From the Coast Range Mountains to the Oregon Coast, Eric Davis has spent many hours trekking the landscape searching for authentic agates and other cherished collectibles. With an extensive collection under his belt, he explains that his primary focus has always been on adventure and collecting memories with his friends and family along the way. Luckily, it just so happens that where he lives is full of literal and figurative hidden gems to find.
Oregon’s terrain is incredibly diverse with mountainous regions, volcanoes, high deserts, large valleys, dense vegetation, tall forests, and abundant bodies of water. These unique geological conditions are perfect for precious stones, minerals, gems, and fossils to be deposited throughout the landscape. In 1967, legislation known as “The Beach Bill” was passed to protect the shores and ensure public access to all 363 miles of coastline. Eric is no stranger to this landscape, he and his family even adopted a mile of Oregon Coast and volunteer frequently for CoastWatch. While exploring the area, they have done some “wild things” to get to remote sections of the beach and river spots like tubing or taking on lengthy, strenuous hikes. There are secret sea caves and hidden coves around every headland, with amazing surf-tumbled agates and jaspers of all varieties, variates of petrified and agatized wood, and even different types of marine fossils to discover.
Agates are ornamental stones and can be found all over the world in mountains, by rivers, and on ocean shores. In Oregon, they are typically formed inside underground veins of ancient volcanic flows. Over millions of years, silica fluid fills the empty underground cavities, forming chalcedony (a type of quartz) through a crystallization process. Various mineral impurities slowly collect creating bands that form contrasting rings. The tiny, fibrous micro-crystals and minerals produce different, striking color patterns depending on environmental factors. As beach cliff bluffs slowly erode, rocks containing the gemstones are deposited onto the shore and tumbled by surf until the nodule is freed. A nodule will then tumble among other stones, smoothing until there’s nothing left, or until someone finds it.
Eric has been collecting unique agates and more for around 15 years. “We’ve lived on the east and west coasts here in the USA and in many different states on each. The beachcombing is all different but still the same. That’s part of what keeps the adventurous spirit alive: nature knows how to keep things interesting,” he says. “I absolutely love ‘first light.’ Getting up while it’s still dark out and hiking under the full moon or by headlamp to a certain spot is always exhilarating. Your other senses are heightened, and certain creatures might be out that you’re not used to seeing. It’s also when we discovered that we could hunt around with UV light! That opened up a whole new perspective.” Eric uses a 365nm uvBeast flashlight that works in darkness and low daylight. Not all agates are UV reactive, but there are some in the area, especially the white and clear varieties. He’s also found fluorescent seashells, tidepool flora and fauna, and more.
It’s hard to pick any favorite finds, but Eric has enjoyed finding trophy agates buried in sea caves, mystery mountain material, shark and sea lion teeth (one from an endangered species), fossilized bone, and shipwreck pieces. He once even found a $50 bill, just like “Data” from his favorite movie, The Goonies, which was filmed on the Oregon Coast.
Over the years, Eric, his daughter/sidekick Indra, and his wife Jessye (the best finder in the family) have accumulated several five-gallon buckets full of oceanic treasures. They do their best to keep things organized by putting each type of material: sea glass, sea beans, seashells, fossils, petrified wood, jasper, carnelian, agate, and other oddities in mason jars. They are very mindful of Oregon’s collection regulations and limitations and recommend anyone visiting double-check those before venturing out. Eric also emphasizes the importance of coastal awareness and safety for beachcombers. “Sneaker waves” can sometimes occur, especially after a storm, and it’s always good practice to keep an eye on the waves remaining aware of any dangers.
Besides beachcombing, storm and wave watching along the rocky shoreline are popular in the area as well as wildlife observation and hiking along the Oregon Coast Trail. Eric recommends visiting the Three Capes Scenic Loop on the North Coast, as well as the Seaside Aquarium. The bigger Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport is on the Central Coast. Part of the magic of Oregon is driving through and stopping to explore little coastal towns like Astoria, Cannon Beach, Pacific City, Neskowin, Depoe Bay, Yachats, Port Orford, and many others. Don’t forget to stop at Tillamook Creamery for delicious cheese and fresh ice cream to top off an amazing adventure. The real Oregon gems are the exclusive cheese curds.
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This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2022 issue.