Tale of Two Haystack Rocks on Oregon Coast

Published 12/02/2012

(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – Yes, Virginia: there really are two Haystack Rocks on the Oregon coast. Visitors from out of state who tend to latch onto either Pacific City or Cannon Beach become a bit confused by this – and even a little angry by that confusion. But indeed there are two major landmarks, both regularly photographed, both by the name of Haystack Rock.

One is the gargantuan Haystack Rock at Pacific City, and the other is the Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach (which only looks larger because it's closer, but the Pacific City one is taller).

However, to throw another twist into this tale, there is yet a third Haystack Rock – this one in Coos County in Bandon.

Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock sits right up on the tide line of the famed north coast town, while the Haystack at Pacific City is almost a mile offshore from the landmark Cape Kiwanda. Pacific City's is a tad higher than the one at Cannon Beach, by more than 100 feet.

“The rock has an estimated height of 340.6 feet (103.8 m) as determined from Lidar data collected by our agency,” said Jonathan Allan, Coastal Geomorphologist and Coastal Section Team Leader with Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, in their Newport office.

Tom Horning, a geologist from Seaside, said the Haytack Rock in Cannon Beach is about 235 feet high.

Both Haystack Rocks are protected wildlife refuges. Although it's a moot point for the one at Pacific City, except that boaters are instructed to steer clear of the rock structure. At Cannon Beach, you're allowed to goof around the tide pool areas but not climb on its base because of the bird sanctuary there.

Both have been Oregon landmarks for – literally – millions of years. Both appear to have originated from volcano eruptions some 16 – 25 million years ago that took place in what is now Eastern Oregon. Back then, due to the way the continents have moved, there was a massive weak spot in the Earth's crust that created lava flows so enormous they slogged along for hundreds of miles, until they reached the ocean. These are known as the Columbia Basalts, since they created the Columbia Gorge as well as much of the landscape of the Oregon coast.

Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach is actually known as an “instrusive,” meaning the lava flow that it’s a part of shot its way back into the ground, probably in softer ground like mud or such, and then re-erupted again a ways away. This left blob structures that were eventually worn down into shapes we know today like the ones around Cannon Beach.

The origin of Haystack Rock in Pacific City isn't as certain, but scientists believe it's the result of a massive flow that once filled a canyon here, then eroded away into that shape in the distance. It's believed to be the same kind of basalt that comprises Cape Lookout about 15 miles to the north, though no serious testing has been done on this Haystack.

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