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Oregon Coast Stranger Things: When Sand Glows or Sings

Published 08/31/2017 at 4:57 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff


(Oregon Coast) – There are no multi-dimensional monsters hiding along the Oregon coast, but there are some awfully strange things on the beaches at the right moment. Sand that glows and even sand that sings are two wild and beautifully oddball things you could encounter here, if your timing is lucky. (Above: playing with light orbs at Lost Creek near Waldport).

It's proof that actual science is much more spectacular than fiction.

Glowing sand shows up as tiny, greenish-bluish sparks, mostly in wet sand that is near where the tide is at that moment. You'll need to find a very dark beach at night, with no light interference from street lights or the moon – which means you may have to wait for a cloudy night or until the moon descends.

Rub your feet in the sand, going backwards, and as the sand kicks up you'll see those tiny flashes of light. More on glowing sand.

If you're really lucky, they'll be lurking in a pool of water and what you'll see is a sudden galaxy of teeny, tiny stars explode under your foot.

The cause is a form of phytoplankton called dinoflagellates, nearly-microscopic plant-like creatures that are bioluminescent, like fireflies. They give off a sudden glow when their cell wall is touched.

Certain times of the year increase your chances of seeing them, thanks to warmer weather. From summer through to the middle of October you tend to see more of the dinoflagellates. A stretch of sunny days can sort of “charge them up,” so to speak. But they show in other seasons when there's just a lot of blooming of phytoplankton, period. A few sunny days and a stint of stormy wave action to churn them up can bring them out in droves as well.

There is no standard formula for what makes them appear, however. You simply have to hit the beaches at night and look.

Sands that sing are much, much rarer, and it only happens on about two spots on the Oregon coast: just south of Cannon Beach and at the southern portions of the National Dunes Recreation Area south of Florence. 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.

In the Cannon Beach area it's extremely rare, and in fact mankind's presence may have eliminated it altogether. There don't seem to be any concrete incidences of it happening in recent decades, and all mentions of it apparently come from almost 100 years ago. What is slightly more common here, however, is the squeaking sands. Under the right conditions you get a squeaking noise out of the dunes when walking on them. More on singing sands, including video.

Singing sands is a tiny bit more frequent in the National Dunes Recreation Area. Even so, some park rangers who've worked at the Dunes for 20 years haven't heard it.

It's a once-in-a-lifetime find, if you happen upon the real thing. Catching the “real thing” is the catch, however. There are other noises the sands here can make – almost as rare at times.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection has some documentation of it occurring in Waldport in the '70s. More photos of similar sights below. Oregon Coast Lodgings for this event - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours

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