Sunday, December 3, 2017

Oregon Dunes

Because I basically did not hike for a couple of months this year, I had pretty much consigned myself to one of my lesser years, in terms of hiking mileage. But then I did the math. Looking at the calendar and considering the remaining days available for the wonderful little avocation of hiking, there was an opportunity to just barely make it over a respectable 400 miles for the year. So, with Luna in mindless happy tail-wagging attendance, back to the coast I went for a moderate hike in the Oregon Dunes: no resting allowed for the mileage addicted.

Kind of reminds me of the time I put too
much detergent in the washing machine
The wise sages at NOAA had foretold a chance of rain and predictably, dark clouds hovered over the dunes when we started hiking on a paved trail tunneling through the ample vegetation. I've hiked at the Oregon Dunes quite a bit and am very familiar with the loop trail north of Tahkenitch Creek, However, as we descended through the coastal forest, I noticed for the first time, a small lake below and well to the left, kind of surreptitiously tucked away in a low spot surrounded by coastal scrub. For the sake of doing something different, dog and human abandoned the sandy track through the dunes and headed cross-country to the diminutive lake.

Off and running

It may have been just a small lake but it was a small lake I'd never been to before, never mind it looked like all the other small lakes peppering the dunes. We walked around the edge a bit before returning to the trail proper. Well, to be precise, I wandered around the edge while Luna eagerly jumped in, fervently swimming figure-eights in the black water.

Happy place on Earth, for both of us
Clearly, Luna was in her element, be it either open sand or marshy water. She was streaking all over the place, ears laid back by the breeze as she sprinted madly in random circles and curlicues with no particular purpose that I could fathom. When we entered the deflation plain forest behind the beach foredunes, she found the puddly trail in the thick forest to be another of her happy places. Come to think of it, everywhere except the vet's examining room is a happy place for Luna.

Might as well initiate my new
boots into a Richard Hike experience
Between the beach foredunes and the deflation plain forest, lie a series of ponds and marshes. As the forest continues to entrench itself behind the foredunes, it encroaches into the marshes or vise versa. What all this translates to, hiking-wise, is a series of long and deep puddles where there normally would be a trail. Naturally, my boots were soon filled with water and a dog was mindlessly running up and down the trail, splashing through each puddle with unbridled canine mania. Wow, it was not at all like hiking with Dollie.

Sadly and truly, this is the trail
All good things come to an end, though, and eventually the trail spit us out of the forest and into the marshes where more wading was required. Was this an awesome hike or what? Although the question was intended to be rhetorical, Luna's answer is in the affirmative.

The beach was littered with dead pyrosomes
The next several miles were on lonely beach, with just Luna, seagulls, sanderlings, and my own idle thoughts for company. One oddity on the beach were some clear plastic tubes a couple of inches long, the whole beach was littered with the stuff. Curious, I picked one up and realized it wasn't plastic but was some sort of animal carcass. I was guessing sea cucumber but further post-hike research revealed the mysterious creature to be many creatures instead; these were pyrosome colonies. Apparently, they tend to inhabit tropical waters and don't visit Oregon much; solving the riddle of their sudden and unexplained appearance in the Pacific Northwest is what's keeping marine biologists from sleeping at night these days.

The stormy clouds were spectacular
To the south, an incoming storm cast the sky with a dark and moody glower. The view to the north was not as dark but mist made it hard to see any distance. It seemed like  the light, clouds, and shadows changed with every step I took, and I now have hundreds of surf and beach photos to prove it. Periodically, sun beams would break through the cloud cover, illuminating some lucky portion of the ocean surf.

Sanderlings, before Luna chased them
Seeing how there were so few distractions for an attention-deficit dog, I slipped the leash off of Luna and let her run free. My mistake. There were small flocks of sanderlings foraging in the wet sand and Luna made it her personal mission to make sure I hiked on a completely bird-free beach. Sanderlings prefer to run instead of fly, so when chased by Luna, they flew only a short distance away. Since Luna could still see them, the chase was resumed, and the birds flew another short distance away. Since Luna could still see get the idea. Luna chased and chased until she was a small black dot on the horizon. Just about the point I was considering driving the car to Reedsport to meet her there, she turned around and ran back to me. Safe to say, she remained on the leash for the duration of the hike.

Tahkenitch Dunes, snaking through the dunes

We walked past the trail entering the dunes, eschewing for now a beach egress for a few more miles of beach walking. There was no logical turnaround point so I picked out a log on the beach in the distance and we walked to it before turning around and exiting the beach. The trail leaving the beach was mostly through grassy dunes next to Tahkenitch Creek. We enjoyed a nice overlook of an oxbow bend in the creek before we entered the world of sand.

Oregon dune, in the Oregon Dunes

Periodically, Luna was set free to splash and frolic in the numerous ponds dotting the dunes. The clouds seemed like they were dissipating and we enjoyed blue sky for a bit. I say "for a bit" because the dark clouds scudded in before we reached the trailhead. But hey, it didn't rain, I'm 7 miles closer to 400 miles for the year, and I didn't have to drive to Reedsport to pick up Luna. All that makes for another successful hike, in my book.

Gloomy, yet incredibly scenic...just like me!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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