In 1977 a Fidalgo Island resident named Kathleen Sharpe deeded a choice parcel of land to the county, to be used as a park in memory of her husband and his father. Irish-born Thomas Sharpe had arrived on the island about a hundred years earlier, establishing a farm and orchard. The 1870’s may not sound like long ago in historical terms, but Sharpe was one of the early permanent white settlers on Fidalgo Island. He and his family must have relished the peaceful views from their homestead.
Sharpe Park doesn’t impress with size but its beauty is undeniable. Set along rugged cliffs at the island’s western edge with spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains and San Juan Islands, this is the kind of place that is normally dotted with private homes. Instead, it’s a county park where anyone can enjoy the views free of charge. The park maintains a low profile; only a discrete sign at a small parking lot on a quiet road identifies it. Additional land was added to the park in 2003, thanks to the efforts of the San Juan Preservation Trust and funds from private, state and county sources. That cooperation dedicated to a mutually valued goal produced a gem of a park.
We used to drive up to Fidalgo Island to enjoy the scenery when we lived near Seattle. It was on one of those trips in the fall of 2017 that we discovered Sharpe Park. We followed winding, root-studded trails past a wetland and drifted through a moist, evergreen forest before arriving at Sare’s Head, the high bluff overlooking Rosario Strait. The expansive view took our breath away. Standing on that bluff with the silver water spread out far below, your mind-chatter fades away as everything quiets.
Since moving to Fidalgo Island, this park has become one of my favorite places to wander and relax. The trail system has easy, moderate and challenging sections as it follows the twists and turns of the shoreline. There’s a simple bench on the bluff and another on a second bluff to the east, making perfect spots for picnics. Walking through the peaceful forest, catching those first glints of blue through the trees and emerging on a bluff overlooking the water 400 feet below is always a treat.
The seasons roll forward revealing a parade of discoveries: dried cattails reflected in the dark waters of winter, a tiny native orchid penetrating the leaf litter in July, stripes of fire damage in the bark of a Madrone tree, and a suite of pretty Camas flowers lighting up the ground in a clearing. In March a friend and I watched a Bald eagle attempt to land on a branch that was too small. It tipped over and tried to right itself by spreading its wings. It was unsuccessful. We couldn’t help laughing as the eagle went to find a better lookout. There are supposed to be Harbor porpoises off Sares Head but I haven’t seen them there. That’s reason enough to keep coming back.
These photos are a celebration of tafoni* and accompanying formations in the rock at Larrabee State Park, along with two vistas so you can see the context. And there are children enjoying their finds before returning them to the water, and two intertidal denizens called Purple sea stars.
Tafoni – in Sicilian it means windows (or so I read in Wikipedia). And in Corsica, taffoni (with two “f’s”) also means windows (says Wiki). The tafoni we’re talking about could be related to a Greek word for tomb, taphos but in any case, the window/tombs I’m thinking about are sensuously sculpted holes in rock. Tafoni is a term geologists use for certain the intricate patterns that occur in rocks from complex weathering processes.
This phenomenon can be found in the desert and at the shore, and the shore is where these photographs were made, at Larrabee State Park in northwestern Washington.
Larrabee was Washington’s first state park, thanks to a wealthy family who donated some beautiful waterfront acreage to the state over a hundred years ago. Primarily a rocky stretch of saltwater coast, the park also includes the west side of Chuckanut Mountain. The cliffs there are very steep: last year a man died in a fall from the rocks, and a couple was injured in another fall this year. The narrow, winding road that passes through Larrabee is full of blind curves and marvelous scenic views which you can enjoy as long as you remember to pay attention to where your tires are. After arriving at Larrabee I like to cross under the railroad tracks and follow the easier paths along the shoreline. The rocky beach is great to explore at low tide when tidepools reveal all sorts of creatures.
Maybe because they’re more dependable than sea life, the rock formations are the big draw for me. Whether the rocks are towering over the shoreline or defining it, the 57-million-year-old sandstone displays many fascinating forms. You can’t help but wonder how the tafoni and the smooth, svelte curves came about. The process of honeycomb weathering (those Swiss cheesy holes in the rocks) is fairly complex. It begins with the process of physical weathering, a loosening of the structure of the rock caused by a tree root, freeze and thaw cycles, the action of wind, acid rain…a myriad of forces that work on rocks to alter their shape. At Larrabee the rock is quite permeable. It’s subject to salt from ocean water, carried from many miles away by the tides and storms. Salt water splashes on the rocks, leaving salt crystals between grains of rock as it dries. The salt crystals grow, pushing grains of rock aside, a process that happens readily because sandstone here is quite porous. Certain minerals in the sandstone are more susceptible to salt crystallization than others and once a pit begins it can increase its size more quickly than the surrounding rock, so weathering can be very uneven.
