Heavy clouds covered the sky during the morning low tide, casting Harris Beach in a pall of gray.
Dark rocks rose out of the dark brown sand, as the receding water lapped quietly against the shore.
The drab landscape almost looked empty, yet underneath the rocks, tucked into the nooks and crannies of the beach, was a colorful world bursting with life.
Low tide on the Oregon Coast offers a chance to see another side to our beloved beaches. The intertidal zones — areas that are uncovered and covered back up with the tide — are entirely different ecosystems, where strange creatures exist in a world that is constantly shifting between land and sea.
At Harris Beach, a stunning destination on the southern Oregon Coast, intertidal life thrives on the many rocks that dot the surf and sand, clinging to seemingly every hard surface in sight. Walking the beach during low tide (or better yet: a super low tide) allows you to discover this alien landscape for yourself.
Around the rocks and pools are fascinating creatures.
There are sea stars of many colors — purple, orange and one that was bright red — nestled solitary into the sand or dog-piled together on the sides of rocks. Giant green anemones are all over the place, some closed up tight against the air, others opened up to reveal slimy bodies of green, blue and purple. Small aggregating anemones cluster together in colonies in crevices, their tentacles colored fuchsia and blue.
Olive-colored rockweed heaps over the rocky tide pools, like many soggy haystacks or slimy gardens, filled with hermit crabs and tiny snails. Small pools of water remain at the base of the rocks, where small sculpin swam in circles and little shore crabs scuttled to safety.
Attached to the larger rocks are large colonies of blue mussels and white gooseneck barnacles, commingled higher up from the sand, waiting for much higher tides to come in.
There are dozens upon dozens of creatures found in Oregon’s tide pools, varying from place to place. Most reliable tide pools are found on the rockier central and southern coastline, though intertidal life thrives along rocky headlands and sea stacks on the north coast as well.
Tide pooling is among the best activities at Harris Beach, one of the most popular state park sites on the south Oregon Coast, found in Brookings near the California border. Aside from tide pools and stunning sea stacks, the park is home to a 155-site campground that fills up fast in the summer. The area is known for its warmer-than-usual weather, caused by a meteorological phenomenon called the “Brookings effect” or “Chetco effect.”