The dunes of the Oregon coast had never been at the top of my list of places to hike and explore. Growing up around the pine forests of Northeast Oregon, being the son of a forester and taking that career myself, the thought of hiking over the miles of sand hills of the Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area (NRA) was not on my radar. That is, until I started geocaching.

It was the day after Thanksgiving 2004 when I decided to hunt my first geocache in the dunes. Two reasons primarily, curiosity and needing to burn some extra holiday calories! This particular geocache was a short distance off a popular trail running from Highway 101 straight to the beach. It involved leaving the open sand to climb a small “island” of trees. It was tucked away under some thick brush near a small opening among the trees and brush that had obviously been used as a primitive campsite. Here’s the note I left in the cache logbook:

Great one for walking off Thanksgiving Day indulgence! Found it okay……….I got such a good workout getting there I came home and downed another piece of pumpkin pie!

What I discovered on this trek was an ecosystem that was way more diverse that I ever imagined – who knew? I suppose the biggest surprise was how many different dune features I encountered along the three-mile round trip hike. Starting with a 1/4 mile stroll through pine thickets with a “mini-dune” in the middle I moved quickly into a large expanse of open sand staying atop the high dune ridges. After a mile and a half I approached and climbed the mountain island of trees hiding the cache. I took a slightly different route back dropping down into the low areas between the dune ridges where smaller pines, brush and hearty grasses and sedges grew. And this hike only took me half way to the beach! Many more dune features awaited discovery on future treks.

I was hooked! This was the first of many more dune hikes over the next five years. I would find something new every time: foredunes, hummocks, deflation plains, estuaries, lakes and seasonal ponds. These are a few of the features I would come to learn about with each new excursion. Who knew?

Depending on the time of year, I would encounter many kinds of flora and fauna. Spring time would showcase tiny little strawberry plants with tasty – if not sizable – treats. Budding willows and little plants with yellow flowers filled low areas. A variety of birds and critters can be seen including eagles, herons, deer, rabbits…even porcupine! I’m not even covering the half of it! If not for geocaching, I would likely have never set foot in this beautiful and complex environment.

Exploring these great coastal dunes has risen to near the very top of my favorite things to do. Strolling through Oregon’s mature conifer forests in the fall is still king, in my book! ……..Well, that’s another story. Stay tuned.

Mike Davidson is a career forester and an outdoor enthusiast who uses the high-tech treasure hunting game of geocaching to lead him to the great variety of outdoor experiences in Oregon. Keep up with his latest hiking and geocaching excursions on his Geocaching Oregon blog. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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