45 – Goose Rock and Pass Island

Said to be the most visited state park in Washington, with its rugged coastal headlands, beautiful coves, old-growth forests, and nearly 40 miles of trails, it is no wonder I have been visiting Deception Pass State Park since the early 1970s.

(from the Deception Pass State Park website) . . . Trail Map

Beginning at the parking lot near North Beach, today’s hike included Goose Rock, Pass Island and North Beach. Following the trail through an old-growth forest to the Deception Pass Bridge 100 foot above, I walked under the bridge and connected with the Goose Rock Loop Trail.

Along the trail . . . walking under Deception Pass Bridge

After following the perimiter trail around Goose Rock, I continued on to the Summit Trail, and began the climb as it twisted and turned to gain over 400 feet in less than a half mile. After that final push, to my delight not only was the view spectacular (to the north, Mount Erie; west, the Straight of Juan de Fuca, Olympic Mountains and San Juan Islands; and to the south, the Widbey Island countryside), there were wildflowers blooming just about everywhere.

By a rock wall of wildflowers . . . Goose Rock summit

Next I took the trail back down to Deception Pass Bridge and followed the walkway along the bridge to Pass Island. While there does not seem to be an official trail map for Pass Island, there is a stairway leading down from the viewpoint deck that allows access to footpaths. These paths lead down to the huge, jagged rocks under the Deception Pass Bridge, and on around the tiny island. Those paths are on very steep, rocky terrain and are very close to the edge of dangerously high cliffs, so if you decide to venture off that viewpoint deck as I did, be extremely careful. It was a beautiful hike and worth the effort – and I was careful. Again, wildflowers were blooming in the meadows and along almost every path.

Wildflowers . . . Pass Island

The view from under Deception Pass Bridge is absolutely stunning. A river otter was swimming near the rocks just below the cliff on which I sat, and on the other side of Deception Pass above the trees on Goose Rock (where I had just hiked), eagles were soaring.

Taking a break . . . on Pass Island

I spent about an hour exploring the trails around the perimiter of Pass Island, even lost the trail a couple of times in the more forested area on the back side, before finally making my way back to the viewing deck up on top. Heading over Deception Pass Bridge again, I followed the walkway on the other side, and returned to the trail that took me back to the beach below. Continuing on to North Beach, except for a family of geese, I practically had the entire beach to myself. I watched as the parent geese took their babies for a swim. Go here – http://youtu.be/FWigJ4EoklI – to see the video I took their swimming lesson. So cute!

Goose family on North Beach

Rather like living in our own little “Water World” here in the Pacific Northwest, I sometimes tend to take our water and mountain views a bit for granted, but wildflowers – they are seasonal and not as easy for me to find. The wildflowers were definitely the highlight of this hike. Okay – the views were absolutely outstanding too!

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44 – Birding Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Joining friends of the Whatcom Land Trust and the North Cascades Audubon Society on a four-mile bird walk through the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve, even though I recently hiked these trails (see Hike 31 – Stimpson Family Nature Reserve), I enjoyed the opportunity to view the reserve from this slightly different perspective.

Bird watching . . .

At times proceeding slowly along the trail, with ears carefully tuned to the sound of the birds in the forest, we frequently stopped to make identification by birdsong alone.

Along the trail . . .

Peering into a canopy of thick branches high above our heads, we then carefully watched for the slightest sign of movement in hopes of spotting our often ellusive feathered friends.

Bird watching . . .

Very enjoyable during this hike was hearing about the history of this reserve and how the trails had been originally designed. One of the fellows with us had been responsible for planning the lay-out and building of these trails. He told us about becoming familiar with the ridges and ravines, wetlands, ponds, beaver dams and trees in the reserve, and how with colored pencils and grid paper he sketched out the trails in order to best preserve the land itself and provide the public an opportunity to see and appreciate its wonderful features. Passing a series of old growth trees as our trail took us up and over a ridge, he told us how they had counted the growth rings on some of the downed trees in that area and determined their age to be over 450 years.

