Beachcombing the Central Oregon Coast

Almost everyone that goes to Pacific coast beaches can’t resist spending time strolling barefoot in the sand, looking for some kind of treasure. Well, there are beachcombers and then there are REAL beachcombers. Here are some hints from Oregon born and raised avid beachcombers about what to look for, where to look and when to look. You might be surprised at what they find.

Kent Gibson, and his wife Lucy, grew up on the Oregon Coast. They have been beachcombing all of their lives. They spend many weekends and evenings searching the beaches for anything and everything. They don’t really think there is a bad time to beachcomb, some are just better than others. They have been known to be out in a winter storm with a soaking, cold, driving rain beating against them. They love walking the beaches any time of the year and their efforts are rewarded. They don’t collect for profit. Their house and yard are full of interesting “loot” that they have found.

Most of the Oregon beaches are public lands. Finders are keepers. That means that almost anything found on the beach can be taken home. Exceptions are the living things in tide pools like sea stars (starfish). The beaches are public by law.  Oregon state statute 390.610 basically states, “….it is the public policy of the State of Oregon to forever preserve and maintain…the ocean shore…so that the public may have the free and uninterrupted use thereof.”

Gibson lists below a short but most popular list of things to look for on the beaches of the central Oregon coast:

Hand blown glass floats from the Orient:

They were used to hold fishing nets up; the glass floats from the Orient are prized finds. But they are also becoming increasingly rare, as fishermen overseas switch to other types of floats. It is hard to believe that the glass floats travel all the way across the Pacific Ocean and survive beaching on the rocky coast of Oregon. They range from two inch balls to tennis ball to volleyball size and larger. As rare as they are becoming, Lucy and Kent have, on one exceptional weekend, found 27 of the glass floats. Kent recommends looking just after (or during) a winter storm when the winds are blowing from the west, just after high tide.

Hand blown glass floats from Lincoln City, Oregon:

These floats also have become prized finds for beachcombers. People come from all over the Northwest come to search for them. Many of them are multi-colored, beautiful works of art. They have become a major tourist attraction on the Lincoln City beaches. Lincoln City has commissioned glass blowers in the area to produce the floats. They are placed on the 7 miles of beaches every day during the daylight hours from October through May. This past season, 2012 glass floats were placed on the beach to be found. That is over about 330 a month! For those beachcombers that don’t find a float on the beach, there is yet another way to take one home. The Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio provides individual, hands-on instruction in blowing your own personal glass float. Open Wednesday through Sunday, the artists in residence help you make a multi-colored (your choice) glass creation. Reservations are suggested.

Driftwood:
There are many streams and creeks that empty into the ocean along the coast. They carry large trees and logs which break up in the winter storms and are carried back onto the beaches. There is so much wood debris that there is plenty of driftwood to find even during the summer months. But the best beachcombing is in the winter months.

Semi-precious stones/agates:

Agates and other semi-precious stones can be found in the gravel beds at low tide, after the waves have churned the beach gravel, revealing the gems. Agates are hard, smooth rock that you can see light through. Colors are clear, yellow, white, orange, red or green.

Fossils:

Fossilized clams, snails, marine mammals and petrified wood that are 15-24 million years old can also be found on the beaches. The only rules that apply to fossils are that you can’t collect them to sell and you can’t dig into the cliffs to find them. Similar to the agates, they are easier to find at low tide. In the winter, after a storm, when the sand and gravel has been churned up is the best time of the year to search for them. Gibson recommends looking for tan, gray, or dark-brown rocks and ignore the black basalt rocks. The beaches around Newport are Kent’s favorites hunting grounds, but fossils can be found along many of the Oregon beaches.

The beaches offer so much more than what is listed here. Look for sand dollars and sea shells. Life and mortality can be found everywhere from crab shells, dead fish to stranded jelly fish. Shiny, black heads that belong to curious seals and sea lions can often be seen in the surf. There may be that single, weathered boot that arouses your curiosity. The almost constant wind, roaring ocean waves and salty marine scent, while exploring barefoot along the sandy beaches becomes a wonderful escape. This is an escape that might also provide you with some free “stuff” to take home.

Kent Gibson answered some more questions about beach combing:

Q: When is the best time to look for glass floats?
Gibson: The months of March and April are best, after a winter storm, at high tide. The third day, when the wind blows solid from the west. The light stuff, including the glass floats, gets blown onto the beach.

Q: You have been known to be on the beach at night with flashlights and beachcombing during high tides and winter storms. Should the average tourist try this?
Gibson: Most of the time when it’s blowing like that, it’s raining, it’s storming and the surf is high.  If you aren’t prepared you’re liable to die on the beach.  Beachcombing during storms is not recommended!

Q: Is finding the old glass floats still a possibility?
Gibson: About seven years ago we found 27 floats in one day. Two years ago we picked up several basket ball size floats.

Q: How long does it take for the floats to cross the Pacific?
Gibson: It takes them about seven years to make a loop. If they miss the beach the first time around, they make another loop of seven years and so on.

Q: If you are looking for fossils where would you recommend?
Gibson: I go to Moolack Beach, Ona Beach, Lost Creek Beach, and Seal Rock Beach

Q: What kinds of fossils are common on the beaches?
Gibson: You might find scallops, snails, petrified wood. I now look for marine mammal fossils. I have found a very rare, ancient Marlin skull.

Q: What do you do with all the “stuff” you collect?
Gibson: Most are in our front yard.

IF YOU GO:

Information about hand blown glass floats, accommodations, and other visitor information can be found by contacting:

Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau
Phone: 1-800-452-2151 or 1-541-994-8378
Web Site: www.oregoncoast.org

Central Oregon Coast Association
Phone: 1-800-767-2064 or 1-541-265-2064
Web Site: www.CoastVisitor.com

Story and Photos by Mike Brodwater