Oregon Coast Fun Facts: Six Amazing Aspects of Cape Perpetua
Published 09/11/2016 at 5:21 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff
(Yachats, Oregon) – Just south of Yachats, on the central Oregon coast, there's more to that area than meets the eye. Wild bears, a frightening, fiery beginning and some fascinating history lurk behind the story of the famed Cape Perpetua, that soaring, striking feature that hovers over astounding attractions like Devil's Churn and the hissing spouting horn at Cook's Chasm.
In a very real sense, the area goes deeper than you think. Here are six amazing facts about Cape Perpetua.
How High is It? Cape Perpetua rises about 800 feet into the sky, above sea level. Cape Foulweather, about 30 miles north, as spectacular as it is - it's only 500 feet high. The actual tops of Neahkahnie Mountain at Manzanita and Tillamook Head between Seaside and Cannon Beach are higher (around 1400 feet or more), but they're not easily accessible. So by most standards, this makes Perpetua the highest viewpoint along the Oregon coast.
Perpetua the Volcano. As you're taking in the soaring sights from this vista-filled vantage point, did you know you're standing on an old volcano?
Cape Perpetua was a massive volcano about 50 million years ago, one that was likely fueled by a giant soft spot in the Earth's crust. Scientists say it's the same crack that now powers Yellowstone National Park, but continental drift over those tens of millions of years moved it considerably.
Another theory has it that it there was another fault line around this area that funneled magma into the volcano, but it petered out around 40 million years ago.
Whatever the case, Perpetua the volcano is responsible for a lot of basalt (former lava flows) you see in the surrounding area. But not all. There were other volcanoes in this area on and off, and some basalt flows simply come from the big eruptions of 35 million years ago, where that same soft spot was located in what was then Idaho spewed oceans of lava that reached all the way here.
The Black Bears of Perpetua. Periodically, if you're super lucky, you might spot a black bear roaming in the Cape Perpetua area. They are “not common” - as the Cape Perpetua Visitors Center told Oregon Coast Beach Connection, but they can occasionally be spotted on the trails in the area (such as Cummins Creek trail and others further south) or even on the winding drive up to the top of Perpetua.
There are some run-ins, but in most years these are rare. There was one reported incident earlier this year on a trail in the hillsides near Neptune State Park.
Interestingly enough, it's the city of Yachats that has more of a problem. Bears are known to regularly raid the garbage cans of the residential neighborhoods, and sometimes this causes aggressive behaviors towards the humans living there. 2008 was a sadly record year for this, with 15 bears being euthanized when it became clear they were no longer scared of humans and posed a threat.
They don't regularly come down to the beaches, however. Mostly, these creatures roam the area at night.
Unusual, Mysterious Rock Stairways. The Cape Perpetua area has an unusually large amount of these, found near the cape and at nearby beaches like Nepture or Strawberry Hill. They look like small, awkward stairways embedded in the basalt rock, thrown askew to varying degrees by what looks like geologic forces.
Well, that's half right.
They are known as “cordwood joints” by geologists, referring to the fact they look like stacks of firewood as well as steps.
These unusual step-like structures happen because lava injects itself into already pre-existing faults or cracks in basalt that’s already there. It’s a little like pushing its way into a molding – except it knocks around the pre-existing structure inside to some degree. Once it cools, it shrinks, and these odd formations are left inside.
Eventually, time and tides erodes the outer rock, revealing these unique objects. More on Mysterious Step-Like Rocks of the Oregon Coast here.
The Great Depression Helped Build Tourism Here. In 1933, as the Great Depression raged on, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to create jobs – and that in turn greatly affected Cape Perpetua.
The CCC men constructed a good deal of the amenities we now enjoy today. Many of the hiking trails were laid down by them, along with the campground. The most prominent example is the famed stone shelter atop the mini-mountain. This was meant for the purposes of fun, initially, but by the early '40s it was used as a lookout for enemy aircraft during World War II.
The young workers were paid $30 per month, with the men allowed to keep $5 while the rest was sent to their families. Each was given a uniform and room and board, and they had to stay in the program for six months.
How Thick are the Rocks of Cape Perpetua? Geologically speaking, this area south of Yachats goes deeper than you'd imagine.
According to Oregon geologist Parke D. Snavely of the USGS and others from Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (in reports from the '70s through 1990), what is called the Yachats Basalt runs as deep as 750 meters (more than 2,600 feet down). The whole area is really a series of flows layered on top of each other, and most of the indivudal layers are about three meters to ten meters thick. Where to stay in this area - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours
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