Friday, January 31, 2014

Not Your Father's Skywatch

Skagit Bay 08:20 AM January 27th

Photos posted over at Skywatch Friday don't usually look like this.  Blue skies with white fluffy clouds are the norm.  Even better are the bright flashy reds, yellows and oranges of sunrises and sunsets.  Those bring lots of visits and comments.  But gray?  I probably won't get much play from these shots.

While parts of the country are suffering under another Polar Vortex, this photo is more typical of the coastal Pacific Northwest in January.  Weather stats at the time of this photo:

Time 08:20, Temperature 35.9° F, Dew Point 35.4° F, Humidity 98%, Wind Calm, Barometer Steady

Fog generally forms when the difference between the temperature and dew point are less than 4° F and the relative humidity is near 100%.

Skagit Bay 11:00 AM January 27th

By 11:00 AM, the fog had lifted a bit.  As you can see, the sun is shining.  The sun always shines here.  It's just that clouds or fog sometimes get in the way.  Some find this weather dismal and even unbearable.  For those of us born to it, however, it is part of the special ambience of the region.  There is a quiet and peacefulness to a foggy day.  Many of you will know exactly what I mean.

Skagit Bay 12:10 PM January 27th

This photo was taken at noon.  The islands across Skagit Bay are mostly visible now, but this is about as clear as it got all day.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ginnett Hill:  Kingdom of Moss

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

Late last month I hiked the Pass Lake Loop Trail in Deception Pass State Park.  Along the way, I came to a fork in the trail with a signpost that read "Ginnett."  On my birthday this month, I decided to see what was at the end of that Ginnett Hill Trail.  I had no idea of the surprises that decision would bring.  The trail starts out looking pretty much like all the others in the state park forests.  As I continued, I would find it more primitive and less trodden than others in the park.  And what a delight it turned out to be.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

At the beginning, there is some gentle uphill terrain, then a long descent begins into what has come to be known as Naked Man Valley (.pdf).  The valley forms a basin between Pass Lake and Lake Campbell.  I notice mosses starting to appear more and more all around the trail.  Also along with the Western Redcedar, Douglas Fir and Grand Fir, Western Hemlocks are becoming more prevalent.  This would be an indication of a wetter microclimate than we see in other parts of the park.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

As I continue, water seems to be flowing everywhere creating ideal conditions for moss.  In some places, the trail itself has become a stream.  In one spot, it is necessary to scramble up a small waterfall that has become part of the trail.  I did manage to keep my feet dry, which has always been important to me.  I don't like wet feet.  I believe this stream crossing the trail is the one shown on the Deception Pass Trail Map that eventually flows into Lake Campbell.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

I reach the valley floor, and suddenly a spectral figure appears near the trail.  I realize that I am not alone in this forest.  Is this friend or foe?

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

Another denizen of the Moss Kingdom appears to point the way.  No words are spoken, but the message is clear, "do not linger in this realm, keep moving along."

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

Giant insects lie in wait near the trail.  They could be a threat to unwary hikers.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

Enormous saurian reptiles also stalk this Bryophyte world (.pdf).

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

A bit off the trail, gargoyles sit stoically as if in a vigil, keeping watch over the kingdom.  Could there also be dragons in this forest?  The stories of Beowulf and Grendel come to mind.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

In the deepest part of the valley, illusions become real and reality is just an illusion.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

Another sentry beckons me to continue swiftly on my way.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

From behind the trees, I am watched like a stranger, a trespasser in an alien world.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

This must be royalty that is dressed in such fine clothing.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

I think these are also important members of the ruling class.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

A religious edifice reaching heavenward dominates a clearing.  It is a reminder to be respectful and a good steward of this sacred forest.  From here, the trail begins to climb out of the valley.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

As the trail ascends, a shocking scene comes into view.  Something terrible has happened here.  It is a zone of death compared to the valley I have just left.  Now I know why the world below seemed to be wary of my presence.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

Continuing upward, entire hillsides next to the trail are covered with moss in this Bryophyte realm.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

Nearing the top, the canopy begins to open.  There is more sunlight and the vegetation changes.  There are lots of Madronas, Salal and Mahonias growing with the moss.  I am returning to drier conditions.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

