Oregon Coast Science Nobody tells you

Fire Below, Ghosts Above: Oregon Coast Science Nobody tells you

Posted on 3/30/21 at 5:25 PM PDT
From employees of the Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Oregon Coast) – From Brookings to Astoria, Oregon Coast has many secrets right underneath, especially in the south. Like the coast of the ocean itself, the geology of this place is intense and incredibly dynamic. (Above: Blue hour yachats can sometimes look like the lava fields it used to be.)

And sometimes it’s fiery. There is much about the Oregon coast that no one talks about, like the ancient volcanoes that line the beaches, especially in one area. Or the strange, enigmatic, yet scorching beginnings of the south coast. Or where to see these eerie ghost forests all year round.

Year round Ghost Forest Fun

You’d be surprised what lurks beneath the sand of the state’s beaches. (Coos Bay Ghost Stump courtesy Brent Lerwill)

Usually it is winter sand levels that cause ghost forests to emerge on the Oregon coast. These are stands of trees between 4,000 and 2,000 years old, abruptly buried in the sand, cut off from the decaying effects of oxygen. This keeps them in remarkable condition.

Neskowin has the most famous ghost forest that can be found all year round, but they’re not the only ones. At just 2,000 years old, her story isn’t quite as interesting as the others’ like the two in Beverly Beach and under Otter Rock. These are particularly large and apparently just floated around a bit after a major storm in the 90s.

Ghost stump at Otter Rock near Depoe Bay

The really spooky all year round can be found in Coos Bay, in Sunset Bay. These are also relatively young at 1200 years (around the time of the Vikings). Be careful and only look at low tide, but if you do you will find some extravagantly twisted, haunted looking shapes. You are a journey. See full list of Oregon Coast Ghost Forests

Signs of volcanoes around us

Tip of Cape Perpetua: This is an extinct volcano

While most of the upper half of the Oregon coast is dotted with the black rocks of the Columbia River Basalts (a gnarled lava flow that came from the east about 17 million years ago), some volcanic pieces loom up.

One thing is pretty prominent: Lincoln City’s Cascade Head was an ancient volcano that was likely taller than 1,000 feet, but all underwater. It was founded about 36 to 38 million years ago and didn’t stop spewing lava long after, according to OSU geologist Al Niem. It appears to have risen and sunk a few times, even its top becoming part of the seabed.

Cascade head

It rose permanently above sea level about 13 million years ago or less. Then it was largely eroded until only this huge knot of earth and rock was left.

A huge stretch of central Oregon coast from Yachats to Heceta Head (13 miles) consists essentially of lava from various ancient volcanoes that formed here. Some were underwater 35 million years ago, others above – including ancient Cape Perpetua. This is also an extinct volcano. Portions of the Yachats area are approximately 250 feet deep in black basalt alone. (Source: geologist / author Marli Miller and Tom Horning).

Fiery puzzle pieces of the south coast

Face Rock at Bandon, courtesy Manuela Durson Fine Arts

The southern Oregon coast is a whole different animal. There were no real underwater volcanoes here in the past (although there are now many offshore). However, many of these areas were born in fire – but in strange ways. Much of this region south of Florence is built on gigantic terrans, basically large, rocky land masses. All of them were created elsewhere, starting 200 million years ago, and many different things went on in their creation. As the tectonic plates moved, so too did these different terrans, and they “accredited” themselves to that continent – basically added.

In short, many of the rocks that make up these huge masses were formed in subduction zones – but far from here – under great pressure and heat. That process went on and on as they slowly moved here, creating many rock formations that literally stretch for millions of years. Parts of it come from one epoch, parts of it from another, etc.

The result is an extremely complex view of the south coast with all sorts of strange shapes and different types of rock, sometimes just a few meters apart. Many famous structures are made from many different materials from different eras.

Bandon, his Face Rock, and other sea stacks are good examples. As Miller told Oregon Coast Beach Connection:

“Go down the beach and another block is very different. It’s really wild to see all these different types of rock being thrown together. “((How Bandon’s Face Rock Arose A wild geological history of the S. Oregon coast)

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Cape Blanco near Port Orford (Photo Oregon Parks and Recreation Department)

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