Beachcombing for Beginners:
Modern-day treasure hunting has never been more fun
Beachcombing is always a mystery when you wander Newport’s beaches in search of treasure; you just never know what’s been washed up from the depths of the Pacific Ocean until you search for it! Although great beachcombing happens every day just a few hours after high tide, the best time to search the beach for riches from the deep is after a strong winter storm. Winter storms tend to churn up a variety of interesting objects from the bottom of the ocean, send all kinds of debris to the beach on wild waves, and scour and rip rocks and fossils loose from sediment layers.
Once a big storm has passed, grab a portable tide table booklet (many local hotels, stores and other businesses give them away), and search for the next high tide. Head down to the beach an hour or two after high tide so you can spend a good bit of time exploring the beach; the best time to search the beach is at low tide when the most surface area is exposed. You may want to bring a stick or sturdy pole to poke and pick apart the piles of flotsam that will have washed up onto the beach. Don’t forget to dress in warm clothes, bring a pair of gloves, and carry a washable backpack, bucket or bag to hold all of the cool objects that you might find.
Many kinds of fossils can often be found on the beach after a storm, and most were eroded away from 15 to 20 million year old layers of sandstone and volcanic ash from the geological creation known as the Astoria Formation. Fossilized clams, scallops, and snails are common, but periodically mammal bones from whales and dolphins, fish or shark teeth, and even turtle shells appear on the beach. Petrified wood and fossilized leaves also surface from time to time.
Glass, styrofoam and plastic floats used to buoy fishermen’s nets also show up once in awhile after big winter storms. Styrofoam and plastic floats from crab rings are the most frequent because many of them are used by local fishermen up and down the coast. Glass floats are rare, but turn up on occasion. Japanese fisherman used glass floats extensively in the early part of the 20th century, and some still do. Glass floats are mostly green and blue in color, but have been found in purple, red, and yellow too. They come in various shapes and sizes, but most range from billiard ball to beach ball size and are round.
Agates are some of the best treasures you can find on Newport’s beaches. Agates are a cryptocrystalline variety of silica usually associated with volcanic rock, and are common where streams and creeks flow out onto the beach. After rough waters, they are also eroded out of rock beds and layers of rock and find their way onto the sand. These semi-precious stones are translucent and come in a variety of colors; they may be clear, caramel, orange, yellow, or blue-gray. You’ll often find them when they reflect the sun’s rays, flashing and glimmering against the natural earth tones of the beach. You’ll know it’s an agate when you hold it up to the sun and the light shines through.
You may find different kinds of seashells on the beach, but they are rarely in one piece. You will most likely find only parts of shells because our rough waves and rock formations break them apart. If you are able to find whole shells, make sure that they have been washed clean and are free from all organic matter that may still be decomposing. Shells that still have decaying sea life in them smell really bad as they dry!
Safety is always something to think about when you are beachcombing, especially after rough winter storms. Always be aware of your surroundings, and keep an eye on the ocean. Sneaker waves can come into shore very quickly, and may have enough force to knock you off of your feet. Stay away from large pieces of driftwood, as they are sometimes unstable, especially when water is moving underneath them. Don’t climb on rock formations or on the edge of cliffs either, because the ground may not be solid and can give way and crumble beneath you.
Beachcombing on Newport’s beaches is like modern-day treasure hunting because you never know what you might find. Happy hunting!
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