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After completing the hike through Stimpson Family Nature Reserve, we headed over to Scudder Pond. A most appropriate picnic spot after a birding hike, we were entertained by a pair of red-winged blackbirds and a couple of mallards as we ate, and delighted as their resident beaver swam by.

Beaver swimming by . . . at Scudder Pond

43 – Little Cranberry Lake and Big Beaver Pond

Parking near the water tank at the end of 29th Street, we grabbed our Anacortes Community Forest Land’s (ACFL) map for Little Cranberry Lake and began our hike. With an incredible maze of trails through the forest, around several lakes, beaver ponds, swamps and wetlands, I would not recommend hiking too far into this reserve without a map. Following the shore of Little Cranberry Lake and as close to the perimiter of the Big Beaver Pond as possible, our slightly over four-mile hike took us along ACFL Trail Numbers 104, 102, 100, 101, 132, 106, 10, 124, 108, 123 and 103 before looping us back to 104, and we pulled out our map several times in order to confirm trail numbers for our desired route.

ACFL 110 - Little Cranberry Lake Trail Map

Little Cranberry Lake gets its name from the wild cranberries that grow on grassy bogs along the southern portion of the lake. With lots of downed trees, snags and dead trees still standing, the boggy portion of the lake is a bit more wild. Venturing slightly off the beaten trail a time or two, this was a fun hike! Go here – Slightly Off the Beaten Trail – to see the slideshow on YouTube of some of those slightly-off-the-beaten-trail photos.

Slightly off the Beaten Trail
Slightly off the beaten trail

A special treat along the trail, the lovely blooms of the calypso orchid.

Calypso orcids . . . blooming along the trail

We stopped to enjoy the sunshine and a view of the lake when the trail left the forest to cross these large rocks.

Us . . . on the cliffs around Little Cranberry Lake

Extending our hike after we had completed the loop around Little Cranberry Lake, we continued on around the Big Beaver Pond.

Big Beaver Pond . . . near Little Cranberry Lake

For more information on the Anacortes Community Forest Lands and Little Cranberry Lake, go here –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anacortes_Community_Forest_Lands. Detailed trail maps are available for purchase from the Anacortes Chamber of Commerce and the Mount Erie Grocery.

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42 – Saddle Rock

Located in Wenatchee, Saddle Rock is one of my favorite hikes.

(Pic by Kent) . . . Me - at the top of Saddle Rock

Visible from almost all locations in town, the rock formations on top resemble a saddle.

Saddle Rock . . .

From the trailhead at the bottom to its saddle on the top, the hike up Saddle Rock Mountain is a short, but steep, mile and a half. Sometimes feeling like a fast 1,000′ elevation gain as it climbs steadily up the ridgeline, plenty of encouragement along the way comes from the many joggers, families (often with young children) and the volume of other hikers that now frequent this popular recreation area.

Heading up the trail . . . to Saddle Rock

From the top of Saddle Rock, the view is spectactular. Surrounded by snow capped mountains all around, Wenatchee and East Wenatchee fill the valley below. Split by the mighty Columbia River, the view of the Wenatche Valley extends from the Rocky Reach Dam almost all the way to the Rock Island Dam.

Enjoying the view from the top of Saddle Rock

Before making the steep decent back down that mile and a half long trail, there are plenty of trails to explore once on top of the ridge – and it is always fun to climb around on those massive rocks that form the saddle.

Looking back to the saddle . . . on Saddle Rock

No trail signs are present once past the large sign that marks the trailhead, but the trail is very obvious as it switches back and forth. To get there from downtown Wenatchee, follow Orondo Avenue to Miller Street. Continuing on Miller Street, turn right (west) to follow Dry Gulch Road until just past the Appleatchee Equistrian Center. Parking is available near the gate, and the trail begins on the dirt road just to the other side of that gate.