Add to this the effect of algae growing on the surface of the rocks. Where algae grows, the rock absorbs water much more slowly so weathering is retarded. In places without algae the rock is eaten away faster, expanding into a hole. There is controversy about the exact science here and frankly, this is as much detail as I can absorb! If you’re interested, Dave Tucker at Northwest Geology Field Trips points to further discussions of tafoni in a blog entry here.
Better yet, visit this little stretch of shoreline and admire the rocks in person. Run your hand along the surface – it may look smooth but it’s not; the grains are large and rough, providing nice handholds if you want to scramble. Or locate a place close to you where honeycomb weathering can be found. Altdahn Castle in the Palatinate Forest of Germany, Mt. Wellington in Tamania, and Arches NP in the US are some examples, and here’s a map of the world with tafoni locations. Check it out. And bring your camera.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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 …
Through fields, down old railroad tracks and along the edges, where June makes and keeps a million promises.
Bees, wasps, ladybugs – insects are busy everywhere.
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Grasses are laden with flowers that few people see, but look closely – there’s another world there. Above us, the Cottonwood trees have gone to seed, launching a heavenly mist of cottonwood snow that collects in everywhere nook and cranny.
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The late afternoon sun shines on foxglove flower spikes, and makes shadow play from the stamens and pistils inside each flower – amazing! Horsetails have grown as tall as we are and these primitive plants are radiant in the bright light of a late spring day.
On days like this, it seems the weather changes as often as the road curves.
Animal life is everywhere – rabbits bound into the bushes, mother ducks herd their ducklings (fewer every day, as the eagles take their share), young, curious deer wander about, turtles bask in the sun, and look, there’s even a river otter – or is it a beaver? – munching on marsh plants. Speaking of beavers, that lodge is getting bigger again.
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Wildflowers are blooming and going to seed faster than we can track. Sheer heaven it is, sheer heaven!
Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) flowers grow tall and straight along the railroad tracks in Woodinville, Washington.
This close-up may be a little out of focus, but it captures the spirit as a fat bumblebee heads towards another drink at the foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) fountain.
a.) A wasp (?) on a daisy b.) Two Pacific forktail (Ischnura cervula) damselflies on Himalayan blackberry.. The Pacific forktail is a common, widespread species here, found from early March through November. The Himalayan blackberry was brought here for fruit years ago and isn’t from the Himalaya, it’s from Armenia and northern Iran – and now it’s a ubiquitous, difficult to control weed in the Pacific northwest. c.) Here’s some “foam” from Spittlebugs, probably the Meadow spittlebug, which overwinters as eggs that hatch into nymphs the spring. Nymphs exude the foam to protect them from predators while they feed. In most cases, not too much damage is done to the plants. d.) Nothing like a ladybug to brighten the day! This one’s an Asian multicolored ladybeetle (Harmonia axyridis), yet another introduction, brought over to control aphids. So far these little guys have not become invasive, as far as I know.
An unidentified grass in full flower. If you get a chance to peer closely at a blooming grass, do it and you may be amazed!
a.) Cottonwood seeds have fallen onto a fern frond. Female Cottonwood trees bear the seed catkins. An individual seed, little more than a ball of fluff with a tiny dark center, can travel for miles. I’ve watched young ducklings nibble them off the water’s surface, too. b.) Cottonwood fluff collects in the grass on a city street.
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is another common plant here that isn’t native. The beautiful flowers are from Europe. but have naturalized here and are often seen along roadsides and railroad tracks.
Field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) can be noxious weeds, but their radial symmetry is quite beautiful, and en masse they make pleasing patterns for the photographer – not the gardener though! They are found all over the Northern Hemisphere and have been put to many uses, from polishing tool to medicine and food.
On the road in the Snoqualmie Valley, an agricultural area just east of Seattle.
A well-tended horse farm – excuse me, private dressage facility – in the Snoqualmie Valley. Called River Run Ranch, it was on the market for $9.9 million a few years ago. The view here includes snow-capped peaks and rounded blue foothills of the Central Cascade Range, and it’s only about 20 miles from Seattle.
a.) Two young deer, a doe and a buck, are curious about me, but at the last minute they decide to circle around, leaving about twelve feet between us. b.) River otter or beaver – I’m not sure which. Both live in Lake Washington, where this poor photo was taken by an over-exited person – me. c.) A prosperous looking beaver lodge in the Sammamish River at Marymoor Park.
