Crescent Beach, Ecola State Park

Crescent Beach, Ecola State Park

by | Jan 9, 2022

Crescent Beach is situated between Ecola Point and Chapman Point in Ecola State Park, about 20 miles (32 km) south-southwest of Astoria and 2 miles (3.2 km) north-northwest of Cannon Beach, Oregon. The beach is accessible by a trail 1.5 miles (2.4 km) long from Ecola Point. Ecola State Park encompasses 1,023 acres (414 ha), including all of Tillamook Head which rises to a summit of about 1,150 feet (351 m), and extends along 9 miles (15 km) of shoreline from Seaside to the north and Cannon Beach to the south. The rugged shoreline is underlain by volcanic rocks of Miocene lava flows, about 15 million years old, and slumping sedimentary rocks formed within an ancient mouth of the Columbia River. The sedimentary strata are thin-bedded, fine to medium-grained sandstones and silty shales that grade upward into massive fine-grained clay-like siltstones. The sedimentary rocks have been intruded by dikes and sills of basaltic rock. The intrusive activity, which took place before the sands and silts had become completely consolidated, squeezed the sediments into a series of complex folds and small-scale faults, particularly in the zones adjacent to the intrusions. This action has undoubtedly contributed to the instability of the sedimentary rocks and made them more susceptible to land sliding. The beach cliffs of Ecola State Park show considerable evidence of massive landslides. In February 1961, a large mass of earth began sliding seaward from Ecola Point. The slide virtually destroyed the parking and picnic areas and dumped much of the ground into the sea. The area involved was more than 0.5 miles (0.8 km) long and covered about 125 acres (51 ha). The sliding action occurred as a slow glacier-like movement over a period of about two weeks. Vertical displacement was greatest at the head of the slide where the surface dropped about 40 feet (12 m). Land sliding is not unusual to this section of the Oregon coast. Studies of aerial photographs and inspection of the ground from Chapman Point in the south to Indian Point in the north near Tillamook Head indicate several major landslide areas in the park. These slides are probably the result of over-steepening of unstable rocks by waves eroding the toe of the sea cliffs. Stable volcanic rocks resist erosion and form nearly vertical headlands such as Tillamook Head, Ecola Point, and Chapman Point. But less competent sedimentary rocks, when undermined by wave erosion and further weakened by water saturation during the winter months, begin moving seaward under the force of gravity. This motion continues until equilibrium is established between the head and toe of the slide.

The Clatsop Chinook and Nehalem Tillamook people inhabited this area for thousands of years. These societies are all generally regarded as part of the distinctive Northwest Coast culture, and prior to European contact, they relied predominantly on fishing, hunting, gathering, and trading for sustenance. The optimum location for fishing and hunting marine mammals were the rocky points and headlands that provided better access to deeper water than the relatively flat sandy beaches. In 1806, Ecola Point was the destination of a trek by the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery from Fort Clatsop, their winter encampment near Astoria. When they heard reports about a beached whale being butchered by a local tribe, Captain William Clark and 12 members of the expedition traveled over very difficult terrain in order to trade for whale meat and blubber. They climbed Tillamook Head to avoid the precipitous cliffs and then descended to the southern beaches. They found the remnants of a village converted into a burial ground at what is now called Indian Beach that commemorates where epidemics had decimated the population. In the course of their journey, Clark named a nearby creek ‘Ecola’, meaning ‘whale’ in the Chinook Jargon in reference to the beached whale located just south of the creek near present-day Cannon Beach. In the 1850s, Tillamook Head was being considered for a lighthouse to aid navigation on the southern shipping approaches to the mouth of the Columbia River. By the early 1900s, members of the interrelated Glisan, Flanders, Minott, and Lewis families, all prominent businesspeople and early benefactors of Portland had constructed grand residences in the Ecola Point area. In the early 1930s, guided by a strong philanthropic ethos, the families created the Ecola Point and Indian Beach Corporation to coordinate the transfer of 451 acres (183 ha) between Indian Beach and Chapman Point to the fledgling state park system. Working collaboratively with State Parks Superintendent Samuel Boardman, the families agreed to dismantle their grand Ecola Point homes so that park facilities could be constructed for the public. The park was dedicated in 1932, and Boardman coordinated with the National Park Service for Civilian Conservation Corps crews to develop public trails, picnic facilities, and other amenities in the new park. Boardman also tried to acquire the former lighthouse reservation land at Tillamook Head, but the property was pressed into military use during World War II for a radar installation. In 1948, as the radar facility was being decommissioned, and the Oregon Highway Commission appealed to the U.S. Air Force for the land. In 1951, the state was finally able to acquire nearly 100 acres (40 ha) on Tillamook Head. Boardman also obtained private logged timberland on the eastern slopes of Tillamook Head after negotiating with the Crown Zellerbach Corporation. Subsequent purchases of private properties expanded the park to its current size by 1978. The Elmer Feldenheimer State Natural Area, an abutting but independent state park unit east of Ecola, was added by 1990. However, landslides have been a perennial challenge and have frequently closed the park when roads, headland forests, trails, and many historical facilities are pitched into the sea. There are at least two prehistorical sites at Ecola Point that are also gradually succumbing to the forces of the waves and sea level.

Ecola Point is an archaeological site associated with the ancient Tillamook people. Sites containing rock art are relatively unusual along the Oregon coast, but petroglyphs with motifs pecked or incised onto the surface of a bedrock outcrop were reportedly found in Ecola State Park. A site at Bald Point consists mainly of a shell midden, portions of which have been lost to landslides and erosion. In the 1980s, the midden consisted mostly of mussels, barnacles, fire-cracked rock, and charcoal. Five years later, the site had been completely destroyed by wave erosion. In 1995, another midden was located on higher ground and a shallow and roughly rectangular depression partly obscured by thick brush may have been a house pit. The midden deposit on the upper terrace was dominated by mussels, shell fragments, barnacle plates, dogwinkle shells, burned rock, and charcoal. The site at Ecola Point is a shell midden from a village first recorded in 1976. The main site consists of several possible house pits. This area was damaged by a landslide in 1983, which destroyed as much as 10 % of the midden deposits and exposed a pit oven containing a sea lion skeleton. The site produced 423 artifacts of stone, bone, shell, and metal, and a diverse assemblage of shellfish, fish, sea mammal, land mammal, and bird remains dated to about 1660 to 1040 AD, although the numerous metal fragments suggest that the site may have been occupied into the early post-European contact era. The site has the potential to yield information related to environmental change along the Oregon coast, as well as settlement and subsistence patterns of the coastal tribes. The modern Oregon coast contains a variety of distinctive environments derived from local differences in geology, hydrology, biology, and the dynamic nature of coastal processes. The archaeological sites located in this zone contain substantial data regarding how Native Americans used coastal landscapes for the last three thousand years and also contain data pertaining to Native American occupation during earlier times when sea levels were different from todayThe dynamic physical environments and ecosystems of coastal Oregon were constantly changing even before Euro-American settlement. Perhaps the dominant factor in coastal environmental change has been postglacial sea-level rise. While most archaeologists assumed that Oregon coast sea levels stabilized 3000 to 5000 years ago, local studies indicate that changes have occurred since that time and may be accelerating. Read more here and here. Explore more of Crescent Beach and Ecola Point here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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