Thursday, March 31, 2011
After a very long winter, the sun came out on March 23rd. This beautiful day was a perfect excuse to visit one of my favorite places, Washington's Deception Pass State Park. From my home on South Fidalgo Island, it is only a 10 minute drive away. The park straddles both sides of Deception Pass with sections on Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands. From the parking lot at Bowman Bay, I hiked the trails to Lighthouse Point and to Rosario Beach. The visit continued to the top of Rosario Head. Before heading home, I decided to make a quick stop at the bridge to catch some shots in the sunny weather. You may have noticed that an image of this local icon appears in the header of this blog.
The Deception Pass Bridge connects Fidalgo to Whidbey Island along State Highway 20. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are actually two spans situated at an angle. Between the spans is Pass Island, basically a big rock near the middle of the pass. The shorter span over Canoe Pass is 511 feet/156 m long. The section over Deception Pass spans 976 feet/298 m. We are still in the state park here, but the bridge is managed by the Washington Department of Transportation. I wonder if the D.O.T. trimmed those trees to provide better photos of the bridge.
I set off walking across Canoe Pass from the Fidalgo side. There was a great view of Lighthouse Point here, the grassy outcrops we visited earlier in the day. Beyond is Deception Island which marks the entrance to the pass from the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
On Pass Island, there are stairways providing a way to cross the roadway under the long span. From here, the structure of the bridge's steelworks can be studied. The bridge was built in 11 months at a cost of $482,000, and opened in 1935. It now costs more to paint it.
After crossing under the bridge, there are stunning views down into Deception Pass. The brain will play tricks making it difficult to perceive the depths and distances around this grand structure. Tidal currents under the bridge can be swift and dramatic. Small craft must often wait for the flows to slow down or change direction before traversing the waterway.
An overlook on Pass Island offers views of the inner pass along its approach to Skagit Bay.
Yokeko Point on the left and Hoypus Point on the right mark the boundary between the pass and Skagit Bay. In the middle is the infamous Strawberry Island. Legend has it that along with Ben Ure Island nearby, it was involved in the illegal smuggling of Chinese laborers in the 1880's.
Looking back at the bridge, North Beach is visible through the steelworks. There is a nice picnic area down there, where it is always cool in the summer. On the Whidbey side, the North Beach Trail runs from the end of the bridge to Cranberry Lake and the Sand Dunes at West Beach.
The two-lane bridge was built to 1930's standards and seems narrow today. Traces of Art Deco styling of the period add to its beauty. There are interests on Whidbey Island that want to replace this structure with something new and wider. I think they should build a floating bridge across Saratoga Passage from Whidbey to Camano Island. This would unite Island County and give them a direct spur to Interstate 5. Then they can leave this beautiful historic structure alone.
From mid-span, it is 182 feet down to the waterway of Canoe Pass. Walking across the bridge is a popular activity. Those who suffer vertigo would be advised to pass it up. Even without the affliction, venturing across the spans will be a disconcerting adventure. The bouncing of the deck caused by passing semi trucks adds to the thrill. Looking over the rail from the middle of the long span is a bit like being suspended in space — with no apparent support.
After one last look, it's time to head home. The feet are tired, but the spirit is renewed. As it turned out, we would get one more (mostly) sunny day. Then it was back to wintry overcast, cold, wind and drizzle. PJM Rhododendrons tell the story of this spring. They usually bloom around the first day of March. This year, I am still waiting for them. As April approaches, we are under an atmospheric river of tropical moisture bringing heavy rains, flooding, avalanches and mudslides. This is weather more like December's. The way it's going, March 23rd may turn out to have been our entire spring. Hopefully, it wasn't our summer as well.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
We continue exploring Rosario Head at Deception Pass State Park. In the last post, we arrived at Rosario Beach via the Rosario-Bowman Bay Nature Trail. Beyond the Samish story pole are two trails that lead to the top of Rosario Head. There is a sign on the left trail warning of danger. This is puzzling to me since there is actually less danger here than we have already encountered. Perhaps there was an accident and the sign was put up in response. From high above the water there are stunning views of Whidbey Island, the Olympic Mountains and the San Juan Islands. Best come in early morning to photograph the mountains. Exposed volcanic rocks dot the waterways all around this viewpoint. In the photo, these will be nesting sites for seabirds and are off-limits to visitors. On the horizon are the San Juan Islands.
