Agate Hunting

Port Orford 2018

Agates come from erosion of cliffs along beaches and rivers where they wash out to the ocean and get polished in the surf over time. In the summer months, agates on beaches are deep beneath the sand. But from December to March winter storms remove sand and expose the agates underneath. (

Today we walk down to dinosaur park, my name for Tseriadun State Recreation Site, one way to access what locals call Agate Beach.

Apparently the name refers to a Native American village site that existed here or near here some 5,000 years ago in Port Orford. But the name Tseriadun, pronounced serry-AH-dun, sounds like a dinosaur to me. (

Sandwiched between Garrison Lake, where locals enjoy boating and trout fishing, and the Pacific Ocean, this beach is popular for finding agates and jasper.

And, like a dinosaur, the waters of the ocean command this beach with their thunderous roars. The waves crashing against invisible rocks are dangerous. Locals warn, never turn your back to the water. Deep soft sand, severe drop offs where water meets shore, and rip tides also make this beach a hazard.

These waves have led to several deaths.

In 2005 a wave swept 3 people into the Pacific Ocean, killing two and injuring one. Seventy-two year-old Pamela Flynn and her older son, Thomas, were pronounced dead on Agate Beach in Port Orford. Rescue crews pulled Pamela and her younger son, Brian, from the water. Brian survived and was treated for hypothermia in a local hospital. Thomas, however, was spotted by a fishing boat a half-mile offshore. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter dropped a rescue swimmer to retrieve him and airlift him to the beach. Unfortunately medics could not revive him. ( According to, Pamela and her sons were from Slagle, Idaho and we’re scattering the ashes of her late husband into the ocean when they were swept away.

Then, in 2010 a 78 year-old local woman’s body washed ashore on Agate Beach in Port Orford. According to her husband, she left that morning for a walk on the beach and by late afternoon had not yet returned. ( Later it was learned that the deceased woman had gone to the beach with another local resident who was 53 years-old. A check of the younger woman’s residence and her mother’s and daughter’s houses revealed she too was missing. Three days later, on a beach some 30 miles from Port Orford, the body of the second woman was found by a passer-by. No one knows what really happened but this Port Orford beach, a good site for collecting agates and jasper, is also known for its dangerous sneaker waves that rush up on the shore. ( According to the dictionary, a sneaker wave is an unexpected coastal wave that is much greater in force  and height than the waves preceding it.

And as recently as 2015 reported Sea Claims Life, Two Survive. A woman and her husband tell the following story… On a Sunday afternoon, while they were searching for agates on the beach near Paradise Point in Port Orford, they noticed a small boat caught between the big swells of the ocean and the crashing surf. Then the boat capsized, dumping its 3 passengers into the water.

The couple called 911 and ran down to the ocean’s edge, joined by several other beachcombers, to help. A naked 38 year-old man, his clothes ripped from his body in the rough surf or caught on a rock and ripped off, and a 19 year-old woman wearing a life vest were struggling to get to shore. The 3rd passenger, a 37 year-old man, was yelling for help in the surf, about 75 yards from the shore, but nobody could reach him before he disappeared into the waves. The Coast Guard searched for 9 hours, covering an area of more than 169 miles but could not locate the man. The search continued for several days but this 3rd passenger was never found. (

Lessons to be learned on Agate Beach:

  • Don’t wade into the ocean.
  • Don’t get too close to the ocean.
  • Don’t turn your back to the ocean.
  • Dangerous conditions happen fast.

You won’t find people wading in the waves, surfing, building sandcastles, or sunbathing here. Actually you won’t find many people on the beach at the same time. Occasionally you will see people fishing, casting their lines atop one of the sand cliffs contoured by the pounding waves, walking their dogs, flying kites, or most likely digging in the sand hunting for agates.

So… what is agate? Agate is a semitransparent chalcedony. And a chalcedony is a very hard material composed of microcrystalline quartz. Quartz is a mineral composed of silicon and oxygen. Microcrystalline means that the quartz is in the form of crystals so small that a microscope must be used to see them. ( TMI? Or maybe not enough? You can go online to find out more yadda-yadda.

Jasper is an opaque variety of chalcedony. Jeff and I call jasper rocks jellybeans.

Here are the treasures we found today… our gifts from the sea.


Study the collection of rocks below:

Can you find at least one agate?

Can you find at least one jasper?

Cheat sheet:

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