Geological and Ranch History
OTTER POINT: ANOTHER TIME AND PLACE
Ranch can be seen on the right photo, middle right
(The following is adapted from an Article by Elaine Pearmain in the Curry County Reporter)
A stroll into a moonscape. A step back into ancient geological past. A peek at the fundament stone of Curry County stripped bare by elements.
Otter Point, an infrequently visited state park jutting into the Pacific just north of Gold Beach, is all these things.
And more, it is an awesome, wave-beaten prow of determined rock, a meeting place for many strong forces—surging, thundering water, ocean-born winds, eon-paced earth flow and mutation, and irresistible erosion of seemingly immutable earth bones. To experience nature in strength, stand at this headland and watch for a while.
Accessible on a little used segment of paved pioneer lane labeled on green highway signs as “Old Coast Road”, the small park is missed by most people touring the beauties of the Oregon Coast. If you visit this place, you will most likely stand alone and undistracted to soak in its impressions.
When you pull up to park you see a wooden safety fence, typical of Oregon cliff-top viewpoints looking out over beach, rugged rocks, and pounding surf—very like several other viewpoints along the Southern Coast.
To understand what makes Otter Point so unique, walk out on the headland.
STROLL ALONG TRAIL
The stroll is about 150 yards along a foot-worn and water-worn trail. The footing is not level in places, so flat outdoor shoes are required. The trail passes through a wild meadow area with rugged coastal shrub cover: low heathers and salal, lavender-blossomed California lilac (ceanothus) and low-growing Oregon grape with its yellow sprays of tiny flowers and prickly holly-like leaves, and delicate ocean-margin wildflowers in season.
Beyond this point, the terrain changes abruptly into a stark world, its topmost layer a sandy clay flat sustaining no plant life. The flat stretches out to unfenced edges, demarking cliffed slopes to water or rock below. (Approach these edges with caution, especially on windy or gusty days.)
LAYERS OF STONE
Narrowing towards the west, the clay flat ends as an outlook over strangely beautiful layers of sedimentary stone. Earth movement turned these stone layers sideways over time (and is still turning them), rows and layers of past ages exposed to face the sky.
A narrow path on the northwest side of the clay flat works down the slope to the sedimentary rocks below. Use caution. The path is steep, and in wet weather the clay is slippery underfoot. A dry, calm day is safer for this exploration.
If you choose to descend there, you can walk over time frozen in stone.
This lower level puts you near the heavy water surges that throw waves and spray up the faces of the point. Intermittently, larger waves produce sounds like muffled thunderclaps and spray drifts like salt rain, a briny storm.
From both the north and south sides of the point jut large stone arches, eroded into the rock by ocean forces. Swells rush and churn through the tight channels, rising high on the walls with wave surges.
Some places on these lower rock plateaus give view of a startling seaweed growing at the waterline. There appear to be miniature palm trees collected on the rocks in groves, beaten by the heavy waves, and swaying loose from the current when the water recedes. These are a rarer form of algae—seaweed—called sea palms (postelsia palmaeformis). This species lives only where the surf beats hard. The “trees” grow up to two feet tall, with cylindrical branches (pedicles that carry ribbon-like fronds eight to twelve inches long. These wave in the sea like palm leaves in wind.
To geologists, Otter Point is particularly significant.
Cindy Ricks, a geologist for the U.S. Forest Service engineering office here at Gold Beach, says, “The neatest thing about Otter Point is that it is a ‘type section’ for the rock that underlies much of the southern Oregon coast. ‘Type Section’ is the geologist’s technical term for a standard sample of a widespread rock type.
Otter Point was where this type of formation was first seen—it was, after all, stripped of vegetation and recent soils, it was out where it had to be noticed. It was the first example, and so it became the key for identifying like samples elsewhere on the coast.
“The Otter Point formation extends from Blacklock Point (at Cape Blanco, near Port Orford) south to Whaleshead,” notes Cindy. (Whaleshead, several miles south of Gold Beach, almost to Brookings, is at another Oregon wayside on 101.)
“The boundaries of this formation are fairly clear to geologists. It is bounded by old faults—it discontinues north and south of these fault lines,” Cindy explains.
“What’s visible at Otter Point,” says Cindy, “is used as a representative of all Otter Point rock wherever it occurs.”
