Last week we spent a short vacation on the Oregon Coast. It was during the same time that Portland - in the very same state - was sweltering in temperatures above 110F. On the coast, however, it barely got above 70F which is way more to my liking.
One day we visited the Oregon Dunes, the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America. They extend for 40 miles along the Oregon coast between Florence in the North and Coos Bay in the South. The wind sculpted dunes tower almost 500 feet above the ocean shore and blend with rivers, lakes and temperate rainforests, creating a remarkably diverse ecosystem.
This was our fourth or fifth visit to the Dunes. Several years ago we had camped in the Dunes twice and spent happy times at the seemingly endless beach. This time we decided to take a hike in the Dunes and we opted for the Oregon Dunes Trail which is a 4.5 miles roundtrip.
This was the description of the trail on this sign: "The easier portion of the trail leads one mile from the Day Use Area across open sand, wetlands and foredune to the beach. Hiking the challenging remaining loop is 3.5 miles. Walk along the beach and wetlands, wander above Tahkenitch Creek, through tree islands and open sand dunes to return to the Day Use Area."
The word that stood out to me was "challenging" and after a short discussion we decided to hike the challenging part of 3.5 miles first, therefore doing the entire loop in reverse.
I can't stress enough how glad we both were about this decision.
You might have noticed that the trail leads through "open sand". Not only is this sand open, but it's dry and loose - anybody who ever walked through sand dunes knows how difficult this kind of walking is. On the smallest incline it's two steps forward, one step backward - very slow progress. I was sweating soon even though the sky was overcast and temperatures were very moderate.
Can you imagine how relieved I was when we reached this part of the trail?
Alas, my relief was only short-lived! This was one of the tree islands and after only a few hundred yards we were out in the open sand dunes again.
Despite the difficulty of the walking, we appreciated the beauty around us.
Here I am laboring through the dunes, but despite the sweating I was in a good mood. You can see my shirt getting wet with sweat. I eventually pulled it off and walked just in my tank top - I spare you a picture of that.
We finally reached the creek and after that we could enter the coolness and much easier walking in the wetlands.
At last - the beach! The sandier parts of the beach were roped off since it was nesting and breeding season of the Western Snowy Plover. This shore bird is threatened with extinction since the dry, open sand along the beach, that it needs to survive, is being more and more invaded by the European beachgrass that was planted in the early 1900s to stabilize sandy coastlines. Every year from March 15 to September 15 these areas are roped off so that nobody walks through the birds' sandy nests.
So we hiked along the wet sand which is much easier to walk on anyway. We hardly saw anybody, but we did watch these surfbirds that flew fast and furious over the waves in big flocks. In the retreating surf I found a beautiful big seashell (it's about 3 x 3 inches).
After about a mile we found the trail back to the parking lot. It was a longer portion through the wetlands and we saw lots of huckleberry plants. Finally we saw the big dune again from where we had started 2 1/2 hours before. We were exhausted, grateful that we had done the challenging portion of the trail at the beginning of our hike and a little bit proud that we actually did the entire trail despite its difficulties (we were the only hikers along the challenging 3.5 miles).
Fortunately I had a cotton sweater in the car so I could get rid of my wet clothes. We drove further North to Florence to the Beachcombers Pub for a very late lunch (or early dinner). Oh that glass of Hefeweizen was so delicious!