Deception Pass State Park: the Long and the Short of it…

Ten minutes from home, a spectacular bit of coastline and woodlands awaits. I knew about Deception Pass State Park before I moved here, but I had no idea of the variety of terrain this corner of the world encompasses. Now that I’ve lived here for four months, I’m beginning to understand the scope: whether taking the long view out across the water or peering in at the details, it seems the possibilities for discovery here are inexhaustible.

The 3,854-acre (1,560 ha) park straddles the ends of two large islands, and takes in many smaller islands too – some named, some just piles of rocks. Deception Pass boasts huge, ancient trees, stunning sunsets, a wave-tossed coastline, sheer cliffs, class 2 and 3 rapids under an engineering feat of a bridge, colorful underwater lifeforms, freshwater lakes, and a lot more.

Deception Pass was mapped by the Vancouver Expedition, in 1792.  Navigating the intricate ins and outs of the coastline here is difficult; rocks are everywhere, the water can be shallow, and currents can roil. It took a while before George Vancouver found the tight passage from the east side of what was then thought to be a peninsula, to the west side of it. After Vancouver sent Joseph Whidbey out in smaller boats to explore the area in depth, they realized that the peninsula is an island – actually two islands, Whidbey and Fidalgo. So Vancouver named the watery passageway “Deception Pass.”

Over a century later (in 1923), land on either side of the narrow pass was given to the state for a park.  Then in 1935, a breathtaking, 976-foot bridge span was completed, connecting Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands. The bridge passes high over the water and across rocky Pass Island, giving Whidbey Island better access to the mainland. These days, two million yearly visitors visit the park, arriving by road or approaching by water.  They camp, fish, boat, hike, dive, surf, gawk at the views and enjoy themselves, and parts of the park can get crowded on weekends, but quiet corners are easy to find.

I’ve put together a collection of photos I’ve taken in the park, at locations on Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands. These photos were made in the last two months, so the view is only of the park in autumn.  As I get to know Deception Pass better, I’ll be posting more images of it from various perspectives, in different kinds of light, and over the course of four seasons. I’m looking forward to exploring both the long and short of this exceptional landscape.

 

 

1. Rosario Beach in the fog

 

2. An immense Red cedar (Thuja plicata) shares air space with Douglas firs and Bigleaf maples.

 

 

 

 

4. Looking northeast from Deception Pass bridge. Drivers can park and walk across. With the rush of traffic behind you and breathtaking views ahead, it’s an experience!  In this photo, a fast incoming tide counteracted by strong westerly winds creates chaotic currents.

 

5. Here’s the bridge from underneath. Walk down a set of stairs, and you can hear traffic roaring  overhead, watch the water rushing through the channel far beneath you, and view an engineering wonder, right in front of you.

 

6. Goose Rock is a glacier-scratched bald where lichens cover the ground and an expansive view opens out towards the Pacific Ocean, over 90 miles away as the crow flies. Speaking of crows, you’re likely to see their relatives the ravens up here, riding high on the wind.

 

7. Reindeer lichen (Cladonia or Cladina, various species), also called reindeer moss. Here at Goose Rock, attractive lichen pillows are surrounded by a sea of moss.

 

 

 

9. Sword ferns decorate the trail to Goose Rock, and fallen trees, sawed apart to open the trail, support a lush nursery of mushrooms, mosses, licorice ferns and other plants.

 

10. This Douglas fir tree is purported to be over 850 years old; the photo shows just part of it. Unlike most Douglas firs, it’s not straight and tall, but has been twisted by centuries of difficult conditions on this site, hard by a windy beach on the Salish Sea.

 

11. Lucky kayaker! The waters around Rosario Beach are usually calm, and perfect for kayaking. A seal may show up, and I’ve seen Black oystercatchers, Great blue herons and gulls on the rocks.

 

12. A section of the Deception Pass bridge, seen from the Lighthouse Point trail on Fidalgo Island. Three kayakers are heading into Canoe Pass, the quieter, safer passage between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands. On the right is the steep-sided Pass Island.

