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Wild Things Embedded in the Rocks of Oregon Coast: Fossils Ahead and Below

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By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Wild Things Embedded in the Rocks of Oregon Coast: Fossils Ahead and Below

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(Oregon Coast) – Every year, as winter quickly approaches and storm season starts to kick in, sand levels will start lowering quite a bit. When they do, that’s when the real treasure-hunting on the coastline happens, and if you look closely, you’ll bump into some amazing stuff. (Above: ancient wood in the walls of Hug Point).

Fossils from all sorts of ancient life forms lurk beneath the beaches, and sometimes in the cliff walls. Lots of weird stuff is found in parts of Hug Point near Cannon Beach, at Arch Cape, and especially beneath your feet at Newport and just south of Depoe Bay.

Life has been around for billions of years, and while most of this land mass we call the Oregon coast didn’t really exist until 18 million years ago, lots of it is stuck in the rocks around this shoreline.

Most of the time, it’s rather primitive life forms you’ll find, like scallops (or the ancestors of them), snails, mussels, and all sorts of smaller stuff. But according to geologists from Oregon’s division of geology, like Parke Snavely in the ‘60s and ‘70s, they’ve found larger creatures in Cape Kiwanda, including sea lions and a fossilized whale. At Gleneden Beach, they’ve discovered sea lions and an ancient version of a hippopotamus (some of which are on display at the Smithsonian).

Wild Things Embedded in the Rocks of Oregon Coast: Fossils Ahead and Below

Up on the north Oregon coast you can see a scallop or two embedded in the rockface of a secret spot called Falcon Cove. Fossilized wood shows up in all sorts of places, including Hug Point near Cannon Beach (pictured at top. Photo above: Newport).

Keep in mind, however, it’s illegal to dig anything out of the beaches or its cliffs. However, if you know what you’re doing, simply strolling on the beach will yield fossil finds you can pocket.

In winter, Moolack Beach can get really freaky: these gigantic grooves appear, created by the sand weighing and scraping against it over millions of years. Inside that grayish rock are fossils in just about every square inch.

How did all this happen?

The bulk of the central Oregon coast sits on top of a thing called the Astoria Formation – a chunk of mashed up, mixed up material that’s primarily sandstone, mudstone and siltstone. It shows itself as grayish, almost black rock. It’s essentially the bedrock of most of the beaches on the coast's upper half, stretching from about Newport all the way up to the north Oregon coast.

Something like 18 million years ago, a bit before when many of the large basalt (solidified lava) formations were created, this whole stretch was something else. Thanks to major erosion of other areas such as the Columbia Gorge, a variety of bits and pieces started filling up here, forming layer upon layer of sandstone and mudstone over millions and millions of years. The land moved upwards, sank back down – a lot of crazy things happened. And most of the time this area was probably underwater.

This simplifies it immensely, but in the end that’s what became the bottom of the beaches we know.


Newport's Moolack Beach

Some parts of it are sturdier and less likely to be eroded, some parts were more sandstone in nature. A few landmarks that are made of sandstone that come up from that mudstone are Oregon coast stalwarts like Cape Kiwanda, the Devil’s Punchbowl and Jump-Off Joe in Newport.

In places like Newport and parts of Cape Kiwanda’s surrounding area, you get a glimpse of that Astoria Formation bedrock about once a year, if sand levels get low enough. North of Cape Kiwanda this is very rare but it's more regular around Newport.

The two most remarkable spots are Moolack Beach in Newport and – if it happens – Fogarty Beach near Gleneden Beach. Fogarty reveals some truly surreal objects.

Over time, a lot of things lived and died on top of these ever-growing layers. The result is you’ll find tons of fossils buried there. It’s rather dizzying. Even year-round, however, you don’t need to look down – only look straight into those walls. If you’re paying close attention, you’ll spot something bizarre and truly ancient. Oregon Coast Hotels in this area - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours


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