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Beloved Beach Arch in Newport Crumbles, Leaving Oregon Coast With Bit of Geologic Mystery

Published 12/29/23 at 6:25 p.m. - Updated 12/31/23 at 7:25 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Beloved Beach Arch in Newport Crumbles, Leaving an Oregon Coast Mystery or Two

(Newport, Oregon) – [Updated] --- It was like an old friend to many, and now for some its demise feels like a pal has passed away.

For millions of years this fascinating feature sat around in one form or another, for all but the last several decades as part of some much larger rocky form. Eventually, the erosional processes of the Earth saw that greater formation whittled down further and further into this shape many had come to know and love on the Oregon coast. (Photo Ron Tatti)

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It's been sitting in a somewhat hidden part of Newport all this time, within a mile of Yaquina Head and just north of NW 68th. The arch had a kind of fanbase, you could say, though not great masses of them. It is, after all, a bit tucked away.

Now it's gone. That familiar hole that could frame the view to the lighthouse, arcing over the grayish-to-brown rocks it seemed to morph out of, has disappeared. This apparently happened in late 2022.

It turns out the arch's crumbling has also opened up a new little geologic mystery or two – in a place that's already pretty head-scratching.

Retired school teacher Ron Tatti came to visit the old arch again early this year, one which he'd photographed dozens of times over the years. He'd already been told by some local friends that familiar shape was gone.

Before and after, photos Tatti. The arch is famous to some, not unlike the Duckbill Rock on Cape Kiwanda that sat at a very dangerous hidden area, and was vandalized out of existence last decade.

“When we returned a few weeks ago, discovered the 'hole in the wall' as we called it had collapsed,” Tatti told Oregon Coast Beach Connection this summer.

This long stretch is a fascinating place, with rock structures protruding from the cliffs at odd angles, intricate-yet-jagged shapes and textures covering them, and then there's those giant grooves sticking out of the sand, also tilted in striking ways. It's impossible to hit this spot and not linger for awhile checking out all the unusual designs and forms.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection photo from 2008 (another arch closer to Yaquina Head)

The area closer to Yaquina Head hosts amazing tidepools right beneath its arch (referred to as Starfish Cove at times). From here to the fallen arch, sand levels rise and fall dramatically, seriously changing all the shapes and layout – and revealing wild structures that border on the sixties-esque psychedelic.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection asked about what material this structure was made of, and Portland State University's Dr. Scott Burns was so far only able to address the area next to the headland. Although he was quite familiar with that ill-fated arch.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection photo from 2008

“Thanks for the news about the arch falling apart - that was famous,” Burns said.

Yet what is it made of? And why did it erode?

Photo Tatti

There hasn't been official word yet on what it's made of - that's still coming. However, it is likely more akin to the cliffs of sandstone-like material that Moolack Beach is made of (immediately to the north). Whatever it is exactly, it is softer than the nearby basalt, so it erodes more easily. This is all typical of the Newport area and the rather dramatic saga of Jump-Off Joe to the south. See Newport's Jump-Off Joe Gets Dangerous, Oregon Coast Landmark Closed Off

Geologic Back Stories of the Area

Burns said the area closer to Yaquina Head is basalt, although one rather prominent geology paper from Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) discusses this very beach as being part of something older and softer: the Astoria Formation.

That's where more mystery comes in.

Yaquina Head, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

“Most of Yaquina Head is the basalt,” he told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “There are also places where the Astoria Formation is still sticking onto the basalt and that might be the gray stuff. I wish we could go out there and look at it and tell you what is what.”

Things get really geeky in a fun way from here.

The DOGAMI paper from 1971 is from Parke D. Snavely, Jr. and Norman S. Macleod (Snavely actually has a science vessel named after him). It shows this very beach, saying it's part of the Astoria Formation, Newport sub-unit, which is a softer mish-mash of materials. It goes back some 15 to 20 million years.

More on the Newport mystery beach and the Astoria Formation, how it was formed

About 14 million years ago, a massive crack in the Earth near what is now Idaho released walls of lava for millennium on end – on and off – and that stuff is the basalt that Yaquina Head is made from. It also comprises Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock, Tillamook Head, Neahkahnie Mountain and really most of the headlands through Seal Rock. It even includes the Gorge, which is why all these are called Columbia Basalts by geologists.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection - closer to the headland

Burns pointed out Snavely had the wrong information back in the '70s, claiming in this paper that Yaquina Head was its own volcano. It was OSU's Al Niem who in the '80s proved it was from the Columbia Basalts. So there's reason to believe Snavely's take on this Newport beach is not quite right. Yet the stuff here looks more grayish than black basalt. Why Yaquina Head is Not a Volcano

So it all remains a bit of an Oregon coast mystery for now, until the answer is finalized or something new is proven.

Still More Beach Surprises

This beach isn't done offering up some other wowing surprises. Tatti provided a photo (above) of one remarkable, oddball structure that had popped up briefly out of the sand, that he hadn't seen there before.

“The photo was taken the only day these rocks appeared - gone the next day, never to be seen (by us) again,” Tatti said.

Another mystery in Newport: how these structures can appear. Really, that all comes down to how quickly sand can move in and out of a place, uncovering and then covering again.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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