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Four Things That Aren't What You Think They Are on Oregon Coast

Published 05/26/22 at 4:35 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Four Things That Aren't What You Think They Are on Oregon Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – Geology, believe it or not, can be a wild ride. It may seem dry to many, but on this coastline it contains dramatic, even bizarre truths. (Above: top of Cape Foulweather, Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

Everything on the coast has a rather trippy origin story – and a lot of times it's not what people think. People are often given the wrong impression about some landmarks. Here's four examples:

Cape Foulweather Not a Volcano

The rumor has persisted over the decades, but Cape Foulweather near Depoe Bay is definitely not a former volcano.

What it is goes back to about 14 – 17 million years ago when a giant crack in the Earth near the Idaho border made a super volcano, which poured out mounds of lava numerous times over millions of years. This created the bedrock for the Columbia Gorge and then numerous landmarks on the north Oregon coast. Hence, it's called the Columbia Basalts.


Portland State University's Scott Burns told Oregon Coast Beach Connection part of the reason it was mistaken for a volcano was because it almost looks conical from some angles. If you look at it from the air, it actually isn't, he said.

Ghost Forests Not From Earthquake

Those craggy 2,000-year-old stumps at Neskowin, at the very edge of Tillamook County, are an extremely popular attraction on the Oregon coast. They keep getting loads of photographic attention – and why not?

They're also part of a consistent, misinformed explanation: that they happened because of a sudden earthquake that dropped the land ten feet or more. Just about every media publication out there has gotten it wrong.

Part of the problem is that writers are not checking actual sources, like real geologists, but are looking it up on Wikipedia. Talk to any geologist in Oregon and they defer to the research of Roger Hart and Dr. Curt Peterson from around 2005.

They – and most geologists in the state – say that it was a much more gradual change in landscape, perhaps over decades. The ghost forests were simply drowned by the land turning into swampland, and then covered by sands eventually.

This is true of just about all the ghost forest stumps you'll see on the Oregon coast beaches. However, if you find ghost forest stumps slightly inland, like in Netarts Bay or in Seaside's estuary, those are likely from the tsunami that came from such a massive earthquake. The problem is they don't look like ghost forest stumps on the beach. See Explanations of Neskowin Ghost Forest Wrong, Say Oregon Coast Geologists.

South Coast Not Basalt


 Bandon, courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more

For those who know anything this area's geology, it's usually common knowledge that the north Oregon coast is full of basalt – as mentioned above. The south coast, however, with all its even more crowded proliferation of sea stacks and rock structures is not. It is one very different and varied animal.

Much of it is different ages and different origins – sometimes crammed altogether within the same rock. This explains why it's usually lighter colored rock than those deep black basalts.

A good example is Face Rock in Bandon: it's 56 million to 201 million years old, all mixed together. Parts of it started out 201 million years ago, then other bits were mixed and melted in all the way up until about 56 million years ago. How Bandon's Face Rock Was Created A Wild S. Oregon Coast Geologic Tale 

Many of the rock structures from Coos Bay down through Brookings are like that. In fact, according to Eugene geologist and author Marli Miller, the various sea stacks around Bandon are a prime example and perfect metaphor for the rest of the southern shores. One sea stack, like Wizards Hat, can be one origin, while another just tens of feet away can be of another beginning. You can see these different compositions in the layers at cliffs like those near Humbug Mountain or Otter Point.


Otter Point, courtesy Oregon State Parks

The whole area is a big mishmash of different origin stories. But the one thing they have in common is they were all eroded by time and tides to look like they do now.

Yaquina Head Not a Volcano


This famed Oregon coast hotspot at Newport was of a similar origin as Cape Foulweather, and it too was not an old, dead volcano. That theory popped up for awhile in the '50s or so but was later proven wrong, primarily by former OSU geologist Al Niem.

It too came from those vast lava fields of the Columbia Basalts, just like Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock, Tillamook Head and all the way down to Seal Rock.

This one is an interesting geologic phenomenon: it's called “inverted topography,” Niem told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. Essentially, this was once a vast canyon, likely underwater. The lava came and filled it up. Over time, that land rose and fell and rose again, and eventually the softer rock around the fill eroded away, leaving what Niem called this “finger” rock structure. Yaquina Head was then also worn down considerably over millions of years. Is Newport's Yaquina Head an Old Oregon Coast Volcano?

Interestingly enough, Cape Perpetua was once a volcano as was Cascade Head near Lincoln City.

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