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Covering 160 miles of Oregon coast
travel: Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita, Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway,
Garibaldi, Tillamook, Oceanside, Pacific City, Lincoln City, Depoe
Bay, Newport, Wadport, Yachats & Florence.
Summer Cometh: Are you ready?
Glowing Sands and Forest Fires on Oregon’s Coast
By Andre’ Hagestedt
phytoplankton was seen at the bottom of these cliffs in Newport
– Five days of escape from the heat. Five days of not wearing
shoes (most of the time). Five days of remarkable, even bizarre
discoveries in the natural world, which heralded a summer full of
wild things in store for the traveler to the Oregon coast.
It’s all part of
this job as editor of this online publication. It’s a sandy,
frenetic job, running up and down some 130 miles between Seaside
and Newport – but someone has to do it.
On this particular chunk
of July, the extreme heat of inland Oregon chased hordes of travelers
from the valley to the coast, and this mass exodus also happened
to coincide with the appearance of what is sometimes known as “glowing
sands,” a wild and weird natural event that is caused by bioluminescent
that’s created by a form of plankton called dinoflagellates
– a form of which glows when disturbed or touched by something.
There are other types of dinoflagellates, but these happen to glow
a bluish green in the water or on the sand, in much the same way
a firefly glows.
I heard about them in
the late 80’s and was captivated by the idea. My first experience
with them was in 1993 in Newport, and I’ve since seen some
incredible sights involving these critters. They are simply mind
It’s in Newport
where I spot them again on this jaunt around the coast. My friend
Debbie and I saunter down to the Don D. Davis Memorial Park, in
Nye Beach, to play around the beach. On a whim, I decide to look
for the glowing sand thing, and sure enough, I discover it in a
small wet patch up against the cliff – perhaps a good 100
feet from where the tide line tends to be.
toys with and taunts giant soap bubbles
This is unusual,
because this means the high tide had to have gone all the way up
to the bottom of the cliff in order to bring them here. Yet it’s
summertime, and we have fairly calm waters. Truly odd, I think,
yet upon fact checking this with local beach expert Guy DiTorrice,
he says it’s not unusual for some high tides to get that far
up the beach, even during the fairly placid summer.
Meanwhile, Debbie is
completely freaking out over the phenomenon. In between shrieks
of delight, she keeps exclaiming, “I’ve lived here all
my life and never seen this!”
The next night got even
stranger. Debbie, her boyfriend Robert and I begin to head for that
patch of beach again. On the way, at the Nye Beach Turnaround, there’s
a guy making enormous soap bubbles two or three feet wide and sometimes
ten feet long. It’s mind-bendingly surreal, especially at
night. He has an audience that started with us, but soon dozens
of others collect around him to watch.
of the giant soap bubble
runs at them to chase them or try and pop them. Some of the photos
of these moments are truly freaky.
At some point, in a strange
coincidence, it turns out the soap bubble man is a guy named Dustin
I once knew when I lived in Salem.
So, the four of us all
car pool it and head down to the same beach, where we find the glowing
sparks in the sand not so distinct as the night before. We’re
all walking backwards, scraping our feet on the sand to make them
come out, as this is what it takes for them to appear. It’s
more than a little comical to see that I have three other human
beings shuffling their feet backwards to see the little guys –
in what I now call the “glowing sand” dance. Before
long, another couple that just happened to be nearby caught wind
of what we were doing, and they too were engaged in the glowing
I could only laugh about
the power that these tiny things and I have to make others look
in Depoe Bay
The next day,
I quickly photograph some geologic oddities in the rocks at a secret
spot at the north end of Depoe Bay. These too are quite out of the
ordinary features, even for the normally surprise-filled basalt
structures that line Oregon’s coast.
From here, I hightail
it up to the north coast to hang with my old friend Bob. Late that
night, Bob and I saunter around the deserted, pitch black beach
of Arch Cape, and discover the phytoplankton is monstrous here.
In some spots, you kick the sand and an enormous shower of sparks
shoots out into the dark. I have never seen it quite like this.
It’s absolutely unforgettable.
shows off the freaky fish
The next day,
a Monday, I check out someone else’s discovery. Keith Chandler
at the Seaside Aquarium shows me the freaky fish they found recently
just north of Seaside. Called King-of-the-Salmon (Trachipterus Altivelis),
this rare find normally lives 1600 feet under the sea.
me a disgusting photo of him licking the eye of the creature, and
begs me to do the same. I think he even attempts to bribe me. What
a nutcase. In fact, I don’t really believe he actually did
it – and that the photograph isn’t quite all it seems.
I asked Keith
if the glowing plankton had been seen in Seaside, and he admitted
he couldn't recall ever seeing it there in all his life. He theorized
it almost never shows up, if at all, because the Columbia River
may push too much fresh water into the sea north of Tillamook Head.
|Tillamook Head, with "a hat on"
It was here
I photographed Tillamook Head with its top smothered in clouds,
which Keith referred to as “wearing a hat.”
