Sunday, January 13, 2013


Salal (Gaultheria shallon)
It has been cold around here, at least by our standards.  Overnight temperatures have been dropping into the twenties F.  That's below freezing for pretty much all of you in the rest of the world.  Arctic air masses sometimes find a pathway down the Fraser Valley in Canada.  The cold air will continue to spill through western Washington, down the Puget Sound Basin.

It is not unusual for our winter temperatures to stay above freezing.  The downside of our warmer winters is that it can also be overcast, gray and drizzly.  At least the colder weather sometimes brings sunshine.  That's been our situation for the last few days, very cold with bright sunshine.  It's not all bad.

Seashore  Bluegrass (Poa macrantha)
One of my favorite things to do is get out in the winter cold, hike around the countryside and take pictures.  Yesterday, I headed over to West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  This special place provides the opportunity to explore sand dunes, beach, forest and lake shore, all in one location.  I got there fairly early in the morning and had it all to myself for a while.  It was probably about 26° F (-3° C) at the time.  Ice had formed on the edges of Cranberry Lake.

Kinnikinnic (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
I never know what I will find to photograph on these outings.  Sometimes I go out looking for something specific.  Usually, I end up finding the unexpected.  What caught my eye yesterday was heavy overnight frost.  It was decorating the plants and surfaces along the Sand Dunes Interpretive Trail.  I had arrived early enough to catch it before the rising sun made it disappear.  The icy adornments gave everything along the trail a unique wintry look.  I tried to capture that in the photos.  Everything was shot exactly the way it was encountered, without staging or alteration.  Enjoy this album of winter photos from the Pacific Northwest.

Yarrow (Achillea millifolium)
Salal and Moss
Beach Cobble
Sand Dune Moment
Kinnikinnic and Salal
Madrona Leaves (Arbutus menziesii)
Common Juniper (?) (Juniperus communis)
This is still somewhat of a mystery plant for me, but I have tentatively ID'd it as Common or Ground Juniper.  I have found it in only one spot growing prostrate in a large mat at the edge of the dune forest.  There is another photo of it from a previous visit.  If anyone knows for sure what this is, I would enjoy hearing from you.

Please enjoy my other accounts of visits to West Beach and Cranberry Lake:

Friday, January 11, 2013

There's a Story Here...

I took this admittedly odd and marginal photo this morning.  I was hiking along the dike at Wiley Slough in the Skagit River delta.  This is a unit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.  Hanging in the tangle of brush along the edge of the dike, I spotted a guy's shredded Fruit-of-the-Looms and one sock.  I know there is a story here, but I can't figure out what it is.  Perhaps someone can help fill in the details.  Let me set the scene:

The dike is part of a system that protects the low-lying farmlands of Fir Island, Washington.  The spur dike at Wiley Slough serves as a trail out into the wetlands of the Skagit River delta.  Many activities take place here include duck hunting, bird watching, hiking and dog training.  At different times, you may find the waters flowing either upstream or downstream.  This will depend on the river levels and the tides of Skagit Bay.   Lush botanical gardens of native plants, shrubs and trees line both sides of the dike.  The wetlands extend in all directions.  You can click on the photos to enlarge them.

The dike trail ends in the salt marshes bordering Skagit Bay.  Across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, beyond Camano and Whidbey Islands, the Olympic Mountain Range comes into view (left).  The mountains are about 50 miles/80 km away.  Occasionally, strong windstorms will blow in off the Strait.

You can also see Fidalgo Island from here (right) including its highest point, Mount Erie.

Standing watch over the whole area is an active volcano.  Indigenous people call it Komo Kulshan.  Europeans named it Mount Baker.

That's the setting for the Case of the Scattered Skivvies.  If you think you know the story of those strange artifacts in the first photo, send your brief accounts to me using the Contact Form.  I will publish the stories in a future post.  Don't worry, I don't compile or use mailing lists for anything.  Good luck.  I am looking forward to reading your stories.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Skywatch Friday: Second Day

Skagit Bay on New Year's Day began with fog, but it quickly cleared to give us the most beautiful sunny day we have seen for many weeks.  This winter has been persistently overcast, dark and rainy, which would explain my long dry spell for Skywatch photos.  October 19, 2012 was my last Skywatch post and the beginning of one of the darkest winters on record here.  With only rare exceptions, there has literally been no sky to be watched.  2013 has finally broken that pattern.  The year began with three beautiful sunny days.  The photos here are of sunrise on January 2nd.

