At Thor’s Well, low tide > high tide

The Oregon Coast has a geological feature that seems co-authored in design – a shared effort between J.R.R. Tolkien and Marvel Comics.

This fantasy oracle of olde is a short drive south from Newport, maybe a half hour, a landmark just off the shore of Cape Perpetua.

My uncle told me about it this past weekend during a family gathering. Thor’s Well (or the Spouting Horn if it please ye), he said, looks like a hole in the ocean when the tide’s high enough. Think of those old flat earth maps where ships, at one point, fall off, sucked into a maelstrom where krakens, leviathans and all other manner of underwater nasties glide through the deep murk.

The know-hows say Thor’s Well was formed after millennia of waves biting the rock face eventually wore a hole in it and let the water inside.

The new confined space – maybe 20 feet across – surges at high tide. Think saltwater geyser, angry rockets of the stuff surging out and upward from the pit. A rocky cauldron the gods forgot to keep an eye on.

Cool, right? Just wait. Because at low tide, though, we mortals get a peek behind the curtain.

You do, of course, have to time your visits to the Asgardian landmark if you want to see its moments of frothy action. Thor’s Well isn’t furious all the time, mirrors its outbursts with the tide. Unknowingly, my family traveled there in the midst of a calm, when the waters had withdrawn and left a mussel-smothered landscape behind.

High tide wouldn’t return until about 10:30 p.m. we were told, and my exhausted 10-month-old was with us, so that was out. Still, we’d driven there. Let’s see what we came to see.

We hiked to the spot, passing other scenic vistas and rocky formations while waves surged and exploded in aqueous bombs against the shoreline.

Because the tide was low enough, my uncle, mother, brother and I walked out across the rocks, were able to stand at the literal edge of Thor’s Well and gaze into the abyss. Had we come at high tide, we would have had to stand a football field’s length back; behind barriers and kiosks and watched the action from a distance. This was different. This was experiential. This was an IMAX documentary without the glasses or the uncomfortable seat.

We watched the water level rise and fall inside the hole. Gush 10 feet up, sink seven feet down. Tiptoe up two feet, freefall another five. Etc. Like watching a high-rise elevator. Thousands of mussels and a few death-grip starfish lurked within, covered and uncovered for moments at a time in a seeming game of peek-a-boo.

At another angle, you could see the “intake valve.” The currents threaded themselves through the narrow eye in thuds that sounded like punches. From Thor.

I’m grateful I got to see this view up close. Would it have been nice to see explosions of water blossom out of the ground? Sure. But it would have limited my view. I couldn’t have stood at the edge of the mammoth shotgun barrel and peered inside at my own risk. A front row seat to the servos and gears that make this iconic hole tick would have been hidden beneath a saltwater temper tantrum.

I’ll certainly go back sometime, plan my visit around high tide and the beautiful geysers that will result. Until then, I feel like I’ve got some street cred on my side.

Oh, you watched Thor’s Well in a fury from a distance? I looked it in the eye when it was sleeping.

All photos by Blake Pfeil.

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