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Semi-Famous Newport Landmark Tumbles, Leaving Sadness and Oregon Coast Puzzle

Published 1/01/24 at 4:35 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Semi-Famous Newport Landmark Tumbles, Leaving Sadness and Oregon Coast Puzzle

(Newport, Oregon) – For some, it's been like an old friend passed away. Silently, without any fanfare outside of Newport, a favorite, semi-famous arch collapsed on this rather tucked-away part of the central Oregon coast awhile back, turning last year's visit a bit of a bummer summer for them. (Photo Ron Tatti. Before and after. The arch is famous to some, not unlike the Duckbill Rock on Cape Kiwanda that sat at a very dangerous hidden area, and was vandalized out of existence last decade)

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It turns out the arch had a lot of fans.

Now, however, aside from the sadness, the science part of it has opened up a puzzle or two, and helped illustrate how dynamic and even oddball this stretch of beach is.

Retired school teacher Ron Tatti has become a regular to the area, snapping pics of this dramatic feature over the years. Last summer, he showed up to find it gone. It had fallen apart in late 2022.

Though Tatti had heard of the arch's demise, it still surprised him to see it earlier this year.

Beloved Beach Arch in Newport Crumbles, Leaving an Oregon Coast Mystery or Two
Photo: Tatti

“When we returned a few weeks ago, discovered the 'hole in the wall' as we called it had collapsed,” Tatti told Oregon Coast Beach Connection this summer.

Yet what is it made of? And why did it erode?

Oregon Coast Beach Connection asked about what material this structure was made of, and Portland State University's Dr. Scott Burns was so far only able to address the area next to the headland.

There hasn't been official word yet on what it's made of - that's still coming. However, it is likely more akin to the cliffs of sandstone-like material that Moolack Beach is made of (immediately to the north). Whatever it is exactly, it is relatively soft, so it erodes more easily. That's not unlike the rather dramatic saga of Jump-Off Joe to the south. See Newport's Jump-Off Joe Gets Dangerous, Oregon Coast Landmark Closed Off

Burns, however, said he was quite familiar with that ill-fated arch.

“Thanks for the news about the arch falling apart - that was famous,” Burns said.

For millions of years, these rocky features around Newport have stood in one form or another. The arch, part of something much larger once, was whittled away over time into its current shape, which in turn got hacked away at again by tides. Like all of Newport's cliff areas – except for Yaquina Head – it's slowly disappearing.

A Unique Beach

Oregon Coast Beach Connection photo from 2008 (another arch closer to Yaquina Head)

This long stretch is a fascinating place, with rock structures protruding from the cliffs at odd angles, intricate-yet-jagged shapes and textures covering them, and then there's those giant grooves sticking out of the sand, also tilted in striking ways. It's impossible to hit this spot and not linger for awhile checking out all the unusual designs and forms.

The spot closer to Yaquina Head hosts amazing tidepools right beneath its arch (referred to as Starfish Cove at times). From here to the fallen arch, sand levels rise and fall dramatically, seriously changing all the shapes and layout – and revealing wild structures that border on the sixties-esque psychedelic.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection photo from 2008

Geologic Back Stories of the Area

Burns said the area closer to Yaquina Head is basalt, although one rather prominent geology paper from Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) discusses this very beach as being part of something older and softer: the Astoria Formation.

Photo Tatti

That's where more mystery comes in for the arch.

“Most of Yaquina Head is the basalt,” he told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “There are also places where the Astoria Formation is still sticking onto the basalt and that might be the gray stuff. I wish we could go out there and look at it and tell you what is what.”

Yaquina Head, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Things get really geeky in a fun way from here.

The DOGAMI paper from 1971 is from Parke D. Snavely, Jr. and Norman S. Macleod (Snavely actually has a science vessel named after him). It shows this very beach, saying it's part of the Astoria Formation, Newport sub-unit, which is a softer mish-mash of materials. It goes back some 15 to 20 million years.

More on the Newport mystery beach and the Astoria Formation, how it was formed

About 14 million years ago, a massive crack in the Earth near what is now Idaho released walls of lava for millennium on end – on and off – and that stuff is the basalt that Yaquina Head is made from. It also comprises Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock, Tillamook Head, Neahkahnie Mountain and really most of the headlands through Seal Rock. It even includes the Gorge, which is why all these are called Columbia Basalts by geologists.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection - closer to the headland

Burns pointed out Snavely had the wrong information back in the '70s, claiming in this paper that Yaquina Head was its own volcano. It was OSU's Al Niem who in the '80s proved it was from the Columbia Basalts. So there's reason to believe Snavely's take on this Newport beach is not quite right. Yet the stuff here looks more grayish than black basalt. Why Yaquina Head is Not a Volcano

So it all remains a bit of an Oregon coast mystery for now, until the answer is finalized or something new is proven.

This Beach Yields More Surprises

This beach isn't done offering up wowing, striking sights. Tatti provided a photo (above) of one remarkable, oddball structure that had popped up briefly out of the sand, one that he hadn't seen there before.

“The photo was taken the only day these rocks appeared - gone the next day, never to be seen (by us) again,” Tatti said.

Another mystery in Newport: how these structures can appear. The answer? Really, that all comes down to how quickly sand can move in and out of a place, uncovering and then covering again.

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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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