Written in the Rocks

August 26, 2016 (Updated April 6, 2017)

Who doesn’t love a good mystery?

I found one on the Oregon Coast, near Newport, where there is a 12-million-year-old history written in the rocks.

Anyone can crack this case — all you need is a little time and a spirit of adventure.

Start at South Beach State Park, a mile south of Newport, a true jewel in the rough. The 500-acre parkland offers spacious campgrounds, with nearly 280 sites perfect for tents or trailers and 30 yurts for folks who like to camp but lack all the gear.

Park Ranger Dani Padilla says South Beach State Park is often coined a “destination vacation” due to the abundance of activities. For example, Padilla suggests taking a guided paddle trip — offered five days a week  — on nearby Beaver Creek.

“Paddling on Beaver Creek is one of the most peaceful and one of the closest times you can get in tune with nature,” Padilla says. “We don’t have tidal influence on Beaver Creek so you’re not worried about the tides or the waves, and you will see all the migratory birds, eagles and ospreys.”

Every year, more than 3 million visitors flock to the 24-mile stretch of beach between South Newport and Yachats. And yet, according to Assistant Park Manager Alan Freudenthal, the search for peace, quiet and solitude takes very little effort: “You may need to get a little further away from the cities, but with places like Brian Booth State Park — including Beaver Creek, Ona Beach and more — there are great hiking trails throughout that allow you hike to the top of a mountain and see the ocean and not hear any road noise or see very few people.”

Park Ranger Christopher Maitlen says beachside agate collecting is a popular recreation that pays off with gorgeous stones that visitors can keep. Maitlen is a big fan of the park’s interpretive program “Beach Booty 101” and that’s no surprise — he’s the teacher.

“This is called a wrack line, Grant,” explains the longtime ranger. “We actually have two wrack lines from the two high tides each day. As you see, we have a few specimens of agates and shells along this line mixed in with all the vegetation.”

Collecting agates is for personal use only! You are allowed one gallon per day and you must use your own bucket to collect. No digging into the sand is allowed; you must pick the agates right off the beach.

“That’s to keep it from going to commercial use,” says Maitlen. “This is for private collections so you can have a memory of your visit to the Coast.”

Maitlen loves to share his own collections, which contain not just agates or jasper but also fossils that date back more than 12 million years. Maitlen insists, “Oregon history is written in the rocks.”

“The creatures — clams or snails — are frozen in time, captured in layers of sandstone,” says Maitlen. “It’s kinda funny — there they were, living a happy day on the beach just like you or I might, and then all of a sudden, a dramatic explosion occurred and silt and volcanic ash covered them up. Through millions of years, pressure and heat fossilized the shell matter.”

Maitlen explains, Oregon was once a tropical landscape with volcanic activity a constant marker of time. Trying to understand how everything changed is a part of the mystery that he loves.

“The rocks and fossils humble me when I consider the passage of so much time held right in my hand. I know that I am just a speck on this planet for a fraction of time,” Maitlen says. “State Parks feels it’s important that we offer visitors the chance to find these treasures too — that’s a wonderful thing and we’ll keep that going, so get out here and take a walk because the rock beds are where you find them.”


About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.

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