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Inside Bedrock at Newport's Moolack Beach: Oregon Coast's Fossil and Mystery Hotbed

Published 04/07/23 at 4:12 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Inside Bedrock at Newport's Moolack Beach: Oregon Coast's Fossil and Mystery Hotbed

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(Newport, Oregon) – It was just a couple of short week ago that word was spreading like wildfire about a very weird-looking Moolack Beach at Newport. What was here was definitely making an enormous impression. Now, it's entirely possible they're gone or mostly gone, but it is so worth the drive to the central Oregon coast to even just check and see. As of late March it was still showing, anyway. (All photos Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

“It” is part of Newport's underside that was showing. Instead of sand and all the soft, cushy delights of heaps of tiny grains, one section of the central Oregon coast has had black, undulating and even groove-covered, hard surfaces. It's the bedrock Moolack Beach sits on, and it's chock full of funky surprises. That includes being a hotbed of fossils and sometimes a lot of agates.

This was a rare and unusual occurrence: bedrock hardly ever shows that late into the year at any Oregon coast location. Something about the tide action has not pushed sands back in after storms had removed them earlier in the winter.

This bedrock is really, really old – a good 15 million years old. Probably more like 18 million at its starting point. This is the Astoria Formation, an enormous shelf of sorts underneath most of the Oregon coast and Washington coast, running from about Newport northward. Along the way there's other formations and things mixed in, even above and below. And exactly what the Astoria Formation is made of is different here and there as well.

It's a really a broad, ancient tale. But the short of it is that the shoreline was miles and miles eastward back then because of continental plate movement. That plate we're sitting on has been moving west for millions and millions of years. This area was all underwater and had become eroded away into a vast undersea canyon. Somewhere about 18 million years ago, it started getting filled up with all sorts of other stuff; gobs of rocky debris from a variety of sources fell into it. With the pressures of more time and other geologic forces, it formed a thick layer of sandstone and mudstone. Consequently, its formation took place over a great amount of time as well.

Notice those odd grooves and different shapes? That's from eons of sand scraping along it, eroding it into various configurations.

Moolack is also known for its ghost forest some winters, 4,000 years old

When bedrock shows at one tiny section of Cannon Beach, or the bedrock just north of Cape Kiwanda, this is the same stuff you see at Moolack. In many places around the northern half of the coast it's similar bedrock, however the really black stuff is basalt – like at Seal Rock. South of Florence the bedrock is a completely different story.

This is where it gets interesting.

All sorts of prehistoric critters – mostly undersea lifeforms – died and fell into the mix over the eons as well.

Cliffs at Moolack are even more jam-packed with goodies year-round

According to geology documents written by geologists George Moore, Donald Prothero, and Clio Bitboul: “The Astoria Formation, one of the world's richest sections of Miocene fossiliferous marine rocks, crops out in seacliffs north and south of Yaquina Head at Newport, Oregon. It contains mollusks, crabs, marine mammals, and many other taxa.”

Moolack in summer

This bedrock shows that in a particularly spectacular way. You simply look at this dark gray stuff and you see endless little squiggly lines – fossils from creatures stretched across great distances of time.

Keep in mind, it's illegal to dig stuff out of rock in Oregon. However, there's lots of them to be found all over Moolack, especially when the bedrock shows. Lucky for fossil hunters, even when sands return in full form you can find them lying around.

What kind of stuff can you find out here? A whole bunch of stuff that's extinct, that's for sure, and millions and millions of years old.

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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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