At the end of the trail, there is another surprise.  Humans once lived at the edge of the Moss Kingdom.  This slab is all that is left of a barn owned by Mr. Louis Hall and his wife who lived here for several decades.  In the 1970's, they sold the property to the state park in trust, but continued to live here until they died.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

There is a road to this hilltop near the slab, but how fortunate the property was not given over to development.  Instead, this unique landscape has become a hidden, relatively undeveloped jewel in Deception Pass State Park.  This is a view of the valley from that slab of concrete.  Despite human intervention, the moss still rules in this kingdom.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass

Look directly into the sun to find Pass Lake, where this journey began.  This adventure will be remembered as one of my best birthdays of all.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


I was back in Deception Pass State Park yesterday morning.  I parked at East Cranberry Lake near the main entrance and hiked around the lake to West Beach on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  When I got there, the waves and surf really caught my attention.  Despite relatively calm winds, waves hitting the rocks were creating some spectacular displays.  There was apparently residual effects from the previous day's storm still in play.  Although the site is 95 miles/153 km from open ocean, the Strait of Juan de Fuca can behave like ocean because of its size.  The spectacle got me thinking about waves.  Why was this happening with only a slight breeze blowing at the time?

Waves come in many forms.  Light waves, sound waves and microwaves (radar) are examples.  Wind waves are those that occur on the surfaces of bodies of water.  Regardless of the type of wave, they all have characteristics in common.  For wind waves, the Office of Naval Research website provides a good diagram and description without getting too deep in the physics weeds:

  • Still water level:  The resting surface of the water when undisturbed
  • Crest:  The maximum height of the wave
  • Trough:  The lowest point between the waves
  • Wave height:  The vertical distance between a crest and the next trough
  • Wavelength:  The distance between successive crests
  • Period:  Similar to wavelength except it is the time between successive crests
Wind waves are produced when wind blows over and disturbs the surface of a body of water.  The height of the waves will be determined by the velocity of the wind, the distance the wind travels (fetch) and the duration of the gust.  In the absence of wind, gravity will restore the water surface to the resting or still water level.

Other types of waves include seismic waves (tsunami) which are produced by geologic forces.  A seiche (pronounced saysh) is a sloshing which can occur in a fully or semi-enclosed body of water such as a lake.  They are caused by changes in atmospheric pressure or storm surges.  Tides are also types of waves caused by the rotation of the earth and the gravitational attraction of the sun and moon.  The wavelength is very long, half the circumference of the earth.  The period is also long, about half a day.  At the other extreme, capillary waves or ripples are the smallest waves with a typical wavelength of less than an inch (<2 cm).  They are produced by light breezes.  The still water level is quickly restored by the surface tension of the water which acts like a skin.  Unlike wind waves, capillary waves are never able to overcome the forces of surface tension

So, with only a slight breeze blowing, why are such big waves rolling into West Beach?  Locally, wind waves tend to die out when the wind stops.  This is what happens where I live on Skagit Bay.  Far out in the ocean, however, large storms with sustained winds produce heavy seas, wind waves radiating out from the center of the storm.  Wind velocity, fetch and duration conspire to produce really big waves.  These will last much longer even after the wind has died.  The waves will gradually organize themselves into swells that can travel hundreds of miles.  On the Washington coast, swells can reach 10 to 30 feet/3 to 9 meters in height.  These swells can travel down the Strait of Juan de Fuca until they crash against the shore at West Beach.  They will be much diminished after their journey, but standing on the shore, it is possible to see them rolling in.

Speaking of sound waves, the EA18-G 'Growlers' from NAS Whidbey Island were out exercising over the park.

Looking towards the Naval Air Station, waves reaching West Beach become breakers.  Breakers form when the wave reaches shallow water, roughly half the wavelength or less in depth.  There was heavy overcast, typical for winter here, but no rain.  This kind of overcast can produce challenging light for photographs.

