The climb was slow, deliberate and numbing. Despite being exhausted after a full day of sandcastles, beach tag and jumping into the cold Pacific under the summer sun, my daughter and I were on our hands and knees, slowly trudging our way up the “Great Dune,” a 230-foot pile of sand at Cape Kiawanda that was 18 million years in the making. It’s unique on the Oregon Coast, as it’s one of the only major headlands not made of black basalt rock from an ancient lava flow.
“Let’s take a break,” my 7-year old old daughter, Anaya, huffed.
“OK,” I agreed with relief.
We rested on the sand, looking at each other, then turning our heads to Haystack Rock off in the distance. Looking back down towards the beach, I saw our 3-year old, furiously crawling up. After initially wanting to hang out with my wife down at the beach, he’d apparently changed his mind and was now desperate not to let his big sister or dad beat him to the top.
“You can do it, Zane! Come join us!” we screamed. When he finally made it, he collapsed next to us, red-faced and panting. I wanted both kids to get to the top, but knew it would take all my skills of persuasion to get them moving again.
One of my favorite outdoor writers, James Edward Mills writes that mountains are like “a three-dimensional relief map that illustrates the heights of our aspirations and depths of our despair.” But no such eloquence came to me in the moment. Instead, I told the kids: “Let’s keep climbing so we can see what’s on the other side, sweeties.”
This seemingly simple exhortation was enough for my daughter. Flashing a brave, toothy smile at me, with wind whipping her black curls all over her face, she looked at me with determination and said, “OK, let’s go!’
Feeling a sudden burst of energy in our togetherness, we plodded, crawled and walked the last 100-or-so vertical feet to the top of the cape, all while fighting a steady wind blowing sand on our faces.
“Whoooa” they both exclaimed as they took in the landscape in front of them.
Our curiosity and persistence were rewarded with breathtaking views from the summit. Sweeping views of Nestucca Bay and Cape Lookout were punctuated by sandstone cliffs, caves and bowls carved into intricate shapes by wind and water. These tannish-brown structures are picturesque because they look just like hand-carved furniture, complete with wood grain-like swirls etched into them.
I was trying to point out these geographic wonders to Anaya and Zane when something more urgent caught their attention.
“Hey look, I can see Mommy on the beach. She looks like an ant!” They giggled uncontrollably at their own joke and started waving and screaming at my wife, Jessica, below them.
“Mommy is ant, Mommy is ant,” Anaya sang, entertaining her howling brother.
“Dad, can we go see Mommy now?”
“Sure. Let’s go get her!”
The journey down the soft sandy slope was much faster. We laughed and giggled as we slipped, rolled and chased each other down to the beach below.
Thanks to erosion and our ever-evolving planet, the next time we scramble up the Great Dune, this area will look different — perhaps imperceptibly, but different it will be. And that’s okay — the kids will be different too. But I hope that the lessons of the day — be curious, don’t give up, keep trying your best to make it to the top — will stick with them.