 

13. A view of the bridge from North Beach on Whidbey Island.

 

14. A surfer in a wetsuit enjoys waves created by the stiff winds funneling down the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Along with an incoming tide, the wind produced enough action for some excellent rides on surf breaking over a rocky point, at North Beach. Remember, this is 90 miles from the coast!

 

 

 

16. Back in the woods, on a forest trail connecting Rosario Beach to Bowman Bay, Snowberries (Symphoricarpos albus) hang delicately from a twig. Growing readily in moist, shady places, these plants are a common sight in the park.

 

17. Lichens are everywhere at Deception Pass – hanging from trees, growing on rocks, on logs, and scattered over the ground after a windy rain. This one drips with rain, and is attached to a twig by a strand of spider silk. Scenes like this are missed by hikers in a hurry.

 

18. A common understory plant, the Red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) has branches that grow in a subtle zig-zag fashion, and small, oviod leaves held flat to absorb the light filtering down through the thick tree canopy.

 

19. Douglas fir trees cling to a sheer rock face at Lighthouse Point.

 

20. A view like this makes you glad this land was set aside as a park, and when a a curious seal pops its head out of the water and a pair of Bald eagles flies by, there’s no doubt about the value of habitat preservation.

 

 

 

22. Sunset over Rosario Beach rocks. On a very low tide you can walk out to the rocks and explore tide pools.  Look carefully and you’ll see a Great blue heron craning its neck out, to the right of the middle hump on the widest rock.

 

A few words about the photo groupings above:

#3 (between #2 and #4):  a) On an early November walk to Goose Rock, a bluff sitting high over the pass, I found this single leaf, hanging on after a storm.  b) The trail connecting Rosario Beach and Bowman Bay is set with many Madrone (Arbutus menziesii), trees. Some died long ago, possibly from fires, but they still stand, weathered and twisted. This section of a tree appealed to me for the gentle curve and smooth wood.

#8: a,b,c) Mushrooms are abundant, ever since our drought was broken by a series of rainy days – well, rainy weeks. These three photos were taken the same day, on the trail to Goose Rock. I won’t hazard a guess as to the identification of the mushrooms.

#15: People often pile the smooth rocks found on our beaches into cairns, and Rosario Beach is a good place for it. As you can see, there are plenty of nicely rounded rocks to pile up, if you have the patience. The photo of seaweed washed up on the beach was taken at North Beach, where the surfer (#14) was. I have a feeling that what washes up isn’t always as colorful as it was on that windy day, but I don’t know. I’ll have to go back again – and again – to find out. That will be my pleasure.

#21: Three “postcard” views around the park: a) Surf from a strong incoming tide splashes the rocky point between North and West Beaches, on the Whidbey Island side of the park. The land mass on the right is Deception Island, and like many of the smaller islands in the area, is uninhabited and can only be reached by boat.  b) This was taken on Big Cedar Trail, a trail winding through the forest to a ravine where the big Red cedar in #2 grows.  c) A late afternoon view from Lighthouse Point trail (there’s no lighthouse, just amazing scenery), taken with my phone.

***

 

Forgive me for making such a long post; I appreciate your patience. The images of Deception Pass were piling up! I hope you enjoyed these, and more than that, I hope you’ll come here some day. But don’t be deceived into thinking there aren’t equally wonderful views – long and short – in your neck of the woods. Fresh eyes will find them!

 

 

 

 


82 comments

    • Sorrrrry, there will be more. 🙂 You know, the move out here was a big one because both our families are all on the east coast; most of them in NY. We vacationed out here in October 2011, and Deception Pass was one of the places we saw, though just briefly. It made an impression, as did Rainier and the rain forest and the beaches out on the coast. We moved west less than 4 months after that vacation! So maybe think about a vacation, and the magic will happen. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks for showing me what I missed.
    Lynn… these are so beautiful and soulful that it made me think I was actually THERE, as in truly there. Thank you. Perhaps the misses are what put us back on track sometimes?
    #11 had me missing the kayak. All the rest put me in a world beyond words. (well, so did #11) 😀

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    • This is good, that you are able to experience the beauty, one way or another. I’m glad. You know, we almost did a kayak “experiment” this summer, but didn’t get around to it. Now I think we’ll wait til it warms up again. Kayakers do seem to have an enviable view of things from the water, and are able to get up close to all the nooks and crannies….

