Friday, November 28, 2014


Deception Pass Bridge

With a health care occupation, working holidays is standard.  Since I usually work Christmas, I get Thanksgiving Day off.  For the past few years, I have started the holiday over at Deception Pass to look for photo ops.  This year I found myself looking forward to my Thanksgiving Day visit.  I guess that's how a tradition gets started.

Deception Pass is less than 10 minutes from my home.  I was up early and headed off a little after 8:00 AM.  I stopped at one of the pull-offs along Highway 20 and got this shot of the bridge.  This is the first spot along the road where the Deception Pass Bridge comes into view.  You can click or right-click the photos to view them full size.

Deception Pass Bridge

It had been raining all week, and Thanksgiving morning brought us heavy overcast.  But the Olympic Rain Shadow kept us dry for the holiday.

I continued across the bridge and stopped again at the parking area at the south end.  This is a photo of the long span over Deception Pass looking north.  Beyond is Fidalgo Island.  There is a second, shorter span over Canoe Pass on the Fidalgo side.  The two spans meet at Pass Island which sits in the waterway.

Deception Pass Bridge

At each end of the long span, stairways take visitors down under the bridge.  They provide a safe way to cross under the roadway since traffic tends to be heavy.  Down here there are overlooks into the pass and short trails along the cliff edge.  This is also a good place to view the steel structure of the bridge.  Engineers call this a cantilever truss.

This is my obligatory photo of the bridge's under-structure.  There are a million of these shots on the net.  I was not happy with the color version of the photo.  It was a run-of-the-mill, muddy mix-mosh of greens.  As an experiment I tried changing it to black and white.  It looked more interesting, but now it seemed very cold.  Then I added the sepia effect and that's the version I liked.  Perhaps this is how a photo of the bridge looked when it opened in 1935.

Deception Pass Bridge

I got back on the road and headed to West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  From the parking lot, a short trail leads to the Amphitheater at North Beach.  This is another view of the bridge from that trail.  It was still overcast and unusually warm and humid for November.

"Fraggle Rock" at Deception Pass

Back at West Beach, one of my favorite wildlife spots is this big rock just offshore in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Mid-morning is the best time to check it out.  After a morning of food gathering, this is when the sea birds come to rest, preen and socialize.  For want of a better name, I dubbed it "Fraggle Rock" on Thanksgiving, 2011. Recall from the HBO series, this is a little world apart where something interesting is always happening.  It is a place inhabited by different creatures, unaware of how interconnected and important they are to each other.  On good authority, I have been advised to keep using this name for the rock.

"Fraggle Rock" at Deception Pass

Here is an example of why this rock is a great place for wildlife viewing.  A pair of Harlequin Ducks has joined the gulls and Black Oystercatchers.  This is one of the best spots to find both species according to Seattle Audubon.

I am always struck by how well everyone gets along on the rock.  Even with several species of birds crowded together in a small place, I never see quarreling or territorial disputes.

"Fraggle Rock" at Deception Pass

I moved to West Point beyond the north end of the parking lot.  This marks the entrance into Deception Pass from the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  From here, I was able to spot three more Harlequin drakes at the rock.  They were having great fun splashing and bathing in the water.  This is the second time I have observed this behavior.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

It was time to check out Cranberry Lake at at the south end of the parking lot.  The sun was starting to come out now.  While points further south were getting a rainy and windy Thanksgiving, the Rain Shadow was giving us a very nice day.

As I approached the lake, I noticed a Great Blue Heron fly in and land out of view behind the trees.  I moved to the shoreline and spotted it across the narrow end of the lake.  It also spotted me and came alert (upper left).  I could tell it was getting ready to launch (upper right).

In the last two photos, I caught the bird in flight.  I am not very good at these panning shots, but the slow flight of such a big bird helped a little..  After I got home and started looking at the photos, I noticed three American Wigeons following the heron's course (lower right).

Cranberry Lake, Deception Pass State Park

For a holiday, there were not many people in this section of the park.  There were no tourists at all.  We were all hard core "Deceptionistas."  We numbered less than a dozen, all here to do something specific.  We were birders, photographers, hikers, beachcombers and fishermen enjoying a holiday in the park.  In the photo, can you spot the Canada Goose in the company of the fishermen?  There is also another heron in the photo keeping a distance.

"Fraggle Rock" at Deception Pass

Before leaving, I looped back up to Fraggle Rock for one last look.  I'm glad I did.  A pair of Double-crested Cormorants had joined the gathering.  From a distance, they are identified by those orange cheeks.  One had assumed the "angel pose" used for drying feathers after diving.  It is said that captive birds will do this after feeding even if they are not wet.

