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Located on the Oregon Coast between Florence and Coos Bay, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is a strip of coastal dunes and forest between U.S. Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean. Much of this area is heavily used by off-road vehicles, but my favorite part, the Eel Creek portion of the Umpqua Dunes—where the best dunes are found—is closed to vehicles. The most popular access point is from the John Dellenback Dunes Trailhead, which is located at a parking lot off U.S. Highway 101 near milepost 222 (222.6). If you camp at nearby Eel Creek Campground, you can save yourself a lot of hiking. Once you enter the dunes, there are no trails, but posts erected in the sand mark a route across the dunes to the beach. This is a fee area. An Oregon Coast Passport, U.S. Forest Pass or a visit to the visitor center in Reedsport, Oregon, will make you legal.
Spring weather seems to change every few minutes. Clothing layers and rain gear will be needed. During the summer, the weather is drier and sometimes warmer. Days often begin cloudy or foggy, but clear off by mid-morning. As it begins to warm up, the wind begins to pick up, and summer evenings can be productive if the wind isn't too strong. Autumn is the most pleasant season for visiting the dunes. The skies are often fair with tranquil breezes. Winter on the Oregon Coast is astounding, however. Gale-force winds hit exposed portions of the coast every year. High-wind, driving sheets of rain transform sand dunes in a hurry.
Try to capture the dunes in various contexts. Fill the frame with nothing but sand. Capture a vast sky. Show the endless battle between the forest and the sand. Show dunes with surf, with flowers or with patterns. Capture dunes reflected in ponds or streams. Capture animal tracks receding into the distance. Shoot atmospherics with fog, showers, rainbows or sunsets. A telephoto lens isolates patterns and compresses the ridges. A wide-angle lens is needed for a beautiful sky and to emphasize interesting foreground material. A macro lens is necessary for small things like mouse and insect tracks. In other words, you can find uses for a full arsenal of lenses. On the other hand, you may wish to bring one zoom that covers most of this. Use a tripod to hang your camera bag from so your equipment stays clear of the sand.
Breaks in the storm clouds and low-angled light make winter the best season for photography. I prefer to work in the morning before the sand has dried and begun to erode. Winter also brings a few opportunities to shoot frost and snow. The beaches and dunes are always interesting after a storm. The storms that bring drama to dune photographs also present hazards, though. High surf entirely engulfs the beach, and waves and logs have been known to wash into parking lots. I don't recommend working in the dunes during extreme wind conditions. Wait a few hours until things settle down.
Contact: Oregon Dunes NRA Visitor Center, (541) 271-6000, www.fs.usda.gov/siuslaw.
When working in colder weather, it's important to keep gear safe from condensation caused by moving quickly between temperatures, especially over the long run as condensation can accumulate, causing mold that will ruin your equipment. Kata's Pro-Light XPack Temperature Control Pouches slowly acclimate cameras and lenses to warmer temperatures when moving between outdoors and indoors. They're available for a long 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lens, a pro DSLR body or a DSLR with a 70-200mm attached. List Price: $119 each. Contact: Kata (Manfrotto Distribution), (201) 818-9500, www.manfrottodistribution.us.