It’s a road once taken, you’ll never want to leave: the “Cape Arago Highway” skirts a lonesome section of the southern Oregon coastline. It leads you past so many intriguing sights and sounds that you may wonder: “Why have I never come this way before?”
When Marty Giles comes a knocking, you better be ready because class is in session. The longtime teacher and owner/operator of “Wavecrest Discoveries” showed up bright and early at our campsite in the Sunset Beach State Park Campground.
Chris and I were ready for a day of travel and learning more about the Coos Bay area of Southern Oregon coast. Marty promised us a day filled with sights that takes the breath away and would “fill us with surprise!”
First stop, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area; a timeless coastal treasure and giant sandbox with plenty of elbowroom to stretch out and play.
The Oregon Dunes covers 42 miles from Florence to Coos Bay and it is an Oregon landmark for outdoor recreation.
Photos: Oregon dunes and estuaries
People come from all over to experience 32,000 acres of sand, forest, rivers and lakes, so don’t forget your hiking boots when you stroll the many trails to reach the dunes.
We followed Marty along the “John Dellenback Trail” at the Eel Creek Campground.
She noted that many folks are surprised to learn that the dune sand didn’t come from the ocean, but from the mountains.
“The sand is really tiny bits of rock or crystals that are broken apart, brought from the mountains down to the ocean,” said Giles. “The sand grains that we’re standing on came down the streams and rivers down the ocean when the sea level was lower and then were pushed back up as the sea level rose up.”
Hiking across the dunes really puts you in touch with a unique story of Oregon’s geography. Giles noted that some of the dunes reach 500 feet tall; among the highest dunes in the world.
The Oregon Dunes story is interesting, complex and ever changing.
“Everybody likes the open sand,” noted Giles. “Everybody likes this type of habitat; everyone likes this sense of openness and dynamics of things changing. It feels wild with the wind blowing. It has a wonderful sense of place and everybody likes that.”
Soon, we were back on the road and traveled six miles southeast from Sunset Bay State Park on the Seven Devils Road to visit a piece of Oregon coastal paradise that’s been preserved since 1974.
The South Slough Estuarine Research Preserve offers a visitor center that introduces you to the area with varied multi-media and hands on exhibits.
We hurried into the South Slough Visitor Center to beat a November downpour and Giles noted with a laugh: “People complain about the rain, but really there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.”
Inside the center, exhibits put you in touch with a rare piece of Oregon coastal environment; especially the aquaria with both fresh and salt water marine life.
Education Specialist Joy Tally said each of the three tanks puts you in touch with Oregon’s coastal environment.
“They help you experience what an estuary is – see what the habitats are – and then you use that as your jumping off point for exploring the rest of South Slough,” she said.
There are more than 5,000 acres in South Slough Preserve – approximately 1,000 of that is the slough itself, then the rest is protected upland forest or marshland.
You will find plenty of elbowroom and plenty of trails to explore at South Slough Preserve.
“It is undisturbed, it is not developed and you do have more interaction with wildlife here. It’s quiet! It’s peaceful! And you can picture what life was like many years ago across this southern branch of greater Coos Bay,” noted Giles.
One of my favorite trails is called the Hidden Creek Trail - a little over a mile in length and it offers a wonderful wooden boardwalk that takes you out over a wetland area where the freshwater creek meets the sea.
In addition, there are many stunning views along the trail, including those from atop a two-level deck that looks across a marsh area to the Winchester Arm of the slough.
The Hidden Creek Trail allows you to keep your feet dry. The walking is easy with gorgeous views at every turn so be sure to bring your camera to capture memories of the Dunes and Estuaries. I’m sure you’ll agree that it is time well spent.
If you would like to explore more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my new book: “Grant’s Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon.”
You will enjoy 48 uniquely Oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. Scores of colorful photos by “Grant’s Getaways” photographer, Jeff Kastner, show off some of our finest moments in the field.
The stories offer detailed directions and promise to set you on your own path of discovery across Oregon. The new book is also available as e-book download so you can take my new book with you on the road.
Grant's Getaways is produced in partnership with Travel Oregon, as well as:
You can learn more about many of Grant’s favorite Oregon adventures in his new book: "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures"