Oregon Coast Landmark Opened Up by Shifting Sands
(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – Those piled up sand levels along the Oregon coast have helped allow more access to yet another tourism favorite: the Devil's Punchbowl.
Often, this caved-in sea cave between Newport and Depoe Bay lives up to its name: it's more or less a boiling cauldron of death inside, with a churning tide that rages against the walls with unforgiving force. Normally, tide levels don't even allow you to go near the cave itself, and sometimes they're wild enough to not even let you down on the beach that neighbors the Devil's Punchbowl.
This year, however, seems to have been a little different, thanks to an unusual amount of sand level rise along the beaches of the coast. Like many places around the coast that were changed this summer – including Arcadia Beach near Cannon Beach, Arch Cape and Oceanside – the Devil's Punchbowl had a similar treatment. Sand levels have been much higher than usual in many spots and have thus kept the tide away. In many locales, low tides look like extreme minus tide events. Places like the Punchbowl or Oceanside, where access is impossible because of normal tide conditions, have become accessible more often because of this imitation of a minus tide event.
Perhaps two or three times a year, conditions and minus tide coincide enough that people can actually get inside the Devil's Punchbowl. On September 9, this was certainly the case: tides were much farther out than usual and nowhere near the inside the sandstone structure.
The following day, however, the tide had returned to the inside and access was not possible.
While it's been difficult to obtain firm confirmation that this has been the case from local officials, as no one has really paid attention this summer, one local businessperson said he's heard some chatter over the summer from visitors. Dick Cutler, owner of Otter Crest Winery, which practically overlooks the Punchbowl, said he's been hearing of people getting inside the Punchbowl a little more than usual, although he's been too buried in the busy tourist season to peek down there himself.
The talk from many up and down the coast, especially at spots like Arch Cape, Rockaway Beach and Oceanside, is that the tide appears much farther out than usual much of the time. Low tides then look like extreme minus tides because of that.
Sand levels normally rise considerably during the summer, because calmer tidal conditions bring them in. Winter's stormy waves scour the sand from beaches, sometimes lowering sand levels considerably.
No one knows exactly why this summer has seen higher than usual sand levels in some spots, and some – like Keith Chandler of Seaside Aquarium – dispute that it's higher than normal, at least in Seaside. But a good guess is the pleasant weather that typified this summer has allowed the tides to continue bringing in more sand, instead of being interrupted by the occasional storm.
In early September, Chandler said he's already begun to notice some changes.
“Some of the storms we've had recently have started taking some sand already,” Chandler said.
Chandler added he's seen sand levels rise or fall as much as six feet in a day because of the waves.
It's likely that conditions have already changed drastically at the Devil's Punchbowl and the marine garden beach that neighbors it. But in early September you could tell the sand was covering many of the rocks and boulders normally bare inside the former sea cave.
The effect of these sand levels and faux minus tide situations has been stunning on other parts of this beach as well: something like 50 to 75 feet more has been added to the beach. Usually, this beach is rather small, even in summer, with the tide line not too far away from the cliffs and the entrance. On the tides of September 9 at least, visitors were walking on rocky shelves much farther out than usual, and a normally completely hidden beach around the corner was suddenly accessible.
A huge new array of tidepools had opened up.
This secondary beach is also home to numerous sea lions, so treading out in that direction was not a good idea.
These conditions also showed off numerous new objects that are impossible to see otherwise, like a sea cave that goes all the way through the massive cliff structure to the raging ocean.
If you venture down to this beach, do not attempt to get inside the Punchbowl unless you notice the tide is quite far away from your path.
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