Finding alternatives to the heat
A last minute change of hike plans pays off with a cool, sandy time.
I wanted to go to Bullpup Lake. I really did. When I plan hikes I'm going to lead for the year, I always like to throw in one place I've never been before. It helps keep things fresh. So I chose a big roadless area with nice old growth, a lake, a lava flow, and views of the mountains between the North Umpqua and the Middle Fork Willamette. I scoped out the hike a few weeks before the scheduled hike, and had a full group of people lined up to join me.
Then the Williams Creek fire started, and grew, and closed the North Umpqua Highway I needed to use to get to Bullpup Lake. Plus, with the heat, several people dropped out at the last minute, leaving me scrambling for an alternative.
Thankfully, I either know or have heard of many, many places to go hiking. And thankfully, my brain pulled out a GREAT suggestion: the Oregon Dunes!
I've always avoided the Dunes, though they are close and accessible to Eugene. I knew there was off-road vehicle use over much of the area, and I never bothered to find out where quiet recreation was stressed instead. Luckily, there are places like this - like the many trails surrounding Takenitch Creek.
A little background:
The Oregon Dunes are like no others in the world. Stretching for more than 40 miles from Florence to Coos Bay along the central Oregon Coast, the area is the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America. Administered by the Siuslaw National Forest, much of the area is a designated roadless area. But the Dunes have been altered by human forces since European beach grass was planted to "stabilize" the area beginning in the 1910s. This grass, other invasive plants and development have changed the makeup of the dune habitat, leading to the near extinction of the snowy plover - a small relative of the sandpiper that needs open dunes for nesting.
A more recent threat to the ecosystem and natural beauty of the dunes is off-road vehicles. ORVs have long been allowed in certain areas of the Dunes National Recreation Area. In some areas, ORVs are allowed free reign over the dunes, while in others they are only allowed on designated trails within the otherwise unroaded area. But the Forest Service does not have the resources to enforce regulations that restrict access - leading to rogue trails and rampant off-trail resource damage. Most recently, a proposal to build a nearly mile long vehicle "trail" (more like a road) to connect Coos County properties across the Dunes roadless area would allow access to wetlands and other rare vegetation via these rogue ORV trails.
But we avoided all that. Our small crew enjoyed the cool, overcast coastal weather as we walked the dunes, the coastal forest, and the beach. We enjoyed almost complete solitude, watched a frisky seal in the surf and a family of bald eagles with two newly-fledged young, and all got to experience a close-to-home, but new-to-us-all gem of a place.