Central Oregon Coast Winter: Whale Watching, Strange Stumps
(Newport, Oregon) – The central Oregon coast town of Newport has a few surprises up its sleeve for winter. Whale Watch Week at the end of December features a little something extra in this area, some of the best storm watching spots on the central coast are here, agates are starting to show up, and some very ancient and mysterious stumps are appearing right now (above: a ghost forest stump near Seal Rock).
Ghost Forests and Agate Hunting. The famed “ghost forests” have already begun to show in the Newport area, and some agate beds are beginning to show along the central Oregon coast.
Just south of Newport, near Seal Rock, ancient stumps that have been found to be around 4,000 years old are showing. Sand levels often drop considerably during the winter, unearthing these rather rare sights only every few years.
These forests come from a stand of trees that was somehow quickly buried in the sand, thus preserving them by keeping them out of the decaying effects of oxygen.
Geologists have two main theories about how this happened, and one scenario displays the power of massive earthquakes in and around the Pacific ocean, as well as the power of ancient tsunamis. That theory says this forest was part of land that was dropped abruptly by a severe earthquake, and buried in sand and ocean because of that.
The other theory says this was a bit more gradual, with the landscape changing over a few decades or years and then burying the forest.
Look for Curtiss Street about a mile north of Seal Rock.
Sand levels seem to be getting quite low at Moolack Beach just north of Newport, and gravel beds are beginning to show there. These are the sign to look for agates, as these are often uncovered as well.
There are also eerie ghost forest stumps lying beneath the sand at Moolack, and it's a good idea to keep an eye on that area as sand levels could reveal those as well.
Other ghost forests exist year-round at Neskowin, and other examples sometimes show up at Cape Lookout and south of Cannon Beach.
Newport has the largest number of official whale watch spots during Winter Whale Watch Week, December 26 - January 1, and some extra activities happening. Volunteers are posted along the Oregon Coast to help visitors spot whales from 10 a.m. To 1 p.m. that week.
Visitors can make Newport their base of operations with ready access to two Whale Watching Spoken Here sites: Don Davis State Park, in the historic Nye Beach neighborhood, and Yaquina Bay Outstanding Natural Area. The latter also features a lighthouse, tide pools and an interpretive center. Close by are a few other official sites: Boiler Bay State Park, Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint, the state’s Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, Cape Foulweather and Devil's Punchbowl State Natural Area (both about five minutes south of Newport), are a short drive away.
The state’s program takes place at the peak of the southbound migration of gray whales. Marine mammologists estimate that 18,000 whales pass by between mid-December and mid-January, as they head south from the Arctic to the Baja lagoons of Mexico. With a little help from a volunteer, you can watch them in transit, some just off shore (www.whalespoken.org).
You can learn even more by heading to Newport's Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center, which offers storytelling, interpretive programs and other events during Whale Watch Week, many of which center around local whale populations.(http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/visitor/).
Safe Yet Stunning Storm Watching Vantage Points
The first rule of stormwatching is staying safe, so keep off the beaches or jetties. The second is that you'll find even more spectacular wave action at a spot with rock structures near it.
Here are some in the Newport area:
Nye Beach, by the Turnaround or on the cliffs above, the beach keeps you away from the waves while allowing excellent views of the action. The gazebo at Don Davis Memorial Park lets you hang out inside while winds and waves batter the beaches.
At the bottom of SW 11th, the parking lot above Jump-Off Joe provides not only complete safety but views of the waves whacking away at the rock structures jutting outward.
A few minutes drive north of Newport is Otter Rock and the Devil's Punchbowl, which can churn with massive oceanic wave action.
Less than a mile north of there is Cape Foulweather, and just north of that are several viewpoints with rocky areas that make for more spectacular wave energy and comfortable viewing from your car. Otter Crest Loop Road and Rodea Point, between Foulweather and Depoe Bay, allow you to watch big waves smack cliffs and rocks as well.
The north and south jetties at Yaquina Bay are also especially pummeled, although you have to stay clear of them. Luckily, the broad sandy areas on both sides of the bay mouth let you keep far from them but see all the action. Do not go on the jetties.
A few miles south of Newport, Seal Rock is chock full of large rocky structures that taunt the big waves, but parking spots above make for ultimate safety – and even the comfort of your car if the weather isn't nice.
Below: Rodea Point.
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