It’s early morning, shortly after sunrise. The Bowman campground is full, but few people are up yet, or even stirring. I walk from the parking lot to the CCC shelter, admiring the way the shelter blends into the landscape like it grew out of the earth. Behind the shelter the Bowman to Rosario trail begins, beckoning like an open door, a hallway between the campsites and the log-strewn beach.
As I began walking westward, I met an elderly couple out walking their dogs, or rather, stretching their legs while carrying their dogs. The woman apologized for the dog she carried, saying that it just wasn’t ready for morning yet. I wondered if coffee would help.
Around the corner a dad and daughter sat in lawn chairs between the trail and the beach. They sipped on hot drinks in mugs and looked totally contented as they looked seaward on this heavenly blue-sky morning now touched with a wisp of light fog in the trees.
Soon I left the tents and RVs behind as the trail began to rise quickly, steeply, a root and rock-strewn pathway leading upward and westward. As the trail hugs the edge of the bluff, the view of Bowman Bay opens up dramatically, especially with the morning sun streaming through the trees, a great blue heron looking for breakfast, and a gaggle of otters cavorting and teasing and rolling and diving and spyhopping their way towards me. It seems no matter what they are doing, otters turn it into play. Whether hunting or relaxing or saying hello or just traveling through, it’s all for fun.
The trail climbs steadily to its highest point along the bluff, then drops down gradually to reach Rosario. The soil is dry here. The late summer sunlight is now lower in the sky and riding a shorter course to get to its time of setting. Leaves are changing. The plants know their time is short, and they are preparing for the coming autumn season. Golden leaves lie scattered across the trail and forest duff.
Almost to Rosario now, I carefully follow the social trails near the bluff’s edge instead of the main trail, enjoying the elevated view out over Bowman, and now Rosario Head coming into view. A bench near here honors Tara, a teenager who loved life and enjoyed this view while she lived, her time on earth shorter than most.
One of my favorite trees in all the park appeared, standing out on a promontory as if posing in a yoga stretch, wrapping its arms around itself, embracing the winds that caress and torment it every day.
Back on the main trail, I finish the descent to the Rosario area, passing the Discovery Center, closed at this time to keep people safe.
I walked up to the Maiden and looked into her wide-open eyes, her faces looking both toward the tidepools and toward Bowman Bay, as a younger teenager and then as a mature woman. She once saw the sea as simply a storehouse of food, abundant and free for the taking. Her husband of the sea opened her eyes to the lifelong dance of all living things, connected and dependent on each other to continue that life of abundance. She became a partner with the sea, and in turn the sea became an integral, essential, relational partner with her tribal members and tribal life.
Her time with the tribe was short, but then again, it continues to this day. Her hair floated in the water nearby, long kelp tubes nearing the end of their lives, soon to wash ashore on nearby beaches to sustain life further in their death.
It is time for me to return back to Bowman Bay. I take the main trail back, rising slowly to the mid-point and then dropping down quickly to a campground now coming alive, rising and shining.
A new day has dawned.
Directions: Starting at Highway 20 at the Deception Pass bridge, go north a quarter mile to Rosario Road, turn left on Rosario Road, go about fifty feet and turn left again toward Bowman Bay. At a three way intersection go straight if you can, and park in the parking lot near the campground. The trail begins near the shelter closest to the water. Discover Pass required.
It was 10:00 in the morning and already hot and miserable in the ferry line in Clinton. No more needs to be said to explain the long line of cars except it was Sunday in August on Whidbey Island. The line was backed up the hill to the Food Mart, a line that would only get worse as the sun climbed higher. This was one of the hottest days of the year, so many families with kids, or seniors, or dogs, were looking for shade or a cool breeze. Then, out of the corner of their eye, is it a mirage? An illusion? Or is it an oasis? A tiny little park next to the ferry toll booths. Clinton Beach Park, a jewel waiting to be discovered.
Clinton Beach Park is owned and maintained by the Port of South Whidbey. There are colorful interpretive panels and picnic tables in the sun overlooking the water, but no one was there on this Sunday scorcher. More tables were available in the shade under a shelter with a Green Roof, designed to catch and filter storm water. But it hadn’t rained for weeks and the plants on the roof were fried to a crisp. No one was at that shelter either. There were a couple of ladies sitting in the shade of a building near the stunning family sculpture at the park entrance. On the far side of the park was a sand pile loaded with Tonka toys. Two people, one small, one tall, were just leaving the construction site as I approached. They were heading for the real attraction, walking down a blue mat toward the beach at low tide.
