Saturday, October 18, 2008

Everchanging Shifting Sands of the Oregon Coast

“This is like a mini-Sahara Desert!” I stood surrounded by sand dunes some gentle rolling mounds, others with sheer cliff-like drop-offs. I had a 360-degree view of sand, ocean, and forest. “It’s breathtakingly beautiful, amazing, how wondrous!”

“What you see now will look different tomorrow or even later today. Blowing sand will erase those tire tracks as if no one has ever been out here on quads or ATVs,” Avery commented as two quads zipped by sending a spray of sand flying off the back tires. “The wind constantly moves the sand clearing the surface and changing the terrain.”

He pointed to two clumps of trees, one on the left and another to the right. “That’s North Island and over there is South Island. The sea wall is straight ahead. Behind you is the Forest Service land, a sound buffer to mute the noise of the engines.”

Avery Duman, President of Torex, Inc., an ATV rental service in Florence, Oregon, knew these dunes intimately. He’d grown up here and now dune excursions were the source of his livelihood. He escorted Ed and me to the Oregon Dunes on a quad. Avery never sat on the seat, rather he straddled it standing and powered ahead of us. Taking a turn, he tipped the quad. He wasn’t showing off when he maneuvered on two wheels, just cutting to the right. When I commented to him about his little trick riding, he laughed. He promised more of a show saved for another day, a day when he’s on a dirt bike.

He told me that in November, around Thanksgiving time, there can be 300 to 400 riders on dirt bikes careening down Competition Hill, a huge dune he claims that people have been riding for 30 – 40 years, before he was even born. He called it a launching pad for racing. We didn’t see any airborne riders on this weekday, but on the weekend there’d be some daredevils giving the dune a go.

Daredevils we were not. In the ATV, Ed cautiously followed Avery to the crest of a dune overlooking the North Island. From here we could see a moat of bright blue water around the isolated forest of trees. “Heavy rains later in the season will turn that into a fresh water lake,” Avery said. Previously, I read about the Dunes history in the Visitor Guide to the Oregon Dunes. It said that these tree islands are remnants of larger forests that were overrun by sand. The article warned that the trees live a precarious existence because their steep slopes will eventually erode away. It also confirmed Avery’s assessment. Rainwater seeps from the vertical, sandy slopes of the dunes around these trees and collects in shallow pools right in the dunes.

The dunes are more than just sand and seasonal pools of water. The area around the dunes creates a unique habitat for assorted wildlife. Hawks, ducks, geese and bald eagles live here. Foxes, coyotes, possums, and skunk make it their home too. Avery said there’s an abundance of bear and deer as well. He later showed us deer tracks in the sand, proof of their presence.

The Oregon Dunes represent the largest coastal dunes in North America. Designated the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area in 1972, the area extends from Florence to North Bend along 32,000 acres of coastline. About half of the land is open to motorized vehicles. We were in just a small part of this recreational frontier confined to the riding area, located less than a mile from Florence, between South Jetty Road on the northern end and Siltcoos Beach Access Road on the south. Still these boundaries were expansive enough. We sampled a thrilling ride on the dunes and took in the scenery produced by millions of years of wind, sun, rain and erosion on the Oregon Coast that created these mountains of sand, some measuring as high a whopping 500 feet above sea level.

So, as I told a close friend who checks on my whereabouts and adventures regularly, add this scenic place to your Bucket List or 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. The natural sculpture of the dunes is unforgettable, majestic, and ever-changing.

October 15, 2008

The ATV was provided by Avery Duman, President of Torex, Inc. at
Sand Dunes Frontier located at 83960 Highway 101 South, Florence, OR

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