Directly to the west of the tall redwoods lie the soft, inviting dunes of Tolowa Dunes State Park. They are hidden from view, not by walls or gates, but by shear ignorance. These dunes, vast lands once occupied by Tolowa Indians (Tolowa Dee-Ni’ as they call themselves) are rarely visited.
Meg and I recently stumbled upon the dunes after a failed foray into the mushroom fields nearby (a haven for boletes, but we were shut out that day; either too early or too late for their short season). We weren’t looking for the dunes, but to get some exercise we took aim for Dead Lake and walked as far as we could, turning back when the trail to the boat launch disappeared under high water from recent rain.
As we walked back toward the car we took an unmarked spur trail toward the dunes. Then, just 150 feet from the main Dead Lake Trail, we emerged from the ocean pine and spruce forest into a vast tract of sand and low, clinging scrub. The sand had dried under the day’s sun so it was easy walking. And that was really all we could do. Walk and walk and walk in this trail-less expanse. With no one in sight, with no path or tracks to follow, we walked toward what looked like the highest point.
We passed a few mounds of reed and grass, looking suspiciously like above-ground grave sites, tucked into dips and protected pockets. We tip-toed by so as not to disturb. There were crickets, ant hills and some flowers. And silence. (Though we could occasionally hear the monster trucks revving their engines at some weekend race in town.)
We knew we’d stumbled onto something lesser known.
People come from all over the world to see the redwoods and the Smith. But the dunes? Well, not so much. If you have the time, though, the dunes are well worth the trip. The easy get is the beach and dunes at the end of Kellogg Road — well worth a visit in their own right. But if you want to be really far from it all, head to Dead Lake and be sure to take that unmarked trail to the dunes.
The monster trucks will be far gone. It’ll be just you and the crickets.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Get yourself to the corner of Northcrest and Old Mill Road, a bit north of town, and head west on Old Mill. Drive for about four miles till you see the sign for Lake Earl Wildlife Area. Bear left at the fork, Sand Hill Rd., and drive to the end of the road where it ends in a hardpack, sandy turnaround. Park by the trailhead and sign and head due west. Bear left at the first fork in the trail, then left again at the next fork toward Dead Lake. After about a mile you’ll come to trial that leads to the left. That would be the dunes trail. Another 150 feet on that trail and you’ll be under the open sky with the dunes ahead of you. Retrace your route to return or walk north on the western edge of the dunes till the feint trail connects back up to the main trail.