Island Beach Access, a local non-profit group, clears the driftwood and lays down a blue mat every summer to allow access for toddlers, baby strollers, people using walkers, wheelchairs, crutches and other mobility devices. I know a young mother that relies on a motorized scooter to get around. She loves this park and brings her small children here to play on the beach. There are two van accessible disabled parking spaces. The picnic shelter and restrooms are easily accessible, too. This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the signing of the American with Disabilities Act. Celebrate inclusivity!
Last Sunday this was a very popular park for families with kids. They rushed toward the cool water and damp sand, a sharp contrast from the infernal heat in the car. The ferry at the dock behind them loomed large as it paused between trips to Mukilteo. Hundreds of cars waited in the hot sun, windows down, stereos sounding, idly stroking their smart phones, while the thermometer climbed into the 90s.
But these few families scattered along the beach, ran, romped, scampered, splashed, squatted, dug, danced, dangled, dripped, dashed, climbed, clamored, clung, cried and called like the gulls, enjoying this beautiful beach on a sun splashed day at the end of the weekend, at the end of the summer, at the south end of Whidbey Island.
For more information about this hidden jewel and its special features visit:
As with most parks this summer, there's been a huge increase in visitation, so please bring your own TP and hand sanitizer and take your trash with you. The ferries are still running on their winter schedule so expect long delays.
Directions: Take Highway 525 south to the ferry dock in Clinton but instead of going onto the dock, turn left at the light into the park.
By Bus: This park is accessible by Island Transit Bus on the Route 1 or Route 60 Monday-Saturday or on Route 58 Monday-Friday. All buses can take 2 wheelchairs or mobility devices. For a schedule visit: www.islandtransit.org
“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves,” wrote John Muir over a century ago.
Aside from the almost instant feeling of calm and contentment that accompanies time outdoors, hiking in nature can reduce rumination. Ruminate: to chew the cud, to turn over in the mind, related to an early word for gullet, to belch out. Many of us often find ourselves ruminating, consumed by negative thoughts, which takes us out of the enjoyment of the moment at best and leads us down a path to depression and anxiety at worst. But a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature significantly decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts.
I must confess, I was ruminating as I started out hiking at Sharpe Park / Montgomery - Duban Headlands this week. I had work issues on my mind, family issues, relationships, finances, and I was even ruminating about what I was going to eat for dinner. I needed to clear my mind and my heart and let the sunshine flow into me; to let my cares drop off like autumn leaves.
“It’s beginning to look a little like autumn,” I thought to myself as I strolled down the first section of trail. Some Ocean Spray leaves had already turned yellow. The ground was littered with last year’s madrone leaves, like potato chips underfoot.
I headed down Porpoise Point Trail to the north, which drops quickly down to the water’s edge, passing through groves of madrone and grasses. At the rocky walls of the shoreline, a haze hid the Olympics from view and softened the outline of the San Juans. A young couple hoisted their toddler onto dad’s back and they hiked toward me, masks on, watching for low-hanging branches that the toddler ducked to avoid. “She's already learned the hard way,” her mom said.
The warm afternoon and the up and down nature of the trail encouraged me to shed my clothing layers down to just a tank top and shorts. Sweat still beaded a little on the tips of my hair. Leaving the crevices and caves of the coastline, I climbed back up to Sunburst Trail and headed south, enjoying the bursts of sun through the open woods and onto the meadows and mosses.
Soon I joined up with the Sares Head Trail and I followed that ever upward toward the open bald and ultimate destination. I climbed the final ascent to the wondrous view from the top. The air was still, the view muted, the day taking a siesta. Here in mid-August the grasses and mosses were dry and brittle. I sat and absorbed the world at my feet, looking near and far and focused outward across the distances.
Eventually I turned to go, finding my way back down the trail to return to the car. As I entered the deeper woods, I listened to each sound that I could hear. Chickadee, nuthatch, silence, a woodpecker off in the distance, a motorboat further still, more silence. Then a still small voice of wind whispering in the highest branch tips, a voice too quiet to discern the words but the message sighing clearly: You are here. Be at peace.
I think that as we hike, our bodies focus on the trail for our feet to find our way, and then our minds on the habitat to connect with the place, and then our hearts on the universe to hear once again the harmony of our soul within and without. I hiked back out in a different spirit than I had entered.
As the saying goes, solvitur ambulando.
And be sure to give a word of thanks to volunteer Rick Machin for removing the reachable Scotch broom from the park!
Directions: From Highway 20 at the bridge, go north to Rosario Road and turn left. Follow Rosario Road about a mile and a half to the parking area on your left. From Anacortes, take D Avenue south, which becomes A Avenue, then Havekost Drive, then Marine Drive, then Rosario Road. Sharpe Park will be on your right shortly after you pass Sharpe Road on your left.
Archives by date