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Four Things You Didn't Know About Depoe Bay on Central Oregon Coast

Published 02/24/22 at 5:22 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Four Things You Didn't Know About Depoe Bay on Central Oregon Coast

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(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – One seemingly little place – a lot of surprises.

On the central Oregon coast, Depoe Bay is much bigger than you think. Or rather, there's much more crammed into this little town and the two or three miles on either side of it than you'd imagine. If you actually saw everything, it'd take you two or three days, honestly.

Beyond the places and attractions, there's some eyebrow-raising little facts about the town, in its background science and history. Here's just four of them.

Cape Foulweather's Origin Story. No, it's not a volcano. The soaring headland near Depoe Bay was thought to be a volcano at one point by geologists, but radiometric dating showed that its basalt was about 13 to 17 million years old, which makes it part of a massive lava flow that came out this way from what is now the Idaho border. It's called the Columbia Basalts, and that formed many of the headlands we see on the northern Oregon coast, including Tillamook Head and Cape Lookout.

Portland State University geologists Scott Burns said he's even seen a sign in the gift shop that read “you're now standing on an old volcano,” and that has caused him laughter. He said from the air it looks a bit like a volcano with a sort of cone-like shape, but it's actually just lava flow after lava flow piled on top of each other.

In actuality, the area where Foulweather is used to be a canyon, which then was filled up with lava. Over time, the ground / sediment around it whittled away, leaving this shape.

Pillow Basalts of Depoe Bay. Depoe Bay is unique along the Oregon coast in geology because there's a lot of pillow basalts – the slightly more rounded blobs of former lava that you see. And yet it all comes from the same lava flows as the Columbia basalts, mentioned above.

So why is Depoe Bay different geologically?

Most of the Oregon coast basalts were formed under deeper water, and then eroded away – because this area was still some 70 miles out to sea back when those eruptions happened. But around Depoe Bay, it happened to be just barely above water, so you had those lava flows coming into shallow water, which creates the bubble-like pillow basalts. Look at what those eruptions in Hawaii look like now: you see lava hitting the ocean and then exploding in gases and steam, and forming rounded shapes.

This area just happened to be higher than the other areas, like Foulweather.

Two Parks with Same Name. Depoe Bay has the quirky distinction of having two parks with the same name: Depoe Bay Scenic View Area. One is a tiny park tucked away behind bushes along Coast Ave., sort of in back of the Depoe Bay Visitors Center and then down the block. The other is what is generally called North Point, the little arm-like promontory that you see from the seawall. If you head to either, you'll see a sign with the same name.

According to the city's Brady Weidner, the two parks don't actually have an official name. He doesn't really know exactly how they got the signage. It's a kooky little mystery, and a fun one.

Either way, they're both scenic gems. The North Point area is a stunning stretch of rock where ocean wave drama is a constant (photo at very top). There's a myriad of interesting little details in this basalt, including a sunken area that almost looks like a partially-built basement. The park at Coast Ave. is reached by walking through 20 feet of a foliage tunnel and then emerging on a beautiful hidden viewpoint (above).

There's a few other little semi-hidden parks along Highway 101, around the spouting horn and Tidal Raves restaurant area, including one called Cat Lick Park.

Little Flying Men of Otter Rock. The Oregon coast is full of silly paranormal legends, but perhaps the goofiest of them all is from the Devil's Punchbowl and Otter Rock.

Back in the 1880s, the little village was actually the land belonging to Dope Spencer, a man from one of the local tribes.

There's a little cave beneath the Inn at Otter Crest, and it was there that Dope had a funky encounter with what he termed “little flying men.” He claimed to have been attacked by a bunch of them while checking out the cave after dark, something he claimed was true until the day he died just before the turn-of-the-century. His descendants also steered clear for the remainder of their lives as well.

An interview with one in the '70s showed her still believing the wild legend, and touting Dope's word as the ultimate truth in the matter. However, other residents had a much different explanation than small, airborne mutants: it was bats. Simply bats.

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