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How Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock Was Created / Formed: Fiery Oregon Coast Tale

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By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

How Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock Was Created: Fiery Oregon Coast Tale

(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – Every now and then, if you hang out at Cannon Beach bars long enough and late into the night, you may catch one of the locals trying to pull the leg of an unsuspected visitor to the north Oregon coast. “Haystack Rock is manmade,” they will tell you, and insistently too. It was “built” by humans, so the occasional local prank goes, a tale often fueled by a glass or two of the harder stuff.

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As guffaw-inducing as that is, truth is far stranger than comedic fiction. How the famed Haystack Rock of Cannon Beach was made is a story of fire and lava flows with strength beyond imagining, and a story so old it’s equally hard to fathom.

How was Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach formed?

The gargantuan, looming legend of Haystack Rock begins some 15 million to 18 million years ago, when a nasty and gnarly massive hole in the Earth was spewing lava that crawled across hundreds of miles. Back then, according to geologists, there was a weak point in the Earth’s crust about where the Idaho border is now.

What would later be the Oregon coast was about 15 to 20 miles east still: all of this area was underwater. Continental plates have been slowly moving everything westward for at least 100 million years, plus this section of land has been rising and falling on and off for millions of years as well. The plates would arrive at their current spot about ten million years ago, according to Seaside geologist Tom Horning.


Those lava flows sizzled and seared their way about 300 miles to the shoreline – then beyond it. Sometimes it was a wall of burning lava 30 feet high. They’re the same lava flows that created most major landmarks we know along the Oregon coast, like Neahkahnie Mountain, Tillamook Head, Yaquina Head by Newport and more. It’s even responsible for the Columbia Gorge, and thus they’re known as the Columbia Basalts. Such lava flows happened hundreds if not thousands of times over millions of years, if not more.

With this area underwater, and being of softer sediment, the lavas of the Columbia basalts sometimes plunged deep into the sea floor. They tunneled underneath for awhile and then re-erupted elsewhere. This is what Cannon Beach’s beloved Haystack Rock is.

The technical term is intrusives, meaning they burrowed underground then came up again. Horning and other geologists believe while under the sediment it eventually met a harder substance, then was forced to come back up.

Other intrusives in the area include Rockaway Beach’s Twin Rocks and likely the other Haystack Rock at Pacific City.

Scientists know this because of radiometric carbon dating and other tests, which show the basalts to be the same composition and age as others like those in the Gorge, at Tillamook Rock and the rest.

Eventually, over those 15-plus million years, those rock structures got whittled down by time and tide, eroded into the shapes we now see. Sometimes this erosion gouges out arches, like Three Arch Rocks at Oceanside or Rockaway Beach’s Twin Rocks. Eventually, the arches will break, leaving two separated halves. It’s quite possible Haystack Rock will break up in such a way, essentially. The Needles – the smaller, pointy rocks around it – were all part of a larger structure once that included Haystack Rock. Lodging in Cannon Beach - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours

See Oregon Coast Geology. More of Haystack Rock below:


Beachcomber Vacation Homes.  Numerous vacation rentals in the Cannon Beach area, including Falcon Cove and Arch Cape. Depending on the home, you may find amenities and luxuries such as a barbecue, claw foot tub, a ship's ladder. 115 Sunset Blvd. Cannon Beach, Oregon. 855-219-4758. 503-436-4500. Website.




LIttle-known fact: part of Haystack was blasted away in 1968.


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