Local Walks: Goose Rock

The place is called Goose Rock but it doesn’t seem to have any geese. It isn’t shaped like a goose as far as I can see either, so the name for this bald hill at the tip of Whidbey Island is a puzzle. The park surrounding it (Deception Pass) has a name that’s easier to track down. It was called Deception Pass by a British explorer after he realized that the peninsula he was navigating around was actually an island, separated from another island by a narrow and treacherous channel.

Up on Goose Rock, where a broad expanse of sky and water spreads out beneath me, the names of places don’t seem to matter, but bear with me – the story of Deception Pass is a good one.

1. Ice sheets scarred these rocks 11,000 years ago and rain left puddles on them just hours ago. The weathering of these gently rounded hulks of rock doesn’t ever stop. November 2018.

In June of 1792 British naval Captain George Vancouver was anchored at the southern end of what is now known as Whidbey Island. He had left England the year before, calling at Cape Town, Australia and Hawaii on his way to Nootka Sound on present-day Vancouver Island, Canada, where he was to take possession of land seized by the Spanish a few years before. Vancouver also carried orders to prepare the way for British settlement in certain key locations. Of course, the land in question had already been inhabited for thousands of years by non-Europeans. But that’s another story, perhaps one to consider as your gaze follows the lichen and moss-covered rocks down to the thick forest below, now sliced by a busy road that winds towards a U.S. Naval Air Force base.

2. Traffic on Route 20 can be seen in the distance but it’s mostly quiet up here, except when the Navy Growlers are flying. June 2018.

But back to how Deception Pass got its name. An important part of Vancouver’s mission was charting. To this end, on the June day in question the captain sent a few smaller boats out to explore a stretch of coves and bays north of the mother ship. The Pacific northwest coast was daunting to most of the men. Legions of dark evergreens edge intricately crooked shorelines that are often foggy and gloomy, even in June. The Coast Salish tribes-people were used to navigating these waters, but to Vancouver’s men each rocky promontory and every small cove was new, so we can forgive Joseph Whidbey and his crew for not going quite far enough that day. Whidbey didn’t realize that just a few more miles of exploring would have brought him to a narrow passageway. If the tides had been favorable he could have steered west between towering cliffs and emerged on the other side of the “peninsula.” That would have allowed the men to turn south and circumnavigate the island, joining the HMS Discovery back where it was anchored. But shallow water in an area just short of the pass convinced the men to call it a day, turn around and head back to the ship.

3. Racing currents explode through the pass when a large volume of water is sucked through the narrow channel by the tide. This is the pass Whidbey missed the first time. November 2018.

The mistake was corrected quickly enough when the ship made its way north a day or so later. Now they could see a “very narrow and intricate channel, which…abounded with rocks above and beneath the surface of the water.” Vancouver called the channel “Deception Pass” and the name stuck.

European settlers began arriving on Whidbey Island after 1850. They fished and logged and farmed, and the population grew, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1935 that a bridge was completed across the channel, finally connecting Whidbey to the mainland. You can see why that was not an easy task.

4. One span of the two-span bridge seen from Lighthouse Point on Fidalgo Island. It looks like the two islands are connected, but they’re not – the channel curves around the rocks and continues through to the other side. September 2018.

5. The other span seen from across the water at North Beach on Whidbey Island. Between the spans is rocky Pass Island, on the left here and on the right in #4. March 2019.

6. Under the bridge. June 2019.

The bridge that allows islanders easy access to the mainland also connects two sections of a popular park located on Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands (as well as a number of smaller islands nearby). Deception Pass State Park has been here since the 1920’s, expanding over the years to include 3,854 acres (1,560 ha) of varied terrain. You can watch the sunset from a beach with views of the Olympic Mountains, the San Juan Islands, and Canada. You can camp in the forest, kayak, scuba dive, paddleboard, boat, fish, or just wander miles of trails in quiet forests.

I like to follow the Goose Rock perimeter trail for about half a mile before turning away from the turquoise waters of the channel to climb through the forest on a less-traveled spur trail. A favorite sight along this path is a large Redcedar tree that toppled some time ago. I would have liked to have heard that!

