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Travel Secrets: Weird Science, Spring Rarities on the Coast
By Andre’ Hagestedt
shaped driftwood appears on the shore this season
- There’s a lot more to spring than spring break on the Oregon
coast – especially this year, as numerous natural oddities
and rare and not-so-rare natural events are making their appearances
up and down the coast. To top it off, the latter half of spring
cloisters what some have called the “secret season,”
a unique time that holds a load of fairly unknown treasures in the
natural world, as well as lower lodging prices and deserted beaches.
Oregon's coast is a different creature in the springtime,
with numerous pleasures and aspects not always obvious. It's a mishmash
of weather conditions, amenities you can't find at any other time,
places to see with their own identity in this season, and wild,
natural wonders you run a good chance of encountering.
burp' in Seaside (courtesy Seaside Aquarium)
This year, the
Pacific Ocean is really coughing up something somewhat unusual in
the form of what is often referred to as “ocean burps, "according
to Seaside Aquarium manger Keith Chandler. Periodically, the ocean
churns up sundry items from its depths and dumps them onshore. Everything
from live hermit crabs, cockle shells, squid eggs, shells from other
freaky creatures and a variety of other things make it onto the
beaches of Oregon in these episodes – and that’s exactly
what’s been happening recently.
his assistant Tiffany Boothe say the area has been the recipient
of several “whale burps” lately, resulting in finds
of bundles of straw-like material as well as other treasures on
Seaside’s southern side, known as “the cove.”
Chandler recently found 30 live cockle shells, numerous moon snail
shells, and a few squid eggs, which are now on display at the aquarium
and will hopefully hatch soon. For more on this "ocean burps,"
Burps' Leave Oddities on Seaside Beaches)
time of year means the occurrence of what are called “purple
sails,” or velella velella, as they’re technically called.
They look like small, purplish round jellyfish, with a small fin
at the top. They often show up in spring or early summer, in great
abundance, and usually start creating a pungent fishy smell while
stranding on the beaches in such numbers. Boothe already spotted
one on a north coast beach recently.
|Manzanita from above
northernmost beaches are excellent for finding whole sand dollars.
The area is usually quite deserted, so when storms or high tides
drop large amounts of them, they go undisturbed. It is possible
to see literally hundreds on that stretch of beach between the 12th
St. beach access and the Necanicum River.
On the north coast, razor clamming is especially
hot – from Tillamook Bay northward. Areas like Rockaway, Manzanita,
Cannon Beach and Seaside are excellent for obtaining the delicious
little critters. All you need is the right tools and a license,
purchased from any sporting goods stores.
of being banned, clamming has been legalized on the central Oregon
coast, from Newport’s north jetty northward. “Thick
sandy shorelines have something to do with great razor clamming,”
said Newport geology expert Guy DiTorrice. “They like to move
around, so they need real sandy locations. Our cobble-strewn beaches
at most locations here do not bode well for razor clamming as much
as they do for cockles and steamers.”
Some of the year’s lowest tides can happen
in March, April and May, with May having a tendency to be the lowest.
This allows greater exploration of tide pools and other sights not
|Stumps at Rockaway
On the central
coast, this year’s enormous storms have scoured the beaches
and created some strange sights. Lower sand levels mean the ancient,
“ghost forest” stumps are visible again on beaches just
north of Newport. “You can see them at Beverly Beach, at Moolack
and south at Beaver Creek,” DiTorrice said. Perhaps 5000 years
old or more, these are the remnants of a devastating earthquake
on the Oregon coast that dropped an entire section of forest into
the surf, where they did not decay normally because of the salt
water. They look like small stumps in the sand, with octopus-like
root systems trailing out from them.
There is a major “ghost forest” that’s
visible fairly often at Neskowin, and a small patch of prehistoric
stumps has been seen in Rockaway this year as well.
Also in Newport,
agates are again found at Agate Beach in Newport, thanks to the
sand-scouring action of the season’s storms. They’ve
been buried beneath the sand layers all along, and haven’t
been seen there in about ten years.
have made for exciting finds of driftwood as well as the “ocean
burps.” Typically, years with a lot of storms not only lower
the sand levels but dump odd objects onto the beaches as well. You’ll
discover plenty of specimens with wild and beautiful shapes.
oddities can happen a little more often at this time of year as
well, thanks to phytoplankton known as diatoms – the little
creatures that create sea foam. Bill Hanshumaker, public information
officer for the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, said
these tend to bloom in greater numbers in the spring, and seasonal
storms can result in incredible sights such as foam so frothy it
moves like flurries of snow across the beaches and highways in April.
of foam, Cape Perpetua
another kind of phytoplankton can also bloom in greater numbers
this time of year: dinoflagellates. These little guys also glow
in the dark when stepped on or disturbed in the water. Under certain
conditions, this can create what's called "glowing sands"
on the beach, where you'll encounter tiny, greenish sparks at your
feet if you're walking near the tide line at night. However, Chandler
cautioned late summer and fall is usually a better time to catch
this unusual sight. (For more on central Oregon coast oddities,
see Oregon Tourism Alert:
Spring Rarities in Newport)
|View from Old Wheeler Hotel
just inland on the Nehalem Bay, Old Wheeler Hotel’s Winston
Laszlo and his wife Marrane Doyle-Laszlo are preparing for spring
and the small birds it brings.
