In last week’s post I wrote about the old ship La Merced, now used as an unconventional breakwater for a shipyard on Fidalgo Island. We went to Fidalgo that day because I read about a fine park with expansive water views and easy trails. It sounded perfect for a day trip. We’d been to Fidalgo and Anacortes before but we hadn’t seen the northwest corner of the island.
To thoroughly explore Puget Sound’s islands you should travel by water, but a lot can be seen by bridge and ferry, too. The region’s complex geography is a stew of wavy-edged shorelines, steep hills, hundreds of islands, deep basins, mountain watersheds and rich estuaries. That means there are endless nooks and crannies to explore. I’ve learned that whether I’m on Whidbey, Vashon, Bainbridge, Camano, Samish, or Fidalgo, each island has a unique atmosphere, and in spite of dozens of trips to different islands in the Sound, I’m barely familiar with them. Every time I browse a book, pour over a map or search online, I find more places to explore.
Washington Park sits on a modest-sized peninsula with tranquil views of the sound and surrounding islands. A one-way road traces the park’s edge; along the road are pull-outs for picnicking and walking along rocky beaches or through the woods.
The day we went to Fidalgo Island, a misty, intermittent rain kept the views from being picture postcard perfect, but the mist was welcome after two months of dry, sere days. I was in a relaxed, open mood as I traipsed around a rocky beach. Smooth, colorful stones clattered underfoot like weighty marbles. Seaweed, shells and driftwood invited scrutiny. The last little Gumplant flower glowed yellow among withered brown stems. Song sparrows flitted in and out of the underbrush, gulls cried and cormorants plied the water for fish. Roots and rose hips dangled over the cliffs, weaving delicate patterns on the glacial till. A ferry dissolved into the horizonless gray mist, bound for the San Juan Islands.
I pulled my hood up and tucked my weather-resistant camera under my sweatshirt between shots, taking pictures quickly, then retreating under trees. I was getting wetter by the minute.
A towering, long-dead Douglas fir perched at the edge of the eroding cliff and leaned precariously over the beach. Across the bay kids scampered on the rocks, oblivious to the rain. My feet were soaked through. It felt good.
We continued along the road at the prescribed 10 mph speed limit, passing campers and people out for a walk. At the last pull-out, an ancient, twisted tree raised one steadfast, leafy branch above a grand view. Across the pass, thickly forested Burrows Island rose darkly from the cold water. A whale watching boat skidded back to port. Did they see the resident pod of Orcas? Probably, but from my vantage point, only boats and gulls broke the water’s calm surface. To my left, Whidbey Island lurked in the mist, and sixty miles south, Seattle sprawled a cacophony of metal and glass across another patch of land at the the water’s edge.
I noticed a path leading down into a grove of Madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii). The madrone is one of my new favorites since moving west, with its smooth, brilliantly colored, peeling bark and curvy limbs. At my feet, Reindeer moss (really a lichen, Cladina portentosa) formed puffy clouds of the softest pale green, pierced by sharp grasses. I picked my way carefully across the wet earth, drinking in the color.
The rain was picking up so we drove into town to Pelican Bay Books to dry off and warm up with an espresso. The bookstore, with its first-rate selection of new and used books, wood-burning stove, worn leather sofas, custom wood shelving and carefully crafted espresso bar, deserves a post of its own. But take my word for it – if you’re anywhere near Anacortes it’s worth a trip.
Enamored by Washington Park’s beauty and the old ship in Anacortes, we decided to return as soon as we could. Three days later we were back on Fidalgo island exploring another beautiful park (and returning to the bookstore!). More about that in another post.