There she is, sweet thing, keeping a wary eye out. Heading towards the winery.
A Great Blue heron watches for morsels at a shallow bay of Lake Washington.
Nymphaea odorata, the American pond lily, will soon send up flower stems, but I think the leaves are beautiful too. What a striking composition they make with the tall, slender stems of cattails.
The pretty little Herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum) is a common sight around here. Apparently this flower is native to Europe AND North America, at least eastern North America. Taken with the Takumar 50mm lens (see #20).
This fun plant is called Manroot (Marah oreganus). It’s a sprawling, fast-growing, large-leaved wild vine that often bears delicate white flowers and these “cucumbers” (which are not edible) at the same time. A native plant, it has been pout to many medicinal uses.
The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) needs no introduction to west coast gardeners. The California state flower, this drought-tolerant poppy isn’t what you would expect to see in the rain-soaked Pacific northwest, but we are dry all summer, so the poppy manages pretty well. Taken using an Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens.
This lovely wild shrub rose, the Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana ) grows throughout the west. Bees, butterflies, birds, mammals – many wild beings depend on it as a food and shelter source. For me, the beauty is enough.
Again, look up! Unless it’s pouring rain, it’s almost always a good thing to do.
Another native plant, this is probably the Meadow lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus. There are many lupines in the American west, and they’re hard to tell apart, but they’re all wonderful to see in flower. The photo was taken with a vintage lens, the Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f1.4, which requires an adapter to fit my camera. The inexpensive lens has a soft, warm and sometimes ethereal look. A nice way to end a delightful June day of wandering through the unkempt edges of the county, here in the Pacific northwest.
Fall lingers in the pacific northwest; its transition to winter is subtle. Without the hard freezes many areas experience, scattered leaves cling tightly to fences, mushrooms crop up on forest logs, and berries and mosses remain bright.
As we headed east on I-90 towards Snoqualmie Pass, the fog and mist grew heavier and I wondered if I would regret going up into the mountains today. Back home, morning clouds had already given way to sun, and lately I’ve been focussed – OK, obsessed, with getting out into every sunny day I can here in Seattle, where summer is stunningly gorgeous but all too short.
The doubts disappeared as soon as we started on the trail though – mists rolled down the mountainside from some notch above like giant puffs, and it was really cool to walk in the midst of the clouds that are usually high above you.
We were hiking a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada. Most of the people we saw on the trail were through hikers – going all the way, or close to it. They were from Indiana, Ottawa, Rochester, and elsewhere. Their faces beamed under layers of dust as they spoke of elk, bear and coyote. Zack, the first hiker we met, was a lovely shade of dusty brown from his dread-locked hair to his boots. As he leaned in to show us a cache of ripe huckleberries he’d just picked, the smell was powerful! I wish I’d taken his photo, but I did record some of my favorite sights on the trail:
Here’s the Pacific Crest Trail register. We pulled it out of its waterproof housing to read the most recent entries. The PCT is 2,663 miles long and typical through hikers do about 20 miles a day, re-supplying at the nearest towns when possible. Our friend Zack was heading off trail for real food, and then hoped to meet up with a friend who was rock-climbing up near Leavenworth. He looked at our map so he could figure out which roads to hitch-hike on. It was probably a good 90 miles, but after hiking up from the Sierra Nevada I’m guessing that was a minor challenge.
By the way, the fastest through hiker, Scott Williamson, set a record of 64 days, 11 hours, 19 min. From Mexico to Canada. And all the through hikers we met were young, and most had school or a job to go back to. Reminds me that it’s a luxury. Even our hike required a car, some free time, and decent health, all of which we’re lucky to have.
If you click on the open book photo you can read notes people left in the register – NOBO means northbound.
For us the turn-around point was just a few miles south at Lodge Lake. My guidebook said it reflects the surroundings mountains, but today we were content to sit on logs at the lake’s edge, snacking on Cliff bars and watching the mist roll over the lake. There were hundreds of waterstriders – pretty big ones – and as they jumped across the surface, swifts zipped around overhead.
In certain parts of the forest, hemlocks and Doug firs collect the mist. When it drops off the needles everything underneath glistens.
The meadows were speckled with red, yellow, purple and white wildflowers – and best of all, berries! I sampled blueberries, huckleberries, blackberries and tiny wild strawberries.
I blurred the image above a little to convey the dreamy, seamless beauty of the meadow and misty treeline.
Only four miles for us – not forty a day, like the guy who set the speed record.