Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dellenback Dunes (Hall Lake version)

My life is not complete until I purchase a shoulder-season sleeping bag with all of these features: 850-fill water-resistant goose down, 15-dernier ripstop nylon shell, variable baffle spacing locates, an insulated yoke to prevent heat loss at the shoulders, and an internal anti-snag zipper strip combine to prevent that awkward moment when your trap yourself inside your own sleeping bag. And that is just one little item on my very large list of stuff that I absolutely have to have.

Why we hike!
Unfortunately, reality butts heads with wants, like two rutting bighorn sheep crashing into each other on the high mountain ridge of I'm-Not-Working-Anymore. So, despite my best efforts to retire and stop working altogether, I find myself gainfully employed on a part-time basis because I have full-time needs. And despite my best efforts to live the remainder of my life as a reclusive hermit, I now find I must interact with co-workers too, darn it. And despite my best efforts to introduce my colleagues to the wonderful little avocation of hiking, my sofa-bound workmates politely decline my invitations. Until now, that is. Newly hired Jay has recently come to Roseburg by way of Massachusetts and India, and when he opined he wanted to go hiking with me, I happily seized the opportunity to take him on a hike before he actually read my blog.

An incoming fog bank was cause for concern
Normally, my go-to hike for newbies is the Rogue River Trail but the worst fire season ever was still smoking out southern Oregon, so it was off to the coast for cleaner and clearer air. Good news had arrived in the form of light rain during the week prior, and all of western Oregon rejoiced at the tamping down of the fires. However, there was no blue sky waiting for Jay and I at the John Dellenback Dunes Trailhead, just a bleak overcast of gray clouds. Still, that was better than the bleak overcast of dirty brown clouds of acrid smoke and ash that we had been contending with for the last six weeks.

Portal to Dellenback Dunes

The trail to the dunes is fairly civilized at the start, heading through coastal woods after crossing Eel Creek on a picturesque wooden bridge. This was mid-September, so the coastal huckleberries were in season and we partook as we walked through the damp woods. Eventually, the well-maintained path morphed into a sandy track and Jay was quite taken with the smooth red limbs of manzanita, as the unique shrub does not grow in Massachusetts or India, apparently.

Singing "The first hill is the steepest..."
Once the trail spit us out onto Dellenback Dunes proper, we quickly walked uphill in soft sand to the top of the "Great Dune". After admiring the view of the vast sandy expanse stretching out towards the ocean, we discussed our hiking options. The normal route is to hike on the "Great Dune" to the beach trail, follow the beach to Tenmile Creek, and then bushwhack back for an 8'ish mile loop. For a shorter distance, we could walk to the beach and back for a 6'ish mile and relatively easy hike. Then there was the wildly up and downer to Hall Lake. While short in mileage, this little hike is mighty in climbing up and down some rather large mountains of sand. Jay opted for the last route, so short and sweet our hike would be.

Jay finds out downhill in soft sand is better than uphill

As we dropped down the "Great Dune", I remarked to Jay this would be easy! But what goes down, must come up and we soon quit talking to each other as we struggled up a large sand alp, the soft sand making it hard to work our way up to the top.  Once at the dune summit, we again admired the views while waiting for our respiration rate to return to normal as our heaving lungs worked overtime to catch up. Only 4 more dunes to go!

Grubs live int the sand
While going up and down a successive series of giant sand dunes, I noticed small bug tracks weaving hither and yon on the sand. Once such track ended abruptly so I dropped to my knees and dug carefully around the end point. I was rewarded for my efforts when a grub rolled into my hands.  Mystery solved! I had always wondered creature had made those tracks.

Seed beetles were out for a hike, too
Another mystery was solved when I spotted a red-and-black seed beetle crawling on the sand. For years, I had observed a particular set of tracks that consisted of short little feet, like a centipede, with a tail-dragging mark in between. It always looked to me like a lizard track, except there are no lizards in these sand dunes. Well, turns out that tail-drag is the mark that a beetle butt makes when it's dragged through the sand. The next great mystery concerns why the beetle is out there in the first place, there's not much out there in the way of vegetation apart from beachgrass.

The dearly departed
One of the highlights of this route is the ghost forest atop the third dune we climbed over. At one point, there had been a thriving forest of trees growing here. My theory is that the sand encroached the trees and smothered the life out of them. At any rate, all that is left of the trees is a stand of ghostly white snags etched against the skyline. The sand is littered with tree parts and before long, the snags will crumble into little itty-bitty pieces and the ghost forest will be no more. The wind soughing through the trees imparted a forlorn air about the place. Jay and I walked reverently past the tree graveyard, paying utmost respect to the deceased.

Let's walk up that!
The fifth dune was the toughest one, seemingly more sandy wall than dune. We angled across the face of it because going up would never work. As it was, it was two steps up and one down and if you stopped to take a picture, admire the view, or simply rest, you were liable to lose all that hard-won elevation as the sand collapsed under your feet.

Hall Lake
Our reward for this dune, though, was a nice overlook of scenic Hall Lake, its dark waters half in the sandy dunes and the other half in densely wooded forest. As we had been walking we had noticed a large bank of clouds and fog  rolling in and just before we got to the lake, the fog arrived, carried in by a stout breeze. The temperature dropped and we put on some extra clothing as we shivered while eating lunch.

The fog paid a brief visit
We didn't tarry because of the chill breeze, so after lunch, we headed back to the crest of the large dune we had hiked in on. The wind was brisk but on the positive side, it blew that nasty fog bank all the way to Kansas, and it became a sunny day all of a sudden.

Free skin exfoliation at Dellenback Dunes
This particular dune was acutely defined on its crest and the wind was blowing sand over it, blurring the sharp lines of the dune. I had shorts on and my shins can painfully testify to the sandblasting properties of windblown sand. Once we dropped off the dune, we were sheltered from the wind and it became what legitimately could be called a warm day.

There were numerous little ponds in the dunes still
I was trying to get to the flats behind the deflation plain forest but it seemed no matter how much we angled towards the flats, deep canyons and brushy oases forced us away from the sandy flats. So, once we got out of that mess, we simply followed guide posts back to the "Great Dune". And from there, it was back to our car via the sandy track.

Boys will be boys
Before this hike, my boss had sent me a text message, warning me that I had better return Jay in the same relative condition I had found him in. So, I texted her back (after the hike) that Search-and-Rescue were optimistic they could find him before nightfall. But the truth of the matter is I didn't harm him, unless you count shoes full of sand as being harmful.

Tiger beetles were flitting all over the sands
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Hiking on sand dunes is a very unique type of hiking adventure! Hope your co-worker enjoyed himself.