The trees up here reveal the stresses on this exposed headland. It is built of solid stone with very little soil on top. The iconic Douglas Fir on the left has been shaped by the prevailing winds off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Up close, it appears to have suffered even more in the hard winter just passed. On the right, the huge Madrona didn't make it. It appears to have lived for a time after toppling decades ago. In the end, it didn't survive. Madrona wood is like cast iron, so it will probably last many years more. Notice the entangled root of the nearby fir that was also pulled up.
Zooming out into Rosario Strait reveals an oil tanker with a companion. Once inside the Strait of Juan de Fuca, these tankers must relinquish control to local pilot boats. They are not permitted to sail the inland waterways on their own. The tanker is probably heading to one of the refineries on March's Point in Anacortes.
As we descend the left trail, we catch glimpses of Bowman Bay. Click on the image to enlarge it and notice the chain of rocky islets out in the bay.
A tombolo or sand bar connects Rosario Head to Fidalgo Island. On the left, the outer side is littered with storm-tossed driftwood. On the inner side, Sharpe Cove is more protected.
Across Sharpe Cove, a Douglas Fir growing in stone and thin soil becomes a natural bonsai.
Near the beach, this Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) was singing his heart out. His enthusiasm was unmistakable, but nobody was answering. He was not in the least dispirited by that.
Back on the trail, we catch a glimpse of our return destination, the Bowman Bay parking lot.
The exposed rocks in the bay serve as resting sites for gregarious Double-crested Cormorants. They appear to enjoy these social get-togethers where they can preen and dry their feathers after diving.
The base of this old Madrona bears evidence of great stresses inflicted on the tree over many years.
The top of the same tree arches over the trail. Some limbs have died, but others hang onto life. Nearby, a new crop of seedling Madronas insures the future of the species here.
Fine-pelted moss reveals cracks in this stone where a little moisture can accumulate. Lichens populate the more arid territories. Mosses are as difficult to identify from pictures as Lichens.
This composition of stone, moss, lichens, fir needles and shadows reminds me of a Japanese screen painting.
We end this hike where we began, back at the Bowman Bay picnic grounds. Nearby stands a statue commemorating the Civilian Conservation Corps workers who built the park. It was erected by a local chapter of CCC alumni. These men are very proud of the work they did here. That pride is well deserved. This is statue number 28, one of several erected in parks and conservation projects around the country to preserve the legacy of the CCC's.
Next destination: The Bridge
Sunday, March 27, 2011
It is still March 23rd which delivered this beautiful, sunny day. We continue exploring the nature trails around Bowman Bay in Deception Pass State Park. This time, the destination is Rosario Head. We set off heading north from the parking lot and cross the picnic grounds. The park was built in the 1930's by men of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC Interpretive Center is housed in a building that formerly served as a bathhouse and comfort station for CCC workers. Today, the lawns here were sparkling with little white flowers.
The lawn weeds are English Daisy (Bellis perennis) which are not natives. They were introduced from Europe. Man, those English really spread their seeds around the planet, didn't they? According to Pojar, the word daisy is derived from "day's eye" or "eye of the day," because the blossoms open and close in changing daylight.
Continue across the picnic grounds close to the shoreline to pick up the Rosario-Bowman Bay Nature Trail. It's about a mile out to Rosario. It begins with a fairly steep climb, but then levels off for a comfortable hike the rest of the way. One thing you'll discover is that it is noticeably drier here than along the Lighthouse Point Trail. The cliff side faces south and is open to the winds off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The plant life reflects this more arid, sunnier and challenging microclimate.
Red Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum) is blooming now and can be seen all along the trail. This is a native shrub, but you can purchase cultivated varieties at nurseries. They thrive in the dry conditions afforded by the Olympic Rain Shadow. They are hardy and reliable plants for the Northwest native garden.
