Covering 180 miles of Oregon coast travel: Astoria, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita, Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway, Garibaldi, Tillamook, Oceanside, Pacific City, Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, Waldport, Yachats & Florence.
Really Living on the Edge: Wonders of Oregon Coast Science
(Oregon Coast) – Someone once said about the Oregon coast, “They call it ‘living on the edge of the continent’ for a reason.” They were actually referring to the proliferation oddball coastal characters, but the saying is quite true about the natural world.
Oregon’s coastline is one dynamic and endlessly fascinating environment, with everything around you telling a story – and often a truly bizarre one. From the uncounted grains of sand and their origin, to what freaky delight may lay beneath them, the rocky cliffs at the edge of the beach, to that massive ocean itself: you are truly living on the edge in more than the geographically literal sense while out here.
Eye-popping wonders lurk all around you on these beaches. All you need do is take a quick look. Here’s just a few examples.
The oddest things pile up on shore. This shot was taken near the Devil’s Punchbowl, just north of Newport, in 2002.
Bull Kelp are a large, brown algae that grow in "forests" near the shore. These kelp are annuals, completing their life cycle in one season, and can grow up to 20 meters (60 feet) in one year. At the bottom, their branching "holdfasts" anchor the kelp, although some are torn free in storms. Their long stipes (stems) tangle together to form large piles, as you see in the photograph. Their floats have a high proportion of carbon monoxide and to keep the blades (leaves) near the surface for photosynthesis. (Their smooth, roundish shapes, when bobbing in the ocean, are sometimes confused with seals.)
Cool Caves of the Oregon Coast
These are always fascinating endeavors: exploring these things that were once pockets of air in a sizzling, super heated moment of a lava flow, or maybe the result of millennia worth of wearing away at the basalt by
At Bob Creek Wayside, south of Yachats, more tide pools than humans populate this obscure but fascinating place. They really emerge at lower tides, clinging to odd, mushroom-shaped rocky blobs at the southern end.
At this end, there's also a series of sea caves. First, you'll encounter a small one next to a huge boulder that creates a sort of arch by leaning up against the cliff. On the other side of the arch, there's a sizable sea cave that allows you to walk inside and check out the freaky debris deposited there by the tides. Water is dripping from the top and it gets a little dark, so watch the slippery stuff. You probably don't want to amble around the weird shapes at the very end of the cave, because things can get dangerous.
Along the Three Capes Tour, west of Tillamook, sits the tiny town of Oceanside. There, you'll find not a natural cave but a manmade tunnel leading through the headland to a wondrous hidden spot. These days, Oceanside seems to have wound up back on the radar of tourists, so it's exactly hidden anymore. But go through that concrete structure and there are other sea caves to explore - big and small - plus numerous interesting rocky slabs to play around and copious beachcombing possibilities.
Nothing beats the eerie sea cave at Hug Point, however – just south of Cannon Beach.
This eclectic strand contains a bundle of wonders, including other caves and the manmade road blasted out of the rock at the beginning of the century. Next to that remnant of history sits this rather large cave, with sweeping shapes and colors drifting off into the darkness, and a sort of central rock that almost seems to spiral into the ceiling of the large hole in the rock.
Don’t venture near here if the tide is coming in, however. It’s way too easy to get trapped in this area – maybe even inside the cave. Luckily, the tide is cooperative about exploring here about half the time.
Science in Action: Depoe Bay’s Spouting Horn
There's a unique feature to Depoe Bay that few - if any - cities on the Oregon Coast have. No other coastal town has a spouting horn right in the middle of downtown, anyway. Here, there are two views of this magnificent monster from the depths. One, during a spring day full of lots of breaker action, you can see the spouting horn in full force. It shoots sea water high into the sky with tremendous force. Watch out if you're driving by: it's certainly a strange and slightly silly sensation to find yourself having to use your windshield wipers because a chunk of ocean water just got sprayed all over your car.
In fact, businesses across the way, such as the Pacific Crown Inn, find they have to wash their vehicles quite frequently because of the constant exposure to salt water flying through the air.
In the other shot, during a calmer day, you see the culprit. A large fissure in the basalt rock here compacts the waves and their immense energy into one huge aerial wallop - something akin to our own version of Old Faithful (except that it's very random and dependent upon certain tidal conditions.
