Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tahkenitch Dunes and Butterfly Lake

Tahkenitch Dunes is one of my favorite places on the coast for hiking.  However, once the dunes loop had been hiked several hundred times or so, I began a desperate search for a way to change up the routes to prevent Tahkenitch boredom. Let's see, there was the hike via the Threemile Lake Trail, there was the long and rainy 14.5 mile loop from the Oregon Dunes Overlook, there were the clockwise and counterclockwise renditions, and there was a memorable weekend backpack trip right before last Christmas. So, when I looked at the map and saw Butterfly Lake, my antennae were tickled and a plan for a new route started flitting around in my brain.

Slimy mushroom
Maggie The Hiking Dog and I started at Tahkenitch Campground on a chilly but sunny morn. The morning sun filtered through the trees and fog, the sunbeams lighting up sprays of rhododendron leaves. Mushrooms sprouted everywhere through the moss on the forest carpet while ferns drooped over the trail.

Threemile Lake
Taking the loop in a clockwise direction, it was a fast descent over several miles before crossing a footbridge on Threemile Lake's outlet. A short walk up a sandy trail brought us to an overlook of impressive Threemile Lake. The lake was full and was one single lake as opposed to two separate lakes as is the norm when the water level drops in the summer.

Dune slog
All of this, so far,  had been familiar territory as the trail left the lake overlook and crossed the dunes, heading towards the beach. However, a right turn before reaching the beach was the start of something new: the hunt for Butterfly Lake.

Mindless fun in a marsh
Initially, the hunt followed the trail through the dunes, the trail being a series of tall posts hammered into the sands. I was taking a picture of a picturesque marsh in the dunes when a cavorting and frolicking dog jumped into the viewfinder, whooping with joy as she splashed through the water. Oh, to be a dog in the dunes!

Trees that want to eat me

At a tree island (a mound of trees in the middle of the dunes) we veered right, climbing steeply up a sandy track that eventually petered out altogether. When I had researched how to find the lake, the satellite photos showed the sandy track leading to a forested dune above the lake. The reality on the ground was that a newborn forest had taken over the dunes.  I was having to beat my way through branches that scratched and clawed at my face. The dog portion of my hiking party, however, had no problem running on game trails through the trees.

A not so very good picture of Butterfly Lake

The route worsened on the steep descent through an increasingly hostile forest to the lake; a sudden break in the trees allowed me to lay eyes on the black waters of Butterfly Lake. Much to my dismay, dense brush filled the 70 yards or so between me and the lake. Hanging onto a tree, I quickly snapped a picture of the lake, called it good, and then began the arduous task of returning to the dunes through trees intent on removing my facial skin.

 The "trail"

Getting back to the dunes was also tricky but suddenly I burst out of the forest and rolled down onto a steep dune. On the far side of the dune, I espied a blue banded pole which was my trail marker. A short ways beyond, a bona fide trail left the dunes and entered the forest just behind the beach foredunes.
Follow the bouncing dog!
So, while the Butterfly Lake expedition had been a whole lot of work, the fact remained we had not covered a lot of miles. There was no glory at heading back to the car at this point, so we made a left turn at a trail junction and headed to the beach where Tahkenitch Creek meets and greets the Pacific Ocean.

Brush-clogged Tahkenitch Creek
Right next to Tahekenitch Creek, I noticed a large black bird squatting stoop-shouldered  like an aged monk: it was a bald eagle! I descended to the beach and tried to get as close as I could without spooking it. Maggie, on the other hand, saw the creek and she ran up and down splashing in the water with mindless canine exuberance, totally unaware of the potential peril of becoming eagle food. And so much for not spooking the eagle!

And what's wrong with being bald, eagle?
Tahkenitch Creek was swollen with winter runoff and was more of a river than a creek. The eagle was on the other side of the creek and was not at all concerned about our crossing the formidable stream. After several minutes, the eagle gave a dismissive flap of  its mighty wings and soared out of sight while the gulls on the beach scattered in screeching panic. It's not every hike I get to see one of these majestic birds, how cool was that?

Tahkenitch Dunes in the afternoon
As the sun sank, we walked up the Tahkenitch Creek Trail for a mile and back, there was not much to see as it just ambled through pleasant woods. On the plus side, I think I just found another future route to keep Tahkenitch dunes interesting.

For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


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