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The disappearing dunes of 'Dune' — and the people working to save them

A hiker in a blue raincoat skirts the edge of a sand ridge, snaking across the frame. At right, the wind has carved the sand in beautiful, stripey striatiations.
Justine Paradis
/
NHPR
A hiker skirts the snaking edge of a sand dune north of Florence, Oregon.

A century ago, coastal dunes threatened to overwhelm the city of Florence, Oregon. The sand swallowed roads, highways and houses. When “Dune” author Frank Herbert visited the area in 1957, he was stunned by the awesome power of the sand. Eventually, it inspired his fictional desert planet, Arrakis.

But now, the dunes that inspired “Dune” are disappearing.

To solve the sand problem, the U.S. Forest Service planted dunes with non-native beachgrass, hoping its strong roots would keep the dunes in place.

The strategy worked — too well. The grass spread, out-competing native species and transforming the dunes. At one popular spot, roughly 60% of what was once open sand is now gone.

Outside/In Producer Justine Paradis traveled to the Oregon Coast to see the mountains of sand that inspired a sci-fi classic and meet the people working to save them.

Featuring Dina Pavlis, Patty Whereat Phillips and Jesse Beers.


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Links

These aerial photos demonstrate the dramatic changes in the Oregon dunes.

Dina Pavlis’ Secrets of the Oregon Dunes Facebook page.

The Oregon dunes are the setting of an episode of “Lassie” (1964), in which a little girl gets lost in a sand storm. New hires at the Forest Service in Florence are shown this film during new staff orientation.

The Siuslaw Public Library in Florence is home to the eclectic Frank Herbert collection, as reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting. These are books donated by Herbert’s daughter which he was reading at the time he wrote ‘Dune,’ and are available to the public. Plenty of people make the pilgrimage to browse the collection, which includes titles on the desert, politics in the Middle East, computation, Scottish folk singing, rug hooking, and much more.

Frank Herbert originally visited Florence to research a proposed magazine article on the Forest Service’s dune, as reported on the Siuslaw News. His (unsuccessful) proposal, “They Stopped the Moving Sands,” can be read in “The Road to Dune.”

An episode of the podcast Endless Thread about the time a six-year-old boy fell into a tree hole (he’s fine now) in Michigan City, Ind.


Credits

Outside/In is hosted by Nate Hegyi.

This story was reported, produced, and mixed by Justine Paradis. It was edited by Taylor Quimby and Katie Colaneri.

Our team also includes Felix Poon.

NHPR’s Director of Podcasts is Rebecca Lavoie.

Special thanks to Meg Spencer, Kegen Benson, Armand Rebischke and Kevin Mittge.

Music by Sarah the Illstrumentalist, Elm Lake, Chris Zabriskie, and Blue Dot Sessions.

Outside/In is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Corrected: March 4, 2024 at 10:47 AM EST
An earlier version of this story included a caption that misspelled Lower Umpqua. It has been corrected.
Justine Paradis is a producer and reporter for NHPR's Creative Production Unit, most oftenOutside/In. Before NHPR, she produced Millennial podcast from Radiotopia, contributed to podcasts including Love + Radio, and reported for WCAI & WGBH from her hometown of Nantucket island.
Outside/In is a show where curiosity and the natural world collide. Click here for podcast episodes and more.
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