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Lost Parts of Oregon Coast: When They Blasted Rocks at Heceta Head

Published 08/02/21 at 6:42 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Lost Parts of Oregon Coast: When They Blasted Rock at Heceta Head

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(Florence, Oregon) – History on the Oregon coast is full of all sorts of things lost to time, especially buildings of significance and numerous natural structures that were beloved. In the case of landforms that have gone missing, by and large that's Mother Nature swatting at them with waves and erosion over eons. On occasion, however, Mankind itself has had to take a stern hand in order to protect people from themselves.

Both are true to for two distinctively different chunks of Heceta Head near Florence, the famed headland on the central Oregon coast that sports a lighthouse and a lighthouse keepers quarters that is now a bed and breakfast. Heceta had a much-loved landmark that disappeared and one that had to be destroyed.

Neither are well-known anymore.

Back in 1980, Oregon coast officials and local began to seriously get tired of the deaths that kept occurring at one of the rocks beneath Heceta Head, called Conical Rock (sometimes called Parrot Rock). There are two large rocky blobs there, even now, with the one farthest out called Pinnacle Rock. From 1970 through ‘80, seven people drowned while crossing a divide, obtainable by walking onto a rock next to Conical Rock and using it as a steppingstone.

What was then called Devils Elbow State Park (now Heceta Head State Scenic Viewpoint) was a devil of a problem, especially Conical Rock. According to the Statesman Journal at the time, the steppingstone was also a hazard because of the rock's wildlife refuge protection status, with tufted puffins being among the treasured denizens.

Blasting the rock in 1986 - courtesy Interpretive Center

Part of the dangers here were that while people were getting over to the rock at low tides, even then the tidal action here was odd and unpredictable. Currents were rough when they appeared without notice, and no matter how calm it was, sneaker waves would pummel people and knock them around.

It was Oregon State Parks Division (now Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department) and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife that drafted the proposal to blow up that steppingstone. Essentially, six feet by six feet worth of rock.

In February of ‘81 the proposal had gotten a lot of publicity but not much interest. About three wacky letters of objection came in, with sentiments like “you can't protect people from themselves by reducing the beach to rubble.”

Blasting would be done in early March to avoid the nesting season of local birds. It was expected to only take an hour.

Current layout of the rocks: notice the chunk missing in comparison to the previous photo (courtesy Interpretive Center)

However, for reasons unknown, according to Mary Nulty, a historian at the Heceta Lighthouse Interpretive Center at the Keeper's House, the work was not done until March 3 of 1986. In fact, there's no documentation on how it was done or how it went, except for some photos provided by the center. Yet the work was finally completed, and extra signage was placed to keep people away.

Lost Parts of Oregon Coast: When They Blasted Rocks at Heceta Head
Eye of the Needle arch - courtesy Interpretive Center

Another feature at Heceta Head was actually quite loved but now forgotten. The Needles Eye – or Eye of the Needle - was a curious arch at the southern end of the cove of Devils Elbow beach, a different kind of hole in the rocks.

For decades, it provided a prime photographic, visual hook. During low tides, you could get closer to it and get a shot of the lighthouse through it – a particularly beautiful bit of natural framing.

There's a little dissension over how long it lasted, with some saying they found evidence it was around until the 1950s. There's also some school of thought it might've been destroyed when they blasted the area to create the Cape Creek Bridge.

However, Nulty said she has a photo from the 1930s showing the Eye of the Needle is gone. So, it's likely it simply eroded with storm action somewhere before then.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection wishes to thank the Heceta Lighthouse Interpretive Center and Neil Elfrink with Siuslaw National Forest for information and photographs.

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Chunk of rock that was blasted away (courtesy Interpretive Center)

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