Wrapping Up the Summer

Wow, how the last nine weeks have flown by me. To start this post, I want to present a sample of the analysis I was able to draw from the survey data. In terms of basic demographic data, 75% of the respondents were female and fifty percent of those surveyed lived outside of Oregon. Over ninety percent of people also identified as Caucasian. While my coworkers and I can tell you that an overwhelming percentage of those who visit Haystack Rock are Caucasian, in reality it is probably less than ninety percent – probably closer to 75-80%. Both this stat and the idea that three out of four visitors are female might be attributed to a few different factors. For one, I was the only person to conduct the survey, therefore I, myself, may have inadvertently introduced some bias. To counteract this and create a random sample pool, I should have asked others to also conduct the survey. We also receive visitors from all around the world so one possibility for the extreme difference could be those visitors who do not speak English as a first language may have felt timid about talking to me or taking a survey which was not in their primary language. Our organization has tried to increase our diversity with the hiring of an inclusivity coordinator who has translated some of our brochures and information into Spanish while also running a program which allows people to check out beach wheelchairs for free. The other piece of analysis I will touch on is just how much Haystack Rock is a family activity. When I first arrived and learned from other HRAP staff that we did have visitors who returned, it made sense to me, yet I did not comprehend the degree to which people return to the Rock. I found that more than 35% of tourists had visited the rock not just once, not just twice, not even five times, but ten or more times! Reading through the comments and having conversations with people from areas all over the US, I came to learn that many people have returned to Haystack Rock year after year. Some have family reunions here every year, some live in Washington but make the trek down at least once a summer, but all felt a connection to the Rock.

To share the demographic data from the survey with our partnering organizations, I created an easy-to-read infographic.

It is this connection that I think could be the key to protecting Haystack Rock and its inhabitants. People who have not visited in a few years are shocked by the drastic reduction in sea star population from even three years ago and many are clearly concerned by the fact that it is possible their children, or grandchildren, may not get to see the mosaic of sea stars that at one point painted the area. For humans to see what effect we have had on our environment is crucial to building a bridge towards conservation. A few, certainly the minority, citizens of Cannon Beach and Tolovana Park, as well as those who make the pilgrimage almost yearly, believe HRAP enforces too much. In their mind, if we do not allow a child to see what happens when they poke a closed sea anemone, or look at the underside of sea star, or look for nudibranchs on their own instead of an interpreter pointing one out to a child – all of which they would have done as a child before HRAP was established – we are stunting their growth and inhibiting their naturally curious side. I choose to tell the visitor that if we do not recognize that the ways of the past have left us where we are today, and if we do not learn from the past’s mistakes, we are bound to repeat them. This aside, I am constantly amazed at the number of guests who do want to see the puffins, as well as their avian and aquatic neighbors, thrive at Haystack Rock.

Personally, this summer has been incredible. It was the first time I was more or less living on my own, while simultaneously working my first 9 to 5 job. I learned how to cook with modest supplies…and not have a dining hall to bail me out when I was not in the mood for cooking. For the most part, the food I made was pretty good, and I believe I did a decent job crafting meals that covered most of the food groups. Given that I had a decent amount of down time after work and on the weekends, I had to figure out what to do. Hiking became my go to and I will sorely miss not having jaw-dropping hikes within a ten to fifteen minute drive of my place. Oregon never ceased to amaze me with gorgeous coastal views, dense coniferous forests that were shrouded in a heavy fog during my morning hikes, and colorful bridges (no, really, for a kid who has spent time in Denver and Miami, this last item was a highlight).

The view from Saddle Mountain on a clear day cannot be beat!


Crossing the Astoria-Megler Bridge and stepping foot in Washington was a summer highlight.

I have to mention my coworkers who made our small office a great deal of fun and could always make me laugh, while simultaneously teaching me crazy facts about marine life and just about anything else, too. My standards for professional conferences were significantly increased this summer when most of our staff traveled to Portland for a week at the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators (NAME) conference. I had the opportunity to spend a week with amazing people from Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, many of whom are (or were) educators in high school, universities, and community colleges. Both inside and outside of the conference that week, our boss, Melissa (who also happened to be the coordinator for the conference), ensured that we had a fantastic work environment, and there truly was never a dull moment. These people made the quiet Oregon coast a whirlwind of activity, engagement, and welcomed me to their community. I will miss them, every one of them, a lot.

This summer I was able to attend the NAME conference and learn what great work is being done in the area of marine education in the Pacific Northwest.

If someone asked me if they should apply and try to be a part of Oregon Sea Grant, I would emphatically say “yes” as it is a professional experience that teaches you so much and connects you with knowledgeable people, all while giving you the opportunity to spend a summer in a state that has more to offer in terms of unique culture (I am looking at you Portland Timber’s Army) and outdoor activities than can be completed in ten weeks.