That doesn’t mean Otter Point rock type is all the same. Says Cindy, “It is extremely varied from place to place, because all of it went through so much mixing and change during earth movement.”
Cindy notes that two succinct geologic ages are visible at Otter Point. “The deep stone layers on the end of the point are the latest Jurassic period—about 150 million years old. They contain very few fossils. The few that are found occasionally are mostly of a mollusk called bucchia.
“These mollusks were deposited in a deep water environment. They are embedded in mudstone—composed of sand and of silt with clay grains,” Cindy explains.
“These Jurassic stone layers, turned on their side, are covered with a top layer of sandy clay,” says Cindy. “This is the flat loose soil that covers most of Otter Point.”
LARGE GAP EXISTS
This sandy clay top cover is geologically recent. “These are Pleistocene marine terraces”—they are only about 2 million years old, according to Cindy. “So there is a gap of about 148 million years.”
What happened to the missing 148 million years? “We don’t know,” says Cindy. “Perhaps earth movement deleted any rock that formed during that period. Or perhaps it simply eroded away. It’s just missing here.”
And why are the 150 million-year-old layers, which originated in deep ocean-covering sediments, exposed here on the point? Why are they turned sideways so fascinated coast explorers can walk back and forth “over eons locked in stone”?
“Most people these days know something of plate tectonics, from articles in magazines or TV documentaries, from earth science topics in the schools. Otter Point is a place where people can see a direct result of colliding plates,” she says.
The Jurassic layers at Otter Point were originally deposited in deep water in slopes and fans—ancient rivers evidently carried the particles off land and onto the ocean floor where they eventually solidified into sedimentary rock. The land from which they came was volcanic. In fact, she says, geologists have evidence there was an arc of volcanoes off shore. The sediments originally deposited are full of volcanic fragments.
“But these volcanoes were not off shore where Otter Point is today,” Cindy explains. “They were something like 500 or 600 miles south of here. Everything offshore is traveling north, you know—slowly—with tectonic plate movement.”
Cindy pauses a moment, then continues. “So, here was the scene a few million years ago. These layers which are so fascinating were off shore, under water. They were the deepest layers in the ocean floor crust, a part of the ocean plate. Then that ocean plate was pushed against the continental shelf, against the separate plate on which our continent rests.
“The ocean plate is heavier—in a pushing contest, it slides under the land plate (it ‘subducts’). When these plates slid against each other, the top layers of the ocean crust were scraped away, leaving those ancient bottom layers exposed,” she continues.
The history of these layers reaches the 148 million gap here. The next known part of the story is that they rested, stripped bare and turned horizontal, in an underwater area about 2 million years ago, where they were covered with material washed from beaches. These “marine terraces”, made of ground shells, sand, silt and clay, made the sandy clay flats which now top Otter Point.
Ultimately, with the highly active earth movement on the coast (remember, San Andreas Fault in California is just a small part of all this action), the suboceanic layers were uplifted and turned. The scape at Otter Point came ashore, all rubbed bare, and we can look and marvel.
Says Cindy, “Otter Point rock is very special in that it only can result from action of plate tectonics.”
They teach about plate tectonics in public schools. It sounds like an abstract theory, another massive mechanism “out there somewhere”. Out on Otter Point is visible evidence, a rare look at ocean crust layers no one would ever set eye or foot on, if nature hadn’t used that mechanism to lift those layers to shore.
“As a footnote,” says Cindy, “all the earth movement here on the cost heated and compressed deposits of smoothed cobbles, pebbles and gravel, all kinds of rocks mixed together. The heat and pressure cemented them together, changed them to a new rock type, called ‘conglomerate’.”
“These conglomerates are much harder. They are much more resistant to erosion on the ocean shore. The rugged parts of the coast from Houstenaden Creek south to Whaleshead, the rocky columns and spires, are made of these resistant rocks.”
This rugged, stark beauty draws people across the continent, where they stand on promontories such as Otter Point and watch.
These pictures are taken from Otter Point towards the ranch and north to Hubbard Mound.
EARLY COAST RANCH HISTORY
The headland called Otter Point was once part of an early coast ranch owned by R.D. Hume, and investor and entrepreneur from San Francisco.