Another drought-loving native plant is the succulent Sedum spathulifolium. It appears to grow right out of the stone along the cliff face above the trail. Look for it in spots where it can bask in the sun. You'll find it in nurseries called Sedum 'Cape Blanco' so please don't try to collect any of these. This one is growing among at least three different kinds of Lichen.
Speaking of Lichens, you may discover more than a dozen different kinds growing along the trail. Look on rock faces and on tree trunks. I am finding it very difficult to identify the species names for Lichens.
More color is provided by Creeping Mahonia (Mahonia repens) a relative of Oregon Grape. Their leaves take on shades of reds and bronzes in the cold temperatures of winter. It is another nice addition to the native garden. It looks good among rocks and along paths, in sun or part shade. It grows very slowly and spreads by underground stems.
Halfway along the trail, we are high above Bowman Bay. In spots, the trail hugs the edge of the cliff, and the views are stunning. Madronas (Arbutus menziesii) also like the arid conditions here. They all appear to have suffered great stresses, taking on extreme contortions and twisting in their limbs. If a few conditions are met, however, they are tough competitors in the natural world.
From overhead in the trees came the shrill, chattering calls of Bald Eagles. This is courtship season which can be a very noisy affair. I tried, but could not spot them in the canopy. I find it interesting that wildlife in state parks like this seem to be more tolerant of humans than in other locations. You can often get surprisingly close and they don't seem to mind. This is particularly true of crows and gulls who have learned to exploit a life with people.
Waving in the breezes, Old Man's Beard is another Lichen that starts appearing in the branches of trees as we get close to Rosario Beach. You will only find it growing in old-growth forests. While the trees here are old, they are not as large as expected. The conditions here make this is a tough place for a tree to live and they don't all make it.
When we arrive at Rosario Beach, we are greeted by Ko-Kwal-alwoot, the Maiden of Deception Pass. This is a Samish story pole we have met here before. She was erected in 1983 to commemorate the Skagit County Centennial and to honor the Samish people. She reminds us to take good care of this beautiful place which was and is her home.
Rosario Beach is the site of the famous tidal pools. This is a field of volcanic rocks interspersed with pools which are exposed at low tide. Fifty-two years ago I camped here with a friend's family. I have vivid memories of exploring these pools. We had grown-ups with us who admonished us to step carefully and to look but not touch. I remember the multi-colored topshells and turbans, dog winkles and northern abalone. There were giant gumboot chitons, little mossy chitons, sea stars and sun stars in uncountable numbers. I remember the small purple sea urchins and the big red urchins with thick spines. I was a kid in his glory, a nature geek discovering all this sea life...
All that seems to be gone now. No sea stars, no urchins, no chitons, and only a sparse number of nondescript snails can be seen. Northern abalone are considered endangered, and appear to be extinct here. There are only barnacles, algae and an assortment of sea weeds. We have not honored Ko-Kwal-alwoot's story or respected her home.
On this visit today, there was an irritating child screaming to her grandfather to go and get a bucket so she could collect animals. I kept wondering why she was here and not in school. Grandpa obliged and therein lies the problem. He apparently had not read the sign and lacked the sensitivity of my erstwhile camping hosts. I wasn't concerned, since I knew the little darling would not find anything to collect. We may never have the opportunity to see anything like that here again.
We are now half way through this leg of the journey. Next time, we'll check out the sights from the top of Rosario Head, then hike back to the parking lot.
Friday, March 25, 2011
After weeks of cold, damp and gloomy weather, spring arrived and the sun came out on March 23rd. It was a perfect day to visit Deception Pass State Park. Three stops were on the agenda. Lighthouse Point which we'll cover today, Rosario Head and the the Deception Pass bridge. From the parking lot at Bowman Bay, I set off south on the Lighthouse Point Trail that starts at the fishing dock. I was seen off by this fellow, a Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus). These are corvids that can also be classed as shorebirds. They are a bit smaller than the American Crow and are found exclusively at the beach where they make their living. In fact, spotting a small, slender corvid at the beach is considered an identifying characteristic of the Northwestern Crow.
