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As I slogged through the loose sand, I heard the faint cry carried by the gusting wind, “help, help!”
What’s that, I wondered. I looked around. The landscape was a sea of dunes; monoliths of sand, stretching off to the horizon. And flying overhead, heading away, a vulture.
It didn’t look promising. Heading towards the sound of distress, I still had one of the mightiest of dunes to surmount.
Near frozen waves of sand crested in a myriad of little peaks, each a potential sloppy foothold of sliding sand as I worked my way up the hill.
Footprints in the sand. By the look of it, you’d think a massive herd of tourists or a fleet of camels must have passed through, a caravan of carousers cruising by. But there was no one in sight.
Still, there was that cry. Again, “help, help” crawled over the distant hilltop.
What was that, in the sand ahead? It looked almost like a bone, an unfortunate remnant in the desert sand.
On closer inspection, it turned out indeed to be a bone, but one from a tree branch, blown far askew from its moorings.
Like a miniature mountain wave, the burble around the woody bone from the blowing wind formed patterns in the sand, and hinted at the sandblasting my bare ankles were enduring.
And as it veered through the nooks and crannies and dips of dunes great and small, carrying grains from one place to the next, the wind sculpted and molded its initials into the sand.
At last! Signs of life. Of a sort.
And soon, even more. Perhaps this wasn’t a desert after all.
There! Just around the dune was the damsel. Like the Perils of Pauline, some nefarious force had captured her and tied her to a post.
I trudged on. Getting closer, the horrible truth became evident. The damsel in distress was none other than my wife! Seeing me, she gasped out in weakened breath, “help, help!”
I surmounted that last dune and viewed the magic invisible manacles that bound her to the post. There could be only one way to break the spell.
With a kiss, she was free.
Ok, ok, so I used a little artistic license here. It was fun, wasn’t it?
We were actually at the John Dellenback Dunes on the central Oregon coast. Part of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation area, it’s hardly a desert. Unique in the world, this area contains a mix of dunes, European beachgrass (an invasive species), trees, rivers, and lakes, and runs up to the Pacific Ocean. See this link from the National Forest Service that explains the geology.
However it came to be, it had been many years since I’ve explored the dunes, and the first time I explored this section.
Needless to say, the scope of the dunes is extensive and any exploration is just a toe-dip. We spent about three hours and never even got close to the ocean.
The great thing about this section of the dunes is it’s restricted – no noisy dune buggies ripping tracks across the pristine sand. So, while that big dune where the trail leaves the trees and joins the dunes is covered in footprints, once you get further off the bulk of the area shows few signs of humanity.
The occasional island of trees started life as a larger piece of forest and proves that once the dunes start their march, nothing stands in the way.
That invasive beachgrass is influencing the ecology. Originally planted near towns and jetties to bind the sand, it has spread beyond those boundaries and is binding up large dunes near the ocean. This has caused a depression behind those main foredunes that supports a different biome and other invasive species. The area we hiked is further inland, but perhaps in time the beachgrass will bind this up too. Who knows what it will look like in a couple hundred years?
Looking east from the dunes we can see the beginning of the forests of the coastal mountain range. This is much more typical of the west side of Oregon.
Whatever this region will look like in the years to come, these days it’s still a beautiful and unique pocket of Oregon. Exploration is sure to have you trying new adventures. You may even get to rescue a damsel in distress!