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Four Frightening Stories of Fire, Volcanoes from Oregon Coast

Published 04/28/2016 at 7:11 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Photo: Yachats at night, but this is probably what it looked like as a lava field

(Oregon Coast) – Little do Oregonians know, they're sitting on a hotbed of wild geologic activity from the dim and distant past. While the earthquake and tsunami possibilities are increasingly publicized, the really wild stuff happened millions of years ago and created much of the coastal landscape today. One even has a connection to what could still mean the end of human life. (Photo: Yachats at night, but this is probably what it looked like as a lava field).

Doomsday Volcano and the Oregon Coast. Starting around 15 million years ago, a colossal fissure in the Earth around where Lewiston, Idaho is now poured insanely huge flows into this area. Those eruptions spread across hundreds of miles (known as the Columbia Basalts), burning down forests in their path, and eventually reaching the sea – and beyond – creating most of the headlands we know today. (Above: Cape Meares is one of these basalt monsters from a monstrous eruption).

The spooky part: it’s the same weak spot in the Earth's mantle that now powers Yellowstone National Park. This one has in the past created the mega-disastrous super volcanoes that have erupted a few times over the ages. It's possible the Wyoming supervolcano could come alive again, and that may actually mean an extinction level event for mankind.

Look all around these beaches and you get an idea of its overwhelming power. Places like Cape Foulweather, Cape Lookout, Yaquina Head and Cape Meares were formed from these massive flows. While other major landmarks - like Tillamook Head, Neahkahnie Mountain near Manzanita or Cannon Beach's famed Haystack Rock – were strange secondary eruptions that happened because of the initial massive ones. More on these

Volcanoes of Yachats. All those pleasant beach sights of the Yachats area had a frightening, fiery beginning as well, and it goes back farther than the rest of the coastline.

Between 30 and 36 million years ago, a series of eruptions from what may well be more than one volcano covered the ocean floor with lava beds that would eventually become the region between Florence and Waldport, known as the Yachats Basalts.

It's believed Cape Perpetua itself may be an old, extinct volcano (above).

All those gorgeous, rugged cliffs you see from Yachats down to almost Florence – including the Sea Lion Caves – come from this. The Yachats Basalts extend from just south of the attraction to just south of Waldport.

About the same time, Cascade Head near Lincoln City was erupting like crazy as well. These two areas are the exception for the Oregon coast, with the rest of the basalts coming from the Columbia flows talked about above.

Constructing the Arch Cape Tunnel. In the early '30s, as Highway 101 was just getting built, the hairy job of creating the Arch Cape Tunnel began. Before then, the only way between the Manzanita and Cannon Beach was a long, roundabout way up what is now Highway 53. (Historical photo courtesy Cannon Beach History Center).

This project was fraught with dangers. Work started in early 1936 with the completion date set for December of that year. After numerous setbacks, it was finished two years later.

First, they had to get through the outer layers, which were sandstone and not the volcanic basalt comprising much of it. This took a lot of propping up on both ends, and this area was the most prone to caving in.

Once they got further into the basalt portions, that went easier. Except for the deadly fumes. The boring and excavating machinery emitted a lot of exhaust, and that's what nearly killed several people. In spite of fans and even an air pipe, fumes were thick and nasty.

A few simply quit their jobs over this, and this is during the Depression when jobs were scarce.

Did Elephant Rock Curse Depoe Bay with Forest Fires? Just below the Otter Rock area sits a blob-like stack called Elephant Rock. Currently, it does not resemble an elephant, but when white settlers first arrived here looked much like one. (Above: Elephant Rock with its trunk).

There's a legend attached to Elephant Rock that (purportedly) comes from local tribes that says if it ever loses its head, local tribes would be cursed. That's just what happened during a storm in 1936, as immediately after bad things started to happen. The reservations for the Siletz and Grand Ronde Indians were dissolved right around this time by the government. Then a series of forest forest fires happened over the next few years. More on this history.

Interestingly enough, the native tribal legend said that the rock was a mythical creature whose trunk was dipped into the water to keep forest fires at bay. Where to stay in these areas - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours


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