Stick! Ball! Treat! What a treat to meet some friends, and their dog, for a walk at Double Bluff. We weren’t alone. The tide was out and the scene was set for a lot of people, and their canine companions, to splash, streak or stroll for miles on the wide, sandy beach of Useless Bay. On this bright, winters day we could see the skyscrapers of Seattle dwarfed by the ominous presence of Mount Rainier standing tall on the horizon.
It seemed everyone had brought dogs or children with them. Some brought both. The off leash dog area was a frolic with four legged friends bounding into the water after a ball or a stick and then a full body shake onshore. Then ready to go again, and again and again! With every new dog’s approach there was a ceremonial meet and greet, sniffing, circling, and if they were amenable, chasing each other full tilt across the sand.
Toddlers, too, seemed just as joyous to be splashing, digging, strutting along by their folks. Children played near the water with shovels, buckets and sticks, stepping in gingerly with their bright colored boots. One brave young lass in a bathing suit took her miniature paddle board to the water’s edge, took two steps in and sprang back in a quick retreat. Most of us wore warm coats and hats with no plans for a swim.
A woman with long, golden hair played with two golden retrievers. Another had an elegant and energetic “white” golden. They splashed into the water chasing a ball time and time again. There were larger dogs like a husky-malamute mix, a Pyrenees mix, and a Saint Bernard with its huge head and gentle nature. There were various hounds, sleek and slender, streaking along the shore. Little lap dogs followed close to their owners. A trio of Labradoodles socialized with everyone they passed. Being out among the dogs, the people and the mid-winter sun brought a smile to my face.
Besides the off-leash dog park, Double Bluff has some interesting features like the driftwood houses and the ten-foot tall, family sized beach chair. With binoculars, I saw a raft of surf scoters, buffleheads, and a few harlequin ducks. And there are glacial erratics exposed at low tide. Under the outside edge we could see muscles and barnacles clinging to the rock. Near the top of the largest rock a friend pointed out a fossilized fern. Fossils put things in perspective connecting us with ancient life and hinting at how our planet is constantly changing. It reminded me that, even in these tumultuous times, “This too, shall pass.”
As our walk continued the sandy bluff loomed large on one side. Parts of the bluff had sluffed off in recent storms and was clearly unstable so we stayed well away. Nearing the end of Useless Bay we could see the Olympic Mountains to the west, with craggy peaks jutting above the clouds. The afternoon had flown by and now the sun was low.
Someone shouted, “Look, a sun dog!” and pointed to the sky. Like a dog following its owner, the sun dog, follows the sun as it nears the horizon. Light refracting through ice crystals in the air, make rainbows around the sun, and added sparkle to our day. The rippled clouds at the top of the bluff mirrored the rippled sand on the beach below.
We turned around at the corner and made our way back. The beach was shaded now. The air grew chill. Still Double Bluff had been a welcome walk on a sunny day at low tide with plenty of room for everyone, and their dogs.
PS Please bring a bag and pick up after your pet. Thank you!
For more information on Double Bluff County Park click here.
Directions: From the stoplight in Freeland, take Highway 525 south 1.3 miles, turn south onto Double Bluff Road and drive almost 2 miles to the end. Parking is limited. If the parking lot is full you may park along the road, but make sure your tires are outside the fog line. Look out for car doors opening and pedestrians walking in the road between their vehicle and the park. At the park entrance there are restrooms, picnic tables and a paw washing station. The address is 6325 Double Bluff Road.
Bus and Bike: Fare-free Island Transit bus route 1 stops at the intersection of Highway 525 and Double Bluff Road. It’s less than 2 miles to the park. Two or three bikes fit on each bus bike rack provided on a first come, first served basis. Double Bluff Road is almost flat and has a good shoulder for cyclists.
Mobility: After you climb over the initial logstacle course, this beach is mostly sandy at low tide. If the tide is high, you may be restricted to beach logs and cobble stones.
The skies were threatening to spread some rain.
“We have more than enough already”, I complained to Kath. But it’s the Pacific Northwest. Rain is a part of our heritage, a part of the fabric of northwest life, like cedar and salmon. It’s our companion for winter hikes and events, a constant background to the stories of our days, often the sound on our roof as we drift off to sleep. Wet ground is our native habitat.
So, we caught an early afternoon ferry to Guemes Island.
We landed, walked ashore, and headed west on the beach. Raindrops spattered beside us on the waters of Guemes Channel. The hills above Anacortes grew furry with lowering clouds. “It might rain harder,” I worried aloud.
And sure enough, it began to really rain.
“It’s just rain,” Kath replied. She has become a native Washingtonian. Being naturalized to a place means to embrace this land that feeds you; this is the place from which you drink, that builds your body and fills your spirit. To become naturalized is to know that you belong here, loving the rain and all it falls upon. Here you will give your gifts in a loving relationship and sacred bond.
As we entered Peach Preserve we read about its history and reminded ourselves of the generous gift that helped protect this land. A century ago it was a shipyard. It came up for sale in the Seventies. Members of the San Juan Preservation Trust approached Patsy Bullitt of the Bullitt Foundation to see if she could help preserve it. She visited and fell in love with the land.