The trail begins by following the shoreline towards the tree-covered landmass in the background. It is connected to Fidalgo Island by a tombolo, basically a sand bar slowly built up over time. The tombolo now separates Bowman Bay from Lotte Bay.
On the inland side of the trail, we come to a small pond, still in its quiet wintry sleep. The Pacific Chorus Frogs seem to be arriving late this year.
Once out on the tombolo, we pass another pond off the head of Lotte Bay. It may be a salt marsh. As we continue, the trail veers to the right and into the woods. It is fairly steep here. This will be the most significant elevation gain along the way, but it doesn't last long.
After a short climb, the trail levels off. From here on, there will only be minor elevation changes. We are now in an old-growth forest of Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar. Madronas with red bark cling to the cliff side where they can get more light. There is a smell of moss and bark and sea air.
Much of Fidalgo Island is built of solid stone, a clue to its volcanic origins. This photo reminds me of a favorite haiku:
Walking by seashore
seagulls, sand and suddenly
plants on mossy rocks.
Some rock faces are decorated with leaf lichens. The green are Freckle Pelt (Peltigera britannica) and the dark gray ones are Frog Pelt (P. neopolydactyla). The ferns are Licorice Ferns which we have seen before growing on Big Leaf Maples.
We come to a spot where the trail splits. Ahead on the right fork, we spot this big old Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) about 8 feet/2.5 meters wide at the base. It has endured both fire and vandalism by tourists and the base is completely hollow. Yet it stands straight and tall and steady. This is actually not a cedar, but a species of Arborvitae. The valuable wood is renowned for its beauty and decay resistance. The bark is often stained green by Dust Lichen. At this point, we will take the left fork and return by the path that passes by the old hollow cedar.
Along the way, a huge snag has fallen and blocked the trail. There is just enough space to crawl beneath it. Eventually, the park staff will clear this, but it will be a major undertaking. The trunk is a good 3 feet/1 meter in diameter. As we continue, we will be on the lookout for a big outcrop of stone next to the trail. This is where we will catch the first glimpse of the Deception Pass bridge. It comes as a surprise and makes people say "ooh!"
Arriving at the grassy Fidalgo headlands of Lighthouse Point, we will find some of the best views of the bridge. This is just one. Another is in the Photo Gallery. The optimum time for photos is late afternoon, when the sun is shining from the west. The beach is accessible here, but you will need to scramble up the bank to get back on the trail.
The meadows were alive with Dark-eyed Juncos foraging in the grass. There were at least two dozen scurrying around in this one area.
Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium douglasii) was blooming in the meadows. The blossoms were huge. These early bloomers are members of the Iris family.
Blooming all by itself, this was the largest Buttercup blossom I have ever seen. It's probably Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens).
We are at the western entrance to Deception Pass. Can you spot the plane flying towards the mountains? On this day, the skies were busy with naval aircraft from N.A.S. Whidbey Island, much more than usual. Libya, you know.
The "lighthouse" at Lighthouse Point is nothing to write home about. It's not even a lighthouse in the classic sense, but I guess it serves its purpose. I could not find any information indicating there was ever a real lighthouse here. As we explore the rocky headlands, we trek high above the waters, and there are many sheer drop-offs along the trail. The magnificent beauty all around us justifies the risk.
There are spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The tallest peaks are about 50 miles/80 km from where we stand. If you open the full-size photo and look carefully, you will also see two oil tankers way out in the Strait. I estimate they are about 10 miles/16 km away. They are probably from Valdez, Alaska, heading to refineries in Anacortes or Cherry Point near Bellingham, Washington. Closer in, the point is on Whidbey Island near the West Beach parking lot.
Finally, at Reservation Head, we catch sight of our next destination, Rosario Head on the other side of Bowman Bay. In the background is Lopez Island in the San Juans. I believe the taller land behind Lopez is Orcas Island. As we start back on the loop to that old cedar we saw earlier, there will be one more steep climb. It will be short, however, and the rest of the trail will be easy.
Next destination: Rosario Head