In Search of More Oregon Coast Ghost Forests - Where to Find Ghost Forests

Published 01/09/2012


(Oregon Coast) – They're called “ghost forests” partially for their ghostly appearance and for the fact they are the remnants of ancient forests often a few thousand years old. And it seems there are more locations along the Oregon coast where you can find them than you may have realized – but they may be disappearing (above: Neskowin's ghost forest).

According to a paper published in 2006 by Portland geologist Dr. Curt Peterson and Newport geologist Roger Hart (Hart passed away a few years ago), there are 45 locations along the Oregon coast where they can be found – over half of which are on the central coast area, in and around Newport and south of Lincoln City. The paper, however, does not seem to include those found just south of Cannon Beach, in and around Arch Cape. These, like the ones at Neskowin, Seal Rock and just north of Newport, are the most well-publicized.

These ghost forests are nothing short of jaw-dropping, if you know what you're seeing. At first, they appear like old manmade pilings in the surf, as if it was an old pier structure left abandoned. But they are parts of a forest that can be thousands of years old. Radiocarbon dating of these stumps has put them as old as 5,000 years to some as young as 1400 years old – depending on the location.

Ghost forest at Arch Cape (photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

Exactly why these exist is a bit spooky too, and a little puzzling. What is known is that they were buried beneath the sand for millennia and thus preserved by being deprived of the decaying effects of oxygen, not to mention being battered out of existence by the tides.

How they were buried is up for debate. There are two major theories.

The one put forth by Hart a few years back is that some slower process, perhaps by a few decades, caused the landscape to change and the forests were choked by incoming mud, a swamp of some sorts or the sand that now buries them.

Geologists at OSU tend to lean towards something even spookier: the theory that some major cataclysmic event, like the tsunamis this area has experienced over and over, covered them up. There is also good evidence some of these stump areas were on ground that abruptly dropped ten to thirty feet downwards as some major earthquake hit here, thus being covered suddenly by the waves and sand. There's even decent evidence these have had their tops lopped off by such a major event.

Also surprising is that there are so many. Most, if not all except the forest at Neskowin, are only visible when sand levels drop below a certain level. Neskowin is usually visible year-round, while the others appear only rarely, during winters when sand drops quite a bit in that area.

Neskowin

Some spots that the paper points out are not on the beach itself, but some stumps are buried in the cliffs and visible there. This could explain some mysterious entries.

According to Hart and Peterson's paper, they are found along the following spots (although the paper does not always indicate exactly where):

In Tillamook County, along the Three Capes Loop, they're found at Oceanside, just north of Cape Kiwanda, Cape Lookout State Park, Sand Lake and Neskowin. In the Lincoln City and Depoe Bay area, they're listed as found at Road's End at Lincoln City and two areas of Lincoln Beach. One is found year-round just beneath Otter Crest on the southern side. In Newport and Seal Rock they're around Yaquina Head (Moolack Beach), two parts of Nye Beach, near Yaquina Bay, Theil Creek, Lost Creek, Seal Rock (Curtis Street), and two spots around Driftwood State Park. In Waldport, they can be seen around the Bay Shore area, just south of town, at Big Stump Beach, three areas around Beachside State Park and two around Tillicum State Park.

Seal Rock

Around Yachats, they can be found in the sandy spots near Idaho Street, Oregon Street, Vingie Creek, near the Silver Surf Motel - and mysteriously the paper indicates in Yachats itself. This is odd because that whole shoreline is rocky basalt shelf areas, so the authors could be referring to the bay in town or in the sea cliffs.

South of there, into Lane County, they are listed at Ten Mile Creek area, Ponsler Wayside, Heceta Head, the Coast Guard station at Florence, and at Five Mile Point.

On the southern Oregon coast, there are listings for Whiskey Run, Bandon, Blacklock Point, Nesika Beach, Otter Point and Crook Point.

The paper doesn't address those sometimes found at Arch Cape and Hug Point, just south of Cannon Beach.

Hart and Peterson noted an absence of these at various locations, such as around Port Orford, Humbug area, Gold Beach, Coos Bay or Rockaway and Manzanita,

“Probably because these beaches are not eroding,” the authors said.

Stumps at Cape Lookout

There is also the possibility other ghost forest stumps have existed in these spots before, but they have been eroded away. Some areas, like those at Cape Lookout and Neskowin, are experiencing sand levels that continue to drop and some of these ghost forest stumps have already gone, torn out by the sea.

At the Newport office of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, coastal geomorphologist Jonathan Allan said those at Lookout have been dated at 1400 years old, but there could have been older ones here earlier and elsewhere, but they may have disappeared as those at Neskowin and Lookout are beginning to.

Those around Newport are often found to be around 4,000 years old.

It is illegal to take any pieces of these away, according to state and federal law. Thus, Oregon Coast Beach Connection is not giving away the exact location of all of these ghost forest spots.

The paper is called “Earth Surface Processes and Landforms” and is available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/.

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