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41 – Douglas Creek Canyon

First introduced to Douglas Creek Canyon the year my son graduated from college, it was not long after volunteering to help build a portion of the trail on Make a Difference Day that he took me there for a hike. Returning many times since, it still remains one of my favorite areas.

Trail Building . . . on Make a Difference Day

There we were, visiting my son in the Wenatchee Valley; and when the kids started talking about an afternoon of fishing at one of their local lakes, we double checked the directions to the trailhead – then set off for Douglas Creek Canyon.

Kent and I . . . hiking Douglas Creek Canyon

Barely more than an hour’s drive from Wenatchee, the scenery around every corner was absolutelty breathtaking as Highway 2 gained in elevation before reaching miles and miles of farm fields along the high Waterville Plateau. Passing through the picturesque town of Waterville, then through the little town of Douglas, even over a portion of Douglas Creek, finally after driving past several more miles of farmlands, a rather lonesome looking sign for H Road marked our turn-off. Following the straight, heavily gravelled H Road through even more farm fields for well over six miles, it seemed that just about the time we thought we might have turned onto the wrong road, it began to curve and drop in elevation as it became Slack Canyon Road. A more primitive road and said to continue on for quite a distance, after less than a mile we reached the well-graveled parking lot for the trailhead into Douglas Creek Canyon.

Douglas Creek Canyon trailhead . . .

Douglas Creek itself trickles and meanders its way through the bottom of the canyon. Often over make-shift, rock bridges – and here, over a one-board bridge – the trail crosses the creek many times.

Crossing Douglas Creek . . . Douglas Creek Canyon

Checking for fish each time we crossed the creek, finally trout were spotted.

Looking for fish . . . Douglas Creek

An amazing landscape, the canyon walls are lined with giant basalt cliffs, formations that date back to a lava flood some 13 to 14-1/2 million years ago. Covered with colorful lichens, it felt absolutely amazing to reach out and touch pillars of rock that were that old.

Checking out basalt pillars . . . Douglas Creek Canyon

Once used to transport passangers, wheat and other crops from the farms on the high prairie down to the valley far below, now sage brush and other desert plants fill the old railroad grade that the trail follows.

(Pic by Kent) Me . . . hiking Douglas Creek Canyon

Seeming to go on indefinitely, we hiked in for nearly a mile past the three-mile marker before stopping for a picnic, and then heading back out. Sitting on top of a small cliff overlooking the creek as we ate, we looked out to the stunningly high canyon walls on the other side and were entertained by the call of golden eagles, red tailed hawks and falcons as they soared in the blue sky above, and the occassional pair of chuckars fluttering out of the bushes below.

Our picnic spot . . . at Douglas Creek Canyon

While Douglas Creek Canyon is featured in the book, Best Desert Hikes: Washington, by Dan Nelson and Alan Bauer, the trail has been extended and greatly improved since its last edition. More information about the hike, including trip reports, is also available on the Washington Trail Association website. Go here – Douglas Creek Canyon – North – to read that. Other information about Douglas Creek can also be found here – http://www.bentler.us/eastern-washington/recreation/douglas-creek.aspx, information about the lava flood is available here – http://www.handsontheland.org/classroom/2002serv_learn/docr/passage_time.htm, and information about the old railroad can be found here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mansfield_Branch_(Great_Northern_Railway).

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40 – Slide Mountain Fossil Hunt

Reading about an exposed fossil field as a result of the 2009 landslide along the Racehorse Creek drainage area as I searched for information about Racehorse Falls (see: Hike #38 – Racehorse Falls), how exciting it was to find myself on Slide Mountain once again.

Along a logging road . . . hiking up Slide Mountain

It felt more like a field trip, or scavenger hunt, than just a hike, although we did hike plenty. While it is possible to drive a logging road to quite near a short trail that leads directly to the fossil field, once part way up, it felt to us that the logging road was getting rather steep, so we parked. Once on foot, we continued to follow the road as it switch backed and forth on up the mountain. Well before we had reached the trailhead into the fossil fields, we left that logging road to blaze our own trail through an area that had once been logged off. Now strewn with giant heaps leftover from its logging and pretty much overgrown, when not pushing small alders out of my face, I looked down and saw vague signs of what might have been an old gravel roadbed in between the weeds and brush that had sprung up.

