Saturday, January 23, 2021

Baker Beach and Alder Dunes

Several years ago, I was looking for a new trail out on the Oregon coast, somewhere I'd never been. Such places are a rare find for me because it seems like I've hiked on every trail in southern Oregon that there is to be hiked on. While not necessarily true, my desperate search for a path which had never felt the glorious stomp of an O'Neill boot led me to a late night Google Earth perusal. Whoops, there it was! In the Alder Lake area, was a faint path bisecting a grouping of small dunes collectively known as Alder Dunes. Of course, the sketchy path disappeared from the prying and spying satellite eyes in outer space when it entered dark patches of forest. Maybe I was overly optimistic but it did not escape my attention that what presumably was the same path also exited the forest. 

Berry Creek reaches the end

Later, my friends were dragged onto my new trail and apparently Lane liked that hike (and what's not to like?) and so he penciled a repeat Alder Dunes adventure onto the Friends of the Umpqua's schedule. It was like a Richard Hike without any of the awesome responsibility of well, being responsible, so I went along for the sheer joy of hiking on sketchy trails. Because of the faint trails and network of braiding game paths, Lane insisted everybody hike together instead of our usual laissez-faire approach of everybody hiking at their own speed. Doing that in these conditions greatly increased the likelihood of finishing with the same amount of hikers we started out with, although the head count was complicated by one hiker joining us mid-hike and one other having to leave us due to a flat tire discovered at the trailhead.

Hiking is fun!

Beginning at Dune Lake, which has no dunes nearby, we grabbed the faint path into Alder Dunes, which has no alder growing nearby either. But if we only named places after nearby natural features, then we'd be starting from Lake Lake and hiking through Dunes Dunes, wouldn't we? The smallish expanse of Alder Dunes was bordered by a thick forest and our path immediately faded into the heavy vegetative undergrowth. Even though some hikers were just a few feet in front of me, they too were swallowed up from sight by the dense greenery. At times the way was discerned only by picking out the spot where the scratchy brush was marginally not as thick, like a trail had once been there several decades ago.

Mushrooms surprisingly thrive in the sandy dunes

After a few quick walk-by perusals of some seasonal ponds and lakes, the loose network of horse trails, game tracks, and social paths spit us out onto Baker Beach Dunes. Wide and expansive, just like me, these are real dunes and we enjoyed hiking along the edge thereof in the morning sunlight. It's actually a pretty cool hike to follow the edge of the dunes but we had a different task today, chiefly to hike over to Lilly Lake.  

Berry Creek, with the end in sight

Lilly Lake is a prominent landmark in the Baker Beach area but you can barely see the small lake, for it's well hid by a thick cover of cattails and reeds. Much cooler, vista-wise, is the Berry Creek Loop and after visiting Lilly Lake, we hiked around puddles of water standing on the trail overlooking the wild hinterlands of marshes, swamps, dunes and wide Berry Creek itself. I've stepped over shallow Berry Creek when hiking on nearby Cape Mountain and it's hard to reconcile that diminutive trickle with the near-river arrogantly sashaying through the marshes just before ending its journey on the beach.

Lane demonstrates the proper climbing technique

Back when I took the club on this hike wilder than most, we returned by bushwhacking through the marshes. A hidden sinkhole claimed Edwin and I as victims and the swim killed my camera. In keeping with the adventuresome aspect of this trek, Lane took us up the dunes flanking Berry Creek, but prudently avoided the marshes (and at least one sinkhole!) lurking behind the dunes. The creek had cut the dunes like a giant knife halving sandwiches (dunes...sand...sandwiches, get it?), and it was actually quite the challenge to climb up a sheer cliff made out of soft shifting sand. 

Sadly and truly, this really is the trail

From there it was a short walk atop the dunes crest on small ad hoc paths weaving between hummocks of beachgrass swaying in a light breeze. And after that mild adventure, it was a return, all of us together in one group, through the faint trails in the forest and dunes. It sort of reminded me of kindergarten where we had "If lost..." name tags enumerating our vitals such as school, parents, and our parent's phone numbers. Maybe next time I lead a hike, I'll insist on everybody wearing such tags, but then Mrs. O'Neill might have to claim me.

They say on dark stormy nights you can hear
her mournful cry "Where is the #$%@ trail!"

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

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