Saturday, January 26, 2013

Shore Acres proves wet and wild!

A little over a year ago, I joined the Emerald Photographic Society here in Springfield, Oregon.  I've been a photographer for years but I've always wanted to go on photoshoots with other photographers - not only to learn new techniques I may not have tried but to share the companionship of others who enjoy photography as much as I do.

Sandstone shelves at Shore Acres Estate near
Coos Bay, OR.  Photographed by Mary Harrsch
I've enjoyed myself since then traveling to the Evergreen Air and Space Museum in McMinnville, to blooming pear orchards near Hood River, Oregon, to a bird sanctuary named Cabin Lake (there's no water though!) near Fort Rock in the eastern Oregon desert, to Wildlife Safarai near Roseburg, Oregon where I photographed everything from its signature cheetahs to a white rhino that fell madly in love with my friends gray car!

This past weekend,  I and three other photographers from the photography society went down to Shore Acres to practice long exposure photography (so the water running off the rocks would look "silky").

Shore Acres was originally the estate of pioneer lumberman and shipbuilder, Louis J. Simpson and his wife Cassandra, constructed in 1906-1907.  The mansion Simpson built there was surrounded by five acres of formal gardens populated with trees, shrubs, and flowering plants (predominantly roses and various species of rhododendrons) brought to his retreat aboard his fleet of sailing ships.

Shore Acres original house constructed by
lumber magnet Louis J. Simpson.  Image
courtesy of Oregon State Parks Commission.
Simpson eventually developed the summer home into a showplace three-story mansion complete with a heated, indoor swimming pool and a large ballroom. In the center of his botanical plantings he constructed a Japanese-style garden built around a 100-foot lily pond.

But tragedy struck the Simpsons in 1921 when first Cassandra died in April then fire destroyed the mansion in July. Not to be defeated, Simpson began to build an even larger replacement - two stories high and 224 feet long.  He also remarried, bringing his new wife Lela Gardner to Shore Acres in 1922.  The couple adopted two infant girls and lived in the gardener's cottage until the mansion was completed in 1928.   But Simpson, like many other businessmen suffered huge financial losses in the 1930s and, bankrupt, lost the heavily mortgaged Shores Acres.  The mansion and grounds languished unattended and fell into disrepair. In 1942, Simpson's beloved Shore Acres, once a showplace but now only a deteriorating relic, was purchased by the state of Oregon for use as a public park.  The mansion was razed and once more only the gardener's cottage remained.  The state did, however, restore the gardens and built an observation structure on the site where the mansion once stood.

I have visited Shore Acres a number of times when I lived in Bandon, about 26 miles south of the park.  I picnicked there with my grandparents and have attended the annual holiday lights festivities, warming myself in the gardener's cottage with a cup of hot cider and delicious cookies.  I was always fascinated by the fact that horseshoe imprints could be seen on the very edge of the bluff where decades earlier visitors to the Simpsons home had traveled there on horseback.  Now the bluff is so eroded by the wind and waves, only the edge of the once circular driveway in front of the mansion remains.  

I had always gone to the main bluff where the tourists go to the observation shelter. But this time one of my companions suggested going down the trail to the right of the parking lot down to the sandstone outcroppings next to the remains of the Simpson's tennis courts.

The sandstone formations are wonderfully bizarre - sort of like small yardangs that form in the Sahara.  The only problem we had was towards the end of our time there, I was working near the ledge about two levels up from where the waves were crashing and all of a sudden three humongous waves formed really close to the bluffs and literally exploded against the rocks sending a huge shower of water down onto me and another friend.

I was just around the corner from the trail observation area seen adjacent
to the trees on the bluff in this image.  Image Courtesy of the Oregon State
Parks Commission.
Fortunately, the force of the waves was expended so we just got terribly drenched and not swept off the rocks.  I had seen the size of the wave forming through my viewfinder and fortunately had just stepped back from the ledge and was walking back to the next level when I turned and realized I was going to be hit.  I clasped my camera to my chest and grabbed the strap on my camera bag that one of my other friends had scooped up along with my tripod and braced for impact.  We both got soaked to the skin and our cameras got really wet which worried me since they are all electronic.  But my LCD screen never blinked even once.

We got back to the car and wiped our cameras down as best we could then headed back to Springfield.  The heater in the car dried us out to some extent but the evening air was chilly and when we stopped for dinner at the Firehouse Restaurant near the waterfront in Florence I was shivering (great sea scallops topped with bay shrimp in garlic sauce there by the way!)  When I got home I had to take a hot bath to warm up my core!

I should have been more mindful of the taciturn nature of the ocean since I was raised down there, but those sneaker waves can be treacherous!  Kurt Pratt, one of my photographer friends, was teasing me that he should have gotten a long exposure shot of all of the water running off of my backside!

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