Growing up and living my entire adult life in the south, my idea of a beach was sand – lots of sand, and nothing but sand. Since I’ve retired and slowed down, I have had a chance to explore the rocky coasts of the Pacific Northwest, which are much more interesting. Here are a few photos I’ve taken along the middle Oregon Coast around Yachats.
First a little boring geological background – all this coastline was formed when the Pacific plate and subsidiary smaller plates slid underneath the North American plate, as opposed to the Florida coast, which has been geologically inactive forever. Back east it’s all sedimentary; here, (relatively) recent volcanic activity has deposited lava right along the coast. Looking down the shoreline from an elevated position, you can see a series of sand beaches, interspersed with volcanic headlands.
Rocks at the surf line make for interesting flora and fauna which are out in full view at low tide. On a sand beach, everything that wants to live on the beach has to burrow in the sand. Here, plants and animals can fasten to the rocks and get washed by the sea as the tide goes in and out.
The most numerous and noticeable animals are the filter feeders – barnacles and mussels around here. Walk around the rocks near the water’s edge and you’ll see them on every hard surface imaginable between the high and low tide lines. The barnacles are usually higher up – they can get by on only a few hours of immersion a day. Beneath them are the mussels, packed solid on the rock face.
Sea anemones are another filter feeder. They are cnidarians (jellyfish family) instead of molluscs, but they employ the same strategy – let the ocean bring you your dinner. Of course, where there’s this much tasty seafood clustered in one place, you’ll find other diners – starfish and shorebirds prowl the rocks, looking for a shell that can be pried open. Plants include kelp and other forms of algae as well as sea palms, which spend most of their time being pounded by waves because they insist on living in the intertidal zone.
I’m having a great time waiting for low tide and descending the cliffs to explore the rocks and tidepools. I even found what I think is a chiton – a single-shell mollusc I have only read about, and never seen in the wild. Someone help me out on this if my book-learning is leading me astray, but that’s my best guess. Having spent my life far from where these creatures live, it’s fascinating to finally meet some of them in person.
All along the coast here is a reminder that we’re not the first to explore these shores. As the seacliffs slowly erode, they expose middens – piles of shells left by the original inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest. Here at the beach was a steady source of protein from shellfish and carbs and vitamins from seaweed that made the weather bearable. Under a few hundred or few thousand years worth of topsoil, just below the top of the cliff, there’s a white band of these shells in most of the creek mouth areas where the mussel rocks are.
I’m not getting much company in my explorations – Fiona’s scientific interests lie with the birds and rodents in the bushes higher up the cliffs, and Sharon just likes to walk along the sand. I’m having fun, though. This is exactly the type of thing I dreamed about doing during the time I spent planning for retirement and outfitting my Roadtrek for boondocking – exploring and experiencing strange new places I had previously only read about, and then as night falls, cooking dinner and falling to sleep listening to the surf. When the sun comes up tomorrow, I’m already here and ready for another day of exploration. It makes all the work worthwhile.