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      • I especially enjoyed the peace and tranquility that went with kayaking. Looks like you’re in a perfect place for it! Birds don’t seem to be as bothered with people in kayaks either. Makes catching them up closer possible. 🤗

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  2. Beautiful images and that Douglas fir…..twisting and turning, so close to the ground, is a fascinating subject in itself. I love the wide variety of subjects you photograph and include in the one post. They make me feel as though I am there on the ground walking with you.

    Looking forward to seeing more of this unique landscape through the seasons.

    Thanks for sharing, Lynn.

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    • Yes, that tree is powerful and I’m looking forward to seeing it again and again. The limbs are all over the place! I’m so glad you like the variety – I’ve always been partial to variety. 🙂 Thank you Vicki!

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  3. Wow, the black and white pictures are awesome! Actually I must begin with the number of pictures I don’t like, because that list would be shorter, but I am sorry, there are none 🙂 I like them all. The mushrooms are beautiful. The white ones are cute with their little heads. The lichen is wonderful, like soft cushions (these days I am taking them as candies against my cough, haha). The snowberries do they grow in your area naturally? The pictures of the bridge are great again – you know I like the lines and structures – and what a fantastic landscape!! I am sure there are a lot of things to discover for you for the next years. The stream looks very strong in your picture. Do you have high tides in your area? My favourite pictures are Nr. 18, 10, the mushrooms and the first 4 black and white ones, i.e. Nr. 3 and 4 (so poetic!). Nr. 18 reminds me of japanese style! Very very nice, Lynn. Thank you for this wonderful excursion 🙂

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    • It’s nice to know you like the black and whites – I did too but sometimes I’m not sure how well they fit into a post with mostly color photos. So I guess it’s OK. 🙂 I hope the lichen candy helps the cough….they are very soft when moist, and then when it’s dry (all summer long) they become brittle. Many people take the same photo of that bridge, but I think each one is a little different. Regarding the tides, they aren’t particularly high here but what happens at Deception Pass is that a lot of water has to suddenly flow through a very narrow place, so it gets crazy. Thanks so much, Almuth, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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      • I found the mixture of black and white fit very well! The “crazy water” looks very “heavy” or powerful. Maybe great for surfers 😉 It is late here. I will go to bed soon, yawn. Have a nice day!

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    • Yes, they’re usually so straight and tall – that one has been distorted for centuries and the limbs cross each other a lot – very unusual for that species. That foggy day at Rosario was really pretty, and I love the opportunity to photograph in fog, but some of the photos are so opaque you can hardly see a thing. I’m glad you were able to go back/come back. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, ti’s great to be so near all this beauty – and drama! Thanks for the link – that’s a nice drawing – it’s that mushroomy time of year, isn’t it? (I’m pleased you enjoyed the Red huckleberry photos, too, since they aren’t necessarily as easy to like as the scenic ones).

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s interesting you say eerie, becasue that is one of the qualities of this area (the Pacific northwest) in general. Some call it moody. The painters who developed the Pacific Northwest school a while back were known for a certain moodiness, the weather is certainly moody, the tall, dark trees, the dramatic seascapes – it does get under your skin. It’s not so cold actually, becasue all the water moderates temps, so it never has the extremes that NY does. Lately it’s been in the low 50’s, then 40’s at night. Now it’s getting a little colder, not much. But there’s a chill in the emotional atmosphere! 😉 Thanks so much, Lynn. You know, I enjoy your comments becasue they’re thoughtful, and they make me think.

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  4. I’m fascinated with #19. Those trees, seemingly growing out of the rock, is just gorgeous. And #5 reminds me of the Erector set I had as a kid (it was a hand-me-down from my older brother). A great shot!