Beginning in the late 1870’s, Hume bought up large tracts of land in this region, including riverfront on the south bank of the Rogue, where he built a significant fishery and canning enterprise; the ranchlands from just north of the Rogue River (Wedderburn) nearly to Nesika Beach, and extending two or three miles inland (today, the old Highway 101, the road that goes upriver from Wedderburn and branches north to loop back to current 101 just south of Nesika Beach, roughly bounds that extensive parcel); and the river frontage on the Rogue’s north bank from Wedderburn to Agness—27miles of river front.
Hume established sheep and cattle ranching on his rolling coastal holdings. Otter Point was originally part of this enterprise.
Other Hume enterprises developed between his arrival in the late 1870’s and his death in 1908 included a sawmill, the Bay View Hotel, a hilltop racetrack located on his ranchlands (he sometimes boated racehorses up from San Francisco), a salmon hatchery at Indian Creek, and a newspaper, The Gold Beach Gazette (which later became The Radium when Hume reestablished in Wedderburn).
When Hume died, his wife, who much preferred the amenities of San Francisco, stayed there. She sold all the Hume holdings to Roderick L. Macleary from Portland. Macleary was not a good manager for such large holdings with so many diverse enterprises, and, with reverses from the 1935 closure of commercial fishing on The Rogue, Macleary had to put all his Hume properties into receivership with U.S. Bank in Portland.
In 1935, a civil engineer from Portland, S.O. Newhouse, was sent to Gold Beach by U.S. Bank of Portland to manage the Macleary Estate Company. According to his son, Howard Newhouse, who moved to Gold Beach with his father when Howard was seven years old, S.O. Newhouse managed the properties for 17 years, until Lloyd Company bought the holdings. (Ralph B. Lloyd, a successful wildcat oil driller, was developer of Lloyd Center in Portland.)
When Ralph Lloyd died, his four daughters were not interested in the properties here, and early in the 1950’s they sold them to Associated Plywood. According to Howard Newhouse, the holdings included 30,000 to 40,000 acres of old growth timber. At that change of ownership, noted Howard, the elder Newhouse terminated his management of the holdings.
Subsequently the land was acquired from Associated Plywood by U.S. Plywood.
In the late 1960’s, the State of Oregon’s Highway Commission negotiated with U.S. Plywood to buy the Otter Point portion of the property (51 acres), but didn’t come to a satisfactory agreement. (The Highway Division in earlier years represented Oregon State in acquiring properties for state-owned parks and waysides.)
According to Dave Wright of Oregon State Parks in Salem, “Probably they couldn’t agree on price.”
Ultimately, the state filed to condemn the 51-acre parcel from U.S. Plywood. Legal papers show a judgment in December 1968 on papers filed by “State of Oregon, by its State Highway Commission, Plaintiff”. According to Wright, “We instituted ‘eminent domain’ proceedings to obtain the parcel.”
The Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for Curry County issued the final judgment, stating that the described property “…is needed for a public purpose” and that the Highway Commission “sought to acquire the property by negotiation and purchase but was unable to do so…” The papers indicate the Highway Commission paid, through the court clerk, $150,000 to U.S. Plywood for the property as part of the court settlement.
This was the initial parcel that established Otter Point State Park.
Later additions to the park property included a 34.5-acre strip of sandy-beach coastland south of the point, a parcel which had been part of the Ed Bailey ranch. This part of the Bailey estate was deed by four individuals to Oregon State in 1976.
It was deeded to the Oregon’s Department of Transportation (for the sum of $59,375) by Motor Investment Corporation (Thomas A. Moore and Charles A. Bailey, partners) and by Thomas H. Bailey and Joan Holmes.
The appraised value of that southern parcel, noted in the warranty deed, was $118,750, twice the amount the granting parties received. The deed notes that the rest of the value of the property was a gift.
LEG OF COAST TRAIL
Today that southern portion of the park contains a sheltered leg of the coast trail, winding through head high coastal shrubs and down a forested trail into a stream-carved ravine before it emerges on a wide sandy beach south of Otter Point headland. A walk north in this sandy cove ends at the rugged rock wall of Otter Point.
To reach Otter Point State Park, travel on Highway 101 about two and a half miles north of the Rogue River bridge (just past highway mile-sigh 325) and watch for the “Old Coast Road” sign on the west side of 101.
Turn left to reach the narrow coast road, then turn north. (The old road itself is an interesting reminder of how settlers used to travel—on horses, in wagons, and later in motor cars in a slower-pace era.) A short drive takes you to the park entrance and into the small parking area.
This site was last updated 11/17/14