Yaquina Head, Agate Beach

Yaquina Head, Agate Beach

by | Aug 15, 2021

Yaquina Head is a prominent basalt headland, adjacent to the community of Agate Beach, rising over 100 feet (30 m) in elevation and extending 0.75 miles (1.2 km) into the Pacific Ocean, about 9 miles (15 km) south of Depoe Bay and 3 miles (5 km) north-northwest of Newport, Oregon. The erosion-resistant basalt was formed by lava flows during the Miocene, or about 14 million years ago. The headland is named after the Yaquina people that historically occupied the territory along the Yaquina River. Yaquina Head provided a place to hunt and collect food from the ocean. The headland was an important navigational marker for early European and American explorers, and in 1873 a lighthouse was constructed. In the early 1900s, the Roosevelt Highway was platted along the coast and once completed allowed visitors to access the lighthouse. The community of Agate Beach developed adjacent to Yaquina Head and was named for the agates that are found on the 4 miles (6 km) of beach between Newport and Yaquina Head. In the mid-1950s, a Newport gravel company staked a mining claim on the headland under the General Mining Act of 1872, and it gave the company exclusive rights to extract rock from the headland resulting in a massive gravel quarry. In 1980, Senator Mark O. Hatfield had the 95 acres (38 ha) of headland designated as the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Today, the gravel quarry is gone but there is a huge excavation in the side of the headland that extends to sea level. The tidal portion of the old quarry is now called Quarry Cove, and the higher part is used for a parking area. In 1997, the Yaquina Head Interpretive Center opened with exhibits about the history and preservation of the lighthouse, and the marine life found in tide pools and along the coast.

Yaquina Head Light, also known early in its existence as the Cape Foulweather Lighthouse, is the tallest light tower on the Oregon coast at 93 feet (28 m), a total of 162 feet (49 m) above sea level, and can be seen for 19 miles (31 km) offshore. Early records of the U.S. Lighthouse Board refer to the lighthouse as Cape Foulweather, which today is actually located roughly 6 miles (10 km) north of Yaquina Head. Cape Foulweather was named by Captain James Cook on March 7, 1778, for the stormy weather his expedition encountered there. For some reason, Cook did not name Yaquina Head, and until the 1890s it was often called Cape Foulweather by the locals and was even shown as Cape Foulweather on some nautical charts. However, the lighthouse records show that it was constructed at the correct location, but the undying myth that it was intended for the real Cape Foulweather makes for a good story. Construction of the light began on September 1, 1871. The metalwork for the lighthouse was completed by Oregon Iron Works of Portland. The tower is double-walled for insulation and dampness protection and was built with 370,000 bricks made by the Patent Brick Company of San Rafael, California. Building materials were delivered by a steam schooner that twice got stuck on the sandbar while trying to enter the harbor at Newport. All the building materials had to be lightered, or shuttled in small boats, to a small cove on the south side of the headland. Landing in the surf was difficult and dangerous and at least two boats overturned in the surf and the cargo was lost. When landing became impossible at Yaquina Head, materials were offloaded at Newport and then had to be hauled 6 miles (10 km) to the lighthouse site on a primitive road. In addition to the tower, a two-story lightkeepers residence was built, as well as an oil house. The light was automated in 1966, and in 1984 several dwellings and outbuildings were demolished creating a large grassy area. In 1993, the U.S. Coast Guard turned the station over to Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.

Scientists studying waves, sand beaches, and in particular beach erosion have struggled to understand exactly what goes on in the surf zone because it is a difficult place to make quantitative measurements. Even anchoring instruments there is problematic since gauges often become waterlogged or break loose and disappear in the waves. Researchers at Oregon State University developed a method to use video cameras to record images of waves and computer software to analyze the images. Their techniques can turn photos of seemingly random breaking waves into revealing images that show the movement of sand on and off shore. The history of imaging the nearshore ocean dates back to the 1930s when the first attempts to study coastal processes were made with aerial photography. In 1980, Dr. Rob Holman began experimenting with time-lapse movie measurements of waves breaking in the surf zone. He discovered that ten-minute time-exposure images could be used to locate submerged sand bars and rip channels, a remarkable simplification over traditional surveying approaches. The power of the technique led to the development of automated Argus Stations, named after Argus Panoptes the 100-eyed giant of Greek mythology. Each station consists of a series of video cameras mounted on a tower high above a beach and connected to a computer. Fixed cameras pointed at the beach collect and transmit images to an imaging lab on an hourly basis, for archiving and long-term analysis of the interaction between ocean waves and beach sand. One Argus station is on a tower at Yaquina Head and points south capturing images of Agate Beach since 1992. Another station points north capturing images of Beverly Beach. Read more here and here. Explore more of Yaquina Head and the light station here:

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