Anomalies of Summer 2005
For reasons no one seemed to understand at the time, thousands of dead bugs washed up on shore all along the coast in the spring of 2005, especially Newport, Seaside and Cannon Beach. Gobs and gobs of carpenter ants and ladybugs - all dead - were found at the tideline in late May of that year.
Keith Chandler, of Seaside Aquarium, said he had no idea what's behind this event - how or why they would wind up in the ocean in such great numbers. Initially, one possible explanation was that a large nest had been washed into a stream and then into the ocean. But there are too many, and the event is too far reaching for this to be the cause, he said.
Chandler said he had seen many ladybugs flying around Seaside, which could mean the insects are simply so large in number that many are winding up in the ocean, where they are killed.
A variety of seal pups washed up on the north Oregon coast that year as well, including a fur seal (pictured here) - which normally live in colder waters near Alaska. It is illegal to get closer than 50 feet to one of these animals, no matter how helpless they may look. Authorities say it's usually just a matter of time before the mother seal shows up to reclaim her young. They can be left alone for days at a time. Still, it is illegal to approach them.
What’s Missing This Year on the Coast? Attack of the Little Purple Thingies
Walking along the beach in a past springtime some year, you may have noticed the slimy, iridescent blue discs lying in the sand. These discs are a type of jellyfish frequently called Purple Sail Jellies (Velella velella).
But this year they didn’t show up.
Unlike some of the more common jellyfish, the Purple Sails do not sting. They capture food with small, sticky tentacles while drifting on the surface of the ocean. Purple Sails are found in most seas, often preferring warmer waters, using their translucent "sail" to catch the wind. Unfortunately, when the wind blows out of the west, mass standings of Purple Sails occur on local beaches. Once washed ashore, they either become food for a variety of beach dwelling creatures like seagulls, crabs, etc. Or they dry up, leaving only their translucent "sail" behind.
According the Seaside Aquarium and the Hatfield Marine Science Center, this year’s lack of velella velella was probably the result of not many west winds. It takes those to bring them in en masse, but apparently there weren’t many of those winds this past spring or early summer. However, early spring saw a fair smattering of baby purple sails, which was interesting and unusual.
More Places to Get Your Science On
Newport and Seaside seem to hold the big keys to coastal knowledge, with some major science facilities in both towns. Newport, of course, has the biggest ones – and most official-sounding ones, to be sure. But Seaside has some interesting contributions to opening up your brain to new things.
Gateway To Discovery. A coalition of historic, Native American and scientific entities have come together to create this jaw-dropping look at nature and native history. Of particular note are the catalogs of local animals and the freaky story behind the area’s geology that will leave you blown away. 2674 Hwy 101, North Seaside, Oregon. 503-738-5618. http://nclctrust.org/gateway.html
Seaside Aquarium. One of the oldest aquariums on the west coast. Check out various freaky fish up close. Explore an intertidal zone complete with tide pool life, see a Tiger Rockfish search for prey, or ogle the enormous whale skeleton. Plus, playing with and feeding the seals has been a favorite here decades. On the Promenade in Seaside. Call: (503) 738-6211. www.seasideaquarium.com
Oregon Coast Aquarium. Dive into all sorts of marine life close and personal, especially with its Passages of the Deep - a giant glass-like tube that contains a 360-degree view of three distinctly different underwater habitats. South Beach - across the bay from Newport. Call: (541) 867-3474. www.aquarium.org
Hatfield Marine Science Center. Check out the pharmacological applications of various sea goo, the world-famous whale research of Bruce Mate's work and the awe-inspiring VENTS program, which digs into the underwater volcanoes lurking off our shores. South Beach - across the bay from Newport. (541) 867-0100. hmsc.oregonstate.edu
Mariner Square: with the Undersea Gardens, Wax Works and Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Where else can you take a walk beneath the waves, see startlingly real wax replicas of various movie stars and historical figures and get an eyeful of some of the weirdest factoids in the world? Each keeps different hours and admission charges. 250 Bay Blvd., Newport. Call: (541) 265-2206. www.marinersquare.com
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