Friday, June 20, 2014

PACIFIC COAST DUNES EXPEDITION!

One of the instructors/guide for a recent Road Scholar ( www.roadscholar.org ) program I attended in the town of Eureka, California, was Jenny Hanson.  The right side of this collage shows her using her "broomstick handle" hiking stick to point out a particular plant she is teaching us about.  Her tee shirt identified her as a Coastal Naturalist, and she has been a Road Scholar instructor for over five years.  According to her website, she is a Naturalist and nature guide for the Redwood Coast, and does work for other groups/individuals, in addition to her work with Road Scholar.  She was a delight to have leading our group expedition through the sand dunes!

Jenny had arranged for our group to visit the Lanphere Dunes, that are a part of the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, in Humboldt County, California ( www.fws.gov/refuge/humboldt_bay/ ).  Since the Lanphere Dunes are such a fragile ecosystem, access is restricted.  However, guided tours are regularly available, and one can download a visitors' permit application, from the website. 

In between dune complexes, forests can grow, because they are sheltered from the wind.  This photo shows our group going single file through the narrow trail, that would lead us to the ocean. 

This photo shows the largest species growing in this particular forest, which is a subspecies of the lodge pole pine, called Beach Pine.  Appropriately, the trail we are on is called the "Beach Pine Trail"!

Jenny pointed out this large "opened out" area within the forest, and explained that it was a result of a "blowout", when a severe windstorm hit the area, and blew over several trees in the forest a few years back. 

After hiking through the dense forest for a short distance, we came out of it, but still could not see the ocean, although we could hear the waves, and knew it was nearby.  All we had to do was climb up the sand dune shown in the photo.  As we soon found out, walking in deep sand is much more tiring that walking on a "regular" hiking trail!

Our guide told us to shove the toe of our shoes into the sand, when we were trying to go up a sand dune.  We were assured we would get massive amounts of sand accumulation inside our shoes, and we did!

However, once we made it to the ocean side of this pristine dune, the effort it took to get there was worth it!  I am so accustomed to seeing glossy magazine beach advertisements that show symmetrical rows of lounge chairs, tables, and umbrellas, that I had forgotten that what I saw before me, was a beach that had the same appearance now, as it did when the Wiyot Indians fished here, prior to the Europeans. 

Lanphere Dunes was the first dune restoration project on the West Coast, and began in 1980.  As a result of the restoration efforts, one can see the various stages of dune formation---waveslope, foredune, herbaceous and woody swales, coniferous and riparian forest, freshwater swamps and marshes,  brackish marshes, salt marshes, and intertidal mudflats. 

Thanks to Jenny, I have a whole new appreciation of sand particles!  She is holding in her hand two capful's of sand----one that she took from the top of a small sand swell, and one she took from the bottom of the same swell.  With the magnifying glasses she provided, we could see the difference in the size of the sand particles in the two containers. 

Jenny explained that the dune shape is determined by the size of the sand particles.  The small, fine grained sand is more readily blown by the wind, which causes the coarser grain sand to be left behind to form the crest.

In this photo, Jenny is own her knees to test the strength of the vegetation in front of her.  She explained that this vegetation serves as an obstacle to trap the moving sand grains.  The wind then starts to affect the mound of sand by eroding sand particles from the windward side and depositing them to the leeward side, causing the dune to "migrate" inland.

This photo is here to remind me to say "THANK YOU" to Road Scholar for providing the listening devises for all of our hikes.  The system calls for the guide to have a  microphone that transmits her words to all of us who were wearing receivers (equipped with an earpiece), so that we could hear what the guide was saying, even though we were several feet away from their physical location.  This was especially helpful for me, since I tend to wander around taking photos while the guide is speaking!  The earpiece enables me to multitask---listen, learn, walk, and take photos!

After spending adequate time on the beach adjacent to the ocean, we started our trek back to our vehicle, which of course, meant more sand dune climbing!

Once we got to the top of the sand dune, we saw that it was a VERY steep descent to get back to the forest trail.  To assist with the descent, a "Dutch Sand Ladder" had been installed.  You can see the top ropes of the sand ladder on the right side of this photo.  The treads have been covered up by blowing sand.

A Dutch Sand Ladder is a cable or rope ladder with rungs (usually made of wood) lying on a sandy slope to allow persons to ascend or descend with minimal erosion. 

The bottom end of a sand ladder is anchored and the top end is designed for easy disconnection so that the ladder can be lifted up, to shake loose any sand that has accumulated in the rungs. 

The ability to be easily maintained and reset makes sand ladders useful trail features for steep sand dunes, where permanent structures are impractical. 

When one's eye sees this image, it probably just looks like a gray square.  However, it is actually millions and millions of sand particles.  Jenny had our group stop, and concentrate on looking down at the movement of the sand.  For the first time in my life, I noticed individual sand particles creeping across the surface in front of of me, creating a wave, that was actually visible to the naked eye!

When I looked in my Bible concordance for verses that had the word "sand", I realized that Hebrews 11:12 is now more meaningful to me, since I had this "close encounter" with sand!  It says "Therefore, from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude---innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore."  The verse refers to God's promise to Abraham that he would give him descendants as innumerable as the sand.  And just as each individual sand particle is a part of a bigger plan, so each individual human being is a part of a bigger plan---God's plan!  Knowing this gives me "MILES OF SMILES"!!  Tricia