, and has all of Texas as its scenery!

    • We simply wouldn’t have been able to get into the Sunset Bay Park, which would have irked me. I am pretty sure they warned the folks there. Oregon State Parks are good even if the private reservation system leaves something to be desired. As for the other place, I think it went with the territory. We haven’t been back!
      Sacramento has a wonderful train museum if you ever get there, Linda. It is based on the fact that Sacramento was the terminal for the first transcontinental railroad. –Curt

  2. As a native Oregonian, I can attest that the Oregon coastline is amongst the most scenic, rugged, powerful and beautiful places in the USA. Your pictures are a wonderful reminder of a very special place to visit. Thank you for providing my morning nostalgic moment 😃

  3. I get a kick out of the ‘Polar Express’ – those old trains still hold some mystic. I can see why you make the trip to the Oregon coast, scenic views for one!!

    • Lots of beauty on the coast, G. As for trains, I only wish we had a lot more of them in the US. The Polar Express was pure nostalgia but we also took Amtrak from Boston to New London, Connecticut. As opposed to airplanes, trains are a relaxing way to travel and see the countryside. –Curt

      • They don’t make westerns like they used to, Andrew. My great grandmother, who is buried a few miles away from where I live, came across the country in a wagon train. I just read a fun book that you might enjoy, “The Oregon Trail” by Rinker Buck. Rinker and his brother recently made the 2000 mile journey in a covered wagon. The book is chock full of historical detail but also contains a lot of humor and adventure. –Curt

  4. Your photos are magnificent! I love the Pacific ocean at low tide, the seagull one and the early morning light. How lucky to live near to such stunning and dramatic beauty!

    Love those locomotives… fun!

    Flash floods…not so fun!

    • Thanks Peta. The coast always inspires me to break out my camera and start snapping. Lots of flooding around here lately. I’ve been working hard to persuade a creek that it really doesn’t want to run down my driveway. 🙂 –Curt

  5. “They probably would have charged extra for the seagull.”

    Crap, there’s a big flock of them at the middle school field across the street. Does this mean my rent is gonna go up?

    Gorgeous photos. That beach feels more like Northern California than Oregon.

  6. I’ve never visited that part of the country. Even when I traveled a lot for business, I never had any reason to go to the PNW. Looks like a stunningly beautiful place. Maybe someday…

  7. Watching the crashing of waves over rocks can be very hypnotic. When I saw the sea for the first time in Holland as a child I could not believe it. Great pictures, Curt. I also love ‘the rabbit on steroids’.

    • I also remember my first experience of seeing the ocean as a child, Gerard. My grandparents lived near the coast in Central California. It made a deep impression, and a cherished memory— one that has pulled me back time and again, and one I never tire of.
      Yep, we were ‘a-gitting’ when we saw the sea gull swim by. 🙂 –Curt

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