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Depoe Bay's Spouting Horn Then and Now: Oregon Coast History

Published 05/04/22 at 5:25 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Depoe Bay's Spouting Horn Then and Now: Oregon Coast History

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(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – In one central Oregon coast town, you'll find a feature in its downtown area that you can't find in any other downtown section of a coastal village. It blows up periodically; you could say it's got a fiery temper. (All modern photos copyright Oregon Coast Beach Connection. Above history shot courtesy North Lincoln County Historical Museum in Lincoln City)

Depoe Bay's Spouting Horn is one unique feature in the region, and apparently the largest such horn as well. It can fire 20 to 40 feet in the air at times, whereas the Cook's Chasm horn near Cape Perpetua is more at an angle and maybe reaches 30 feet at most.

This spouting horn has been around forever, actually. Long, long before mankind got here, certainly even before the local native tribes. In fact, these unique pillow basalts that make up the central Oregon coast are from volcanic activity a good 13 million years ago, and they may be going miles deep, according to geologists like Scott Burns at PSU. Yet they're not infallible to getting eroded away, and there's likely very little left of what was once there.

Depoe Bay's Spouting Horn Then and Now: Oregon Coast History

This all means parts are still being eaten away, such as the hole that creates Depoe Bay's Spouting Horn.

Spouting Horn in the'40s: Courtesy North Lincoln County Historical Museum, Lincon City

This place was settled as an unincorporated town in the '20s (finally officially becoming Depoe Bay in the '70s). Back then, wave after wave of the earliest tourists gawked at the unusual tidal feature, which would fire water into the air that towered over people sometimes. Back then, however, there were no seawalls – they weren't built until the '40s. For decades, visitors simply played in and around the spouting horn. Beach safety wasn't on people's minds.

Here, there are two views of this magnificent monster from the depths. One, during a spring day full of lots of breaker action, you can see the spouting horn in full force. It shoots sea water high into the sky with tremendous force. Watch out if you're driving by: it's certainly a strange and slightly silly sensation to find yourself having to use your windshield wipers because a chunk of ocean water just sprayed all over your car.

People here get soaked, cars need washing, and the businesses across the way, well, that's another surprising story. The motel directly across the street has told Oregon Coast Beach Connection in the past that they have to wash their vehicles rather frequently because of the constant sea mist flying through the air. It zips up and over the building, reaching the parking lot in back.

There's quite a lot of stunts involved with this watery attraction.

In the other shot above, during a calmer day, you see the culprit. A large fissure in the basalt rock here compacts the waves and their immense energy into one huge aerial wallop - something akin to our own version of Old Faithful (except that it's very random and dependent upon certain tidal conditions)..

This fiery place had quite a few thrills way back 100 years ago. In the 1920s, the Corvallis newspaper gave rave reviews about the spouting horn. It was only a year or two after Highway 101 had opened up through here, with the paper first calling it a“novel attraction:”

Spouting Horn in the'30s: Courtesy North Lincoln County Historical Museum, Lincon City

“Nature in her weird way prepared the subterranean structure that resulted in the spouting horn at DePoe [sic] Bay such that it operates in its most gorgeous display only when the wind and surf are right, a condition most frequently seen at this time and later in the season. Over the past week end, the horn which is located in the rocks just beyond the DePoe service station, was spouting so forcefully that ocean spray at times continually showered the highway.”

The article goes on to note how foamy that churning ocean in the cove of Depoe Bay can get, and what a contrast it is to the deep blue waters here of summer.

One thing is for sure: nothing lasts forever. Geologists have no clue, of course, when the hole that propels the Spouting Horn was etched away by tides, but you can sure it's still rubbing against its shape, still slowly wearing it down. One day, hopefully long in the future, the spouting horn will stop spouting.

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