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Accident Near Coos Bay Puts Oregon Coast Dunes Safety to the Fore: Spotting Drop-Offs

Published 06/23/23 at 6:21 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Accident Near Coos Bay Puts Oregon Coast Dunes Safety to the Fore: Spotting Drop-Offs

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(Coos Bay, Oregon) – An accident on the south Oregon coast with an offroad vehicle has the Coos County Sheriff's Office (CCSO) reminding the public of the hidden dangers at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (ODNRA). On June 16, deputy M.R. Smith from the Coos County Sheriff’s Office Dunes Division had to render assistance to the driver of an ATV on the sand dunes after he crashed on what is called slip face. (Photo courtesy Coos County Sheriff's Office)

The driver received some medical help on the scene.

The sheriff's office said the operator told them he had no idea a drop-off was on the other side of the dune.

“Please remember that the dunes are constantly shifting. Just because you are familiar with the dunes or a specific area, please be cautious of hazards that may now be present that were not previously,” the CCSO said on social media. “It is our goal for everyone to have fun while visiting the ODNRA and return home safely.”

Now that the summer season is in full swing, all 40 miles of the dunes area will be buzzing with activity, including lots of ATV's, dune buggies and all sorts of offroad rigs. One of the hazards of this is a slip face, where there's a sudden drop-off at the end of a dune hill, but it's not something you see until you're right upon it – roughly when it's too late.

Photo courtesy Sandland, Florence

Janice Langlinais, executive director of Oregon's Adventure Coast (the Coos Bay-area visitor center), said now is the season to be careful of these abrupt changes in the dunes region.

“The dunes change almost daily as winds blow the sands around,” she told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “What might have been a gentle incline one day is a huge drop-off the next.”

Joanie Schmidgall, Public Affairs Officer with Siuslaw National Forest (US Forest Service), echoed that sentiment.

“We encourage people to familiarize themselves with the terrain and not to drive over blind drops or hills without first seeing other side,” she said. “The dunes can vary so much from day to day and may be completely different from the last time a rider was in the same area. We encourage people not to drive over blind drops or hills without first seeing other side. ”

Langlinais said it's protocol for every person that rents a vehicle from local outfitters to go through a safety orientation as well as a safety film before riding.

How do you avoid this dangerous pitfalls? The Forest Service covers that in a safety booklet they hand out.

“Razorbacks (aka slipface) located on the downwind sides of dunes where loose sand creates steep drop-offs. Do not cross straight over a razorback,” the booklet says.

You should approach a dune crest at an angle, which will let you scan the area for other riders. There may be others hidden behind the sandy structure.

Depth perception issues can be caused by the sand colors blending to together.

“Wearing orange- or yellow-colored lenses can help you see better during the day,” the agency said.

From Coos Bay through to Florence, the massive complex of dunes has numerous issues that can spring up.

“We also ask that UTV/ATV riders always respect closed or roped off areas,” Schmidgall said. “Those areas can be closed for wildlife protection or for the safety of riders.”

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Photo courtesy Sheila Lund

Photo courtesy Oregon's Adventure Coast

Coos Bay, courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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