Blazing our own trail through the brush . . . on Slide Mountain

Our route delivered us to the bottom of the fossil field, and full of rocks and other debri from the landslide, in no time we had found our first fossil.

The first fossil found . . . on Slide Mountain

Then more and more! Ancient leaves, ferns, reeds and stems, almost every rock we took the time to examine contained at least one fossil. Sometimes even several layers of fossils were found on one rock.

Finding fossils . . . on Slide Mountain

Climbing higher, to near the (now dead) Douglas fir that marks the way to the short trail leading to the logging road, we stopped for a picnic. We had practically the entire mountain to ourselves. It was a beautiful day, yet we only spotted two others in the distance, further on up the hill, turning over rocks themselves. Sitting in the middle of the fossil field on a huge, dirt-covered rock with the light tap, tap, tap sound from their hammers in the background as we ate our porkchop and looked out over the Nooksack River valley below and snow-covered peaks in the distance certainly was a wonderful spot for a picnic.

Picnic spot . . . in the fossil field on Slide Mountain

Then we explored even more.

Exploring the fossil field on Slide Mountain

When we were finished exploring the fossil field, we followed the short trail that led more directly to the logging road.

Trail . . . leading out of the fossil field

Once to the logging road, it was an easy, downhill trek back down the mountain for us.

Back to the logging road . . . for the trek down Slide Mountain

If you are interested in finding fossils yourself, go here – http://nwgeology.wordpress.com/the-fieldtrips/the-chuckanut-formation/the-racehorse-landslide-fossil%C2%A0fields/ – to read lots more information about what you will actually be seeing and finding up there on Slide Mountain, and for directions. Bring your kids – surely a fun time will be had by all.

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39 – Padilla Bay

My original intent was to power up Chuckanut Mountain to Fragrance Lake, follow the loop trail around the lake and cross that hike off my list – but there was absolutely no parking to be had. Really, it seemed too beautiful of a day to be hiking through a dense, dark forest anyway, so I just kept on enjoying the beautiful views as I motored down Chuckanut Drive. I had not set out just for an afternoon drive – I wanted to hike, to explore, to soak up some of that gorgeous sun, so I continued on until I had reached Padilla Bay as it really was the perfect day for a beach walk.

Me . . . on the beach at Padilla Bay

Home to the wonderful Bayview State Park, with its generous shoreline, Padilla Bay is a very special place. Added to the National Estuarine Research Reserve System and the Shorelands Program at the Department of Ecology in 1980 and set aside for research and educational purposes, it is a shallow, muddy, saltwater estuary along the Skagit River delta. My first stop was the Breazeale Intrepretive Center at the reserve, and following a short trail to an observation deck looking out over Padilla Bay, I continued down the stairs for a walk along the beach.

Looking back up the stairs . . . from the beach

Continuing one mile further south, next up was a walk along the Padilla Bay Shore Trail.

Me . . . Along the Padilla Bay Shore Trail

With its drained, muddy tide flats on one side and raised ag lands on the other, it is not often when I have been on this trail that I have felt surrounded by so little water.

Looking back . . . along the Padilla Bay Shore Trail

Entertained as an eagle soared overhead and several great blue herons explored the ground, even with the strong wind off the bay, the easy, 4-1/4 mile roundtrip walk over the dike went by almost too fast.

Great Blue Heron . . . along the Padilla Bay Shore Trail

Following the trail back, the tide was coming in, and the shallow Padilla Bay was filled by the time I had returned to the trailhead.

Along the Padilla Bay Shore Trail . . .

Getting there: From Burlington (exit 230 on I-5), head west on State Route 20 for about 7 miles, turn right onto Bay View-Edison Road (the turnoff is approximately 1.75 miles west of the SR 20/SR 536 junction). Continue north on Bay View-Edison Road for 3 miles to the trailhead, on your left. Parking is located a little farther ahead. Turn right onto Second Street, and within 200 feet turn left into the Skagit County Historical Society’s large parking area.

