Balmy 60-degree weather at the Coast drew me down there for a multi-day excursion focusing on the Oregon Dunes. I did a number of short hikes, both in state parks and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, part of the Siuslaw National Forest, which must have the highest density of Northwest Forest Pass trailheads in the state.
The dunes area itself can be admired for a variety of geological phenomena. Sea levels have been rising from the end of the last ice age, and there are drowned river valleys, known as rias, all along the coast. Later, sand dunes formed and marched inland, damming some of these rivers to form a series of coastal lakes. However, the constitution of the dunes landscape has changed drastically in the past 80 years or so with the introduction of European beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria) to “bind” shifting sand near jetties, highways, and other human construction. Of course, the plant spread everywhere, and while the coastal landscape is a lot more stable than previously, it is far less natural. The foredunes near the beach are now colonized by beachgrass and are relatively stable. This is no good for the protected snowy plover, which requires undisturbed open sand to successfully nest; as a result, whole areas of the last open sands are closed to the public between March 15th and September 15th for baby plover rearing. With the foredunes bound up, coastal winds have scoured a depression behind the dunes, known as the deflation plain, which supports marshes and copses of shore pine and Sitka spruce as well as invasives like Scots broom. There are large shifting dunes on the land side of the deflation zone among tree islands and seasonal pools. A large part of this zone in the Oregon Dunes NRA is given over to ATV activity; ironically, the off-road warriors actually help to preserve the original nature of the dunes by keeping invasive beachgrass at bay.
1. Eel Lake
The six-mile in-and-out hike along the south shore of Eel Lake is partly in William M. Tugman State Park and partly on private timberland in a conservation easement to protect the waters of Eel Lake, which had been severely damaged by logging practices before becoming a state park in the 1960s. The lake formed along two creeks which were naturally dammed by sand dunes. The trail is a shady, undulating stroll through typical coastal vegetation dominated by Sitka spruce, cedar, hemlock, and Douglas-fir. It ends rather unceremoniously at a swampy inlet, where the skunk-cabbage was beginning to leaf out again.
2. John Dellenback Dunes
This area of the Oregon Dunes is named after the Oregon Congressman who pushed for the creation of the National Recreation Area in 1972. There’s a short nature loop, and then you can head out into the widest part of the dunes. I hiked along the crest of a huge moving oblique dune, over 200 feet high and formed by both summer and winter winds. Then I dropped down to an area of sandy hummocks following the blue-banded trail posts to the edge of the deflation plain, where the trail disappeared into a swampy thicket.
3. Honeyman State Park
I hiked the short trail at Cleawox Lake to the old CCC bathhouse, and then crossed over the bike/pedestrian bridge to Woahink Lake. A 1.7 mile trail originally constructed by the CCC in the 1930s has recently been resurrected. Another trail, which makes use of two road bridges on Canary Road, follows Woahink Lake’s north shore to two day-use areas.
I returned to the Honeyman Campground, and found the trail leading into the dunes. I slogged up another huge oblique dune, where the crest exhibited a series of yardangs, sculpted gullies formed by winter winds. To the left was an ATV area criss-crossed with track, so I descended the steep north side of the dune at a tree island and meandered back to Cleawox Lake.
4. Siltcoos River
I first walked the Lagoon Trail, an interpretive loop around an oxbow lake, formerly a loop in the Siltcoos River that was cut off by construction of the road. I have seen otters here before, but on this day just took note of the profusion of parrotfeather, an invasive aquatic plant from the Amazon River Basin.
From the Lagoon Trail, I crossed the road and took the Waxmyrtle Trail, which offers stunning views over the meandering lower Siltcoos River. I reached the beach via a shore pine forest and headed north past a snowy plover nesting area. The wrack line was littered with jelly-like pyrosomes, also known as sea pickles. They are tunicates with each “pickle” being a collection of organisms that are some of the most bioluminescent in the sea. Pyrosomes are normally found in warmer waters, but in recent years have begun appearing off the Oregon Coast with the general increase in water temperatures. They practice diel vertical migration, living at depths of 500-2,000 feet during the day, and then rising to the surface at night to feed on plankton.
It was the next step where I almost had my comeuppance. Sullivan, in his 100 Hikes: Oregon Coast & Coast Range tells of fording the mouth of the Siltcoos “calf-deep.” One look told me it was deeper than that but, after tying up my boots and hanging them around my neck and unbuckling my pack, I decided I would wade in at least up to my hips before turning back. It was about 60 yards across to a driftwood log decorated by a line of sunbathing gulls. Well, I thought I was taking the shallowest route but, as the water reached my hips, a couple of breakers rolled in and lifted me by the armpits. When they plonked me down again, there was no bottom! I first tried to turn back, but discovered even the fat, lazy Siltcoos has a bit of a current, and I had been taken past my depth. With only about 15 yards across the channel, I breaststroked to the sandy bar opposite with my boots unmercifully acting as drag anchors. The bar’s steep bank and my now sodden three layers of clothing had me dragging my sorry, soaked self out on all fours. All the gulls perked up at my appearance, but one actually seemed to yawn ostentatiously as if a four-legged creature emerging from the primordial Siltcoos ooze was a daily occurrence there. I found a log and spread out my things. My wallet, of course, was soaked, as was all of my clothing, but my daypack had bobbed above the stream like a brilliant blue buoy, and most of its contents, including my camera, were dry.
I walked up the beach barefoot and stomped around to at least stop dripping. Back against the foredunes, I found a huge oyster midden (It’s $1,000 fine if you disturb the site; $100,000 if it’s already an official archeological site, which you wouldn’t know because they are not signposted). I looked but didn’t touch and then turned inland to find my way back to my car. Back at my little cottage in Florence, I spread everything out in front of two space heaters (Somehow I had accumulated 15 $1 bills in my wallet, for example), and enjoyed a restful evening watching my credit cards, etc., dry out.
5. Oregon Dunes
An overlook here takes in many features of the dunescape. I hiked a loop past tree islands to a bend in Tahkenitch Creek and then out to the beach. A large flock of sanderlings was scurrying about the swash zone with a few western sandpipers in the mix. I spotted a peregrine falcon perched on a driftwood branch; no doubt when the pangs of hunger strike, it simply swoops down the beach and snatches up another sanderling. The trail inland again led through a flooded deflation plain and then up a steep vegetated dune to the viewing platform.
6. Tahkenitch Creek
Just south of the Oregon Dunes Overlook, this loop led to the south side of Tahkenitch and then back through shore pine forest. There are no ATVs near here or the Oregon Dunes, making this one of the more remote sections of the National Recreation Area.
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Not this time. I'm familiar with numerous Darlingtonia sites in Oregon, Washington, and California, however.walrus wrote:But did you stop at the Darlingtonia wayside?
Thank you! I actually got some ideas rolling about in my skull after my dip e.g. an inflatable pillow could be deployed on the inside "back" part of the pack, which would keep the pack and its weight floating off your back. Maybe also if you tied the boots on top of the pack - and also an extra garbage bag or two for interior waterproofing. I look forward to more deep crossings! Caution: not in any kind of a strong current, though . . . and definitely not on a freezing, windy day!justpeachy wrote:Your trip reports are also so interesting and informative!
Glad your camera wasn't damaged by the unexpected swim!