7. Lush forest along the Goose Rock perimeter trail. December 2018.

8. Red huckleberry leaves persist on bushes scattered throughout the forest. November 2018.

9. Snow on the trail is unusual. February 2019.

10. Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) is plentiful. December 2018.

11. The Fallen One. August 2019.
12. Another view. August 2019.

13. The bark of an old Douglas fir tree is adorned with lichens, spider webs, fallen needles and other bits of life. August 2019.

14. Leathery new leaves of Salal (Gaultheria shallon) emerge bright green in spring, later darkening to a deep forest green. June 2019.

Out of the woods and onto the rock. At about 494 feet the summit isn’t exactly vertiginous, but it’s the highest point on Whidbey Island and it offers a fine view. Sprawling glacier-scraped rocks are softened with lichens and moss, and criss-crossed by worn dirt paths. A smattering of well-weathered trees adds to the wild feeling. In spring, a parade of tiny wildflowers and intricate grasses springs to life, only to dry out and disappear by mid-summer. On any day the view of islands, water and sky pleases the soul.

15. On an autumn evening, sunlight shimmers through storm clouds over the Salish Sea. September 2018.

16. Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.) and various mosses decorate the rocks in shades of green all year long. November 2018.

17. Pale blue-green reindeer lichen settles like clouds in a bed of moss and Kinnikinnick, or Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). November 2018.

18. Windy days and nights on Goose Rock scatter twigs on the ground. November 2018.

19. Even before summer has officially begun the grasses are drying up on the exposed rocks. June 2019.

20. Low fencing steers visitors off of delicate wildflower meadows. June 2019.

21. – 25. Wildflowers: Naked Broomrape (Orobanche uniflora), Harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria), Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum), Common camas (Camas (Camassia quamash), Twinflower (Linnaea borealis).

26. – 30. More wildflowers and a berry: Chocolate lily (Fritillaria lanceolata), Nodding onion (Allium cernuum), Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), Fool’s onion (Brodiaea hyacintha) (two views).

31. Roots and moss make drawings on the rocks. February 2019.

32. Goose Rock gathers enough moisture for lichens to grow luxuriously on trees as well as rocks. June 2019.

33. A late afternoon view through the evergreens reveals the calm waters of a slack tide in the channel. December 2018.

34. The winter dance of the Red Huckleberry. February 2019.

35. Snow melts quickly, sending water drops down the fine twigs of bushes and trees, to nourish myriad life forms. February 2019.

I’ve been exploring the trails of Deception Pass for over a year now, and Goose Rock is a place I return to again and again. The views from the top have an immediate effect of extracting any tension you might still have after climbing through the quiet, lush forest. The trail is very accessible, beginning just under the Deception Pass bridge, so in summer and on nice weekends there’s company, but it rarely gets crowded. Maybe you …


71 comments

  1. Thanks for answerin’ the anserine question raised by the Goose Rock in your title, even if there really isn’t an answer.

    Did you know that the word licorice is an altered form of the glycyrrhiza that serves as a species name? That’s an appropriate word history to accompany your history of Deception Island: https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=licorice.

    The light on the salal made for a charming picture of that shrub.

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    • I knew the Latin for licorice fern and assumed there was a connection to the word licorice…the taste isn’t very strong, but it’s there, in the root, if you pull a little off of a tree or rock and chew. Glad you liked the salal, Steve. It is such a ubiquitous plant here and is very easy to ignore. We have to give the unsung plants some attention, right?

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    • Thank you very much, and thanks for letting me know you were here and enjoyed the post. It really is, and this is just one small corner of it. Other spots are very different – and I’ll be doing more “Local Walks” here so I hope you stay tuned. πŸ˜‰

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  2. Many beautiful sights! I love the bridge, the tiny wildflowers (their tenderness is appealing!) and the moss and lichen, that build a kind of colorful and funny carpet πŸ˜‰ I would like to touch it or lay down and take a nap, haha. The Fools onion remind me of our Triteleia peduncularis which is blue. I have planted the bulbs under the tree. Oh, I see that they belong to the same family, no wonder! I like them very much. They are so unusual aren’t they?