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    • Oh, I have another photo like that, from another site nearby – if I don’t’ post it I’ll send it to you. I love the way trees grow on the sheer cliffs. Also amazing is how close one can get, and how easy it would be to fall off! Yes, #5 is just like an Erector set – my brother had one of course. That’s a shot loads of people do, but I like to think everyone’s comes out just a little differently.

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  5. Such beautiful photos! I’ve been over that bridge many many times, stopped to look at the view once or twice, but never explored the park. You have enticed me. We have friends with property on Whidbey so I know it pretty well.
    Alison

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      • Would love to get in touch next time we’re down (it will be in the summer). I just looked at the map. I had no idea that that long drive down to deception Pass was actually on Fidalgo Island!

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      • I’m not surprised – the drive onto the island isn’t at all inspiring and one just turns off until you’re almost at the bridge. But in fact, just off the highway, Fidalgo has plenty of rural land, and some amazing parks in addition to a big part of Deception Pass State park. The geography around here is complicated! Looking forward to meeting you!

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  6. Very nice (and informative) post. Great photos, as usual. The contortionist fir tree is my favorite of the bunch but that’s not discounting the others in the least.

    As for being a long post . . . forgive my involuntary chuckle; some of my long posts could fit five or six of these posts with room to spare.

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  7. Wonderful photos, Lynn. I really appreciate that you have labeled each picture to save scrolling up and down to read what each photo is. What a fabulous place to explore. I love that ancient Douglas fir, the cairns in a row, the snowberries, the Douglas fir trees clinging to the rock face, the ferns, mushrooms & reindeer lichen. Wonderful. 🙂

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  8. What a beautiful place you have found, you are so lucky! I like 1,2, 5, 18 and 22. Those that really get to me are 3 (not actually numbered) and 17; and I love those trees hanging onto the cliff in 19. Wonderful place! A 🙂

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    • Yes, we’re feeling lucky about finding a place up here. I’m pleased to hear you like the monochromes. And the trees on the cliff – I saw more on another (nearby) cliff a few days later, and I’ll post that one of these days. Those cliffs are serious! And guess what – I finally understood what you meant about “Olympus” coming up sometimes as a title. I thought I had deleted them all until I hovered my mouse over the images that are in multiple, in preview/live site view, and there was “Olympus!” I got rid of them and inserted real titles – check it out. Thank you for telling me, I’m just a bit slow getting ’round to doing something about it! 🙂

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  9. “Ten minutes from home” an incredible treasure-box, just wow.
    The nature album is incredible, as always, and my second favorite, #18 huckleberry really looks like it would be ringing chimes in a breeze.
    But I may have mentioned, I love bridges, and that glowing structure in #5 is so cool, right out of those space stations in the beginning of “2001 Space Odyssey,” that shot will probably give the engineers heart palpitations.

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    • It’s really a wonderful bridge, and it’s such a treat to be able to stand under it at one end like that. Everyone takes that photo! I bet you’ll see it if you google “Deception Pass bridge.” And it was a big engineering feat, but you’re better than I am about writing about that sort of thing, so why don’t you come on out and give it a go? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Deception Pass is one of my favorite places, and there are large sections of the park I haven’t seen yet. I’m looking forward to your future expositions – this one was a lovely start.

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    • Thank you, Dave, I know you’re familiar with the area. Where exactly did you dive recently? I read that the underwater life closer to the bridge is especially interesting, but there aren’t many times it’s safe enough to dive there because of the currents.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We mostly dive off of James Island. On a couple occasions we’ve done dives off of Deception Island (just past the mouth of the pass.) I’ve never done the dive under the bridge. As you mentioned, there’s usually only one time a year (typically in Feb) that it’s even feasable, and that has to be carefully timed.

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  11. A terrific post, Lynn. I’ve not had much time to view other people’s work in recent months, so I’ve missed a lot. You live in a superb location with so much variety. We skied in Whistler early this year and I loved the drive down the coast to Vancouver at the end of the week. My son has worked in Seattle and spent some time in Vancouver and is a huge fan of the area.

