October 14, 2015: In 14 years of fulltime RVing, I’d never come across a park with ATV access to sand dunes right from the campground. I guess that’s not too surprising since I don’t own an ATV and it had never been an interest of mine, but I think it’s fun to be exposed to different worlds and I like to try new things.
So when I was introduced to Honeyman State Park and given the chance to ride on the dunes, I wasn’t about to pass that up. At 64 years old, having lived a somewhat unconventional life, the opportunities to do something totally new and exciting are too rare!
My article about this fun day was published in the January 2017 issue of MotorHome Magazine. Click here to read that.
This cool adventure began with a chance meeting of Deputy Sheriff Ed LaGrone (“Dunes Deputy”) while eating lunch in Florence, me asking him what I shouldn’t miss while in the area, and him taking me to meet his friends camping at Honeyman, which is now the season when it is open to ATVs. Ed introduced me to Dennis Johnson, a frequent camper here from Red Bluff, CA, to take me out on my first ride. He knew Dennis was meticulously careful and safety minded, but would also give me a fun ride.
It turned out to be a perfect example of how wonderful a day can be if you don’t make yourself stick to what you had planned and just go with the flow. I’m so thankful to them both!
I don’t think there could have been a better driver for my first ATV ride. His Razor 1000 Side by Side has a wide wheel base, which helps prevent it from rolling over so easily, and he told me about the extra safety equipment he added as he strapped me in with the 4 point racing harness with quick release buckles. Most of the time, I had a death grip on the sturdy bars in front of me, that’s for sure!
Dennis told me whenever he first arrives, he goes slowly as he studies the dunes and the terrain features and looks for things like Razor Backs (sharp ridges with steep drop offs), or a “Witch’s Eye” (a hole in the ground where two Razor Backs almost meet facing each other, that creates a narrow gulch that you could crash into). These things are not always easy to see; when the sun is up high, no shadows are made on the ground, so these obstacles are invisible and the ground will look flat.
The dunes are quite beautiful and some parts look pretty innocent and easy. But this shaded area is a good example of a drop-off that’s not visible if driving up to it with the sun at your back. If you’re going too fast, you could fly off and crash nose end into the sand.
He also serves as a Good Samaritan here sometimes when people get lost or needs a helping hand on the dunes. He showed me how easy it could be to lose your way and forget where you came from when all the dunes start looking alike and advised to always make clear notes in your head about terrain features, trees, etc. about where you started out from.
The parts that are more heavily traveled have interesting patterns made by the ATVs.
The ruts and grooves made by the ATVs can be quickly erased depending on the wind activity, so you always have to watch for changing conditions.
This is the best shot I got that gives some indication of the height of the dunes in places, but let me tell you – they look a whole lot taller when you’re going up them!
Ed shared this picture he took recently of a sink hole that he estimated at about 2′ in diameter and 18″ deep and said the winds and the natural movement of the sands made it disappear pretty quickly.
I wanted to capture this momentous event on video, but of course it’s a bit shaky… and I was pretty terrified at first as you can tell by my screaming “NO!!!” at the sight of one of the bigger hills. I got more comfortable as the ride went on, but I still couldn’t quit alternating between screaming and laughing, so turn your volume down to prevent ear damage!
YouTube 2 minute video: Malia’s Wild Dune Buggy Ride!
At the end of my ride, Ed seemed to consider ticketing me for a noise violation. I think my screams exceeded the acceptable ATV noise decibel level!
Ed rode with us down to the flat area by the oceanside and told me that he regularly has people jokingly ask him, “How do I get a job like this?” He admits it’s cool because not everybody gets paid to go 4 wheeling and ride ATVs all day.
He’s been with the Sheriff’s Department since 1988, but was assigned here in 2010. Before that, he was not a very experienced rider, so his first training on ATVs began as part of this assignment. His experience here has given him a passion for getting the message of ATV safety out to the public.
He told me about being called after hours sometimes when people are lost – they may call out to 911 but they don’t really know exactly where they are. One call came after 11:00 one night about a cold and tired guy who had been trying to get back to camp for hours. Ed jumped out of bed and with some hints from signs the guy saw and topography features, Ed figured where he was and escorted him back to Honeyman.
Another guy was on the “Honeycomb” trail system (inter crossing trails) and while going through a thick, brushy wooded area, he backed his truck onto a grassy mound (hummock), got stuck high centered on it and wound up spending the night there. When he hiked out the next day and got a friend to help, he couldn’t find the truck again. He flagged Ed down with his tale of woe and Ed knew basically where the hummocks were and was able to help him get his truck winched off of it.
Ed said what he likes most about his job is being outside and on the move and he likes driving in general – all vehicles, not just ATVs.
He explained the Dunes Deputy position is funded from a state OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) committee grant, not from county funding or budget. His main assignment is patrolling the Florence dunes for ATV safety matters, but if there is a high priority person-on-person crime in progress, he still responds to those calls in the surrounding area.
He said most accidents are caused by encounters with razor backs (the sharp ridges described above). While most incidents are minor, people are sometimes knocked unconscious and there have also been fatalities. Unfortunately, Ed worked one of those not long after being assigned here. A woman approaching the top of a hill at a fairly quick speed ended up launching off a 40′ drop off. She landed first and her ATV landed on top of her. Life Flight was called, but sadly, she died in route to the hospital. Having been on that scene is another reason Ed is so adamant about educating in an attempt to keep this activity as safe as possible.
He said most tickets are issued for people not having their Safety Education Card (a driver’s license for ATVs and dirt bikes).
Training starts with an online course – then a hands-on course and evaluation. Until successful completion, you cannot ride on public lands. No one under age 16 can ride without adult supervision.
The most frequent reason for stopping someone is for not having a flag. Usually it’s because the flag is broken, so they’re given a warning. But flags are important safety features – two vehicles on a course headed for each other with a rise between them can tell the location of the other vehicle by their waving flag.
So I ended up learning a lot as well as having a lot of fun being introduced to this new activity. I’m not ready to go buy an ATV for myself, but I sure wouldn’t turn down another ride sometime!
More Oregon Dunes Info:
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department – ATVs: (Oregon Parks & Recreation Department – “OPRD”) All the info you need regarding OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) and requirements for their use in Oregon. OPRD is responsible for the planning of recreational trails.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area – USDA Forest Service: When it comes to OHV use, Oregon Parks & Recreation works with the land managers (USDA Forest Service) but ultimately the local land manager works on the issues or concerns related to their respective area.
Western Snowy Plover Seasonal Restrictions: (USDA) An ecology related concern is these endangered birds and how they are impacted by ATVs and activity on the dunes. While the dunes are open year round,their nesting area is not within the riding area – that part is roped off even to foot traffic during nesting time (March 15 – Sept. 15). The dunes are accessible from Honeyman only from October – April.
Overlook Dunes Restoration Project: (USDA) Info on managing the aggressive non-native European beachgrass to reduce its impact on native species.
Invasive species management may harm native plant species. (Oregon State University study). I asked about ATVs damaging the grassy areas I saw at the shoreline and was told these were actually invasive species that were doing more harm than good to the native plant species and dune ecosystems and they were trying to eradicate them.