“Yes, spring is in the air,” Laszlo
said. “The sunsets are moving more and more into perfect position
for viewing straight out the windows of the Old Wheeler Hotel. And
even though it isn't exactly Capistrano, we are awaiting the return
of the swallows and starlings to the hotel. Really, each year we
enjoy watching these little critters industriously set up housekeeping
in some of the best bird real estate in the country – under
the awning of the Old Wheeler Hotel. We have actually, consciously,
removed barriers to nest-building here so as to enjoy watching the
resourcefulness of these creatures as they construct their own habitats
and raise their young ones. It's a fascinating process! We also
love to listen to their singing, although there is the occasional
|Spouting Horn at Depoe Bay
Then there is
what is nicknamed the “secret season,” or the “secret
spring,” on Oregon’s coast. It’s not unlike the
increasingly popular “Second Summer” – where September
and early October find the beaches at their warmest. Except that
this “secret season” happens between the spring breaks
of April and the end of May. Boasting lesser crowds, an interesting
mix of warmer days and magnificent storms, lower lodging rates and
other surprises, it means great deals and wonders of nature to be
found in great abundance.
admit it is perhaps the most spectacular time of the year on the
coast, yet it’s a time when fewer people venture out. When
you combine the natural wonders with the empty beaches and better
lodging deals, they often shake their heads in bewilderment why
the area is left alone.
|Moody spring day in Oceanside
March and April
bring a crazed kind of weather, often switching back and forth abruptly
between sunny and squalls within the same day, sometimes within
a half hour. You get an interesting mix of increasingly nice days,
with occasional winter-like storms still possible – periodically
within the same day. Those storms create some wild possibilities,
especially when paired with the larger blooms of phytoplankton.
You then get a better chance of seeing sea foam pulling all sorts
of strange stunts, like moving across the highways or even flying
upwards, creating the mind-boggling sight of what looks like snow
going the wrong direction.
|Deserted, driftwood-covered beaches,
generally sees increasingly warmer winds and a greater occurrence
of summer-like weather on the coast. The storms begin to lessen
considerably, but the pleasant days don’t.
By May, there are lesser crowds on the beaches,
which means no lines at restaurants, better traffic conditions and
great lodging deals left and right.
Most lodging and vacation rentals don’t go
to full summer prices until Memorial Day Weekend, and many still
have specials running through into June.
the incredible resort of Bella Beach near Depoe
Bay, homes sleeping anywhere from two to around 10, winter prices
range from $110 to $345 a night – somewhere between 50 percent
and 25 percent cheaper than the high season rates of summer. But
they are offering these rates through into May. On top of these
rates, guests can rent three nights for the price of two at any
of these homes until May 19. A Bella Beach spokesperson said: “A
great example would be ‘Whale Tale,’ which is an oceanfront,
two-story, three-bedroom, two-bath home with a small hot tub that
you can get three nights for $500. Or get three nights at a two-bedroom,
two-bath house with a hot tub for $366.” That special is not
valid during the spring break weeks of March 24th through April
16th, but off-season prices remain during that time. The three-for-two
special resumes after April 17 and runs until May 19. Some homes
are pet friendly. Hwy 101 – between Lincoln City and Depoe
the pet friendly San Dune Inn in Manzanita, prices
slowly edge up five dollar per month until reaching their peak in
August. Two can stay for $100 per night in May, or a family of four
can sleep comfortably on $110 per night. They’re super family
friendly and dog friendly, with all sorts of amazing freebies, like
bikes, games, videos, etc., available. Special: dogs stay free during
March and April. 428 Dorcas Lane. www.sanduneinn.com.
on the Nehalem Bay, Old Wheeler Hotel oozes beauty
and romance. Winter rates are still around until the end of April.
Hwy 101 and Rorvick. www.oldwheeler.com.
the Grand Victorian B&B is a striking beauty
recently built to look and feel like a time trippin' jaunt to the
distance past. Indeed, a graceful elegance fills this place. They're
running a special throughout April and May: rent one of the B&B
rooms or their vintage vacation cottage for three consecutive nights
and the fourth night is free. 105 NW Coast Street,