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Three Oregon Coast Beaches Hiding Ancient, Even 'Ghostly' Secrets

Published 08/06/23 at 6:21 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Three Oregon Coast Beaches Hiding Ancient, Even 'Ghostly' Secrets

(Coos Bay, Oregon) – One axiom seems a constant when it comes to pop culture vs. science: real science is always far stranger than science fiction. (Photo of Coos Bay ghost forest courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more)

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So it goes on the Oregon coast, where the ancient ghost forest stumps contain some delish surprises to tickle the brain with – and stretch it out a bit. Once proud stands of trees, they were slowly engulfed over a period of time and choked to death by sand and sediment, and then ironically protected from decay over millennia by the very thing that killed them.

This is also true for some famous rock structures here, especially down south, where attractions like Face Rock have origin stories that may have your head swimming.

Here's three such beaches:

Coos Bay's Freaky Stumps of Mystery

Photo courtesy Brent Lerwill

At Coos Bay's Sunset Bay, there are a couple of sets of ghost forests, including one that is astonishingly old. Another isn't that old, but it's surprising for a couple of reasons.

The main attraction is viewable year-round, which is unusual for ghost forests along the Oregon coast. At Sunset Bay, a small bundle of ancient stumps sit in and around the tideline of the famed cove, sometimes accessible and sometimes not – it depends on sand levels. Winter usually opens these up more to inspection, but unlike the most spectacular frozen-in-time stumps at Newport or Arch Cape – which only show in winter and are far older – they're around here all the time.

Like Newport and Arch Cape, most of the winter-only stumps are around 4,000 years old – twice as old as the famous ones at Neskowin. Sunset Bay's trees are only 1200 years old, but that's significant because this is about when the Vikings first ventured over to England (if you're a fan of the show Vikings, you'll get it).

The other fascinating aspect here is that until recently, no one had a clear idea of what caused them. The idea of an earthquake often gets tagged onto ghost forest origin stories even though it's not correct for the ones you find in the sand. You'll find this incorrect theory all over every media story done about them (see why it's not true Explanations of Neskowin Ghost Forest Wrong, Say Oregon Coast Geologists). With Sunset Bay's stumps, even literature being handed out to visitors was wrong. But regional geologists Ron Metzger and Curt Peterson pointed out they had been carbon-dated to the year 800 – and there was no massive quake then that could've dropped them abruptly.

Like the other beach stands, these were slowly engulfed. You can see the article below.

The work of Peterson and Roger Hart around 2000 proved all that, and they uncovered something startling here near Coos Bay: the oldest ghost forests in the state (well, almost) are sticking out of a cliff around here. They clock in at 7,000 years old. The Unheralded Ghost Forests of South Oregon Coast / Coos Bay in Photos

South Coast is Crazy Old. Like Seriously Crazy.

Face Rock, courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more

Oregon's north coast is – compared to the south coast – easy to understand in terms of geology. Well, almost. You may well have to be a genius to completely understand this stuff. But the south coast's origin stories are just a trainwreck in your brain. It's unbelievably complex. Most things there are this insane mixture of rocks from different times all fused together. You often can't point to a structure there and say it's one age. Landmarks and cliffs there are a mixed bag of different ages fused together (actually called a conglomeration).

A good example is Bandon and its Face Rock, along with the Kittens, Cave of the Winds, Howling Dog Rock, Wizards Hat Rock, etc. In the case of Face Rock, some of it formed as much as 201 million years ago. Other parts mixed in are from 56 million years ago to some older stuff, according to geologists Marli Miller from UofO and Metzger (until recently with Southwestern Oregon Community College).

“The age of Face Rock would be one thing; the age of the rocks in Face Rock would be another,” Metzger told Oregon Coast Beach Connection.

What Face Rock is made of is called a melange – a mixture of various rocks. Some of it is bluechist (a really hard rock), some is lava, lots of sedimentary rock (stuff that floated down to the bottom of the ocean), and more. Essentially, some of it was part of a major formation that got crunched up against another, and the smooshing action caused it all to get super heated as other rocks slowly fell in. Events like that happened in various periods over the next 150 million years, and then whatever was left was some massive outcropping that was slowly whittled away.

There's stuff on the south coast that is indeed older, and almost every beach has multiple different stories, geologically.

Miller said Bandon is a kind of preview of all that.

“Just walk about the sea stacks at Bandon - a lot of them are sandstone,” Miller said. “But a lot of them are highly fractured and faulted. Go down the beach and another block is different altogether. It’s really wild to see all these different rock types kind of thrown together.” How Bandon's Face Rock Was Created A Wild S. Oregon Coast Geologic Tale

Netarts Has the Oldest Ghost Stumps

Photo Tom Horning

It's hard to wrap your head around, if you get to know ghost forest stumps at all. Netarts, up on the north Oregon coast, has a specimen that's 80,000 years old, winning the contest for oldest ghost forest here by a long shot. They are deeply embedded in a cliff in this bay near Oceanside.

On its own, it's really just a wizened, ruddy-looking thing, not particularly remarkable nor pretty. Yet Seaside geologist said this seven-foot elder is that old. New Ghost Forest Found at N. Oregon Coast's Happy Camp


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Coastal Spotlight

Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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