One of the most energetic fan bases of any professional sport, in my opinion, is the Timber’s Army.

Until next time, Oregon!


Delving into Human Dimension Research

At the end of my last blog post, I left you hanging with what is human dimension research and how does it play into my work this summer. If you haven’t looked up the definition in the last two weeks, or read blog posts by my fellow Summer Scholars,human dimension research examines how we interact with and utilize the environment around us. This information is commonly gathered through surveying the general populous, as well as specific interest groups. For instance, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has conducted surveys at various marine reserves to understand how who is visiting these areas, in addition to their overall experience while at the reserve. When looking at this “who?” question, surveyors may look at everything from education level to income to ethnicity to what city exactly the person in question lives. In order for a natural area to garner more attention, and in turn building up public’s desire to protect nature, surveyors may also question what can be done better. Sometimes it is providing more facilities, such as campgrounds or hotels at which travelers can stay, or picnic tables where families can eat their lunch. In other instances, it may be offering more educational programs so guests understand the value of the refuge, reserve, park, etc…


In my case, Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP) has been looking to gain a better understanding as to where our visitors come from and if they both understand and value this unique place. While the organization has collected a great deal of data for over fifteen years, including the number of people we talk to during a shift and the number of people walking on the rocks instead of the sand, they have never delved into the background of these visitors. Therefore, my human dimension research centered on a survey that asked our guests these questions. I utilized a platform called Survey123 by ArcGIS to create the survey, as with ArcGIS’s technology we were able to ask people to pinpoint exactly where they live. This was an important component to HRAP as we talk to people from all over the world, not to mention many people who have lived here in Cannon Beach for a long time.


Based on my interactions on the beach and speaking with staff members who have been with the organization ranging from a year and a half to over sixteen years, I knew that the survey needed to have a range of questions – some of which were directed more specifically towards locals and some which more highlighted the experience of tourists. I also knew that while some people had never visited Haystack Rock, we also have a large portion of visitors who have come back for many years. Given all of this information, I built the survey with a few distinctive sections in mind. Like many surveys, I began with demographic questions, the most important of which being where does the person live. Other questions in this section focused on their socioeconomic background, including gender, age, income, and ethnicity among other personal details. It is important to note that the person was free to skip any question which they did not feel comfortable answering.


The next section centered around the frequency with which the person visited Haystack Rock and what brought them to our reserve. Questions encompassed the number of times and how recently they had visited, how they first heard about us, and why they visited Haystack Rock. Obviously, the format of the question varied between local and tourist, but each addressed the same question – why do you visit the Rock? Within this portion of the survey, I also wanted to find out just how well known our organization was to those who had not been to Haystack Rock before. HRAP is constantly trying to spread its presence as we believe this is one of the ways we can help ensure the conservation of the Rock.


The final section moved a little more into the nitty-gritty scientific details. For one, we were curious as to whether or not the public understood that Haystack Rock is actually two different parts of the same whole according to US Fish and Wildlife Service. One part being the Marine Garden, or intertidal area littered with smaller rocks, while the other is the rock standing at 235 feet tall, which is part of the Oregon Islands Wildlife Refuge. Our theory when formulating the survey was that many people perceive our asking them not to stand on the rocks as HRAP’s personal rule, when in fact it is a federal regulation. To test this, a few questions were dedicated to the subject’s understanding of these regulations. The other half of the section asked whether education and enforcement needed to be improved/expanded at Haystack Rock as well as up and down the coast in other natural areas.

Can you tell what is the Marine Garden and what is the Wildlife Refuge based on this photo? Photo Credit: Haystack Rock Awareness Program

There is much more to the survey than what I have simplified it to in this blog post, so please check it out in the link below. Even better, if you have been to Haystack Rock, please take the survey! It only takes a few minutes and I am trying to get as many responses as possible in the next week. I am not including any of the results I have gathered to this point in this post because I don’t want it to skew anyone’s responses.


On a completely unrelated note, I cannot believe I only have two weeks left here in Oregon before I return to the Sunshine State, but I have seen some incredible places and met some even more incredible people!

