Tide pools: Seal Rock, Oregon's coastal treasure

Road Journals Blog—It was tough to lose Seal Rock State Park.

During my three-day tide pool reporting trip to Oregon, I visited three exceptional sites—Ecola State Park (outside Cannon Beach), Cape Perpetua Scenic Area (just south of Yachats), and Seal Rock State Park (south of Newport). Problem was, in profiling outstanding tide pools of the West Coast, I had room for only two Oregon sites. And Seal Rock lost by a hair.

I visited on a cool, misty summer morning when a minus tide had exposed loads of pools chock full of plants and animals. Here’s a shot of what the area looked like from above at about 7 a.m., before I made my way down the path and onto the sand.

At Seal Rock during a minus tide, a line of large rocks closer to the surf protects a series of rock shelves that are pockmarked with pools. Some of the shelves resemble an octopus’s garden, draped with shiny, brown feather boa kelp and sprouting bright green sea grass. In some pools, I saw small fish—tasty fare for the heron that was “tide pooling” along with me. Rocks were encrusted with chitons, pink-lavender coralline algae, and giant barnacles whose tendrils emerged from their protective shells to sweep the water for nutrients. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many ochre sea stars—which are actually orange or purple—and giant green anemones in one place. The two species are frequently found side by side, as seen in this Seal Rock pic.

On the beach, I met a fellow tide pooler—Margaret, from Portland, who has a vacation cabin overlooking Seal Rock and who told me that she raised her kids on the beach. “I knew the tide would be really low this morning,” she said, “so I scraped myself out of bed and came down here.”

The lure for her? “It’s always changing,” she said. “Every time I come to these pools I see something different."

Remarkable, when you think that she’s been observing these pools for more than 40 years.

So why, in the end, did I decide against Seal Rock? A steep path down the bluff and, especially, pools that required a lot of tricky walking on often-slippery rocks. But if you’re in decent shape and relatively agile, it’s well worth your time.

Christopher Hall's article, "Pool party," with photos by David Collier, appears on the cover of the March/April issue of VIA.

This blog post was first published in January 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.