Three Arch Rocks NWR

Summertime means 100,000 seabirds at a wildlife refuge near Tillamook, Ore.

Three Arch Rocks at Oceanside Beach, Ore., image

Three Arch Rocks sit offshore of Oregon's Oceanside Beach. 

Red-beaked tufted puffin, Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge, Ore., image

Red-beaked tufted puffins gather at Oregon's Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge.

Aerial view of Three Arch Rocks, Ore., image

Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge, home to 100,000 seabirds in summer, juts out of the ocean off the Oregon coast.

Massive and craggy, awash in crashing surf, the four steep chunks of cooled lava that stand like islands off Oceanside in northern Oregon seem an odd attraction. You can’t get near except in a boat, and once there you can’t climb on the rocks. They’re off-limits.

So why is it that each summer thousands of people crowd onto a viewing platform at nearby Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint to check them out? Maybe it’s the rough arches the tides have carved in the rocks. Or maybe because in summer the rocks are home to 100,000 nesting seabirds, which is why the site is designated Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge. Red-beaked tufted puffins nest here in burrows, and blue-faced Brandt’s cormorants often transform the tip of 275-foot-high Finley Rock—the refuge’s tallest monolith—into a writhing mass of coal-dark wings and feathers.

Perhaps the most unusal thing about the rocks is that they remain pristine. It could well have been otherwise. In June 1901 conservationist William Finley ventured here with a colleague and saw a tugboat of target shooters firing at the birds, littering the water with corpses. Finley later visited the White House and showed President Teddy Roosevelt photos of the carnage. In 1907, Roosevelt made Three Arch Rocks the first west-of-the-Mississippi wildlife refuge. The seabirds now have a home, and the shooters are history. fws.gov/oregoncoast.

Photography by Don Frank (Oceanside Beach); courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services/Wikipedia (aerial of rocks); courtesy of Jeff Foote/NOAA/Wikipedia (tufted puffin)

This article was first published in May 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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