Experiencing Sunset at Cannon Beach - James F Carr Photography & Design

Experiencing Sunset at Cannon Beach

I didn’t know what to expect at Cannon Beach. I’d been anticipating the moment for nearly four decades. Like many people my age, I was introduced to Canon Beach by The Goonies in 1985. The Pacific Northwest and its rocky beaches are just as important to the film as the actors. It couldn’t have been set in any other location.

I took some time to rest and recover in Seattle and visit with family after being on the road for the better part of a week. I had about 3000 miles behind me. Next was a two-day loop around the Olympic Peninsula, then the drive home, which was approaching much too quickly

The Trail to Oregon

After a few days of mostly unambitious exploration of the Seattle area, I finally summoned the will to head to the coast. I was also planning to explore parts of Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park but the town of Astoria and Cannon Beach would be the most important destinations. My goal was to arrive in Astoria in the late afternoon to visit some of the locations from The Goonies before heading to Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock for sunset.

Mount St Helens looms in the distance, viewed from the south side of the Columbia Riviera near Longview, Oregon.

The drive down I-5 was one of my least favorite parts of the entire trip. I was thrilled when I was finally able to exit the interstate and get back to mostly two-lane roads that wound along the Columbia River. While driving, it struck me how different the landscape of the Pacific Northwest coast feels compared to my more familiar Atlantic coast. For the most part, by the time you reach the eastern beaches, the mountains are a distant memory. Seeing snow-capped mountains was already foreign to me. Seeing them within a short distance of the coast was a completely alien experience. I stopped briefly after crossing the Columbia River to look back at Mount Saint Helens, another landmark deeply intertwined with my childhood memories.

The four-mile-long Astoria–Megler Bridge crosses near the mouth of the Columbia River.

Eventually, the landscape opened up and the mouth of the Columbia River became the most prominent feature in sight. I had finally arrived in the home of The Goonies. I stopped briefly at the riverside trail to look out at the river across an old pier where seals and/or sea lions had taken up residence. Then I was off for a quick tour of movie locations – Mikey’s house, the jail, and the historical society. The town of Astoria really is the town of The Goonies. In retrospect, I wish I had allowed more time to visit. Aside from its connection to one of my favorite childhood films, it’s also a lovely little town.

I was anxious to get to the beach. The sun was sinking lower in the sky and I wanted to ensure I had to find a good spot for sunset. The distance between Astoria and Cannon Beach isn’t insignificant. As I navigated to my destination, I couldn’t help but think that this would be a really long trip for kids on bikes. That’s the magic of movies, though.

On the Beach

Thoroughly unfamiliar with the area, I parked in one of the first public lots I could find. It was easy enough to determine the direction of the beach but the hotels and condos made the walk much less direct than I would have liked. Once I finally found my way to the beach, I realized I was quite a distance from Haystack Rock. I could see it in the distance, bathed in the ocean spray and the low, soft sunlight.

Haystack Rock as viewed from the north on Cannon Beach, Oregon.

WOW! WOW! WOW! My brain lit up with excitement. There would be no chance of childhood expectations being dashed on this day. Everything was perfect. The air was cool, but not cold. The sky was clear and blue. As I walked closer and closer, I grew more and more excited. I stopped, probably too many times, to admire the view and take a picture or two. The overall scene was soft blue with highlights from the golden sun. The soft ocean mist was helping to diffuse the late-day rays. It was perfect…moving in a way that I didn’t expect.

Beachgoers explore the tidal pools around Haystack Rock.

Sunset at Haystack Rock

When I was finally standing within a few hundred feet of Haystack Rock, I could more thoroughly appreciate its scale and significance. It is more than a giant rock. It is a refuge and beacon for animals and humans alike. The base is surrounded by a tidal pool where many creatures live. This, in turn, attracts birds that hunt and roost in and around the rocks. Finally, humans gather around it like a temple to exalt in the wonder of nature. As the sun approached the horizon, people began to congregate for the evening service.

People gather to watch the sun set behind the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

As the sun crept lower and lower, people began to pick their spots. I found myself next to a woman who had just arrived that day and who had been unaware of the connection to The Goonies. We talked for a few minutes as we waited. I fired off a few photos. There was a feeling of reverence that I have never experienced in a church. At the water’s edge, a man appeared to be scattering ashes in the water. I thought for a moment about him. I thought about the person whose ashes he was sending into the sea. The horizon was on fire.

Haystack Rock, photographed from its southern side, a few minutes after sunset.

The crowd stood mostly transfixed as the sun disappeared into the sea. As the sky began to turn gold, people began to disperse. My new friend bid me farewell and moved on. I set toward capturing as much of the remaining light with my camera as possible. The red and yellow band at the horizon grew more and more narrow and the sky turned an inky blue. Stars began to appear. First, there were a few. Many more would be revealed as the sun’s light faded away. Campfires dotted the beach. It was like a dream.

Campfires glow along Cannon Beach as the last sunlight fades and stars emerge from the darkening sky.

Rocky beaches are the norm on the west coast. I can’t wait to see more of them. Cannon Beach will always be first in my heart, though. It was the first place I saw a new ocean.

Finding My Way

This map shows points of interest motioned in this story. I hope it helps you find new places to explore.


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