West Beach in Winter

Cranberry Lake Wetlands
One of my favorite spots to explore is the West Beach/Cranberry Lake area in Deception Pass State Park.  A variety of landforms and ecosystems are packed into a relatively small area.  These include seashore similar to oceanfront, sand dunes, rocky shores, fresh water lake with adjacent wetland, old growth coniferous forest and a unique dune forest.  All of this sits amid some spectacular Northwest scenery.

Red Alder (Alnus rubra)
Winter is my favorite season to visit the park.  This is a time to enjoy colors, patterns and textures.  Don't expect to find it drab and lifeless.  The landscape sparkles and shadows play in the low winter sun.  With few visitors to disturb them, wildlife will be out and about making a living in this more difficult time of year.


In the sand dunes, deep-rooted dune grasses, moss, low growing trees and other plants are primary defenses against the persistent winds.  They also help trap and hold a little moisture since the sand can hold none.  Plants that are delicate, that require a lot of resources or those with shallow roots will not survive here.

Seashore Bluegrass (Poa macrantha)


Seashore Bluegrass (Poa macrantha)


Dune Grass (Elymus mollis)



A self-guided interpretive trail takes visitors through the sand dunes and the dune forest.  The trail is wheelchair-friendly.  Both people and dogs are welcome if kept on the paths and cleaned up after.


Several lichens decorate the trees and shrubs in the dune forest.  Still more grow on stones, fallen logs and even the path.  This is a sign of an old-growth forest.  I believe this could be Usnea wirthii, Blood-spattered Beard.  Please let me know if I am wrong.  Don't be mislead by the modest size of the trees here.  They are older than they look.

Pacific Madrona (Arbutus menziesii)


Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
This very special Douglas Fir has lived at the edge of the backdune for more then 850 years.

Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor)


Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
I have not been able to identify three of the plants pictured here.  I would appreciate hearing from anyone who can help with this.

UPDATE:  A friend emailed me with the ID for this flower, Pearly Everlasting.  What a charming and appropriate name.

Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis)
Out in the dunes, Sitka Spruce and Douglas Fir grow low to the ground to duck the winds.  Grasses and other plants find some protection huddling around the trees.  The plants and trees help to stabilize their sand dune host against the winds.





Semi-Aquatic grass sleeps at the edge of Cranberry Lake.  When spring comes, this will become a nursery for aquatic life.


The outgoing tide leaves trails on the beach, perhaps to guide the way home again.


Bleached by the sun and polished by wind and sand, driftwood echoes the antiquity of the dunes.

Salal (Gaultheria shallon)


Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)


Douglas Fir Cones (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
Identify the female cones of Douglas Fir by the tails and hind legs of "mice" trying to hide under the scales.  Strobilus is the formal name for the cone.  This time of year, they are abundant in the litter at the base of the trees.

Shore Pine (Pinus contorta)


Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)



The Deception Pass bridge connects Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands as well as the two sections of the state park.  The West Beach/Cranberry Lake area is on Whidbey on the right.  A short trail from West Beach leads to the Amphitheater and North Beach where this picture was taken.  The North Beach trail continues all the way to the bridge.  After my visit, the bridge will take me home to Fidalgo Island.

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