Exploring the Earth and Sky of the West

From A(storia) to B(rookings) Down the Oregon Coast

As another summer comes to a close, I am enjoying looking back at some photos from the past few months. In mid-August we had the chance to spend two weeks in Oregon, most of which we spent along the spectacular Oregon Coast. While not my first trip to the coast, this was my first time visiting some of the more remote southern sections of the coast, and over the course of the two weeks we were actually able to drive the entire Oregon section of Highway 101, all the way from Washington to California.

We began the trip in Astoria, gazing at the mouth of the Columbia River in Fort Stevens State Park and visiting the site of Fort Clatsop, quarters for the Lewis & Clark Expedition during the winter of 1805-1806. From there we travelled south to visit with friends in Rockaway Beach for several nights before continuing on to Newport and then heading inland for other adventures. A few days later we returned to the coast at the mouth of the Rogue River in Gold Beach, just 45 minutes or so north of the California border. After a quick drive into the Golden State, we began moving north, through Coos Bay, Bandon, Florence, and the Oregon Dunes before returning to Newport. After a final few days in the Lincoln City area, it was back up the Columbia River Gorge to Washington and back to work! Here are some of my favorite images from the trip, arranged from north to south:

A sandy beach covered in footprints extends toward a horizon filled with dark clouds

Late afternoon light on the beach in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. The northern third of the Oregon Coast is characterized by long stretches of wide, sandy beach. Sand is relatively abundant here thanks to the Columbia River, though the supply has been greatly diminished since dams started popping up on the Columbia beginning in the mid 1900s. 

A person sits on a log on a sandy beach. Lights of a city are seen in the background reflecting off a thick layer of fog.

I had been hoping to do some night sky photography from the beach, but despite relatively benign daytime weather, most nights looked something like this, with dense mist and fog enveloping the shore. Here, lights from Rockaway Beach illuminate the fog.

A red and orage sky at sunset is reflected in pools of water along the beach as a bird soars overhead

Sunset from Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

A rivulet of water enters the ocean while the sky overhead is bright orange at sunset.

Sunset from Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

Over a dozen seals rest on a sandy beach alongside a pelican with a long beak and a seagull.

Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) and Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) on Salishan Spit near Lincoln City, Oregon.

Large waves crash up against a coastline made of dark colored rock

Thor’s Well is an interesting feature within the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area near Yachats. A ~10 foot wide hole in the rocky coastline, the Well connects to the open ocean via a small cave. The well alternately drains and fills as the waves roll in and out. Watching the water roll into the Well and waves crashing against the rocks was a mesmerizing experience.

A green plant with abundant translucent patches on its leaves grows out of a dense bog

Scattered bogs along the Oregon Coast host rare patches of Darlingtonia californica, the California Pitcher Plant. One of the few species of carnivorous plants native to the Pacific Northwest, the translucent patches on the leaves supposedly confuse insects trying to escape from inside the plants. 

A green plant with abundant translucent patches on its leaves grows out of a dense bog

Darlingtonia californica

The remains of a large tree stump are seen partially submerged in shallow water.

What at first glance appear to be rocks sticking up out of the water are actually the remains of a massive tree stump in Sunset Bay near North Bend. Large concentrations of dead trees, often partially buried in sand, are found all up and down the Oregon Coast, and are often referred to as “Ghost Forests”. Some of these trees, particularly the ones found in coastal estuaries, appear to have been killed by rapid subsidence associated with large earthquakes along the Cascadia Subduction Zone just offshore. Analysis and dating of these trees have revealed that large “megathrust” earthquakes are a regular occurrence in the Pacific Northwest. In the case of the trees seen here in Sunset Bay, it appears to be unclear if earthquakes or more run-of-the-mill processes (such as coastal erosion) are the culprit.  

Layers of tan rock sit tilted alongside the ocean

These tilted rocks at Shore Acres State Park near North Bend have appeared in many a geology textbook! Shore Acres is home to one of the world’s most striking examples of what geologists call an “angular unconformity,” where flat-lying sedimentary rocks (visible in upper left) rest directly on top of older, tilted sedimentary rocks. The boundary between the flat rocks and the tilted rocks represents a large chunk of geologic time missing from the rock record. Several hundred years ago, geologists recognized angular unconformities as some of the first strong evidence of the Earth’s immense age, as they require multiple cycles of sediment deposition, burial, uplift, and erosion in order to form.

A small island of rock sticks out of the ocean. Many seals and sea lions lie on the rock and adjoining sand. A boat passes by in the background.

Sea lions and seals hauled out on Shell Rock near Simpson Reef. Interpretive signs at this overlook proclaimed that this is the largest haul-out site for sea lions on the Oregon Coast. 

Sand dunes along the beach with rocks sticking out of the water in the background. Wavy white clouds fill the sky.

Coastal sand dunes mirror the clouds at Myers Creek Beach south of Gold Beach, Oregon

A view of several rocks sticking out of the ocean. One rock has an archway in it and the sunlight is passing through the archway, forming a narrow beam of sunlight on the ocean surface.

Sunset at Arch Rock, between Brookings and Gold Beach, Oregon

A large rock protruding from the ocean has an archway in it and the sunlight is passing through the archway, forming a narrow beam of sunlight on the ocean surface.

A closer view of Arch Rock.

Several large rocky islands protrude from the ocean. The sky is dark blue and the first quarter moon hovers above them.

The first quarter moon hovers over sea stacks along the Oregon Coast south of Gold Beach, Oregon.

A panoramic view of a grassy slope, a sandy beach, blue ocean, and several rocky islands

A late afternoon view of Lone Rock Beach and Twin Rocks from the Cape Ferrelo Viewpoint near Brookings, Oregon.

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