When Marlene McCormack first started visiting the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area 22 years ago, she was struck by its sense of solitude and peace.
McCormack has been stationed with the U.S. Forest Service at the Oregon Dunes Visitor Center in Reedsport since January, after spending six years working at ranger stations in the Deschutes National Forest.
She said although the central Oregon Coast is nationally-renowned for its outdoor recreation, she always finds herself heading to the dunes to feel secluded.
That may be a surprise for people who know the 40-mile stretch of coast between the Umpqua and Siuslaw rivers as a place where people can use off-highway vehicles to speed across the dunes — some as much as a mile long and 500 feet high.
But McCormack said the dunes, hiking trails and campgrounds in the area are so expansive that both people looking for peace and those searching for a thrill on an ATV can happily coexist.
“We have trails, but once you get out on the dunes — as long as you have a compass or a good sense of direction — you can make your own trail,” McCormack said.
The dunes are an ecosystem in flux as winds and rain constantly shift miles of sand deposited near the sea over the millennia by rivers and ancient floods.
“I love it because you can just get lost in there,” McCormack said.
She said visitors also have prime wildlife viewing opportunities at the Dean Creek Elk viewing area, where Roosevelt elk are typically seen at dawn and dusk. People can also try to spot whales from the Umpqua River Whale Watching Station, where Whale Watching Spoken Here volunteers are stationed during the official whale watching weeks at the end of December and March.
Mid-March through mid-September is nesting time along the dunes for the threatened Western snowy plover. During those months, park managers work with visitors to protect the small shorebird and its critical habitat by restricting certain activities in the area.
McCormack, whose activity of choice is hiking and camping, said after decades of visiting the area she still has more to explore.
She loves the Tahkenitch Lake area, where a several-miles-long trail system follows Tahkenitch Creek and traverses open dunes, coastal marshes and deflation plains — areas scoured by wind down to the water table that are set back from dunes closer to the beach.
“You instantly feel like you’ve slowed your pace; you’ve accomplished what you need to accomplish by getting away and relaxing there,” McCormack said of the Tahkenitch area. “You can feel like time stands still.”
She said the large lake is perfect for kayaking and fishing. There are two campgrounds on the lake, but McCormack said reservations often fill-up quickly when the campground is open.
In addition to the hiking, camping and off-roading, McCormack said the area features several popular events.
The Oregon Divisional Chainsaw Carving Championship takes place on Father’s Day weekend.
“The firework show in Winchester Bay on the Fourth of July is fantastic,” McCormack said.
And people can experience five days of ATV, motocross and drag racing near Winchester Bay from July 23-28, 2019.
“There’s really something for everybody here,” she said.
Max Egener can be reached at email@example.com and 541-957-4217. Or follow him on Twitter @maxegener.