Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cairns at Lighthouse Point

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

Back in March of 2015, I found these beautifully constructed cairns on the beach at Lighthouse Point in Deception Pass State Park.  Lighthouse and Lotte Points are the grassy stone outcrops that can be seen from the Deception Pass Bridge looking west.  The Lighthouse Point Trail runs from Bowman Bay to the shore of Deception Pass.  As I always say, when you go hiking, you never know what you might find.

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

Humans have been piling stones for various reasons since prehistory.  The Vikings built stone altars called Hörgar.  The word cairn comes from Scots Gaelic càrn (plural càirn).  The ancient Celts built cairns to mark important places or events or to commemorate the graves of loved ones and important people.  The Arabic word rujm (رجم) appears in place names and refers to piles of stones.  In the Sinai Desert, stone piles or altars are thought by some to mark the path of the ancient Israelites in their exodus from Egypt.

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

In North America and Greenland, native peoples built cairns as landmarks or to mark game paths.  They have come to symbolize safe and welcoming places.  In modern times, such a sculpture called Inuksuk appears in the flag of Canada's northern territory of Nunavut.  In 2010, the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games adapted the symbol for its logo.

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

After almost two years, I had forgotten all about these photos.  When I came upon them the other day, I decided I should do something with them.  A lot of thought went into these cairns, and they should be seen by more people.  It looks like even the colors of the stones were given consideration when they were assembled.

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

Sometimes, simple stone cairns say nothing more than "I was here."

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

Naturally, such beautiful monuments cannot last.  They are long gone now, victims of the winds and tides.  They have been returned to the random rubble of the beach, waiting to be reborn.

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

In rocky places, it is common to find stone sculptures built by previous visitors.  It seems to be a human compulsion to create them.  I think you will agree, these cairns are better than most.  They were built with love and inspiration from this beautiful place.  Perhaps another creative soul will come along and do it again.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Previewing the First Day Hike 2017 at Deception Pass

Cornet Bay Retreat Center, Deception Pass

The route for this year's First Day Hike at Deception Pass State Park has been announced.  Starting at the Cornet Bay Retreat Center (above), the route will take us around the Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, up and over the summit, then back to the Retreat Center.  At the end of the hike, Jeff Kish from the Pacific Northwest Trail Association will present "Experience the Pacific Northwest Trail."  This 1,200 mile scenic hiking trail extends from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Pacific Coast of Washington's Olympic Peninsula.  The First Day Hike will include a part of it which passes through Deception Pass State Park.

After being shut up in the house for more than a week by the weather, I was itching to get outside.  Christmas Day delivered clear skies and sunshine, so I decided to preview the route for this year's hike.

Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, Deception Pass

The Goose Rock Perimeter Trail begins with a walk in the woods along the shore of Cornet Bay.  Here, I was serenaded by the calls of Ravens and Bald Eagles.

Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, Deception Pass

The trail climbs up the cliff overlooking the bay.  The vegetation defines the Cornet Bay microclimate.  Growing with Douglas Firs, Madrona, Sedum and Oregon Grape reveal a dry coniferous forest.

Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, Deception Pass

At the highest point of the trail, hikers are treated to views of the Cornet Bay community.

Mount Baker from the Goose Rock Perimeter Trail

After descending back to sea level, look past Ben Ure Island.  With a clear sky, Mount Baker will be easy to spot.  From this point on, the trail will skirt the edge of Deception Pass.  Watch for the sign at the junction of the Northeast Summit Trail.

Goose Rock Summit, Deception Pass

Near the top of Goose Rock, the final push to the summit means scrambling up these rocks.  Be careful if they are wet or icy.  They will be slippery.  You will want to wear sturdy footwear with good traction for the hike.

Goose Rock Summit, Deception Pass

At 484 feet (148 m) the Goose Rock summit is the highest point on Whidbey Island.  To the northwest, little Deception Island marks the entrance to Deception Pass (above).  On the horizon is Lopez Island in the San Juans.  The Olympic Mountain Range is visible to the southwest.  Looking south, you can see the Whidbey Naval Air Station.

Goose Rock Summit, Deception Pass

Notice the geology underfoot at the summit.  The grooves in the stone mark the paths of moving ice sheets that receded 11,000 years ago.  Goose Rock would appear to be a pluton, once the magma chamber of an ancient volcano.  Glaciers carved away the mountain exposing a solid stone monolith.  Nearby Mount Erie, El Capitan in Yosemite and Mount Rushmore are other examples.

Goose Rock Summit, Deception Pass

The grassy meadows atop the stone bloom with wildflowers in the spring.  These are fragile and easily lost to trampling feet.  Visitors are asked to stay within marked paths or on the stone surfaces.

Pacific Rhododendrons on Goose Rock

On the descent from the summit and return to the Retreat Center, you might spot the wild Pacific Rhododendrons growing on the flank of Goose Rock.

Back at the Retreat Center, we can expect warm drinks and goodies served by the Deception Pass Park Foundation.  I am also looking forward to the presentation on the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail, a part of which we will have just completed.

