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Science Curiosities of Second Summer on Oregon / Washington Coast: Glowing to Flashing

Published 09/02/21 at 5:36 AM PDT
By Andre' GW Hagestedt

Science Curiosities of Second Summer on Oregon Coast: Glowing to Flashing

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(Astoria, Oregon) - Beaches, sand, waves, nifty rock structures, yummy eateries and memorable views: September and early October brings all this to the Pacific Northwest coastline. (Photo: Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

Who cares? Ho hum. Let's find something different to do.

There's so much more going on than the obvious on Oregon's coast or Washington's coast, even if it is sort of rare and you have to be in the right place at the right time to experience it. The wildest, weirdest secrets wait to augment your beach trip in ways you can't even imagine.

Part of that is these two months themselves: they're known as Second Summer.

The crazy thing about summer on the coast is that it doesn't have to stop at the end of summer. Fall is known as the "Second Summer," where the coast is actually at its warmest in September and early October. Thanks to the fact that the sea has been heated up all season and is at its warmest and that winds from the east and south tend to prevail, this interaction creates the most tropical this coast is likely to get.

On top of it all, this season is when the shoreline is at its most inviting, with lesser crowds, lower lodging prices and all the other wondrous aspects you'd expect from summer in general - including the surprises below. Second Summer of Oregon Coast / Washington Coast Right Around Corner 

Green Flash At Sunset

Photo courtesy NOAA

This scientific oddity was for years a means of ridicule for people claiming to see it, but by the ‘70s it was actually documented on film.

It takes the exact right conditions, but the result is you may see a brief green flash directly above the sun, just before the last sliver of our orb dips below the horizon. This can only happen on a day of no clouds, and is the result of a variety of conditions that block out certain color bands for a few seconds. Tips: find a high vantage point like Cape Disappointment, Cape Foulweather or Humbug Mountain. Oregon Coast's Green Flash at Sunset and Its Wacky Cousin

Glowing Sands / Waves

Glowing blue waves courtesy Steven Smith / Solution 7 Media

During summer, you'll have a better chance of catching the "glowing sands" on the Oregon / Washington coast, and less commonly glowing waves. Here, if you find yourself at the tideline on a really dark beach, you may spot a strange, green/bluish spark coming from the sand kicked up by your feet. This is caused by tiny, bioluminescent phytoplankton called dinoflagellates, which glow in a manner not too dissimilar from fireflies.

This can also bring glowing waves, though it's much more rarely seen, and if it's a big phytoplankton bloom you may see it bay waters like Nehalem Bay or Coos Bay, where you drag your hand through the water and there's a glowing trail.

A good place to look is warmer pools of water in the sand, lying a ways from the tide, having been untouched by the waves for a while. Stomp your foot in there: the explosion of light will be spectacular if they're in that pool. Bioluminescent Phytoplankton: What Makes Glowing Sand On Oregon Coast, Washington

Singing / Squeaking Sands

Bandon, courtesy Bandon Visitors Center

Even more rare is the phenomenon known as singing sands, happening only on two spots on the coast: in some areas of the National Dunes Recreation Area south of Florence and just south of Cannon Beach. Sometimes, it sounds like distant voices singing. Others, it's a bit like a violin or an odd, elongated squeaking noise. This, too, only happens under certain conditions, when two different kinds of sands grind together under the right degree of humidity. See Oregon Coast's Weird Singing Sands: Cannon Beach, South Coast and Elsewhere | Video

It's a tiny bit more frequent in the National Dunes area than near Cannon Beach. Even so, park rangers who've worked there for decades haven't heard it.

However, around Cannon Beach you'll actually get the “squeaking sands,” which is trippy and wild on its own, even comical. This is a little more likely to be found on damper days, but likely not if it's too rainy.

You may find squeaking sands on some sandy areas of the Washington coastline and other Oregon beaches as well.

Meat-Eating Plants of Florence

Time to say, "Feed me, Seymour." In the Florence area, you'll find one beautiful but deadly attraction - deadly if you're an insect, that is.

Reminiscent of the menacing plant in "Little Shop of Horrors" that begged for grub from the character Seymour, the Darlingtonia Wayside features insect-chomping plants that mostly live between there and northern California. These rarities sit around, just waiting to catch bugs with their sticky parts, then slowly digest them. Bugs get lured by the colors and smells that attract them, and they soon find themselves confused by clear areas that look like exits, only to get sucked into sticky parts that eventually cause their demise.

Picnic tables abound here, and this rainforest-like park features a wooden walkway which keeps you elevated and away from the protein-hungry plants.

The wayside is free, and you'll find it just off 101, near Mercer Rd., Florence.

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

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