The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is approximately a 40 mile stretch of windswept sand dunes interlaced with stands of pine trees and ribbons of standing water. Part of the Siuslaw (pronounced Sy-u-slaw) National Forest, the dunes range from Florence in the North to Coos Bay in the South. We chose Reedsport OR as a homebase, which is right in the middle of the dunes and home to the beautiful Umpqua Lighthouse State Park (one of the nicest campgrounds we have been in).
Shrooms in the Dunes
These Oregon dunes are known for fall porcinis and matsutakes. We arrived the week of Thanksgiving which proved a bit late for porcinis, but, the matsies seemed to be going strong. This was our first time hunting for matsutakes so we didn’t really know where to look or how to identify. Fortunately for us, our friends Joseph and Elica joined us and shared their expertise.
On the hunt for both of these mushrooms we roamed through the pine tree forests that are embedded in the dunes. The wooded terrain was variable: from hillsides to open and flat to swampy to dense forest… all surrounded by sand dunes. The closer we got to the ocean, the more swamp and standing water, so, we tended to stay in the Eastern portion of the Dunes.
Over two days of hunting we found dozens of matsutakes. They were often hiding on small dune humps underneath huckleberry bushes surrounded by mature pine trees with lots of little pine trees (knee to waist high) nearby. Sometimes we spotted them by seeing a “flag” or a mature, big white mushroom. Other times we saw a little “mushrump” or a small matsie hump just barely peeking through the duff. They seemed to be just as likely to be found on a more steeply angled hillside as something flatter. At times they were in an undisturbed spot and sometimes they were along the side of a trail. When we found one it definitely paid off to get “low and slow” and run a perimeter check. From there we would often find several more nearby as they tended to be gregarious. One thing is clear – these guys are not easy to spot – you really had to get to know them to be successful. We worked hard for these shrooms! The reward is usually always well worth the labor.
The matsutakes themselves had a distinctive spicy cinnamon smell to Trent (and not so much dirty socks), but those smells oddly weren’t as apparent for Kristen – usually she has a better nose for mushrooms.
Wandering through this unique ecosystem was really a treat! We didn’t see a lot of wildlife (thankfully – this is panther and bear country), but we did see some enormous bear tracks. We also saw several other pickers while we were there and plenty of evidence that the area had been picked. We later learned that the local mushroom buyer was paying $15 a pound for Grade A matsutakes, down from $60 a week or two earlier. The commercial pickers were all business – often dressed in full camo and none to friendly – they were on the move with one goal in mind.
One of the weird things about the area was all the ATV use. Large portions of the dunes are open to ATVs and 4 wheelers. And it is very popular! It’s not hard to see why – the dunes are spectacular and vast. These coastal areas offer numerous RV parks (most not especially nice – check out Umpqua Lighthouse State Park for excellent facilities) and scads of large parking areas with facilities for the off-roaders to load and unload their vehicles. ATVs are scooting around everywhere and it can get loud. If you have problems with this, you may want to find some spots where ATVs are not allowed. One of the unfortunate side effects of the ATV crowd was littering. The woods adjacent to these areas were scattered with rubbish – pretty sad to see the lack of care given to this beautiful natural wonder.
It was also fun to explore the other side of the highway 101 (the Eastern edge of the dunes) and immediately enter a totally different ecosystem: a pacific northwest temperate rain forest. These huge dark forests were interlaced with roads and trails and rich in chanterelles, hedgehogs, winter chanterelles and lobsters (although the lobsters seemed to have just ended).