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Oregon Coast Stumps of Mystery: Neskowin's Ghost Forest

Published 03/01/2011

Oregon Coast Stumps of Mystery: Neskowin's Ghost Forest

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(Neskowin, Oregon) – It's the kind of Oregon coast attraction that's so unusual it's thousands of years in the making.

Somewhere between Lincoln City and Pacific City, along a dark corridor of dense forest that runs behind Cascade Head, there’s a tiny little village called Neskowin, where the strangest stumps have grown. They're nicknamed the “ghost forest,” partially for their appearance and partially for their rather back-from-the-dead origin. A stand of Sikta spruce some 2,000 years old or so are lurking in the sand of this placid place, poking up out of the sand at the tideline – a ways behind the landmark Proposal Rock that defines this beach.

Geologists with the state of Oregon have carbon dated them at around 1,900 years old (when they died, not the exact age of the trees themselves). At the Oregon Department of Gem and Mineral Industries, geomorphologist Jonathan Allan and geologists Roger Hart and Curt Peterson say it's the result of this patch of trees getting swallowed up by sand and / or mud, and then hidden far beneath for millennia, which kept them from the decaying effects of oxygen and bacteria. They were in essence preserved by the very sands that killed them.

But exactly how those sands got there has been a kind of goofy controversy. Hart, Peterson and Allan are the definitive sources on the subject, and they say it was a gradual process, but quick in geologic terms – like within a span of a few decades. The sand or some sort of swamp situation simply enveloped the trees because of a change in landscape, thereby killing them but preserving them.

However, most media (and a couple of geologists speaking off the cuff) have said in recent years they believe it was a bit more cataclysmic, where a massive earthquake – like the one we’re expecting to hit the coast – dropped this chunk of land abruptly, maybe as much as thirty feet. This encased the trees, which were then “decapitated” by a tsunami. This theory isn't true. It was not a quake and this concept has simply been overtaken by the actual, proven origin for some reason.

While these stumps are pretty, they’re also a bit eerie. “Ghost forest” is an apt name for them.

There are other ghost forests that become visible on the coast in different areas during extreme low tide events in the winter, but the ones at Neskowin are just about the only ones visible year round (two can be seen all year near Newport). This tourist-friendly aspect appears to be a precursor to their possible demise: sand levels here are sometimes so low the stumps have become unearthed and destroyed. In the winter of early 2008, quite a few were torn out of the sand and drifted up north to Cape Lookout, where they were found scattered in thousands of sad pieces.

You have to cross a rather rough creek to get to them, which is no fun – and not for children. But it’s worth the discomfort: just avoid the creek after heavy rain periods.

[There are 33 ghost forest spots along the Oregon coast: Photos of Oregon Coast Ghost Forest Stumps: Where Else to Find Them]

Hart was in recent years working with a national foundation to see if the sand levels at Neskowin had something to do with climate change, and admits a certain partiality for these stumpy specimens.

“The ghost forest at Neskowin is especially worth visiting,” he told Oregon Coast Beach Connection in 2008. Hotels in Pacific City / Neskowin - Where to eat - Pacific City Maps and Virtual Tours

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