Clear skies in winter also mean chilly temperatures.  Each morning began at or below the freezing mark.  Today, January 4th, we are back to overcast and gray skies, warmer temperatures and mists over the bay.  Meteorologists call it a "marine push."  We call it "ocean air."  Forecasts predict some clearing this afternoon, but I won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

First Day 2013

Yesterday, New Year's Day, I participated in the First Day Hike at nearby Deception Pass State Park.  In Washington State, thirteen parks hosted First Day events to kick off the centennial year commemoration of our state park system.  Participants gathered at the kitchen in the Bowman Bay picnic grounds.  Our route would be the Bowman-Rosario Nature Trail out to Rosario Head.

I arrived early to catch some images of the park in the morning light.  It has been a long, dark and wet winter so far.  In fact, December, 2012 was one of the darkest on record.

New Years Day began with fog throughout the Puget Sound Basin.  By mid-morning it was lifting to reveal the most beautiful day we have experienced since the fall.  Overnight temperatures had dropped below freezing.  When I arrived, the lawns and picnic tables were covered in thick layers of frost.  Some lingering haze in the chilly air added a bit of moodiness to the morning light.

Beyond Bowman Bay, fog persisted over the Strait of Juan de Fuca obscuring views of the Olympic Mountain Range.  Only the tips of the tallest peaks could be seen above the fog bank.

Our hosts were Jack Hartt, Park Manager, partly obscured on the right and Sam Wotipka, Park Interpreter in the center.  The park was established in 1926.  During the 1930's, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on the site adding many of the facilities still in use today.  Larrabee, established in 1915, is Washington's oldest state park.  It is just up the road a piece from Deception Pass.

We became a colorful group in our winter warmies.  Before setting off on the trail, we would number fifty or more.  The event also gave me another opportunity to get some experience with the new camera and with the raw image format.

The trail begins with a brief climb up the cliff on the north shore of Bowman Bay.  Along the trail, the group seemed to split between fast movers and slow movers.  I was in the fast group.  I am not sure what that says about us.  It was a chilly day, perfect for a brisk hike.  It was a pleasant day to linger and enjoy nature's beauty.

From the top of Rosario Head (above), it is possible to see Vancouver Island, Canada when the weather is very clear.  Across Rosario Strait, we were able to spot Lopez Island in the San Juans.

One of the icons of Deception Pass State Park is this weathered Douglas Fir that stands alone in the center of Rosario Head.  We know this tree as a giant and an important source of lumber.  Here, growing out of solid stone, exposed to drying winds and salty storms, it has become a miniaturized bonsai.  The tree is an example of the persistence of living things to survive and reproduce.  The park has another very special Douglas Fir that grows in the sand dunes at West Beach.

At the end of the hike, we gathered again at the Bowman Bay picnic grounds for coffee, cocoa and doughnuts.  The goodies were provided by the Deception Pass Park Foundation.  The event was over, but I wasn't ready to go home yet.  I decided to take a quick walk out to Lighthouse Point on Deception Pass to catch some photos of the bridge.  This trail begins with another climb up the cliffs over Bowman Bay. Along the way, I got this shot of Rosario Head, our earlier destination.  Click the photo to enlarge it.  You can see that iconic Douglas Fir standing apart from the other trees.

At Lighthouse Point, I found the Deception Pass Bridge in all its glory.  It is said to be the most photographed structure in the State of Washington.  The waterway is the namesake of the park.  It connects the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Skagit Bay which is the northern-most reach of Puget Sound.  The bridge links Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands and the two sections of the park.

What a perfect day it was to get outside and do the things we love.  This was my second First Day Hike at Deception Pass State Park.  I am already looking forward to next year.