Tidepools & Tufted Puffins

Since I last posted, I have settled down here in Cannon Beach and begun my work with the Haystack Rock Awareness Program. Cannon Beach is a fairly quiet town with weather that varies from overcast and high 50s to sunny and 70s – a welcome change of pace for a kid who grew up under Denver’s sweltering desert sun and the torrential downpours and intense humidity that come with Miami summers. Haystack Rock is listed by National Geographic as one of the 100 Most Beautiful Places to visit in the world, and I have quickly realized why. I spend my days off hiking and exploring northeastern Oregon and, on occasion, Portland. Some of my great adventures so far have included hiking Saddle Mountain and from up above taking in the sweeping landscape of the Pacific Ocean, Washington, Mount Hood, and even Cannon Beach far off in the distance; watching the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders game from an Irish pub in Portland; and driving to neighboring Seaside and seeing one of the largest fireworks shows in the US on the Fourth of July. Sometimes, when I am feeling lazy, my free time involves simply pitching my hammock and reading my book.

Haystack Rock is always fantastic to visit early in the morning (Photo Courtesy of Haystack Rock Awareness Program)

The organization I work with, Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP), focuses on protecting the intertidal habitat and marine birds through educating all the visitors who come to The Rock. So, whenever it is low tide, whether it is 7 in the morning or 6 at night, HRAP is out on the beach with our big red truck explaining to anyone who is curious what they can find here at Haystack Rock. To find us, you look for our big red truck, and depending on the weather, you can find us in our red jackets, or on warm days, in our bright red shirts. Given that a large part of my time here so far has been spent learning what our organization does on the beach, what I want to focus on in this blog post is all the different things you might see and find when you visit us at The Rock.

At low tide, it is possible to wade out pretty far

Only two hours later, if I stood where I took the previous picture, the water would come up to my hips!

For starters, Haystack Rock formed 13 to 18 million years ago when lava flow from the Yellowstone caldera formed a large basalt monolith. Today, vegetation blooms on top of Haystack, allowing different marine birds to nest here every spring. Our most famous summer resident at Haystack Rock is the tufted puffin, which people come from all over the world to see. We always tell guests the best way to try and spot one is look in the air for a nerf-football-shaped bird with a black belly that is flying frenetically. When you spot one, you immediately notice that the emphatic flying motion makes them look like terrible flyers – an accurate conclusion. In fact, puffins are much better swimmers than they are flyers. Puffins often dive up to 1000 times per day to catch fish and once underwater they dive to depths of more than 90 ft. They have grooves in their beaks which allow them to hold fish. There are records of them holding up to 35 fish in their beak at once. These marine birds only come to land when it is time to breed, spending the rest of the year out at sea. When they do nest, they burrow under the ground six to seven feet (which is partially the reason it is easier to find them while they are flying) and will only produce one egg per season. The eggs are entirely white as they are well concealed underground and don’t need to be camouflaged. Unfortunately, these birds are threatened and HRAP has seen a decline in their population over the years. Today we have just under 100 puffins nesting on the rock. Some threats are natural, like the bald eagles and peregrine falcons in the area who will pull a puffin right from the mouth of their den. Some are human induced, such as puffin consumption of microplastics and loss of prey with warming sea temperatures. Other species of marine birds on the rock include Common Mures, Brandt and Pelagic Cormorants, Black Oystercatchers, Western Gulls, and Guillamont Pigeons – all of them unique birds and each deserving of a blog post on their unique adaptations to The Rock.

Tufted Puffins can be found at Haystack Rock March through August (Photo Courtesy of Beth Wise and Haystack Rock Awareness Program)

Within the intertidal zone, we have a plethora of life from nudibranchs to chitons to sea anemones to polychaete worms to sea stars. When the tide is low, it is incredibly important visitors are aware as to where they are walking given that it is very easy to step on an organism if they are not paying attention. Since a great deal of life grows within the marine gardens on the smaller rocks, we also emphasize why it is important to walk on the sand and not on the rocks. Most people are extremely nice when we ask them not to step on the rocks and are curious as to what specifically lives and grows in the area. Young children are especially fascinated by the closed up sea anemones and how they can open up when the water level rises. It’s also common to find kids looking and picking up hermit and mole crabs…something of which the crabs are not huge fans.

Another draw to Cannon Beach in past years was the sea stars which coated the marine garden. Unfortunately, a virus known as the Sea Star Wasting Disease has devastated sea stars ranging from Canada down into Northern California over the past four years. The issue has only been exacerbated by warming sea temperatures which pushes sea stars out of their normal temperature range and putting a great deal of stress on their immune system. People who visited Haystack Rock even as recently as four years ago are shocked by the drastic change the area has experienced and visitors who are older are saddened as they wished to show their children or grandkids the sea stars that paint the rocks various colors. However, there is reason to hope the sea stars may return to something similar to their original numbers. HRAP conducts sea star surveys once a month and has noticed they are growing bigger, which means they are living longer and may be developing a resistance to the virus. This does not mean that within a year they will once again be present in the thousands, instead it means there is a chance they could rebound if presented with liveable conditions. In other words, sea temperatures cannot continue to rise, thereby assisting the virus attack the weakened sea star and we as an organization must ensure people are not intruding on their habitat or pulling sea stars off the rocks to take home as souvenirs.   