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38 – Racehorse Falls

Feeling lately as if I had covered most of the hiking trails from sea level on up to about the 1,800′ level in the Blanchard Mountain, Chuckanut Mountain, Bellingham, even on up to the Canadian boarder areas, with snow still falling in our higher elevations, how exciting it felt to be hiking along a trail that was completely new to me – to Racehorse Falls. While the driving directions to the trailhead were easy enough to follow, once we had parked the car and began our hike, at times the trail turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Accustomed to plenty of mud along the trail, we were not slowed down much by the standing water.

Along the trail . . . to Racehorse Creek

Time and again, however, we found ourself climbing over and maneuvering around dozens of freshly cut trees. Appearing as if deliberately fallen over the trail, and often making it difficult to determine where the trail was even located, it was not until we had almost completed our hike that I remembered having read something recently about the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) getting serious with its enforcement of the closure of illegally built mountain bike trails on DNR lands. That must have been what was going on with this trail as we were on DNR land, and those fallen trees certainly would make a deterent for the mountain biker. (You can go here to read about that – DNR WA Gov – Recreation Education News – 2012 03 30 – Trails if you would like more information.) Well, while there was a bicycle in the car, no problem – the bike was mere coincidence – we were there for a hike to a falls!

Fallen trees and standing water . . . over the trail to Racehorse Creek

Once we had made our way through that messy, tree-fallen portion of the trail, it was easy going. Blue ties clearly maked the route through a forest thick with moss, and then we continued on to a series of switchbacks leading us down to Racehorse Creek.

Switchbacks . . . leading down to Racehorse Creek

The roar from the falls became apparent long before we had reached the creek bed itself, or even any of the numerous areas along the trail that offered us sneak peeks of the falls. Racehorse Falls is a large falls with an upper portion carved deeply into sandstone cliffs, and a middle section where cascading water fans out widely over giant boulders at the bottom. Then as the creek bends slightly, the falls continues to wind its way down and between even more giant boulders before leveling out below. To see the video that I took of the middle and lower portions of Racehorse Falls, go here – Racehorse Falls – 60Before60 – YouTube. Taking the time to walk along the tops of some of those giant boulders to explore all the different viewing points, we finally worked our way down to the creek bed below the falls.

. . . at Racehorse Falls

Once finished exploring the log strewn gravel bar below the falls, it was time to climb our way back up the switchbacks to the forested ridge above Racehorse Creek.

Switchbacks along the trail leading up from the creek bed

From there, we took a side trail along the ridge that led us up above Racehorse Falls where we viewed another waterfalls flowing down the huge sandstone cliffs on the opposite side above the creek, and yet another one even further up stream with a beautifully carved out whirlpool.

Yet another falls along Racehorse Creek . . . upstream from the larger Racehorse Falls

That side trail may have continued on indefinitely through the DNR forest lands, or perhaps at least on to the fossil fields left after a giant landslide in 2009 (go here to read about that – http://nwgeology.wordpress.com/the-fieldtrips/the-chuckanut-formation/field-trip-to-the-2009-racehorse-creek-rock-slide/ – if you are curious about fossils), but at that point, we turned around and headed back to our original trailhead.

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For more information on Racehorse Falls and driving directions, go here – Waterfalls Northwest – Racehorse Falls – and remember, while it is not a long hike, if you do plan to go to Racehorse Falls yourself, be prepared to deal with several good sized mud holes along the trail, plenty of freshly-fallen trees (with brushy limbs still attached) to climb over and dirt switchbacks leading down (and up) steep, tree-rooted cliffs (sometimes offering no more than moss covered Devil’s Club on which to grab on to as you make your scramble). Just keep that in mind, but don’t be frightened off. A hike to such a magnificant falls is well worth the effort – and highly recommended!

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