There were no sea birds resting on "Fraggle Rock" this day.  (That's the name I coined for this West Beach feature, not the official name.)  Even the hardy creatures that live in this environment must have found a more inviting place to spend the morning.  For me, it was a very pleasant day to be outside, on dry land, hiking the trails in Deception Pass State Park.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

First Day 2014:  The Best One Yet!

For the third year, Washington State Parks hosted First Day Hikes on January 1.  There were fifteen in all this year.  At Deception Pass State Park, about fifty of us gathered at the Cornet Bay Retreat Center.  Our guides were Jack Hartt, Park Manager and Jessy Osterloh, Park Interpreter.

And we are on our way.  I am certain that of the fifteen hikes around the state today, this is the best looking group of all.  Most notably, our ages spanned 60 to 70 years from youngest to oldest.

This year's hike will include two legs.  For the first leg, we will hike up the Discovery Trail to North Beach.  The second leg will take us to the Deception Pass Bridge, then continue on up the Northwest Summit Trail to the top of Goose Rock.  From beach to summit, the elevation gain will be 484 feet/148 meters.

It is difficult to portray in photos how magnificent this forest really is.  The weather was perfect for a midwinter hike.  It was overcast, but once in a while, the sun managed to peak through the clouds just a bit.  Temperatures were in the low forties F, about 6° C.  Some patchy fog lingered here and there in the woods.  Best of all, it did not rain.

In the new discoveries department, we spotted some things none of us had ever seen before.

Left:  This vine growing up the dead trunk resembled ivy, but it had an atypical leaf for English Ivy (Hedera helix).  Those leaves were about 4 inches/10 cm across.  English Ivy has escaped gardens and become invasive in Pacific Northwest forests.  Can anyone identify this plant more accurately?

Right:  Are those bracket fungi or chocolate covered ice creams on the big stump?  Again, does anyone know what species they are?

As we get close to North Beach, we cross under Highway 20 through this archway built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  This trail is invisible to drivers passing overhead.  Most don't even know the trail and underpass are there.

We arrived at Little North Beach on Deception Pass which offered a nice view of the bridge.

Beneath the bridge, we chatted and rested and played on the beach.

At this point, about half of the group returned to Cornet Bay via the Discovery Trail.  The rest of us climbed up to the bridge to begin the second leg of the hike.

Our destination will be the Goose Rock summit via the Northwest Trail which begins right at the end of the bridge.

Here is one more look at the bridge before heading up to Goose Rock.  I can't help myself.

The ascent begins.  It will be all uphill from here until we get to the top.

The rewards for the climb are spectacular views of north Whidbey Island and the San Juans.  The Goose Rock summit is solid stone scoured of soil and polished by glaciers.  Visitors are asked to step only on the stone areas and not on the fragile vegetation.  In the spring, the summit becomes a unique wildflower garden.

Here is what they were looking at.  The views were a bit shrouded by fog, but that only added to the mystique and awe of the sights.  Below us were West Point and Deception Island which define the west entrance to Deception Pass off to the right.  Beyond was Lopez Island in the San Juans, almost hidden in a fog bank.

Coming down, we are taking the steep and winding Southeast Trail off the summit which is the most direct route back the the Retreat Center.

From the trail, we get a glimpse of more Goose Rock geology.  It literally is a huge volcanic rock left exposed by the last glaciers.  Moss always seems to look the best this time of year.

Rhododendrons!  Lots of them!  I didn't expect to see them on this hike.  We will merge shortly with the Lower Forest Trail so this is probably part of that same rhododendron grove featured in earlier posts.

Hot coffee and cookies were waiting for us in the meeting hall at the Retreat Center.  This was a very welcome treat provided by the Deception Pass Park Foundation.

This was my third First Day Hike at Deception Pass, and the best one of all.  They will have a lot to live up to next year (at least I hope this will be an annual tradition).  We got to sample many of the features the park has to offer.  We hiked through pristine forest, discovered some unfamiliar oddities, played on a salt water beach, viewed an engineering marvel and state landmark, climbed to the top of a volcanic rock and took in some of the views for which the Pacific Northwest is famous.  At the end of the day, I was tired but invigorated.  I can't think of a better way to start a new year.  Many thanks to Jack and Jessy, the Foundation and to Deception Pass State Park.