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Softer Grains of Newport Hide Historic and Science Mysteries of Oregon Coast

Published 10/06/21 at 7:55 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Softer Grains of Newport Hide Historic and Science Mysteries of Oregon Coast

(Newport, Oregon) – If nothing else, Newport is known for its sandy beaches, seemingly endless at times, and yet always full of surprises you may not be aware of. Then, just as you think you've seen the last of Newport's strands while gazing at the long shape of Yaquina Head, there is even more of the soft stuff sitting on the other side. (Above: Agate Beach seen from Yaquina Head).

Wandering this iconic tract is not only one of the archetypal pleasant experiences of the Oregon coast (i.e. “long walks in the sand”), there are eyebrow-raising finds to be made. There's more than meets the eye here.

Miles and miles of amazing sand stretch from the north jetty to Yaquina Head and beyond. That doesn't even include the long section of strand from the south jetty and South Beach that trails some seven miles to the mouth of Beaver Creek and Brian Booth State Park.

At Nye Beach, there's tons of history beneath your feet as you frolic on the sand. This place was a major tourist attraction as early as the 1880s, and this beach saw plenty of action back then – usually people dressed in fancy garb as they strolled in the summer sun. Clambakes were big, regular shindigs held on the beach here for many years, well into the ‘20s.

Jump-Off Joe now, courtesy City of Newport

Also on this iconic central Oregon coast beach: a rocky mass and the spooky remnants of a condo above it. That's all that's left of the Jump-Off Joe rock structure (however it's not the first such formation to have that name here and then disappear). For decades after the failed condo project was abandoned, it provided a bit of castle-like ruins intrigue and a steadily fun-o-rama viewpoint from which to watch the surf.

Old Jump-Off Joe, circa 1910

In late 2020 the whole headland began crumbling, falling apart, leaving the place cut off from visitors.

However, through this whole time people have unknowingly been gazing down at the last nub-like remnants of the former Jump-Off Joe from this viewpoint. Look down and just to the right of the outcropping and you'll see a flat-ish slab of rock in the surfline. That's all that remains of what was once a small headland like this one, then whittled down into a craggy, pockmarked rocky blob – which old timey tourists fell in love with. This initial Jump-Off Joe fell apart in the ‘30s.

Agate Beach then nuzzles against Yaquina Head to the north. This Oregon coast surfing Mecca was once upon a time covered in agates, but sand levels rose to cover that up in the mid 20th century. Now, it's so overloaded with sand that small dunes occasionally grow here.

Many more miles spread northward from the other side of the headland to the northernmost borders of town, to places like Moolack Beach and Beverly Beach, with their sometimes-towering cliffs and astounding beachcombing finds. Moolack is smothered in fossils, often quite evident year-round in the clay-like material beneath the cliffs. It's illegal to dig those out. However, you'll often find dozens of millions-of-years-old critters lying around: just look carefully at the pebbles and rocks in the sands here.

Bedrock at Moolack

During winter, sand levels get low enough you start to see bedrock at Moolack, and that's when the real and trippy fun begins. Gigantic grooves in the rock become evident, and you start to see all sorts of ancient skeletons of marine life embedded in there. This grayish mixture is about 18 million years old, so the former living creatures are found inside are mind-numbingly older. Luckily, you'll find even more fossils floating around the beach that time of year.

Also look for Newport's ghost forests in winter.

Then, if you're considering the South Beach area - on the other side of Yaquina bay - there are even more miles of sandy strand to play on, such as the pristine stretches of South Beach State Park, down to unnamed beaches around the airport, Lost Creek State Recreation Site and then Beaver Creek. It's a seven-mile hike if you're hoofing it, which is the only way to get down some spots that have no beach accesses for miles around them.

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