The Ma-le’l Dunes are located at the base of the North Spit on Humboldt Bay, and west of the Mad River Slough, about 1 mile (1.6 km) north of Manila and 3.5 miles (5.6 km) west of Arcata, California. The Ma-le’l Dunes are divided into northern and southern sections. The northern portion is part of Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the southern portion of Ma-le’l is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Wiyot people have lived around Humboldt Bay for thousands of years and used the dunes of the north and south spits to gather food, fish, and hunt. Humboldt Bay was named after the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, but the local Native American name for the bay was Qual-a-wa-loo, while the Wiyot nation called it “Wike” or “Wigi”. Humboldt Bay is 14 miles (23 km) long and 4.5 miles (7 km) across at its widest point and is the second-largest enclosed bay in California. The bay consists of two wide, but shallow arms connected by a relatively narrow channel. Arcata Bay, also called North Bay, is the larger of the two and has a surface area of about 8,000 acres (3,237 ha) with about half exposed as mudflats at low tide. The South Bay is about 4,600 acres (1,861 ha) also with abundant mudflats and extensive eelgrass beds. A channel approximately 30 feet (9 m) deep is located near the north end of the South Bay connecting to the ocean and providing a twice daily exchange of seawater.
By the mid-1800s, gold and timber attracted settlers to the area seeking to make their fortune. Competition for land and resources led to violent clashes with the Wiyot, and along with exposure to foreign diseases such as smallpox, these people were nearly annihilated. Towns grew around the bay which was used mainly as a transportation hub for the industry. Marshy areas surrounding the bay were drained and diked for cattle pasture, and railroads were built to transport logs to ships in deep water. European beachgrass was planted to stabilize the shifting sands of the dunes. Coastal dune restoration has recently focused on the removal of these invasive plants that reduce biodiversity and alter ecosystem processes. Manual removal of non-native plants was carried out from 2005 to 2010 at the Ma-le’l Dunes. Read more here and here. Explore more of the Ma-le’l Dunes here: