Saturday, June 1, 2019

Dellenback Dunes

Dellenback Dunes is one of my favorite places to hike at. Even though I've hiked here like a million times, somehow there is always something different about each and every outing. For instance, I've seen the dunes in rainy weather that had me questioning why I was out there in the first place. But then, I've hiked the sands when wind-driven sand particles pained my poor exposed face and legs. I've been on the dunes on a fogbound day, which always makes navigation interesting, to say the least. I've also sweltered there under a blazing sun, the hot and sandy expanse making me feel like I was in the Sahara desert instead of the Oregon coast. And I've been there when the dunes were covered in ice on a day cold enough to make a penguin shiver. And yes, I've enjoyed many a hike in ordinarily good weather where nothing bad happened, as was the case on this early June hike.

Rhododendron was putting on a floral show
By the time we actually started hiking, the sun was already out, but there still was a trace of morning fog above the beach Nine hikers and one dog set out on the trail which in short order, crossed Eel Creek and entered a lush coastal forest. Under the trees, the rhododendrons were putting on a show with their extravagant pink floral display. Less than a mile into the hike, the forest thinned out and sand made an appearance shortly before the trail spit us onto the dunes proper. A chill wind blowing across the dunes maintained all hikers at a comfortable temperature and would do so throughout the day.

Hiking uphill in soft sand is so much fun!
The first order of business upon entering Dellenback Dunes was a requisite slog up to the top of the "Great Dune", a large whaleback dune that does double duty as hiking route because it's so easy to follow across the trailless dunes. In the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Dellenback Dunes is the largest swath of sand set aside for hiking and because of its superior height relative to all the other dune features, the "Great Dune" offers up a fantastic view of the Dellenback Dunes sandbox. To the west was the ocean, east was the coastal forest and equally coastal mountain range, while north and south was nothing but light and bright whitish sand under a clear blue sky. Hovering above the beaches was a rapidly dissipating bank of gray fog well engaged in evaporation from the morning burn-off.

Missy follows our hike leader
Despite the lack of actual trails in the dunes, there are several routes we regularly use without being limited to any one standard route in particular. The choice of route depends on the whim and imagination of the hike leader. Having said that though, we unimaginatively took the one route we do most of the time. Today's hiking choice was to walk straight over the dunes and take the forested trail to the beach, walk south on the beach for a couple of miles to Tenmile Creek, bushwhack (one of my favorite words) through the dense forest growing behind the beach foredunes, skirt the edge of Tenmile Creek for a bit, and then close the triangular loop by way an overland hike across the dunes. Dunes, forest, beach, large creek, marsh, beachgrass, large creek (again), and even more dunes...we would be partaking of all the toppings (including anchovies) on the menu for this Dellenback Dunes pizza.

The trail tunneled through the deepest and darkest jungle
The trail through the deflation plain forest tunneled through the densely tangled trees in the young forest but at least the trail was dry, something that does not always occur in the swampy environs behind the beach foredunes. Once on the beach, it was a two mile hike to the south until we ran into impassable (without swimming across) Tenmile Creek. On the plus side, the brisk breeze was at our backs, sparing us toil and skin pain caused by wind-driven sand striking handsome faces like so many miniscule paint gun pellets. There is a certain ambiance about hiking next to the roaring surf and some hikers walked barefoot while others searched the beach strand for sand dollars, present company included on the latter count.

Behold the Mighty Tenmile!

At its mouth, Tenmile Creek appears more like a mighty river and not much at all like a creek. Over time, the creek has carved out a sandy flood plain on the beach and when the creek is tame, like on this day, it loops back and forth like a snake in search of prey. Arlie, our canine companion, was only too happy to go for a quick swim in Tenmile Creek, serpent analogy notwithstanding.

The flock follows the alpha sheep
After a creekside lunch on some large driftwood logs, we regrouped and cut across a large marsh that again, was fairly dry. Boots were most appreciative of the fact that there was no standing water in the marsh, the lack of swampy boot-filling liquid being a a dry clue that it must be early summer or something like that. On the far side of the marsh was a stunted forest comprised of beachgrass and small scratchy trees that we had to find a way to get through. Because there is no prescribed trail or route through this area, we just followed John in single-file formation like the mindless sheep we are. At least we weren't following like suicidal lemmings.

Tenmile Creek flows through the dunes
We rejoined with Tenmile Creek after crossing the forest, the creek visually at odds with the sere and austere looking dunescape on the north side of the creek. The terrain was rather hummocky and covered with beachgrass. Beachgrass can best be described as "plants with sword points" and since I was walking in shorts, I was very much aware of the pointy ends of the grass blades counting coup on my calves as we hiked through the hummocks, still in our single-file sheep formation. 

Hi ho, it's across the sands we go
All good and painful hikes through beachgrass come to an end though, and our legs and perseverance carried us out of the leg-poking hummocks and back into the much kinder and gentler sand dunes. There are no formal trails across the dunes but navigation is made simple by orientation to a prominent tree island. All you have to do is hike across the dunes, aiming for the west side of the tree island, and then tediously slog up to the crest of the "Great Dune" and voila, nobody gets lost that way. It's always a good thing to finish with the same amount of hikers (and dogs) that started the hike.

Look out for sandworms!
The landscape of this last leg of the triangular route was alien looking, like something out of a science fiction novel (Interesting factoid: Frank Herbert wrote "Dune" after being inspired by a visit to the Oregon Dunes). Apart from a few beachgrass clumps, low mats of lupine, and isolated patches of beach strawberry, pretty much nothing else grows out here. Nothing to see but a train of hikers walking on sand while surrounded by sandy alps rising above on all sides. We sort of looked like a thin army of ants mindlessly marching back to the colony. At least we were no longer in sheep or lemming formation!

Oasis in the dunes
The day had warmed up considerably yet that chill wind was still blowing across the sandy expanse, so it was kind of hard to make up our minds whether to keep light jackets on or hike in shirt sleeves. Depending on the choice, you either were baking hot or uncomfortably chill. Most of us opted for the shirt sleeve look because the heat was more taxing than the chill. 

Abstract art by Michealange-a-Blow
The wind had created what I euphemistically refer to as "sand art" which consists of abstract patterns of stripes, splotches, and striations all left by that famous artist Vincent van Wind. What, you wanted Leonardo di Breezy? It was easy to figure out how the stripes were painted upon the sand: they had been created by winds blowing in the same direction but at differing instances. Some round whorls in the middle of the stripes, kind of resembling Jupiter's red spot, were harder to deduce how they were created. Tornadoes, maybe? Coriolis effect? Witchcraft?

We leave but the beachgrass remains
The hike ended with the quick walk back through the blooming rhododendrons, and we were happy to have hiked here on a gorgeous summer day instead of through some of the travails enumerated at the start of this blog. Hiking in nice weather was markedly different from some of my other hikes here and like I said, it's never the same.

Sand dollar, not quite in mint condition
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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