Monday, January 24, 2011

A Day at the Sand Dunes

Along the Central Oregon Coast lies one of the most interesting landscapes I have encountered in the Pacific Northwest. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches for 40 miles from Florence to Coos Bay, and holds a natural wonderland of  wind-sculpted sand dunes up to 500 feet above sea level, tree islands, sand lakes, ponds, marshes and abundant wildlife. Wind, water, and time formed these dunes when sedimentary rock from the Coast Mountain Range was worn away and washed downstream in rivers. Then the waves and wind pushed the sand miles inland for thousands of years. The geology of this place is fascinating. You can read more about it at the USFS website here: Geology of the Dunes.

A friend and I took our kids for a day outing to the dunes on their Martin Luther King holiday from school. The weather was drizzly and iffy, but we just needed to get those cooped-up kids outside. We stopped for a hot co-coa by the woodstove at my favorite spot in Mapleton, the Alpha Bit Cafe and bookstore, and pressed onward to the rainy coast.

I discovered a favorite little sand dune area this year near a lovely spot called Baker Beach. I wrote a post  last Winter about all the wonderful hiking trails there, which you can read through this link, called:

I discovered a couple of trails heading South out of the parking area, which led to these sand dunes a couple of miles long tucked in amongst forest on all sides. It's an area where 4-wheelers can't go, so it's quiet, peaceful, and solitary, save for the occasional hiker or horseback rider.

Though most hikers were deterred by the rainy weather, it looked like someone had been there right before us. Maybe a coyote or a fox? Animal tracking is so easy on the dunes! You can find their trails clearly and watch them wind off in the distance as far as the eye can see.

Some deer had been through recently too.

We had a break in the weather, and the kids ran around exploring all these little sand ponds created by all the recent rainfall. Most of them were no more than a couple of feet deep, and some had little freshwater clam bubbles rising up.

The terrain of all these little hills and ponds was a lot of fun for the kids to run around on, and they enjoyed playing games with their footprints in the sand.

The evidence of rain in little rivulets worn in the edges of the ponds made for a beautiful sight. It looked like little miniature watersheds with all the networks and fans of streams.

With all that rain came a beautiful rainbow arching over the sky. It remained for quite a while, and I am taking it to be a good sign for the year to come.

One of the fun things about sand dunes is climbing up and jumping down. My son had a good time on this particularly tall one doing just that.

He hauled out a bundle of invasive European beach grass roots he gathered for my nest-making projects. What a thoughtful young man I have.

Finally some foul weather blew in again with horizontal drizzle blowing against our faces. My daughter, and her best friend both ran out of good spirits at this point, and we had to deal with some melt-downs. I have to remind myself sometimes that parenting is an adventure all on its own, which might not always coincide with whatever idyllic outdoor adventure I had planned. At least my son was being really helpful. We took a break for snacks in the car, went on a search for a lost water bottle, and were able to enjoy the rest of the afternoon out on the beach with some clear, mild weather. Nine-year-old meltdowns aside, it was a good excursion to the sand dunes.

Directions to Baker Beach: About 5.5 miles North of Florence on Highway 101, turn west on Baker Beach Road and follow to the end. The Baker Beach Trails can make a seven mile hike in all, and the Lily Lake Trail is an easy one-mile loop, great for smaller children. This is a day use fee site where USFS recreation passes are honored. There are also five campsites with vault toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings for about 10$ per night.

To find out more about the dunes, places to camp, and recreational activities, visit the USFS website at:

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