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Bodega Bay
Spud Point Marina
Bodega Bay


 

Sonoma Coast State Beach

by Sue Barthelow

After a fish taco lunch, I climbed into the car at Bodega Bay and headed north. The late August day was clear, still and warm, perfect for a coastal photo shoot. Although the day had started with an empty digital camera, it was early afternoon and the camera already held 22 Bodega Bay images. By day’s end, my extra memory chip came in handy.

Highway 1 crossed Salmon Creek and continued along a popular surfing beach. After passing the surfers, I pulled over at most of the sign-posted turnoffs. Coastal views from between Arched Rock Beach and Schoolhouse Beach were outstanding as were the vignettes created by the mostly uninhabited beaches that lay in the abundant protected coves. Seen from above, gentle waves left satiny azure streaks across the sand.

With 50 pictures taken, I finally approached my prime destination – the mouth of the Russian River. Goat Rock Road ran the last few miles to Goat Rock Beach and Whale Point. One last on-the-bluffs viewpoint stopped me. I strolled across the grass-enveloped point to shoot south towards Arched Rock with the ocean shining through its gap and then north towards the Russian River.

Not wanting to disturb the young romantic couple sitting near the bluff’s edge, I soon headed back to the car. Suddenly, a roar filled the air as a sight-seeing helicopter raced southbound over the waves. It tore below me between the bluff and Goat Rock, which towered about a hundred yards away. I regretted my position, too far from the edge to get a good shot as it streaked past.

Back at the car, a visitor awaited. Four more shots of the gull resting serenely in front of my open sunroof went into the camera. Luckily, the gull faced the sunroof. I approached with some apprehension. Staying true to its species, the bird lifted off leaving a string of lumpy presents. I opened my trunk to retrieve the water I carry for emergencies.

Finally at beach level, I parked at Goat Rock Beach and loaded up my gear for a long walk in the sand. Sea gulls swooped and pelicans glided to and from the point where the Russian River empties into the ocean. The grass-covered sand dunes that surrounded the parking lot were fairly easy to navigate, but the sand that stretched between the parking lot and the water’s edge was daunting. The firmer wet sand along the high water mark eventually made the going easier.

Fourteen images later, I arrived at the point. Its festive atmosphere was infectious as hundreds of birds spent the late afternoon either resting on the sandbar formed at the river’s mouth or feeding in the swift water. About 50 harbor seals ignored the merry-makers as they napped in the sun along the up-river end. A humorous scene unfolded as brown pelicans dove into the river near the seals and rode the undulating white-water current through the shallows. They glided along as the current carried them downstream, many facing backwards as they repeatedly upended themselves to feed. When they reached the end of the nearly 60 yard rough-water stretch, the giant birds took to the air and flew back for another ride.

A fellow onlooker mentioned that many birds retreat upriver to Penny Island to spend the night safely away from predators. The short walk along the river’s shore was much easier than the trek out had been. A couple of driftwood tree trunks silently posed for more shots. Then, Penny Island’s western tip provided excellent late afternoon/sundown photo opportunities as birds congregated for the night.

Sundown drew me back to the grassy dunes for my final pictures. The grass glowed yellow as the sun set. The nearly cloudless sky’s western edge was set on fire. Soon, the offshore rock formations had turned dark against the twilight sky. Backlit pelicans headed for their roosts. I followed suit and headed for my car and the long drive home.




If you go, start from the south at Bodega Bay and drive northwards to Jenner. Although it forces you to cross the southbound lane to enter/exit the view points, it puts the sun at your back and provides well-lit views easily seen as you drive. Time your trip so you spend the last light of the day at Whale Point. Unless you like to walk in the sand, head toward the river from the Goat Rock Beach parking lot and walk along the river out to the point. The river sand is much denser and makes for an easier trek.

The Sonoma Coast State Beach stretches from Bodega Bay for 17 miles to just north of Jenner on the far side of the Russian River. Numerous turnouts line Highway 1 and provide outstanding view points as well as access to the park’s many beaches. Low tide widens the beaches and exposes tide pools.

 

 

Sonoma Coast
Sonoma Coast

 

Russian River Debris
Russian River Debris

 

Pelicans Arriving for the Night
Pelicans Arriving for the Night

 

Goat Rock
Goat Rock

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