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Oregon Coast Beach Near Florence Sends You Back in Time, Drops Heavy Science

Updated 04/09/23 at 5:32 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Central Oregon Coast Spot Near Florence Sends You Back in Time

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(Florence, Oregon) – If you're coming from the south, you've just driven through veritable mountains of sand dunes. 40 miles of them cover the stretch from Coos Bay to Florence, and then once you emerge from that town the Oregon coast changes drastically. Big, dark hills of even darker rock begin to push your drive higher in altitude, and your place above sea level undulates with quickly-shifting scenery. (All photos Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

All this stuff tells a striking, wild tale, of immense flows of lava so thick and massive that what you're looking at may go miles deep beneath you.

One spot in all this speaks weird volumes, and it speaks for much of the area. Geology is one freaky ride back in time, and this place is like a rapid-fire tour of the kind of volcanic action that occurred back then – and more.

Just south of the county lines between Lane and Lincoln counties, a ways between Florence and Yachats, sits a beach spot with no name. Or at least it seems. The parking lot gives way to a path down to this beach with two personalities: one is a sandy crescent surrounded by stone; the other a labyrinth of basalt structures. You might even spot ancient shell middens here.

Basalt is essentially ancient, cooled lava.

This is in actuality the northern half of Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint. It isn't well marked from the highway, but once you get in the parking the name becomes apparent. The southern access is well marked and lies a bit down the road.

Where the sandy and rocky parts meet, a small basalt arch stretches over and into the sand. This is curious because...well...what in the heck happened here? Somewhere way back in time, this was a whole rock structure, maybe hundreds of feet larger than it is now. Tides obviously ate away at it over eons, and somewhere along the line a giant hole opened up in it. Then, perhaps even more curious, sand levels rose – or this place sunk – and it was covered up by sand.

Black, giant, jagged rocky slabs contain numerous fissures or cracks, where the tide can do especially spectacular things (you don't want to be around them at these times, however). Huge logs lie all about, testifying to the dangerous power of the waters here.

One of the more puzzling rock structures you find along the Oregon coast are really almost only found in this region of Lane County – a ways north of Florence. Oddball step-like rock structures pop up here, at Strawberry Hill, and a couple of other spots. They look like Mother Nature's interior designer was drunk and placed some half-built stairways here.

These are called cordwood joints by geologists, and these are really unique features in basalt. It's rather complex, but according to Seaside geologist Tom Horning, it started when some really old lava feature developed cracks. Then, numerous other lava flows came along and surrounded this section millions and millions of years ago, he said, actually inserting more lava into the cracks and eventually even enlarging them. Cracks broke open, bits fell off, and then over eons these were worn into their current shapes. Mysterious Rocky Steps Along Oregon Coast Explained by Geology

What's different about northern Lane County and this whole stretch between about the Sea Lion Caves and Yachats is that all these lava fields come from Cape Perpetua – making them quite unique on the whole of the Oregon coast. Inside Heceta Head / Cliffs Near Florence: All Come from Oregon Coast Volcano

Atop Cape Perpetua, once a volcano

That structure is over 30 million years old, making all this area much older than the basalts of the northern coast, from Seal Rock through Cannon Beach and into the Columbia River Gorge.

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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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