Deception Pass Bridge

Now heading southbound home, I stopped again at the pull-off on Pass Island between the bridge spans.  This is a view of Deception Pass and North Beach looking through the bridge's structure.

Deception Pass Bridge

Finally, here is a last shot of the bridge from Pass Island with that sepia effect added.  Again, we can imagine a photo of the pass taken when the bridge opened in 1935.  It occurs to me the bridge will be 80 years old next July.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Between now and next Thanksgiving, I will visit this park at least a dozen times.  Nevertheless, I am already looking forward to coming here on the holiday next year.  After all, it's a tradition.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Preview of First Day 2015:  Ginnett Hill

Deception Pass from Mount Erie
Ginnett Hill (right) from Mount Erie
I think the annual First Day Hikes at Deception Pass State Park can now be called a New Year's Day tradition.  This year's hike will be the fourth.  The event will take us to Ginnett Hill, one of my favorite places in the park.  It will be difficult to top last year's hike up Goose Rock, but 2015 may accomplish that.  I am very excited about this year's choice.

Ginnett Hill Trail
Descending Into Naked Man Valley
I have attended all three previous First Day Hikes at Deception Pass:
I am certainly not going to miss this one.  I can promise the Ginnett Hill Trail is something very special.  If you appreciate the unique nature of the Pacific Northwest, this hike should not be missed.

Ginnett Hill Trail
The Gargoyles
My first visit to Ginnett Hill was in January, 2014.  I found a temperate rain forest right here in the midst of the Olympic Rain Shadow.  It was a "Kingdom of Moss" that was completely unexpected.  The Sword Ferns grew higher than my shoulders.  Streams were flowing everywhere.  In one spot, the trail itself had become a small waterfall.  But it was the mosses flourishing in the depths of Naked Man Valley that blew me away.

Ginnett Hill Trail
Giant Insects Stalk the Trail
During the winter, the mosses and liverworts (Bryophytes) are in their glory.  There are innumerable species, and they are the most ancient of all land plants.  In the summer, the streams dry up and the mosses fade, but now the trail is lined with forest wildflowers.  You might even encounter the Washington State Poet Laureate leading a writing workshop here.

Ginnett Hill Trail
A Sentry Guides the Way
Nevertheless, I believe winter is the best time to hike the Ginnett Hill Trail.  The light is better for photos under the canopy.  This forest is amazingly alive, almost sentient at this time of year.  I came here alone, but never felt alone.  I was compelled to feel respect for the surroundings and the organisms that inhabited this world.  Perhaps this is why I devised the "Moss Kingdom" theme after my first visit.  I hesitate to use the word "magic."  It might seem absurd, but yes, there is magic in this forest.

Ginnett Hill Trail
Approaching the Summit
The trail is less trodden and more primitive than others in the park.  This is one more thing that makes it special.  Climbing out of the valley, it passes through a drier Douglas Fir/Madrona forest where more sunlight filters through.  But the moss still rules in this kingdom.

Ginnett Hill Trail
The Louis Hall Homestead at the Summit
Another surprise will be found at the summit.  People once lived here.  There is also a large meadow and fruit orchard just down the trail from this home site.

Ginnett Hill Trail
Pass Lake from Ginnett Hill Summit
And still more treats await the visitor.  The views into the valley from the overlooks are amazing.

This year's First Day Hike begins at 10:00 AM.  Meet at the Pass Lake parking lot, at the junction of Highway 20 and Rosario Road.  This is a small lot so carpooling might be in order if possible.  There has been good weather three years in a row for this event.  The weather spirits should be with us again this New Year's Day.

The hike will have two legs again this year.  The first, shorter leg will be to the meadow accessed off the Pass Lake Loop Trail.  The second leg will take us up to Ginnett Hill.  There are more details about the hikes in this month's Deception Pass Current newsletter (.pdf).

Note that January 1, 2015 will be a Discover Pass "free day."  See you on New Year's Day.

Ginnett Hill Trail
Moss Kingdom Royalty

Skywatch Friday:  After the Storm

Skagit Bay 6:44 AM

A series of windstorms have blown through the Pacific Northwest over the past week.  Last Saturday evening I lost power for about 20 hours.  Of course, this took the weather station offline.

I made it through yesterday's storm without any problems.  This morning, the Skagit Bay sunrise was a welcome change.  It brought promise of calm weather for a while and two days without rain.

Skagit Bay 6:54 AM

A few moments later, both the sky and bay were painted in pastels.

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