Sunday, December 7, 2014

Oregon Dunes

Several years ago, one of my more memorable hikes on the Oregon coast took place when I combined the Oregon Dunes loop with the Tahkenitch Dunes loop for a seemingly endless 15 miler in soft sand. The two hikes were connected by a knee-deep wade across Tahkenitch Creek. While hiking yesterday at nearby Butterfly Lake, I had entertained the possibility of leading the hiking club on a similar wade across Tahkenitch Creek, but the rain-swollen and fast moving Mighty Tahkenitch quickly disavowed me of any such notion. I still reached the other side of Tahkenitch Creek anyway, by cheating and driving to the Oregon Dunes overlook on the following day.

Traffic signs
It was good weather news as the hiking festivities commenced: it was a beautiful sunny but crisp  morning on the Oregon coast at the tourist overlook of the dunes. Most visitors take the short and very civilized trail to the dunes and stop there. Too bad for them, for there is a nice little loop trail through the extensive dunes that is a moderate and worthy hiking destination. Of course, there are longer route options for the mileage addicted, involving creek wades, hill climbs and such.

Just me and nobody else out here
Anyway, it was sunny at the start but a chilly breeze was blowing and my long-sleeved layers of clothing stayed on. After crossing the sandy dunes, I took the trail through the deflation plain forest and reached the beach at the one mile mark. The walk so far had been kind of like a pizza as there was a little bit of everything sprinkled on the coastal pizza dough: spruce trees, large sand dunes, mushrooms, beachgrass, shoreline foredunes, and the beach itself all in the first mile. But hold the anchovies, please. 

Sunset at high noon
The beach would be my little world for the next 3 miles. The roar of the always restless ocean was my constant companion, not to mention seagulls, sanderlings, and my own idle thoughts. A storm system was blowing from the south and a bank of dark clouds gradually disposed of my beautiful sunny day. The light was eerie, glowing orange at through thin spots in the cloud cover, it was like sunset at high noon.

Ye be walkin' the plank, matey!

The beach was fairly monotonous but in a good way. However, the easy beach walk came to an abrupt end at rowdy Tahkenitch Creek. The area where creek meets sea was a wild and untamed place. There was no beach here as Oregon simply ended at a 5 foot sandy cliff with waves lapping at the base thereof. Logs and driftwood were strewn about the sands in testament to the rushing tides and waves. Lunch was quickly eaten under ever darkening skies while a pod of sea lions cruised the creek's mouth, probably hoping I'd fall in.

Purple fairies, get ready to be clubbed
A short backtrack down the beach brought me to a trail marker atop a foredune and the resumption of the Oregon Dunes Loop Trail. Heading past the beach foredunes, the trail wandered on sandy soil and through a mossy low-growing forest. The soil was seemingly alive with macabre maggoty looking worms emerging from underneath.  These weren't corpse-eating grubs though, merely the thick and dark fingers of a fungus called purple fairy club.  I'm not sure why it's called that except maybe the fungus was used somehow to club purple fairies.

Tahkenitch Creek oxbow
After lying down in the mossy sand taking pictures of fungal tentacles, the next items of interest were the oxbow bends of Tahkenitch Creek. While the creek had been a raging river at its ocean terminus, here it was more like a creek on Ambien, placidly wandering aimlessly in a series of curlicues next to the sand dunes.

Mountains of sand
After another round of camera clicking, the remainder of the hike consisted of hiking in the sands from trail marker post to trail marker post. On the inland side of the trail, tall hills of sand rose, looking like a veritable range of sandy Ruwenzori mountains, but without the monkeys. There were deer nearby though, judging by all the fresh tracks crossing the dunes here and there. I didn't see any deer but I'm sure they were stealthily watching me walk by as they planned an ambush.   

That was work!
Just before the hike finished, a Mount Kilimanjaro of sand rose up ahead of me and a viewing platform on the top was my end destination. The last bit of this 8 mile hike was the steepest and one should never have to walk uphill to the car, especially in sand. But if I wasn't going to walk uphill to the car, then I wasn't going to get to the car so the final trudge was grudgingly performed. At least I wasn't as tired as I had been after the 15 mile loop from a couple of years ago. And at least the rain held off until the drive home, that doesn't always happen, either.

Boardwalk through a marsh
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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