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    • I was amazed that people were careful enough to stay off the wildflower meadows because there are runners up there sometimes, but they seem to stick to the paths. πŸ™‚ The reindeer moss (Cladonia species) is very happy up there – if you touch it on a dry day it’s hard and brittle, but on a wet day it’s soft, soft, soft. And it has an interesting smell. Did you know that they use this moss as bushes and trees in model railroads? They used to sell bags of it to put on the edge of your little railroad scene. My brother had a big model railroad in the basement and to this day, the smell of that moss reminds me of childhood. http://idtools.org/id/dried_botanical/factsheet.php?name=Cladonia+spp.
      I think the Triteleia peduncularis must be related to the onions – there are several of them up there. Lots of lily family plants on Goose Rock, I wonder why. I bet there is a good reason. Good to hear from you!!

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      • Ah, the soft moss, I really love it!! Yes I knew about it because I used it too in my childhood. I had a model railroad too πŸ™‚ My parents built one for me (my brother had a big one, of course πŸ˜‰ and I did the details with model houses and “plants” out of this moss. But I am not sure about the smell today. It has been a long time since I held it in my hands. But it is fascinating when it gets soaking wet, how fast it expands (do you say so?)! Here it is called Iceland moss by the way (Cetraria islandica). There is medicine out of this moss. What is absolutely fascinating for me is that other green mosses are antibacterial and were used as a medicine for wounds in the old times! Such little miracle-plants πŸ™‚ – Interesting that the flowers grow so well up there. There are always areas with micro climate. I love this flower and I want to plant more, but it must be nicer to see them growing wild!

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      • You knew about the moss used in model railroads – that’s cool. I can imagine you putting together the scenery. How fast it expands, yes, that’s exactly the right usage. Maybe the Iceland moss – the Cetraria – has a different smell. I’ve heard about the anti-bacterial use. The flowers love it, even though the soil is thin. I think the rock gathers moisture from all the nearby water (like mists on top) and of course it’s exposed there so there’s plenty of sun for flowers. It’s such ao contrast, going from the dim woods out to the open rocks.

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  3. Such a lot of great information from the history of your new home! You’re a walking lexicon, it seems – but no, your lyrics do not sound dry enough. They sing, with all information, of your curiosity and your enthusiasm for new, old knowledge and of your joy over the beauties of your environment.
    You also show them in your pictures. There are so many amazing landscape shots with so much space and depth (and water ☺!) on one side, and on the other side such adorable little, intimate plants.
    Remarkable I find the powerful bridge construction in the middle: on the one hand a technical foreign body in this landscape, on the other hand so perfectly inserted, also fit in by you photographically in symmetry and light. A great picture, and finally not the omnipresent Brooklyn Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge!
    It’s always such a pleasure to follow you on your walks, dear Lynn.

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    • What you describe is what I try to do (to convey information with enthusiasm, etc.), but I feel that I fall short, so it’s gratifying to read your words. I like the way you describe the view scene too – the tiny, intimate details up close versus the huge expanses of space – that’s exactly it, and that’s probably one of the reasons I like this place so much. As for the bridge – you have to walk under it to get to the trail from the parking lot because it’s not safe to cross the street. It’s a treat to get to walk under a bridge like that. Lots of people take that picture! πŸ˜‰
      Thank you Ule!

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  4. I love this post and especially the story of the namig of Deception Pass — because I have skied Alberta’s Deception Pass! It is part of the ski-in/out trail that links Skoki Ski Lodge with the outside world, and bears its name because it seems never to end — you think you’re cresting its summit, and, NO, you see a higher ridge still before you. I imagine the world is full of Deception Passes, each with its theme story…

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  5. Hi there; fine post with excellent shots, as always Lynn. I like the symmetry in nr6; it celebrates the construction in an essential composition with lines. (I hate shots where symmetry is achieved by mirroring over the central axe..). Nr31, well composed and great light from the left. Nr34 has a great ‘nervous’ bokeh. Say hi to Joe and have a nice weekend.

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    • It’s funny how the symmetry of that bridge isn’t exact – I always wonder about that… And the “nervous bokeh” – I have this one lens (45mm f1.8 for the MFT Olympus) and for some reason, more than any other lens, that one is good for that, and I’ve noticed it seems to work best in winter – I guess because the light is softer. Thank you Harrie…Joe says “Hi!” back at you. In an hour we’ll be on the road again, heading south for a week along the Oregon and northern California coast. We’ll wave to the Pacific for you. πŸ™‚

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    • It was kind of an overload of images this time but what the heck. Those Brits, they left their marks! You & Harrie like the root – I love photographing the ground – and the little huckleberry leaves. And the grasses, glad you zeroed in on that one, good to hear. Thanks so much, Adrian, enjoy your weekend! πŸ™‚

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  6. Hi Lynn, Loved reading the history of Whidbey…was there once years ago. So beautiful. Your images celebrate it so well. Your close-ups are beautifully composed – 21-25, the two “fallen shots”, love the B&W with the crossed fencing, the perimeter trail is gorgeous, the storm on Salish dramatic, love the lichen landscape and the underbelly of the bridge. Your eye always finds beauty! Great post.

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    • I had way too many photos this time! I’m glad you noticed the BW with the fence – I like that one. Thank you very much for the detailed comment. We’re a little closer to SF than usual this week – in Ferndale, Humboldt County. Saw my first Long-billed Curlew today. I have wanted to see one for about 50 years ☺️. And oh, the ocean is so vast and deserted up here! Thank you Jane!

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  7. Another excellent set of images, Lynn. Like Harri, I immediately fixed on the symmetry of #6, a wonderful shot. But I will pick #26 and #28 as my favorites. The simplicity is so appealing to me. Well done.

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  8. Even from the more open channel side of the pass – the one with the ripping current, the view from the ocean is still a little deceptive if you’re a little way out to sea. The forests on the hills off in the distance as you go through the pass blend in with those on the pass itself. Deception Island helps to spot the pass coming in from ocean-side.

    You’ve covered a lot of turf in the time you’ve been there, you must get out frequently – much to our mutual advantage.

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    • I bet it can be hard to see from the West too. Maybe the ship was pretty close in when they headed north. How different it was then! But in some places, not different at all, and I’m sure you have seen some of those well-preserved places. I do get out often, and Deception Pass is close, and irresistible. πŸ‘£

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  9. Beautiful photos Lynn, of an area I’ve passed through many times, only occasionally stopping. The south end of Whidbey is my perennial exploration spot, and I suspect it’s not so different. Love the under the bridge shot.
    Alison

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  10. Another beautiful tour that I also followed through Google Maps to better understand the location of the mentioned sites and associated history.
    It is undoubtedly a beautiful walk to go at any time of the year, as the photos reveal.
    I especially like the magic of photo 7!
    Thank you for sharing and I wish you a good week!

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    • I am so impressed that you looked this up on Google maps. As you can see, the geography is complicated, and I always think it’s very hard to convey that.
      You’re right about the walk being delightful any time of year – with the exception of times when it gets crowded, but it’s easy to avoid those. #7 is very typical of many first paths nearby. Lush! Thanks for your time, I appreciate it.

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    • It’s funny, I once was a volunteer at the New York Botanical Garden for tours and Denise, I hated it. Later I worked there as a gardener and was happier. But I very much enjoy the idea of taking people on a walk this way, and that’s the impression you got, so that’s good to hear! πŸ˜‰ Thanks for singing out a free favorites too, it’s always good to know what appeals to another nature photographer.

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  11. Thanks for showing me what all I missed! I could have done without the mention or reminder of the growlers! πŸ˜€

    It’s a delightful piece of heaven you’ve landed in up there! So delightful to see you immersing in and enjoying it!

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    • The growlers. We hadn’t heard them much at all this summer but lately they seem to be active again. It never lasts for long, but if you’re near them it’s painful. Sorry to bring back the memory of a hard night! But it is an extraordinary beautiful place, Deception Pass, and this is just one small corner of it. I will be posting local walks at other sections of the park too. Thank you Gunta! (Good weather here, saw a rainbow, and good birds at the refuge today).

