McClures Beach: A Photographer’s Ode

Ever since I first saw the raw, primal beauty of McClures Beach I’ve returned countless times with my camera. I’m never disappointed. Sometimes I’ve been fortunate to have captured the raw, relentless power of the Pacific Ocean. At other times I recorded scenes of peaceful timelessness there. For more than thirty years I have photographed the varying moods of my favorite Point Reyes beach.

When I first stepped down from the steep trail that leads to the beach, my eye was drawn to the iconic rocky point several hundred yards to the south. These rocks distinguish the main beach at McClures. I walk toward the point every time I visit there. because I know what lies beyond that rocky dark wall. Ebb Tide, above, was photographed in February, 2003. The Point is seen in the distance.

My first visit to McClures Beach was during the aftermath of a winter storm in 1974. Taken there by a friend, she revealed to me the narrow passageway through the point that leads from the main beach to the “Hidden Beach.”  Two magnificent sea stacks are seen from a steep and narrow crescent beach. I have entitled the cleft in the rocky point The Gateway, shown below. 

The Gateway, McClures Beach – September, 1989

The wind during that first visit to the Hidden Beach was furious, visceral–memorable, as I watched waves crashing, exploding against the rocks. No photos on that day, but what I saw was etched indelibly in my memory. I returned several times over the years when the wind howled, to make photographs that celebrate the power of the sea there. Following are a couple of photographs that capture the awesome force of the sea in the aftermath of winter storms.

Winter Surf, McClures Beach – March, 1991

After the Storm, McClures Beach – February, 1994

I went to the hidden beach through the Gateway at other, more peaceful times.  The photograph, Monolith, graces the jacket cover of my book, Point Reyes 20 Years. It was made during a winter afternoon when a minus tide made it possible to walk behind the squarish sea stack.

Monolith, McClures Beach – January, 1992

Another time, on a calm, clear night in October 2016, I went to the hidden beach to photograph the Milky Way. The following two photographs show the results. The first one shows the two sea stacks with our galaxy overhead. The second image was made before I departed through the rocky point back to the main beach. The multitude of stars seen that night, combined with the peacefulness of the beach was unforgettable.

Monolith, Elephant Rock and Milky Way – October 2016


Galaxy at McClures Point: 10/19/2016

There were times that my photo visits to the hidden beach at McClures seemed to be futile due to poor light or weather conditions. During those times I have learned to be patient. In September of 1995 Jean and I walked down to the second beach where the sea stacks are. The light was fading and the view wasn’t particularly photogenic. After pacing around for a while I told Jean I was through and thanked her for her patience. After we passed through the gateway and were about 50 yards beyond the point, I turned back for one last look at where we came from. What a gift, the light from the setting sun burnished the wet sands in front of the rocky point. September Sunset, McClures Beach!

September Sunset, McClures Beach September 1995

Another time after a seemingly uneventful visit to my favorite beach, I was surprised again. I had packed up my camera and was nearly off the beach when I turned for one last look from the uphill trail. Then and there, I saw the last rays of the sun turn the creek into a silver ribbon of light.  Winter Creek reminds me to always pause and look again before leaving a location.

Winter Creek, McClures Beach – February 2003



9 comments on “McClures Beach: A Photographer’s Ode

  1. Winter Creek is especially breathtaking. Thank you for selecting these photos, just stunning. I have the Galaxy at McClure’s Point hanging up and I never tire of looking at it.

  2. Thank you so very much for your photos of my favorite ❤️ Beach at Pt Reyes….too! A very special place indeed and absolutely gorgeous photos by you. Take care charlotte Betsy Burch

  3. When I saw “After the Storm” I carried my laptop into the other room and showed it to my wife, and said, “I’ve decided to stop taking photos.” Because this one is so staggering. The world should stop for a few moments to acknowledge the greatness of this photo of this wave, these waves, these clouds, these birds that the eye finally finds its way to… this instant that only only Marty Knapp experienced, but has by now shared so spectacularly with (I hope) millions of others… Thank You! (My wife and I stood there for three or four minutes admiring and discussing it, and then, still buzzing I walked over to my computer and opened it…)

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