One Sunday afternoon, we head to the coast through Coos Bay and North Bend. As we meander on Highway 101 north toward Florence, we pull off to explore the dunes.
The dunes stretch along the coast for 40 miles from Coos Bay to Florence, or more precisely, from the Coos River to the Siuslaw River. The Oregon Dunes are the largest expanse of coastal dunes in North America. They started forming 12 million years ago with the uplifting of sedimentary rock in Oregon’s Coastal Mountain Range. Rivers slowly moved the rock downstream. Over time, tides, waves, and winds tumbled over the rocks and eventually ground them into sand. The highest dunes reach up to 500 feet above sea level. (fs.usda.gov and en.m.wikipedia.org)
So, we start the interpretive trail with our dogs, Casey and Murph. The warm sunshine reflects the pleasant 60+ degree temperature and casts its coolness in the shade.
The first 1/4 mile is lush and green making the deep red bark of some trees pop out.
Even the last blooms of the fading yellow gorse sparkle in a neon glow.
After crossing the road leading to the Eel Creek Campground, Jeff, disappointedly, wonders when the dunes will appear on this interpretive trail loop, which, by the way, has markers but no interpretations.
Suddenly, 60+ degrees starts feeling lots warmer. An almost blinding white light greets us. The forest trail turns into sand and there they are… the dunes in all their glory!
Goodbye shade, hello hot sun…. And the sand gets deeper and deeper and climbs higher and higher. Somewhere beyond is the ocean, about 2 1/2 miles away.
It’s incredible! Walking becomes a workout and with every step we collect more and more sand inside our socks and shoes.
Casey and Murph try to run but they sink into the sand. Murph tries to sniff the sand and sample it but he gives up when his snout gets buried. So we return to the trailhead, taking the other side of the loop. Correction… We trudge back to the trailhead through more sand!
At last we encounter a plaque explaining some of the ecosystem of the sand dunes. The picture below shows a glimpse of what the dunes looked liked when the native red fescue dominated this sandy landscape.
In the 1920s, European Beach Grass was planted along the Oregon coast to ward off natural erosion destroying the valuable coastal real estate. (oceanscape.aquarium.org)
European Beach Grass, while both picturesque in a sandy landscape and excellent for holding sand in place, took over the once flourishing native plant communities. (oceanscape.aquarium.org)
Ninety-five percent of native red fescue communities are gone. The Oregon Dunes, however, are still home to some of these remaining communal species because the trees here create a protective area that does not attract European Beach Grass. The John Dellenback Trail offers a rare glimpse of what the dunes originally looked like. (plaque on trail)
Returning to our car, we are hot, tired, and thirsty.
Jeff and I remove our shoes
and shake out the sand.
The rest of the sand is in our socks and we bring it back to the RV where we sweep and “dust buster” it away.
Got sand? You bet!
Check out this short video from the USA Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to learn more.