The Sea Star Wasting Disease is still quite prevalent in the intertidal zone of Haystack Rock

The past few weeks have gone by so quickly what with early morning and late evening shifts, participating in the town’s July 4th parade along with the rest of the HRAP staff, researching various themes for my upcoming survey, and learning all about Haystack Rock and all the great biological, conservation and geological facts the HRAP staff has taught me. One of my favorite things about working on the beach is the diversity of people I get to talk to, some of whom are just toddlers, while some are residents who have lived in the area for 40+ years and are now in their 90s. I will be able to dive even more into this in my next blog post as I start to get results back on my human dimension research. What is human dimension research you may ask? Check back in two weeks for that and more adventures from Cannon Beach!


Byways before highways

To get to Oregon (specifically the northwestern coast) from my home state of Colorado, there are a number of different forms of transportation. You could fly to Portland and then either take a bus to wherever you need to get to, or you could pay an obscene amount of money for a short thirty minute to an hour flight to your destination. It is also possible to take a multi-day train ride from Denver to Portland, but that it is almost as much as (if not more than) a plane ticket. This leaves driving as one of the best options, if you have the time, as it gives ease of travel throughout Oregon. Therefore, this is exactly what I, along with my family, did just over a week ago.

While it is possible to reach coastal Oregon within 20 hours, we chose to take a slight detour and stop at Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park for a few days. I could go on and on about the bison in Yellowstone, the moose in Grand Teton, watching Old Faithful erupt, the amazing colors of the Grand Prismatic, or even the number of ways I intentionally tried, successfully, to annoy my sister throughout the four days (road trips are long, what was I supposed to do??), but instead I want to talk about the joys of America’s byways and the importance of taking “some old back road” as Rodney Atkins sang about in 2011.

It was not until a small bookshop in Jackson, Wyoming that I found these byways laid out in a National Geographic book. Much to the sometimes ambivalent hapiness of my family, this book became our new road map as we finished the road trip and over the last seven-ish days, I have seen three of these byways – SH-31 in Idaho and SH-30 & the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (SH-101) here in Oregon. Since this is a blog about Oregon we are going to leave out the SH-31 from here on out…sorry Idaho.

State Highway 30 stretches throughout a large part of Oregon along the Columbia River Gorge. Despite the fact that I-84 does run directly into Portland and offers spectacular views of the Columbia River, it doesn’t allow the ability to see the surrounding area’s history. The drive is slightly more strenuous as there is a great deal of moving uphill and downhill, but is a stunning drive complemented by old stonework barricades lining the road and tunnels built during the early 20thcentury. One of the highlights is The Vista House outside of Troutdale. This viewpoint was once a place for travelers to stop off and rest and continues to do so all while offering a sweeping view of the gorge to both the east and west. While there are many tourist spots throughout this drive, the small businesses, some which are run out of resident’s gardens and front yards, were some of my favorite stops – including the small berry market where we got a snack and the lavender farm where we picked bunches of flowers.

View of Columbia River Gorge from The Vista House (looking westward)

The drive on SH-30, while steep, is quite rewarding

The Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is not only more relaxing than I-5, which is full of drivers who fail to understand that not driving twenty miles over the speed limit is not wrong or obnoxious…in fact it is called following the law, but it is also provides many great places to stop and view the Pacific Ocean and get healthy servings of seafood. Just north of Newport is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, accessible for a small fee (or free with the annual National Park Pass, which I strongly recommend to anyone who is outdoorsy). Due to limited time – yeah I know that is ironic/hypocritical given everything I’ve said – I did not take the guided tour of the light house, but instead walked down and around the tide pools below the lighthouse. Having grown up in a family that liked seafood to a degree that made it unhealthy for anyone standing between us and a bucket of mussels, I had to stop and get some during my drive. Therefore, for lunch I stopped at a roadside shack and got fish tacos. It is hard to say it was fast food when I had to wait thirty minutes for my takeout given the lunch rush, but it was well worth the wait. The scenic byway ended in a spectacular view at the top of a hill from which I could see Cannon Beach, my home for the next few months, and Haystack Rock.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Oh yeah I almost forgot, my internship for the summer is working with Haystack Rock Awareness Program where we discuss with visitors the biodiversity of the intertidal zone surrounding Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach and where I will be performing human dimension research, but that is a “Song for Another Time” (great country song by Old Dominion that I recommend to everyone and anyone).

Never a bad day on the beach!

So don’t forget byways > highways…when you have the time to spare.