When we lived in South Dakota we would purchase a State Park pass. Most of the time that pass was used to visit Custer State Park, a real gem of a park that is filled with wildlife and gorgeous scenery. We loved seeing the buffalo calves. I know that they are American Bison, but I still call them buffalo. I also pronounce coyote the way fans of University of South Dakota Coyotes athletics do.
Being new transplants to Washington, it made sense to me for us to purchase a Washington State Parks Discovery pass so that we could explore the many different state parks within our immediate region. Birch Bay State Park is only 4 1/2 miles from our son’s farm and it offers a great place to explore the coast with our grandchildren. Peace Arch State Park, on the border with Canada is just a few miles farther up the road. There are more than a dozen state parks within 25 miles of where we live. We are avid walkers and state parks offer many trails for walking and exploring. We have only begun to explore the richness that is offered close to our home.
Washington State Parks began with Larabee State Park, the first area to be recognized as a state park. The park, just south of Bellingham, offers views of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands as well as opportunities for paddling, viewing tide pools, and exploring the forests. In addition to the ocean shore the park has two lakes to explore. Although currently closed to shellfish harvesting, the park is known as a place to find clams. We also enjoyed the winding Chuckanut Drive south from Bellingham to Burlington. It isn’t as quick a drive as Interstate 5, but far more scenic and a good alternate route when driving between our home and our son’s farm.
We’ve also taken walks at Camano Island State Park and explored other areas as well, but there is much more we want to see.
Yesterday, we took a hike along the shore at Deception Pass State Park. The park, located on both sides of the Canoe Pass and Deception Pass bridges connecting Fildago and Whidbey Islands, is a short 15 - 20-mile drive from our home. The bridge itself is picturesque and although currently covered with tarps for sandblasting and repainting, it is still a dramatic structure. Under the bridge the rushing tides create strong currents that are a danger to boaters unfamiliar with the area. Still, the waters around the park are filled with kayakers and small boaters. Kayak rentals are available within the park.
Deception Pass is Washington’s most-visited park, but it was not crowded when we visited yesterday. We parked at Rosario Beach, where there is a boat launch and took a hike on a trail that wandered along the shoreline and through old growth forest out to lighthouse point and circled around back to the parking area.
When we walk through the forest out here, I find myself looking up at the tall trees. After so many years of living in the hills and thinking that a 60- or 75-foot tree is a tall tree, these forest giants that stand 150 or more feet high never fail to impress me. Looking so far up is slightly disorienting and I have to be careful not to become dizzy if I walk and look up at the same time. All the same, the trees are incredible and it helps us sense the size of creation as we walk along.
The coastline in this part of Washington is dotted with islands and looking out towards so many islands gives the coast a different feeling that is the case in places where the beach faces an expanse of open water. The islands are inviting and one can imagine taking a kayak and paddling to explore the shorelines of many different islands. I haven’t been doing much paddling recently, waiting to connect with experienced local paddlers and guides to teach me about paddling in these waters. There is much to learn about tides and currents and the techniques of saltwater paddling. What is more, I’ve been a bit busier than I expected as I adjust to retirement and have not paddled as much as I expected I would. That will change as we learn our way around. Yesterday, a lovely birthday hike was just the right thing as we wandered along the trail enjoying the views of the ocean and the areas where the path led through dense undergrowth that made us feel like we were wandering through a J. R. R. Tolkien story. We did not encounter any trolls or hobbits on our hike, but the paths were inviting nonetheless.
We didn’t have a sense of being in a remote wilderness area, as the park is very near to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island where navy pilots engage in Field Carrier Landing Practice. The fighter jets flying overhead on approach are noisy, but for an airplane buff it is the kind of noise that doesn’t bother me. I do suspect, however, that there are much quieter places to camp. Having camped next to railroad tracks, however, we are the sort of people who might take our camper to the park one day.
One area in the park that I want to check out is Kukutail Preserve. It is located on Kiket Island and co-managed by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. I think that access is by kayak, but I have to learn more before visiting that particular area. I know that there is a neck of land on the island that is completely off limits to people to protect the fragile native plants growing there.
We have had the luxury of a lot of travel and exploration in our lives, but walking in the park to celebrate my 68th birthday reminds me of how much of this wide world we have not yet explored. There is a whole lot more to be discovered and much of it is very close to home and accessible to us. More adventures await.