She donated $1.5 million. In gratefulness, the Trust named the property after her, using her nickname, Peaches.
We walked toward the forest but found that the trail leading to the woods was swamped under several inches of water for a hundred feet. Kath had boots on, but I had low-top hiking shoes. Murphy had his paws. We stayed in the beach-side meadow instead.
Dead stalks of cattails filled the wetlands, which now overflowed their banks. Rosehips splashed watercolor splotches of reds and pinks around the edges. Willows were swelling, dressed in gold for a pre-spring debut. Wildlife hid away this afternoon. A single frog sang a lonely refrain.
The rain intensified, coming down steadily, but still quietly. All other sounds were muffled. It was just us, the meadow, and the steady rain.
Back at the beach, waves lapped gently ashore. Views of the water and woodlands became muted pastels of misty gray and green. Raindrops dripped off our hats and hoods and soaked through our clothes. We strode the shoreline in silence and smiles.
We walked the beach back to the ferry landing. A visit to the general store gave us a potty break and a chance for a snack, and then it was back onto the ferry and a quick ride home. We were soaked. We were joyful to have soaked up the essence of a Northwest day, to be showered with the peace of our homeland in this special way.
I share with you the simple joy of a short ferry ride to a local island, a walk along the beach as a gentle rain falls upon us, softening the meadows, giving drink to our forests and fields, and to our bodies and souls.
We are showered every day with gifts, but they are not meant for us to keep. Their life is in their movement, the inhale and the exhale of our shared breath. Our work and our joy is to pass along the gift and to trust that what we put out into the universe will always come back.
Maybe there is no such thing as rain; there are only raindrops, each sharing its own story. At the close of the day, I close my eyes and listen to the gift of the voices in the rain.
Directions: from downtown Anacortes at 12th and Commercial, take 12th Street west to I Avenue. Turn right down to the ferry at 6th Avenue. Ample parking at J Avenue. Once on Guemes, it's easiest to walk the beach about a half mile west to Peaches Preserve.
By Bus or Bike: Skagit Transit 410 goes right to the Guemes ferry dock in Anacortes. By bike, I prefer taking 6th Avenue from downtown out to the ferry; it is flatter and with far less traffic.
Accessibility: The beach is flat, of course, but sandy and/or cobbly. If you follow South Shore Road from the ferry landing the route is paved and relatively flat, leading to the woods at the north end of the preserve. The entrance is marked with a vertical sign post. The trail through the woods has roots and rocks. The meadow trail is easy to walk but at this time of year muddy in places.
Snow. You either love it or… well. Me, as long as I don’t have to drive in it, I love it! My feet are all-terrain vehicles. I was sad to see it melting so soon in another “river of rain”. Still, I thought maybe we could find some if we looked deep enough in the woods. So Sunday, under brilliant blue skies, a friend and I turned toward Anacortes and the trails at Whistle Lake.
The roads were clear almost all the way. The parking lot was full of cars driven by brave souls who managed the last stretch of curvy, icy, snowy roadway. We walked up the old forest road toward the lake, adjusting our stride to the changing surface underfoot of soft mud, crusty snow, or slick, compact ice. A bold sun sliced between the trees promising warmth and light ahead.
Nearing the lake, the hammering of a pileated woodpecker drew our attention. This striking bird, one of the largest in the forest, was intently drilling holes in a rotten snag sending wood chips flying. It typically makes a rectangular hole and excavates cavities that other critters can use for foraging or nesting.
I remember the first time I noticed one, not by its bright red crest, but by the ferocious thwacking noise that carried across the backyard and through the closed windows of my southern childhood home. I went outside to see who was hammering in the woods behind our house. My mother identified it for me. I still find it fascinating to watch, chiseling deep holes and foraging for insects.
Seeing it reminded me of its look alike, the ivory billed woodpecker. In 2021 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing it as Extinct. But many people still hold out hope for these magnificent birds of the southeastern woodlands. The ivory billed, largest woodpeckers of North America, depend upon vast swaths of old growth forest. As the trees were cut, the woodpecker population plummeted. The most recent credible sighting was in 1944. Many experts have sought out the 'Holy Grail of Birds’ to no avail. Alas, despite extensive searching, it may never be seen again. Southern forest habitat is improving now, so if there are any left, perhaps they’ll make it. Keeping it on the Endangered Species List allows us to keep a candle of hope burning and protects the habitat that supports them and many other species. It’s a lesson we keep learning, wildlife needs wild land.
The slightly smaller pileated woodpecker was able to adapt to second growth forests and are found in the eastern US, mid-western Canada and here in the Pacific NW. On our islands we have a few places with large swaths of protected wild lands. We’re fortunate to live in a place where we can hike for miles, by sunny lakes, marshy wetlands and frozen ponds. But for some birds and wildlife, it’s not just a pleasant place to spend a day, it’s a matter of survival.
We saw a lot of people out walking last Sunday. Some rode bikes. Some brought fishing poles. Most were walking their dogs. (Or was it the other way around?) I’m so grateful to the City of Anacortes for preserving thousands of acres of wild lands around the south side of town for people and wildlife. And I’m thankful for the staff and volunteers who build and maintain trails there.
