How an earthquake and El Nino created the Neskowin Ghost Forest

April 25, 2019, 9:27 a.m.
Ghost Forest in Neskowin, Oregon
Photo: kojihirano/Shutterstock

Eerie figures float from the sand at low tide on the beach near the small coastal town of Neskowin on Oregon's Tillamook Coast. The shadowy figures are the decaying stumps of an ancient sitka spruce forest. This is the Neskowin Ghost Forest.

Geologists believe there was once a vast forest of cedar and sitka spruce trees on this spot, about 90 miles southwest of Portland, reports The Telegraph. They likely stood as tall as 200 feet. But in 1700, a massive earthquake struck the area, burying the towering trees deep in mud and eventually the ocean.

This blanket of sand, mud and seawater likely protected the trees for centuries, according to Atlas Obscura, preserving them from decay.

Then powerful storms caused by El Nino ravaged the coast in the winter of 1997 to 1998. The fierce storm eroded parts of the beach, unearthing the remnants of the once-towering trees.

Visitors now can see about 100 ancient tree stumps rising from the sand and waves when the tide is out. More stumps are visible in winter when tides are at their lowest. Travel Oregon describes the unveiling as "a mysterious and beautiful sightseer’s dream."

The petrified trees are draped in barnacles, mussels and other sea creatures.

"The center of some of the particularly large stumps have been eroded away, creating shallow pools in which sea life gets trapped when the tide is out," writes Sarah Betty in Travel Oregon. "You can sometimes see small fish or crabs in these little pools, waiting for the tide to come back in and release them back into the ocean."