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New Ghost Forest Found at N. Oregon Coast's Happy Camp a Chilling Reminder

Published 05/04/21 at 8:55 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Ghost Forest Found at N. Oregon Coast's Happy Camp a Spooky Reminder

(Netarts, Oregon) – A recent field trip to the Oregon coast during a large minus tide yielded an unusual discovery for one state resident. Netarts Bay was somewhat emptied out that day, and certainly the little village of Happy Camp looked very different. The tideline was much farther out in this gray, overcast hour, leaving the half-circle of Happy Camp's bay-within-a-bay appearing to be much bigger in a way. Along this suddenly-elongated shoreline, near the Crab Avenue access, something catches Dillon West's eye. A series of jumbled, scraggly root systems lie a ways from the tide, clearly normally underneath the water. (Photos courtesy Dillon West)

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Dillon, a longtime reader of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, has probably seen this before on those pages. Or at least something like it - but not in real life.

“I've been to this bay 50 times and never seen this,” he told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “While we were taking pictures, a longtime local said she never recalled seeing these before.”

Indeed, after he emailed the publication, Oregon Coast Beach Connection confirmed what he thought: this was a ghost forest.

After digging around the publication's document archives, it's discovered this ghost forest is not documented. It's not in the geology paper that defines the study of Oregon coast ghost forests, written by Scott Peterson and Roger Hart back in 2006.

So the question lingers: how old are these ghost forests? Those in the area – at Cape Lookout – are usually a little over 1,000 years old. But there is a set in Netarts Bay not in the Hart / Peterson paper that's known to be a whopping 80,000 years old. [More on that below].

Finally, the word comes back from Seaside geologist Tom Horning: these are likely 300 years old. He said that's based on elevation, meaning you can see in West's photos they're just slightly above sea level.

Those ghost forest stumps along Washington and Oregon's shorelines that are 300 years old are never on the beaches themselves but rather slightly inland. That's because they came from the 1700 Cascadia quake and tsunami event that tore into the Oregon and Washington shoreline, flooding entire swaths far inland. Ghost forests found on beaches are a different origin, and date back 1,000 years to 4,000 years old (in spite of what others in Oregon have posted about beach ghost stumps).

Those ghost stumps inland are a slightly higher elevation than beaches – hence Horning's opinion on this set at Happy Camp. These twisted, green goo-covered root systems are a reminder of the massive earthquake and resultant tsunami that the Cascadia subduction zone will someday unleash hell on the coastline.

West's finds are not a ghost forest you can see, in general. As the photos show, they're considerably below where the tideline usually is (note the highest gray line at the top of the beach). You won't get to see this yourself unless there's another extreme low tide event, and soon summer sand levels will start to rise, covering that up even more.

Extremely low sand levels next winter are what you'll have to wait for if you want to see any ghost forests in this area (at McPhillips Beach, Cape Lookout State Park). Even then it's not guaranteed; not every winter sees sand levels drop enough to view them.

Ghost forests in the sands come from a much slower process and not a quake / sudden immersion event as talked about seemingly everywhere. Unfortunately, the real story on their origin has gotten buried by enthusiasm for a juicier storyline. See Explanations of Neskowin Ghost Forest Wrong, Say Oregon Coast Geologists.

One longtime mystery did get solved while researching these ghost forests, however. Horning provided a photo of the long-sought-after 80,000-year-old ghost forest. Those stumps are deeply embedded in a cliff in the bay (actual location will not be revealed).

Photo Tom Horning

The photo here from Horning shows a friend who is 6 feet, three inches high, next to the stump, which is about 7 feet tall. The little arrows show “structural joints in the sea cliff that might indicate the presence of a fault nearby,” according to Horning.

Also see New Ghost Forest on S. Oregon Coast Remains of 1700 Megathrust Quake, Tsunami MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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More of Dillon West's discovery:

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