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    • I sounds like your son has been far, far away! I haven’t been up to Whistler and I’m not a skier, but one of these days I would like to see it. Thank you for taking the time to look and comment!

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  12. This may be the most spectacular set of photographs of yours that I’ve seen. I kept saying, “Oh, oh, oh” as I scrolled through them. I’ll just comment on a few. I love the feeling I get looking at “Deception Pass: Into the Woods.” I might be an ant out for a stroll (except I don’t think ants stroll) through the mushrooms. I love looking up the crest of the incline and the out-of-focus woods beyond. And the colors—the bluish side of green. . . . Congratulations on #14—to you and the surfer for both catching the action. . . . The lichen in #17 would have been interesting without the spider silk, but with it? Really really nice. And there are those blue-y greens again. . . . In #18 you show your mastery of bokeh again. Very nice. . . . You have a photograph that I can’t identify that I want to comment on, but I can’t figure out how to identify it. It has a white cloudy sky with some blue clouds toward the bottom and a very dark foreground that fills about two thirds of the frame on the left and six sevenths of the frame on the right. Trickling toward the viewer is a small stream. I like this photo a lot. I especially like how dark it is and how that little bit of water glistens. Maybe this is 21c. . . . I enjoy your sunset photo (#22) for its subtle (for a sunset) sky and its dramatic light on the water.

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    • The subject matter is very cooperative. 😉 I’m glad you enjoyed this. Maybe ants do stroll, when their work is done. No, I guess not. Anyway, thank god for articulating screens, right? That bluish side of green, or is it the greenish side of blue – is something I like too, and I see it in the water’s color sometimes, too, but not so often in the woods. You know I took quite a few of the surfers, and worked fro a while, before I got that photo. Nothing like “real” surfing waves, but it was still very surprising. I was there yesterday and it was calm as could be – no waves, no wind. Lichen photos are an ongoing challenge, technically – it’s dark in the woods these days! Re the photos between #20 & #22, if you click on them and hover, a title should come up. The one on the right was taken with a phone; I think you’re talking about that one. The “stream” is a place where tidal water flows in over the rocks. The phone doesn’t pick up on subtleties well but has such a wide angle. If I don’t have a wide ablge lens with me, I use the phone and hope. 😉 Thank you, Linda, this would be a poorer place without you.

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  13. I’m suffering from a head cold today, and it was such a delight to have this gorgeously depicted and well described walk through one of my favorite parks as a vicarious treat. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more beautiful photo of a red huckleberry bush! I especially like to visit the dunes area of the park because it’s so different than most other WA parks – for those of us who live in the area. But it’s tough to beat the dramatic views of the waves and the vistas from the bridge.

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    • It’s good to hear from you, Sheri! I’m sure you can understand the move from Kirkland to Fidalgo Island. So glad you like the Red huckleberry photo – I’ve come to really like coming across those little guys in the forest – the zig-zag twigs and branches, the little red berries, the simple leaves. But they’re easy to overlook. I agree about the dunes, which I only found out about a week ago! I can see there are some wildflowers that grow in them so i can’t wait to see what happens in Spring. Take care and feel better!

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    • That’s great to hear Penny, thank you. It’s taken several years to get used to how different the landscape is here from the eastern US, where I lived all my life, until 2012. It means a lot when someone who’s familiar with this landscape appreciates the work. 🙂

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    • I’m surprised! It’s not such a long trip from Seattle, and totally worth the drive. You can (obviously, I guess) take the ferry to Whidbey and drive up, or just take I-5 up, and then take Rt. 20E, and follow it to the pass. Seems like a long way around but that might be faster than driving the length of Whidbey. You need a Discover Pass if you park your car, but if you don’t have one, you can get a day pass at two of the lots, for $10. The bridge, the beach and Rosario are 3 places I’d recommend and you could see them all the same day, they’re so close together. I would love to see what you would do with the bridge, and I know you’d get some good photos of the people, as well as the landscape.

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