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From Dino Bones to New and Moving Land Masses: Startling Oregon Coast Facts

Published 01/20/21 at 6:26 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

From Dino Bones to New and Moving Land Masses: Startling Oregon Coast Facts

(Oregon Coast) – Not everything is as it seems along the Oregon coast. There’s a whole lotta shakin’ going on when it comes to the ground and sands we walk upon, and we’re not talking about underwater quakes. The back story of these beaches is a weird one, and the weird stuff keeps happening.

Case in point: what’s really behind the discovery of dinosaur bones on the south coast and what parts of the north coast are as new as 100 years old? It’s all got to do with things moving here in mysterious ways.

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Dino Bones on Southern Oregon Coast. Why are there apparently no dinosaur bones in Oregon? Well, there are a few (like some found in southern Oregon), but it’s a bit more complex than that. There have been a handful discovered on the southern Oregon coast, but it’s believed they didn’t really come from here.

Dr. William Orr and his wife Elizabeth are the preeminent paleontologists of Oregon, and sizable experts on geology as well. Dr. Orr talked to a few years back (Oregon Coast Beach Connection’s sister publication) and revealed some interesting complexities about all this.

First, Oregon’s coastline is way too young to have any dinosaurs. Those big lizards walked the Earth over 70 million years ago. (How Did the Oregon Coast Come to Be - and When?)

“The remainder of the Oregon coast and coast range simply lack rocks sufficiently ancient (older than 65 million years ago) to bear dinosaurs,” Orr said.

The hitch is that the south coast’s formations that are older than 60 million years didn’t form here. Slow movement of tectonic plates and other actions literally moved entire landmasses this way, or chunks of it were parts of various ocean floors over different periods throughout millions and millions of years.

However, Orr said some dino bones have been found decades ago on the south coast around Cape Sebastian by Dave Taylor and his paleontologist team from California. It was part of a duck bill (Hadrosaur).

“Curiously, that creature did not live or die in Oregon. Rocks at that cape dating back over 100 million years are part of a complex geologic package that were shifted northward from a site in the California Great Valley,” Orr said. “Furthermore, all the Klamath area coastal rocks from Cape Blanco south have been transported here by a matrix of faults not unlike the present day San Andreas structure.”

Much of Fort Stevens State Park Didn’t Exist Until Recently. Most of those soft sand beaches and much of the forest land of Fort Stevens State Park are a relatively new invention. A good half mile of shoreline was not there when Lewis and Clark came bounding this way in 1805, or even until the 1910s for that matter. Many of the ponds and wetlands you see along the road going to the south Jetty weren't there.

According to Seaside geologist Tom Horning, all this land came about because of the building of the Columbia River jetties, starting in 1890. They changed the way sand was distributed in the currents, causing much of the stuff to naturally shift south and pile up. At that point, things began changing quickly. Within a few years a lot of sand was added to the area, and for quite a while there was 20 feet of new sand dunes being built each year.

Essentially, according to Horning, what’s happened is sand keeps getting shuttled down from the Columbia River. Construction of the jetties really pushed this along, but continuous dredging of the shipping channel also keeps the sediment flowing.

“This ebbtide delta has served as a large sediment reservoir for longshore currents to transport sand north and south to build coastal beaches,” Horning said.

Now, it’s entirely possible this process is slowing or even reversing. Horning said climate change and the resultant stronger storm action is beginning to eat away at this new land mass. -- More Photos Below

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Above: Fort Stevens area

Cape Sebastian, where some dinosaur bones were found (courtesy OPRD)

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