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Experiencing Oregon's Adventure Coast

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Imagine you're a raven soaring high above Oregon's Pacific Ocean coastline a century ago. Below you is the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America -- a natural wonder that would become known as the Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area.

To the east are the bustling seaport lumber towns of North Bend and Coos Bay, lined with ships piled high with freshly milled logs from Oregon's forests. Then there's the fishing community of Charleston, its docks abuzz with fishing boats and trawlers unloading their cargoes of fresh-caught fish and crabs.

Imagine soaring back to the distant past, long before Lewis and Clark made their epic journey. What you would see now are the original settlers of this land and harvesters of the sea -- the Native American tribes of the Coquille, the Coos, the Umpqua and Siuslaw. And as you sail on the breeze you might catch the scent of salmon steaks roasting on open-pit fires.

In mythologizing the Western migration and settlement of the wilderness, we tend to ignore the devastating impact that era had on native peoples and their traditional tribal culture. Fortunately, today, observes Jason Yonkers, chief of the Coquille Indian Tribe, thanks in no small part to the bounty of Indian gaming, Native American tribal culture is being rejuvenated.

Native languages, ceremonies and crafts are being passed on from one generation to the next, along with the tradition of the sizzling salmon "potlatch" celebration. This feast, honoring the annual coming of the salmon, is a special reason to plan a trip to Oregon's Adventure Coast and a stay at the Coquille Indian Tribe's Mill Casino in North Bend. Chief Yonkers promises you'll enjoy the best salmon you've ever tasted. I won't argue with him.

The Oregon dunes are a scenic wonder. From North Bend and Coos Bay, they stretch for 40 miles, providing a multitude of recreational options -- from idyllic hiking, camping and picnicking to more adventurous activities such as sand-dune boarding and the Mad Max-worthy experience of spinning your wheels in a high-powered dune buggy.

 

Suppressing my inner John "leave only footprints" Muir, I donned my high-impact helmet and strapped in for an adrenaline rush, pedal-to-the-metal, dune-dashing guided-tour experience compliments of Spinreel ATV and Dune Buggy Rental. After a brief video tutorial and signing one of those releases you really don't want to read, it was time for our caravan to head 'em up and move 'em out.

Any attempt to remain blase disappeared the moment we hit the sandy slopes and wave-splashed beaches. Sand flew. Salt spray flew. And that was just during the first 15 minutes.

Once our leader decided we had the necessary confidence, his pace, the steepness of the dunes and sharpness of our turns all increased. We crested mountain-high dunes, then like a roller coaster plummeted down the other side. It was the kind of fun that definitely takes you out of your comfort zone and into a heady world of "Top Gun" maneuvers. Would I do it again? You bet. Sorry, Mr. Muir.

If there is an emotional, spiritual polar opposite to racing dune buggies, it has to be the in-nature meditative practice known as "forest bathing" (shinrin-yok). Our tantric guides, Sailee Clemens and Daniel Houghtaling of Mossy Lotus Yoga in Coos Bay led us on a meditative hike along the spectacular cliff-side forest trails overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Shore Acres State Park. Maintaining silence, we walked to the steady pounding of the surf and the soft rustle of pine needles beneath our feet.

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