FLORENCE, Ore. -- Grant explores the coastal area where giant dune buggies have been carrying passengers across the sand for more than sixty years.
It's one of the most interesting destinations in the state and there are so many ways to explore the Oregon Dunes near Florence: By foot, on horseback and even on a sand "board."
This week, we go aboard a most unique four-wheeled vehicle you will find only in the Oregon Dunes, where giant balloon-tired dune buggies have carried passengers across the sand for more than 60 years.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area provides plenty of elbow room to stretch out and play; a giant sandbox that takes the breath away --- 32,000 acres from Florence to Coos Bay that offer endless sand dunes, forests, rivers and lakes.
Many plan vacation time at one of the oldest park lands in the state: Honeyman State Park, three miles south of Florence – where a camping tradition reaches back more than 80 years.
Swimming and fishing dominate the recreation scene at Honeyman State Park; plus, nearly 300 campsites for tents or trailers await you at Oregon's second-most-popular state park.
Honeyman boasts a history dating to the 1930s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps built a massive stone and timber day-use lodge along Cleawox Lake.
"Hundreds of unemployed young men from many cities in America came here and were put to work building facilities that the public could use," said Park Historian Cal Lewis. "The idea was to make parks available for the common man. This huge labor force was available and so they went to work."
Today, several park buildings show off the enduring craftsmanship in the rock and timber construction. Sandstone was mined from a local quarry and each stone was hand-carved and chiseled into place.
"In fact, look close and you can see the original chisel marks," added Lewis. "If you stand and look at these buildings, let your imagination wander a bit and you can picture those young men that had come across the country. Those little details tell the story of the CCC as much as anything."
Five miles north of Honeyman State Park, explore a parkland that's also a unique botanical garden. Stroll the boardwalk at Darlingtonia Natural Area, where you can gaze across a collection of native carnivorous plants.
"These are the amazing cobra lilies and they reach a foot and a half to two feet tall with gorgeous green lanterns," noted Honeyman SP Manager, Mike Rivers. "The plants have a fascinating way of capturing and digesting insects and that makes it really worth a visit!"
When you visit Sand Dunes Frontier at Dunes City near Honeyman, step up and buckle up on "Dune Buggy Number 6," then be ready for a one of a kind experience exploring the dunes.
Dune buggy rides at Sand Dunes Frontier – a private parkland - reach back to the 1950s when an entrepreneur named Rush Chapman created a new way for folks to get around the Oregon Dunes.
"The very first big buggies were actually old military transports," noted Chuck Chapman, son of the late Rush Chapman.
"My dad was a U.S. Marine and he got hold of them, cut them up, threw some big old seats in them and they were ready to take on passengers and go! Those early dune buggies were great and had a lot of character to them – they were fun to ride in, too!" He said.
They still are! Although they are no longer military transports, the fleet of six balloon-tired buggies can carry more than a couple dozen passengers each -- the rear end drive buggies thrill passengers during a two-hour tour of the dunes. Each buggy is powered by a Chevy 454 big block engine and each rolls on airplane tires that have just ten pounds of air pressure in each.
"The bigger tires keep you way above the ground," noted a dune buggy driver named Bob. "Less air pressure equals wider tires with more contact on the sand. And you want to stay on top of the sand and not get bogged down or stuck in it."
Bob said the dunes are an always shifting playground that keeps him on his toes – and that no two days are ever the same on the dunes.
"My Dad was a buggy-nut," said Bob. "I was out here with him all the time as a kid and to be a good driver, you need practice, lots of practice! Too many folks come out here and get themselves stuck time after time. Well, you have to be able to read the dunes. If you can't read the dunes you'll be in big trouble."
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