Later that night,
I look for the the glowing sand stuff around Seaside to no avail.
Keith was proably right. I do, however, see it in Cannon Beach,
at the dark southern end.
the distance, seen from above Manzanita
more fun at Warren House, perhaps my favorite bar in the state,
and I meet a couple of exquisite women visiting from Colorado. I
get to play tour guide and gave them advice on finding the glowing
phytoplankton on the beach, and gave them instructions for finding
cool wine tasting and dining opportunities in Yamhill County’s
Tuesday, I’m photographing
chunks of the north coast, when I spot this unusual cloud-like structure
to the south of the Nehalem Bay. It’s a giant, billowing thing,
which looks suspiciously as if it may be a fire.
|Fire behind Rockaway
as I head towards Rockaway Beach, I see a massive off-white cloud
rising from the forest in back of the tiny resort town. This is
indeed a forest fire, although it doesn’t appear as if it’s
too large or heading for any homes up on the bluff overlooking town.
news reports, it encompassed 35 acres and took 50 firefighters to
try and subdue it, although by mid-week it wasn’t quite out
completely. The fire was on private land owned by a local logging
company, and as of this writing, the cause is unknown.
haze at Pacific Oyster on Tillamook Bay
It created havoc
just up the road, however. While you couldn’t smell the smoke
in town, the wind shot the plume into Garibaldi and throughout Tillamook
Bay. Once you rounded the bend to Garibaldi, the smoke became thick
and stifling, and the sun was dimmed considerably. Apparently some
ashes fell in that area as well. In Bay City, right on the bay,
anything farther than a distance of a mile got hazy and was veiled
from sight. It was thick, eerie, and uncomfortable to breathe it.
in the daylight
In the evening,
it was a business meeting and then a spot of drinking at the Wateringhole
in Nehalem with Rachel of Registerlocally.com.
I then got to play tour guide again and showed her the wacky glowing
stuff on the beaches of Manzanita. It was fairly visible near the
tide line, and Rachel was suitably blown away. Here, it did something
I’ve never seen, however. It was more visible in the water
itself this time, as incoming waves would recede back into the sea.
As each wave began slipping backward, the little dinoflagellates
would “twinkle” in the water, like little stars popping
in and out of existence very quickly.
Nehalem River Inn
day, a Wednesday, I conducted business on the north coast, including
discovering the stunning Nehalem
River Inn, near the Nehalem Bay Winery on Highway 53. During
most of these days wandering the coast, the temperatures had been
pretty comfortable, although Wednesday wound up in the 80’s
if you headed just a little inland along the Nehalem Bay. As you
drove further into Highway 53, the temps were much higher, and this
tree-lined and slightly mountainous farmland reminded me of my travels
in Europe during various summers. The Inn, however, with its gorgeous,
posh interior and beautiful outdoor dining area and hotel, felt
distinctly like some places I’d been to in Germany’s
Black Forest in the sweltering heat. I was transported back in time.
My head was reeling with all this.
Proof of the
coast’s strange weather personality: a quick drive to Manzanita
and Oswald State Park saw temps drop fast into the low 70’s.
Another 10 miles up the road, on the other side of Neahkahnie Mountain
and a few headlands, Cannon Beach was grey and in the high 60’s.
still smolders in Rockaway
met up with my good pal, Abby (whom I’ve nicknamed Abby-Normal,
after a line from the “Young Frankestein” movie). This
meant driving into Rockaway again, where some parts of the fire
I dragged her on a small tour of the glowing phytoplankton. It turns
out, her mother and other locals (she grew up on this part of the
coast) referred to these little bioluminescent beasties as “star
stomping.” We started in Arch Cape, then Manzanita, and then
the Nehalem Bay. In the first two, they weren’t nearly as
visible as before, but Abby-Normal was completely amazed and consistently
squealed with delight. She too grew up here and had heard about
it for many years, but doubted its existence.
There are few feelings
like causing your friends to have coastal science epiphanies.
your hands in Nehalem Bay at night could result in some incredible
Then, the glowing
phytoplankton tour took the wildest turn. In Nehalem Bay –
just as I had previously heard of – if you move your hand
around in the water, a strange glowing trail will travel behind
you. Indeed, this is what happened, and it was stranger than I had
pictured. Abby and I took our beach flip-flops and moved them around
in the water, which made a deeper movement and thus more of the
I had never seen this
before either, and was completely floored.
As a side note, locals
have told me that swimming in the river or bay at night under these
conditions is an especially surreal experience, where your whole
body looks like a glowing skeleton in the water.
As I took Abby back to
her pad in Rockaway, the fire on the hill is still smoldering at
night. You could still see giant hotspots, appearing as if they
floated above the town in the dark.
It was here the jaunt
ended, with our Portland office calling me back, in spite of the
heat back in town. I left at midnight, and after an increasingly
bleary-eyed trip through the coast range and atmospheric, forested
Highway 6, I arrived in Portland near 2 a.m.
Now, the real research
begins: it’s time to track down phytoplankton experts and
find out about what exactly I saw here.