Sunday, February 8, 2015

Baker Beach Dunes

It's like my grandmother always used to say "When life gives you lots of wind, make wind puppets". Well, to be honest, she probably actually never said that and besides which, I have no idea what a wind puppet is. But that's my segue and I'm sticking to it.

The (not so) aptly named Dry Lake

Originally, the plan called for a rainy day hike out at the coast, the route being a 10 mile loop within the Cape Mountain horse trail system just north of Florence. Unfortunately, the plan would wind up getting blown far and away by the wind. However, wind was not an issue at the start of the hike from the Dry Lake trailhead, although the predicted rain was coming down and Dry Lake was not very dry. As a matter of fact not much was dry at all, including your sodden blogster  It had been raining heavily all week and most of Oregon was dutifully alert, having been rightfully placed on flood watch.

Trail omen

A short uphill walk on a mossy and ferny trail through tangled trees brought me within sight of the crest of Cape Mountain. The walk also brought me within earshot too, as through the trees the wind shrieked annoyingly shrill like an ex-wife. On the crest, tall trees kept time to the wind's music by dancing the lambada, the mashed potato, or the funky chicken. In a clear generational divide, younger trees simply twerked. Several large branches lay strewn across the trail in clear warning to a certain lone hiker with a sounds-like-a-dare mentality.

Time to play in the sandbox

Since it takes just one solitary branch to ruin a good hike, I uncharacteristically did the right thing and turned back. So what's a dressed up incredibly handsome hiker to do? Well, right across Highway 101 from the Cape Mountain turnoff was Baker Beach Road and while I might get sandblasted by the wind, at least falling trees would not be a problem. And on the plus side, prolonged exposure to wind-driven sand might be just the thing for my acne.

Um...not today
You just have to be in the mood to hike on the beach in a wind and rain storm and on this day I wasn't. So, I instead grabbed the trail that headed towards the dunes and within 100 yards it was time to make a decision at a Y-intersection. The left fork headed slightly uphill on a sandy track to Alder Lake and the right fork was under several feet of water. many tempting and difficult decisions at the start of a hike. Uncharacteristically again, I opted for the drier and tamer left fork.

Sand art

The dunes were somewhat sheltered behind the tall beach foredunes at Baker Beach, so the wind wasn't too bad and the rain also eased up a bit. I dropped off the path to Alder Lake and stepped out onto the sandy expanse of the dunes. The wind had been busy making art by fingerpainting on a large sandy canvas, leaving dunes decorated and patterned with all manner of swirls, curls, and whirls. It seemed downright sacrilegious to defile the artwork with my footprints so I generally stayed close to the forested edge of the dunes in the hiking equivalent of coloring inside the lines.

Wet spot
Because of the rain, the sand was wet and generally windproof. The lighter grains of sand were driven by the wind but mostly stayed below knee level except for when cresting a dune, at which point my poor face received the stinging brunt of the sand-laden breeze. Below my impromptu route, small lakes and large marshes discouraged cross-dune hiking to the beach. 

Please do not feed the alligators!
Life is tenuous here, and several stands of dead and half-buried trees testified to the terrible cost of war between sand and forest. But life is yin to death's yang and several patches of mushrooms surprisingly thrived in solid sand below the dead trees. The eastern edge of the dunes was bordered by a large unnamed lake surrounded by an abundance of fetid seeps containing black water, each lacking an alligator or two for a proper swamp effect. 

After the Jupiterian death ray
The sands here were different than my more usual sandy haunts (like Dellenback Dunes) in that the lighter and blacker grains of sand pooled around the many dimples on the dune surface, giving the dunes an odd singed look as if the terrain had been blasted by a Jupiterian death ray. If so, then the deer still survived.

The Three Sisters (of the dunes)
After a couple of miles, the southern terminus of the dunes was reached and there was no more walking south. The dunes here ended rather abruptly, overlooking a tangled mess of alder and conifer trees. A nice view of the forested depression of the Sutton Creek drainage was had from the sandy rim. Despite all the trees below me, I just knew there was nothing but standing water underneath the forest canopy, and I base that surmise on past hiking experiences in the Sutton Creek area.

Mushrooms in sand
After eating lunch while rain pitter-pattered on my hat brim, I explored several small fingers of sand dunes before finally running out of sand to walk on. Coming out of the forest onto the dunes was a well-used sandy path that was the trail connecting Sutton Creek to Baker Beach. Remember the right fork submerged under several feet of water?  I did, so I stayed in the dunes, saving the path for a substantially more dry-footed hike in summer.

Oasis in the desert
Bisecting the Baker Beach dunes was a large marsh and on the return leg I went left around the marsh instead of right. Well, right was right and left was wrong in this case as I found myself wading through thicker and thicker brush, my only reward being a wade through deep water if I so chose. So a backtrack was enacted and the correct route around the marsh was taken. 

As the weather turned bad
The weather became decidedly belligerent about 15 minutes away from the trailhead. It was near tornadic conditions as the wind picked up in intensity, the raindrops became fatter and wetter, lightning flashed overhead, and loud booms of thunder spurred a certain lone hiker to hike back to the car spastically fast like a wind puppet.

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

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