Oregon’s winter months offer a roller coast ride of sorts in the great Oregon outdoors; when wind and rain are often followed by stunning sunny days. This week, I headed to the rugged edge of Oregon on a treasure hunt for all things shiny: rocky nuggets from the tides called “Agates.”
As the wintertime surf floods and then ebbs, beachcombers wander the Oregon Coast seeking secrets from the tides. My friend K. Myers of Newport insists that the best beach adventures begin down the long staircase at the Moolack Shores Motel where it doesn’t take long and you don’t go far to reach buried treasures.
“Most newcomers usually go down by the waterline because it’s freshly agitated and they can find stuff that’s fresh but they don’t realize that there’s stuff up here too.” The “stuff” that Myers relishes finding includes opaque white agates and raspberry red jaspers plus clam fossils that date back millions of years. While the fossils are fun, it’s the rocks that get the twice over with Myers’ handy gem tool that has a scoop on the end to make the searching easy.
Agates are little rocky nuggets of silica that formed inside ancient rocks or shells millions of years ago and as the outer layer wears away the agate remains. I was surprised to learn that shoreline agates and jasper don’t come from the sea, but originate high in the watershed. “They actually wash down the rivers into the ocean where they are tumbled about and then are deposited up on the beach,” noted Myers.
Agates come in varied colors ranging from orange to red or pink to lavender – even black.
In less than an hour, we each located a handful of the gorgeous stones – they were of varied colors and sizes and I wondered aloud, while the agates and jaspers are certainly easy on the eyes, “Was the best yet to come?” “Oh yes,” noted Myers. “They’ll polish up well to become really nice collectible pieces.”
Myers has been the manager and co-owner of Facets Gem & Mineral Gallery in Newport, Oregon since 1987. The small gem shop is located just off the U.S. Coastal Highway 101 and you can see the stunning possibilities after polishing your agate treasures. “The polishing techniques enhance the stones, make them smooth and finish them out. Usually, nature has done a good job of rounding off the hard edges of the agates but polishing brings a high luster to them – plus, you can make jewelry or whatever you want with each one.”
Myers knows much about where and when to go rock hounding along the coast. She’s even written a couple of popular booklets (Agates of the Oregon Coast) on Oregon’s fascinating geology that will set you on the right track to your own adventures (and if you must know her favorite places in Oregon to go agate hunting are Yachats, Oceanside and Gold Beach).
“It’s relaxing, it’s fun and I enjoy doing it. Ever since first grade ‘show and tell’ I’ve been interested and have never lost that zest for it. It’s always exciting to find a new treasure and we’re trying to help everyone enjoy all that Oregon has to offer.”
Beach Safety: While agate hunting can be fun, please be extremely cautious and alert. Robert Smith, Oregon State Park’s Beach Safety Manager, said that when you head to the beach in winter it’s critical to stay alert because huge logs are often washed ashore. He said that just 5 inches of water can move a five-ton log. “It’s such a big powerful ocean and we enjoy looking at that power, but people have to recognize that power can also prove dangerous and turn a log into a weapon.”
Smith added that rocky jetties might seem inviting because they offer a front row seat to the ocean’s action, but people should stay in their cars to enjoy the show and not walk out on the jetty rocks. “The jetties are designed to protect the channels for safe shipping traffic and not designed for pedestrian use. The rocks – as large as they are – shift and can have caverns and sinkholes that you never see. Plus, you’ve got poor footing because it’s slippery. It’s just a recipe for disaster.”
Smith added that even the popular coastal hiking trails require caution: “The amount of water and rain that we get here – coupled with the amount of sea spray adds up to increased erosion on our trails.”
But there’s no shortage of Oregon State Park Beach Waysides to enjoy winter storms, and Smith noted that some of his state park favorites include overlooks like Cape Meares or Heceta Head State Parks because both are fine vantage points that have lighthouses too.