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Delicious Little Secrets of Sunset Bay on Southern Oregon Coast

Published 12/28/21 at 5:12 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Delicious Little Secrets of Sunset Bay on Southern Oregon Coast

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(Coos Bay, Oregon) – They say it's hard to get a picture at this sprawling Oregon coast bay without some other human being in it. And likely for good reason. Sunset Bay near Coos Bay is one popular spot, and there's a lot going on: plenty to do for really everyone. (Photo courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more. Ghost forest stump at Sunset Bay)

Yet the place has its wild and ancient secrets, often hiding in plain sight. Wondrous and weird bits of science lurk right beneath you and around you.

First, the more obvious: Sunset Bay is supremely popular for surfing. It's known for large swells in winter, and even in the most crazed of conditions, such as the king tide events, it's not hard to spot a rider catching the waves. Even in those calm and mellow days of summer, the Coos Bay-area hotspot provides rather large, rolling pipes of ocean piling inward.

Photo courtesy Brent Lerwill: surf's up at king tides

Look down or look to the grayish walls of the bay, and things get older – a lot older. For one, you'll notice massive diagonal grooves by the waters' edge. Those are “wave-cut terraces,” according to geologic terms, meaning over many millennia waves carved them out. But the oddity here is that waves were once coming in at different angles: the bay was in different shapes and pointed different directions at times.

Photo courtesy Brent Lerwill

Walk along the side of Sunset Bay and you'll encounter gray or whitish blobs that look a bit like cannon balls (though there's probably more on the cliffs of Shore Acres next door). But some elaborately labyrinth-like masses of these blobs and nobs exist here, and according to geologist George Mustoe they began as sand deposits millions of years ago. Water seeped into them, then they hardened, and more material kept massing around them in a similar manner.

Photo courtesy Brent Lerwill

Some of the jagged looks of this south Oregon coast favorite come from salt weathering, which is a novel idea if you're new to geologic science. Waves pound the area, but they leave behind salt crystals. Since the rocks here are rather porous, these crystals get inside the rocks, expand, and then split them apart in unique ways.

Photo courtesy Brent Lerwill

You'll find plenty of honeycombed features at Sunset Bay and Shore Acres as well, which is again the result of salt weathering. In this case, algae blocks some of the erosion, creating smoother shapes.

All of this action takes time: millions of years, in fact.

Photo courtesy Brent Lerwill

Another elderly feature that's often overlooked are the year-round ghost forests that can be seen at Sunset Bay. These are unusual for a number of reasons, as unlike most ghost forests along the Oregon coast these can be viewed at all times of the year – it just depends on the tides. Large, twisted masses of wood, often with green sea goo growing on them, poke out of the sands here not just in winter, like those on rest of the coastline.

Photo courtesy Brent Lerwill

There's a bit of a mystery as to their origin: it's not entirely certain that they were the product of slow encroachment – where the land and soil simply covered them up over time – as are all the ghost forests found in the sands. But this is mostly regarded as how they were created (and no, it did not happen due to an earthquake). They're also among the younger ghost forests found on the Oregon coast. Most are two thousand to four-thousand-years-old, if they're on the beaches. This group has been carbon-dated at around 800 A.D., about the time the Vikings started raiding England. See Explanations of Neskowin Ghost Forest Wrong, Say Oregon Coast Geologists

One of Sunset Bay's most distinctive secrets is held in a cliff wall near here – and the location will not be given out. There's a ghost forest stump sticking out of a cliff that was carbon-dated at 7,000 years old, making it almost the oldest ghost forest on the entire Oregon coast. [The Unheralded Ghost Forests of South Oregon Coast / Coos Bay in Photos]

That honor, however, goes to a stump at Netarts Bay, which clocks in at an astounding 80,000 years old.

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