Directions:  Meet at the Cornet Bay Retreat Center, January 1, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.  Allow for at least three hours.  From Interstate 5, take the Highway 20/Anacortes Exit #230 at Burlington.  Head west and cross the bridges onto Fidalgo Island.  Look for the Deception Pass/Port Townsend Ferry intersection and go left.  Cross the Deception Pass Bridge onto Whidbey Island.  At the stop light near the main entrance to the park, turn left onto Cornet Bay Road.  A sign on the left marks the Retreat Center driveway.  The difficulty of the hike is described as moderate.  Bad weather affecting safety of the hike might lead to cancellation.  I would check the Foundation website for any last minute announcements.  See you there.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

There is a brand new trail in Deception Pass State Park called the Big Cedar Trail.  The photo shows just the base of its namesake, a Western Redcedar, Thuja plicata.  I find it is difficult to portray the size of a big tree in photos.  Without a person standing next to it for reference, it could be run-of-the-mill.  Let me say, if a six foot man was added to the photo, he would easily fit in the frame.  The tree is 8 feet (2.4 m) in diameter and 26 feet (8 m) in circumference at shoulder height.  It is truly a very big tree.

This past summer, I recall seeing a line of ribbons tied to shrubs heading off the left side of the Ginnett trail.  I wondered if something like this was planned.  We can thank the volunteers of SWITMO (Skagit-Whatcom-Island Trail Maintaining Organization) for clearing and cutting the new trail.  Anyone hiking it will appreciate the labor that was required.

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

The new trail, shown in red, is in the Pass Lake section of the park.  It connects the Ginnett Hill trail (no. 6) with the Pass Lake Loop trail (no. 5).  Hikers exploring Ginnett Hill now have an alternate return route to the Pass Lake Loop.  This avoids having to return using the same trail.

If taking the north to south route on the Big Cedar, be prepared for a steep climb.  This can be avoided by going in the opposite direction.  In my case, I find it easier to keep my feet under me hiking uphill rather than on steep downhills.  My route was the east Pass Lake Loop-Ginnett Hill-Big Cedar-west Pass Lake Loop for a leisurely two hours.  After doing this, I am glad I made this choice.  You can visit the tree and avoid both the climb and the steepest descent.  Enter the Big Cedar Trail from the top of the Pass Lake Loop.  The tree is not far from there.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass State Park

The Ginnett Hill trail is one of my favorite places in the park.  It starts in a dry coniferous forest, descends into a small rain forest in Naked Man Valley (a.k.a. Heilman Valley), then climbs back into dry coniferous at the summit homestead site.  The terrain is incredibly varied with a lot of nature to explore.  This is not a heavily visited section of the park.  Many people are missing out on some of the park's real treasures.  Click or right-click the photos to view them full size.

Clockwise from upper left:  1. Several notched stumps serve as historic sites commemorating the region's logging heritage.  They could be 100 years old or more.  2. Giant glacial erratics provide homes for moss and Licorice Ferns.  Do these stones reveal how the valley was formed?  3. The three gargoyles conceal a hidden pond that fills with bright yellow Skunk Cabbage in the spring.  4. Rain forest denizens greet you at trailside.

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

As you begin climbing out of the valley, look for the junction to the Big Cedar Trail.  There's no sign yet, but go left to Big Cedar, right to continue up Ginnett Hill.

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Almost immediately on entering the Big Cedar Trail, a long, steep climb begins.  A few short switchbacks help, but not much.  Because the trail is new, the surface is still loose and rocky in places.  Wear sturdy hiking boots with good traction.  You'll also want them waterproof.  In winter, there are seasonal wadis to cross on the Ginnett Hill trail and some muddy spots on the Big Cedar.  Part of the west Pass Lake Loop is an old logging road.  Much of it goes under water in the winter.

The trail levels off a bit near the top where you will find yourself in a ravine.  Look for the bones of another big redcedar that didn't survive our windstorms or perhaps fire (right photo).

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Soon, you will spot the Western Redcedar that gives the trail its name.  Just as our Douglas Fir is not a fir, this is not a true cedar.  It is actually an arborvitae ("tree of life") in the Cypress family.  True cedars are in the Pine family.  It has probably been dubbed "cedar" because of the wonderful color, fragrance and durability of its wood.

Pojar and Mackinnon describe the redcedar as the cornerstone of Northwest Coast native culture:
"A Coast Salish myth says the Great Spirit created redcedar in honour of a man who was always helping others.  Where he dies and where he is buried, a cedar tree will grow and be useful to the people--the roots for baskets, the bark for clothing, the wood for shelter."
The Quinalt call themselves the "Canoe People, the People of the Cedar Tree."  It is called the "tree of life" by the Kwakwaka'wakw.  When you visit the tree at Deception Pass, be mindful how important these wonderful redcedars have been in our local history.

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Continuing on the Big Cedar Trail, I spotted a Star Gate disguised as a pair of Big-leaved Maples.

Pass Lake Loop Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Pass Lake Loop Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Pass Lake Loop Trail, Deception Pass State Park

One of the highlights of the west Pass Lake Loop is a large moss meadow surrounding the trail.  The meadow includes shrubs decorated with blue-green lichens.  Mosses are at their best after the rains start in the fall and in winter.

Pass Lake Loop Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Pileated Woodpeckers have been working diligently on this old Douglas Fir snag.  The decaying wood hosts a lot of goodies to eat.  Perhaps in time, this will become a Chickadee condominium.  Nothing goes to waste in a forest.

Directions:  From Interstate 5, take the Highway 20/Anacortes Exit 230 at Burlington.  Head west and cross the bridges onto Fidalgo Island.  Watch for the Deception Pass/Port Townsend Ferry intersection and go left (in a couple of years, this will be a traffic circle).  You will come to Pass Lake bordering the highway.  The parking lot is just off the highway on Rosario Road.  Bring your Discover Pass or purchase a day pass at the parking lot.