The Strange Science of Summer on the Oregon Coast
(Oregon Coast) - It verges on the paranormal. It’s a truth that’s a bit out there. And it's a stranger side of Oregon tourism than most have encountered.
It is, in fact, only weird science of the Oregon coast, and you'll find it more frequently during summer on Oregon's shores.
There's more to the coast than beachcombing, kites and just lounging around. Some wild, weird and wonderful secrets can be found - even if many are quite rare. It may be an extraordinary event that happens so rarely you'll be lucky to see it once in your lifetime. Or it could simply be a manner of being in the right place at the right time.
Oregon’s coastline gets a whole new, unusual side to it in summer, thanks to a wide range of oddball natural phenomenon. From sands that glow to sands that sing, the “ghost forest” of Neskowin or the “green flash at sunset,” it’s a veritable “X-Files” case full of strange summer fun for the whole family.
Glorious Scientific Oddities
Under the right conditions, you may see a brief green flash directly above the sun, just before the last sliver dips below the horizon. This can only happen on a day of no clouds, and it’s the result of a variety of conditions that block out certain color bands for a split second. A little more frequent - but harder to discern - is a slightly longer, green blob that lingers just above the sunset.
This scientific oddity was for years a means of ridicule for people claiming to see it, but by the 70's it was actually documented on film.
Then there are glowing sands and singing sands.
The singing sands is also very rare and actually happens only on two spots on the coast: in some areas of the National Dunes Recreation Area south of Florence and just south of Cannon Beach. Sometimes, it sounds like distant voices singing. Others, it's a bit like a violin or an odd, elongated squeaking noise. This, too, only happens under certain conditions, when two different kinds of sands grind together under the right degree of humidity.
It's a tiny bit more frequent in the Dunes area than near Cannon Beach. Even so, park rangers who've worked at the Dunes for 20 years haven't heard it.
During spring and summer, you'll have a better chance of catching the "glowing sands," although it's still much more common in tropical climates. Here, if you find yourself at the tide line on a really dark beach, you may find a strange, green/bluish spark coming from the sand kicked up by your feet. This is caused by tiny, bioluminescent phytoplankton called dinoflagellates, which glow in a manner not too dissimilar from fireflies. Conditions to look for: a sunny day at the end of a few days of rain and rough seas. This increases the chances of bringing the little fellas to shore.
For something rather unusual but guaranteed, wait until August and the yearly meteor showers that hit the Earth. While these are easily spotted anywhere on a clear night, cloudless coastal nights allow especially crystal clear views of this. The big shower is in August, but keep your eyes open on clear nights anytime on the coast and you’ll run a good chance of catching a particularly spectacular show – even if only for a split second. It’s unforgettable.
Don’t forget to make a wish.
Frozen Forests of Neskowin
But there's a twist: beyond the looming presence of Proposal Rock, towards Cascade Head, lay the remnants of a forest around 2,000 years old. These incredibly preserved, ancient stumps at first glance look like the leftovers of a manmade pier. They are, in fact, the remains of a forest that was, over a period of decades, sunk beneath soil, sand or marshy material, which killed them. Their decay was greatly slowed down because of their rather sudden immersion and displacement from oxygen.
This most unusual display of Oregon coast landscape is nicknamed the “ghost forest,” partially because it is eerie and partially because of its ominous origins.
Another theory is that the ghost forest of Neskowin is the remnant of an earthquake so colossal it dropped an entire chunk of forest into the surf, some six feet or so.
On top of Proposal Rock, more surprises lurk. At lower tides, you can hop up onto the top of the big blob at the tide line and do some exploring. There's a small path up top which wanders through the brush. Don't be surprised to see a bald eagle now and then on the treetops as well. Watch the tide carefully here, however. You don't want to get stuck.
Flesh-Eating Darlingtonia Gardens
In the Florence area, you'll find one beautiful but deadly attraction - deadly if you're an insect, that is. The Darlingtonia Wayside features insect-chomping plants that mostly live between there and northern California. These rarities sit around, just waiting to catch bugs with their sticky parts, then slowly digest them. Bugs get lured by the colors and smells they find attractive, and they soon find themselves confused by clear areas that look like exits, only to get sucked into sticky parts that eventually cause their demise. They are slowly sucked down and melted into plant food.
Picnic tables abound here, and this rainforest-like park features a wooden walkway which keeps you elevated and away from the protein-hungry plants.
The wayside is free, and you'll find it just off 101, near Mercer Rd.
Also in the realm of beach wonders, velella velella occasionally show up on the beaches after spring. These small, purplish, slimy things wash up in great numbers in spring or early summer. Nicknamed “purple sails,” this form of jellyfish brings out the seagulls to feed on them when they wash up, and they start to smell rather pungently after a while.
Once they dry, they lose their purple color and become translucent.
“Walking along the beach, you may have noticed slimy, iridescent blue discs,” said Tiffany Boothe, of the Seaside Aquarium. “Purple Sails have clear a ‘sail’ that helps them catch the wind. However, when the wind blows out of the Northwest, these little guys get stranded on the beach. Unlike the more common jellies, the purple sails do not sting. They capture their food while drifting on the surface of the ocean with small, sticky tentacles. They feed on fish eggs and small planktonic copepods.”
Boothe said they can be found in most oceans of the world, preferring warmer waters. They can reach sizes of four inches in length and three inches in width. They’ve appeared twice on Oregon’s shores between April and late May.
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