Saturday, November 16, 2019

Oregon Dunes

On the face of it, one can presume mid-November to be a wet, cold, and blustery affair at the Oregon coast. More often than not, you'd be correct in your presumption. But then again, there are semi-sunny days like this one where I tempted fate by hiking at the Oregon Dunes in shorts, but thankfully was not taken to task for my karmic impertinence. 

A crisp and clear morning on the beach

The weather was a little on the chill side and most of the Friends of the Umpqua group began the hike with jackets and full pant legs on, present deranged company excepted. I've found from past experience that if you start your hike dressed for warmth, you'll become overly heated within a few minutes or so of exertion. Me, I just start out like a first date: cold at first but plenty warm before too long. And sure enough, after the first mile or so of hiking to the beach, a large contingent of perspiring and overheated hikers stopped to remove some of their nine layers of clothing. After a few more miles of hiking it'd be pretty much a given that by then all hikers would be desperately sawing off pant legs. 

It was a pleasant two mile beach walk to Tahkenitch Creek

After our perfunctory walk to the beach and clothes-removal stop (jackets and coats only, you perverts!), we turned to the south and headed toward unseen Tahkenitch Creek, yet several miles ahead of us. The sky was sort of unusual in that it was gray on top but gloriously blue to the rear, just like me. Obviously we were hiking under a cloud border of sorts but we had nothing to declare as we passed through customs. 

Lane horks up a jellyfish

The beach was littered with debris, deposited onto the beach strand courtesy of some recent storms. Logs and driftwood were strewn about and in one case, a fully branched tree in its entirety. Clam shells, sand dollars, and jellyfish were all found and examined by beachcombing hikers, the jellyfish resembling the largest and slimiest boogers ever. 

Moody clouds hovered over Tahkenitch Creek

We ate lunch at Tahkenitch Creek to the accompaniment of keening sea gulls doing the same thing. I think we had the better food though, but we were entertained watching the birds forage at the water's edge. Tahkenitch Creek looked to be more river than creek, being quite wide as it reached the end of its journey and the same thing can be said about most of us too, now that I think about it. As we lollygagged, ominous looking clouds scudded overhead and we wondered if we were going to get rained on or not. We didn't and the blue sky to the north remained although it became less and less a commodity as the increasingly cloudy day waned.

The world within Tahkenitch Creek

After a couple of more miles of beach walking, we left the beach via Exit 114, the bright neon yellow sign totally at odds with the foreboding gray sky above. The plan here was to make a loop hike through the Oregon Dunes, but first we had some forest walking to get through. A side trail in the woods led to a viewpoint of Tahkenitch Creek, its overly calm surface reflecting the weak sun fighting its way past the cloud cover. A resumption of the forest walk led us to another awesome overlook of Tahkenitch Creek.

Tahkenitch Creek takes the long way home

Here, the creek snakes to and fro in a series of exaggerated oxbow bends below the sandy dunes, resembling a large watery snake lazing or slithering in the sun. It's a spectacular sight and we stopped for a few minutes to admire the sinuous serpentine curves of the creek before resuming our journey across the sandy dunes.

Hi ho, hi ho, across the dunes we go

In the dunes, there is no formal path per se, but marker posts keep hikers on track and in theory prevent the map and compass-challenged set from getting lost. It was several miles of sandy dunes, beachgrass, small lakes, and ponds before the trailhead area appeared, inconveniently sited on top of a large hill made entirely out of sand. Just to do something different, Lane and I opted to hike up the sandy slope instead of grabbing the customary trail through the coastal woods.

Why we walk uphill in soft sand

Oof! That turned out to be quite the Sisyphean struggle because for every two steps up in the soft and shifting sands, we slid down one. Although at times, it felt like we backslid three steps for every two. But the fun part of this impromptu route came not from the awesome view of the dunes and distant ocean, even though that was pretty cool too, but by virtue of the fact that our people were expecting us to appear on the trail, and not from the rear. "Watch this!" said Lane, he of the evil grin. He pressed the panic button on his key chain and his vehicle, which everybody was leaning up against, exploded into honking and flashing chaotic cacophony. You know how it is when you touch a cat that is all coiled up, ready to pounce and the startled feline reflexively launches skyward, arms outspread in an involuntary four-limbed crucifix pose? Yeah, it was kind of like that, making a great hike even more enjoyable!

The day darkens as the hike ends

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

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