On our drive home, every trailhead we passed was packed with hikers anxious to be outdoors and soak up some sun after a week of dismal clouds and rain. Whistle Lake is surrounded by trails that twitch and turn. You can take a different route each time you go. This bright, sunny day, we walked to the lake, spied ducks and cormorants, then circled to the east through the woods passing frozen ponds, marshes and snowy fern banks. We felt truly blessed by the sun, the snow, and all the wild lands we have and those that protect them. (Get a map below.)
P.S. This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reopened a public comment period on listing the ivory billed woodpecker as extinct. Read more here.
Read more about the search for the ivory billed woodpecker here.
Get a map of Whistle Lake trails here.
Directions: From Hwy 20 at Sharpe's Corner Roundabout drive west toward Anacortes. At the next roundabout on Commercial Avenue turn south (3/4 of the way around) and drive up the hill. Turn left at the T on Fidalgo Avenue, turn left again on to Hillcrest, then right and right again onto Whistle Lake Road (around the cemetery) and follow that road until, near the end, you'll see a sign to Whistle Lake. Don't leave valuables in your car.
Bus or Bike: There is no bus service and it's not a great place to bike to. However, if you bring a mountain bike, you may ride the forest road to the lake.
Mobility: The mile long walk from the parking lot to the lake is gentle and wide but can be muddy or even snowy at times.
I’m Murphy, a dog and a hiker too. I took my doggy-dad, Alpha-Jack, to hike at Volunteer Park. He said it was a new year. I didn’t understand. Every day is new, full of hope for trails to explore, new friends to discover, and new smells to sniff and follow.
And maybe a ball to chase and a treat to eat. I knew Alpha-Jack had a ball and a treat in his pocket.
We parked at the ballfields and walked between them to follow the trail behind the fences toward the woodlands. The trail here was nothing but hard-packed ice. We slipped on our paws and stuttered along. We saw that some thoughtless dog-owner had chosen to not pick up their dog’s doo-doo, leaving it right on the trail. How crude and rude!
Soon we came to the trail that leads into the woods. I could smell all kinds of life here, the stories of animals big and small written in the scents of their passing. This trail was kinder to our paws, covered with gravel, needles, and just a smattering of snow.
I took a side trail where we saw a heron fishing in an opening in the ice-covered pond. Cattails stood like popsicles; bare trees reached up dark and silent. Alpha-Jack seemed lost in thought. I was so present and trying to be aware of everything around me.
My human had a camera in his hand and kept taking pictures of me, and of trees and the sky and things. I don’t understand that either, all this focus on what you can see, and saving it for when you can’t be there anymore. All I see is shades of blue-gray or yellow-gray, so sight is not my main interest. A decent scent tells me so much more! I smell stories that humans have no clue about, everywhere we go. Alpha-Jack misses nearly everything that’s out here, only seeing with his eyes.
Back on the main trail he saw and I smelled a collie up ahead with a couple humans. We caught up. Tiegan the collie and I sniffed hello to each other. I wanted to play with him, but he just looked at me and smiled. Alpha-Jack talked to the women walking with Teagan, friends of his, then we moved on.
Soon we could hear song sparrows, a Pacific wren, and kinglets flitting through the branches in search of sustenance. Wish I could find something to eat too. I actually did, but Alpha-Jack tugged my leash pulling me away from whatever smelled so rottingly good.
We emerged from the wetlands into a drier maple and fern forest. Snow lingered here. Views opened up. The sun tried to share a ray or two. Moss glistened on the tree trunks. We walked as if in a sacred cathedral.
Near the school we turned back to retrace our steps. I knew what that meant! Ball-toss! I pulled at the leash, and Alpha-Jack had to run to keep up with me. We passed trees, tantalizing new smells, bird songs, even Teagan and his humans again, then alders and reeds and rushes as I rushed on back.
At the end of the woodland trail, I smelled an animal nearby. Then I saw it – a rabbit in the underbrush! I turned to chase it, but Alpha-Jack hung tight to the leash and it ran away without me. Darn leash.
Soon we came to an open field of grass. A black lab was out there chasing a ball. Then I was free of my leash and I saw my ball flying away in front of me! I ran out and caught it as it bounced, and brought it back to Alpha-Jack, who threw it again, and again, and again, and again…
We eventually leashed up and walked back to the car. He gave me a treat as he seat-belted me in. This is a good day.
Directions: From Commercial Avenue and 12th Street in Anacortes, go west on 12th Street to G Avenue. Turn left and go two blocks to a large parking lot at the ballfields. Follow the trails around the ballfields to their backside to find the trail through the woodlands. Total roundtrip walk is about a mile and a half.
By Bus: Skagit Transit Route 410 goes east and west along 12th Street
By Bike: Anacortes has several good bike routes. 12th Street is quite busy and narrow; I prefer going west on 8th, then left (south) on G Avenue
Mobility: the trails around the ballfields are paved until you get to the backside, then they are gravel, wide, and fairly level. The trail through the woodland is gravel with some soft areas.