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    • It IS pretty enchanting around here. πŸ™‚ Reindeer lichen is close to my heart. The name can apply to several closely related species of lichen that are eaten by reindeer, but here, I don’t think anything eats the lichen. It grows very slowly, is soft when moist but very brittle when dry, so it’s easily damaged by errant feet. It has a wonderful aroma when wet. Thank you for commenting! Sorry for the late reply – I was away.Sorry for

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  12. I still have trouble taking your posts in at one sitting — I begin to wear out after a few photos, and have to come back multiple times to pick it all up again. That said, your world is so entrancing, and your ability to capture it so apparently limitless, it’s always worth the effort.

    However! There’s one photo that I especially liked this time, and strangely enough it’s not of the natural world. When I saw the bridge in #6, I thought immediately of Thorncrown Chapel in northwest Arkansas, which is all glass and steel. Sometimes, even architectural can be lyrical, and the bridge and chapel surely are. I enjoyed #3, as well. I tire of muddy water from time to time, and it’s always a pleasure to see the color and clarity of other kinds of rivers and streams.

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    • This post was very photo-heavy! I struggle with that, and usually try to edit down but as you know by now, that only works up to a point. πŸ˜‰ I really appreciate that you come back to a post – I know there’s a lot out there to look at!
      The bridge structure is very cool to see, and it’s so accessible – the two-lane highway linking Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands to the mainland passes over the bridge, and there’s a quick pull-off parking lot right there. All you do is walk down some steps and there it is. I’m all for lyrical architecture!
      The water through the pass is always turquoise, I believe from silt from glaciers that empty out in nearby river estuaries. When we came here for the first time from NYC, we were awe-struck by the clarity and cleanliness of the water. It’s almost always moving fast (unlike many places in the south) and originates in high, pure places. I have to say, Washington residents are very respectful of the environment, and that plays a role in keeping the water clear. I’ve been away, so sorry for the late reply, and I hope you’re not stuck with flood problems right now….

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      • I’m always late — late replies or none never are a problem for me. No flooding problems for me, except some roads I often travel were impassable for a time: one still is. I’m hoping to get out and about a bit this weekend to see what’s happening with the natural world.

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  13. such a beautiful collection again Lynn…snow on the trail…and I agree I can revisit and learn more each time I see your posts…the bridge is very cool perspective…have a wonderful day dear Lynn…many smiles hedy πŸ˜„πŸ™‚πŸ™ƒ

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  14. As always, a great tour, Lynn. It borders on, or maybe crosses into, sensory overload with so much to see. Such a wonderful place to visit.

    The story of the sailors turning around just short of their goal reminded me of so many times we give up and find out that just a little further was our goal. It also reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where they wait and wait for their turn to come up at the Chinese restaurant before finally giving up. As the door closes behind them, the host calls out Seinfeld. πŸ™‚

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    • That’s a good point, Steve. I just read a story in the NY Times about a couple who lost their dog, a border collie, while traveling in Montana. They looked for 57 days, and with all that grit and determination, they found their pet. Sweet. I know this post was really photo-heavy – yes, sensory overload! πŸ™‚ Thanks for staying with it!

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  15. It is a beautiful bridge, isn’t it? I stood on the mainland side of Deception Pass a few years ago, thinking that was all there was. The tours you take us on make me really want to get back and see what you see. It is beautiful and I drink in every single image you share.

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    • Yes, it’s a really cool bridge – and it’s so far above the water! They’re painting it now, what a project. I was back up on Goose Rock yesterday and saw a flock of Snow Geese way up high, late afternoon sun blushing their bellies and black wingtips slicing the sky. Two mature Bald eagles soared beneath us, which is always nice to see, and then flapped out of the soar to fly just overhead and land in a nearby tree. Of course, I didn’t have a zoom lens handy! But the experience was enough. πŸ™‚ Hopefully, you’ll get back out here someday, and until then I’m glad you enjoy the photographs.

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