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Wild Wonders of South, Central and North Oregon Coast: Gold, Sand Dollars, Creepy Plants

Published 12/11/20 at 2:55 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff


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(Oregon Coast) – To quote Kramer on Seinfeld, “Nature is a maaaaad scientist.” Along the Oregon coast, that is especially true and evident, with many a freaky aspect simply a part of daily life along this dynamic shoreline. (Above: California Pitcherplant, courtesy Oregon State Parks)

Wherever you go here, there will be surprises – if you know where to look. Three really unique wonders are examined here, one for each major section of the coastline.

Southern Oregon Coast: the Rush of Gold in Beaches

Not everyone seems to know this, but Gold Beach got its name for a reason. Just as the California gold rush was kicking in, gold was discovered on these south coast beaches in 1852. There was even an operational mine in the Seven Devils area near Bandon at one point.


Photo courtesy Visit Gold Beach: this sea lion may be sitting on a goldmine

There’s still gold in them thar beaches.

It’s believed the tiny specks come from the remnants of gold that have washed down the Rogue River from major lodes to the east. This ages-long action has left many deposits from Coos Bay down through around Gold Beach, in areas where creeks and smaller rivers run through along the way to the coast, and areas just above the beaches.

They’re found around Coos Bay, from Cape Arago southward into Bandon, Port Orford and Gold Beach.

Experts say to look for black sand beaches, of which there are many in this section of the south coast. You’ll find tiny bits of the stuff, along with some platinum, often as tiny as the sand granules themselves.

There are some who eek out a bit of a profit from this, though it’s back-breaking and drudgery-filled work. It takes a lot of time and special techniques, since mechanized equipment is banned on beaches. You’ll never look at places with black sands the same, such as around Cape Sebastian or Paradise Point State Recreation Site.

Freaky Meat-Eating Plants of Florence

Photo courtesy Oregon State Parks

Just north of this central Oregon coast hotspot sits a weird fantasy land where plants eat living things. Well, they eat bugs, anyway. It’s no cause for alarm in the “Feed Me, Seymour” sense.

The place is called the Darlingtonia Botanical Wayside in Florence. The ethereal, garden-like place features insect-chomping plants called the California Pitcherplant (Darlingtonia californica) 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. Insects 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.

Sometimes known as the Cobra Lilly, these carnivorous eye-catchers feature a large bulbous section with winged leaves popping out all over. They’re often green or yellow but they actually turn red and brown as well over their lifespans.

Inside their alien-looking heads there is a sweet-smelling nectar that’s extra sticky. This nectar attracts insects and once they enter this bulbous section it's often lights out. You can at times sit and watch an insect get slowly sucked down and then snuffed out of existence.

More Whole Sand Dollars On the Oregon Coast

Seaside has a lot of crazy, busy things going for it, but the north Oregon coast resort has an especially calm and somewhat hidden section that is populated by something else. Whole sand dollars, more than you’ve ever seen anywhere, sit along the edge of the Necanicum River at the very northern tip of town and southern edges of Gearhart.

They usually – that means not always – are in abundance, and there are plenty that are not broken. Head to where the Promenade ends, at the 12th Ave. access, and keep walking towards the river.

The reasons for this are a bit of a mystery, but scientists know it’s partially because there are less people here, and when sand dollars come up onshore they’re not walked on or disturbed. There’s also simply a larger population here, which is believed to be due to all the nutrients coming down from the Columbia and the Necanicum, the kinds of proteins that sand dollar colonies and phtyoplankton deem yummy. After all, this is an area known for incredible blooms of phytoplankton, so much that one kind causes the breakers from Seaside to Warrenton to turn a weird, blobby brown.

Meanwhile, the puzzling part is why so many wash up here in this spot and not farther north where the nutrients are still in great numbers. Most experts believe there’s simply something about the terrain and the currents just beyond the breakers at Seaside that is conducive to the little critters getting torn up and tossed onto the sands.

All the sand dollars you find on the beach here should be dead. If they’re gray or slate white as you normally see them, they’re long deceased. However, if it’s a darker color and fuzzy, it’s still alive.

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