Peering through the tall trees, the blue water framed by silver driftwood was inviting. But I decided to save the beach for last. Instead, I turned to walk the Bluff Trail which led me by underground spotting stations with views across the water and on to the camouflaged gun battery. Unlike Fort Casey that was built before airplanes were invented, Fort Ebey is well hidden from the water and the air.
Constructed during WWII the fort was built to guard the entrance of Puget Sound. But the only shots fired were those for practice. Now the guns are gone, and the battery is empty. The fort echoes with the sounds of people exploring the twists and turns of the tunnels. An interpretive panel outside shows a diagram of the primary battery. I stopped there briefly to take in the sweeping view over the water toward the Olympic Mountains.
It was late afternoon. The grassy field below was scorched by weeks of hot, dry days. The sun bore down on this west facing slope. I was about to continue on the Bluff Trail, but a very slow-moving group started on the narrow trail ahead of me. It made me pause. Why not take a new route? I turned around. Just beyond the restrooms was a trail that led… I had no idea where, but I was out to explore.
Venturing into the woods, I came upon a sign that said Water Tower which piqued my curiosity. As I approached, it emerged out of the trees like some forgotten fortress. Thick timbers crossed to form a tall, angled structure. It stood silent, stately, a manmade thing hidden by the forest.
From there I walked weaving through second growth forest with very little underbrush. Gradually, native rhododendrons filled the understory catching the light through the lacey canopy. Then salal crept in and formed thick hedges on both sides of the trail. I took the lovely Raider’s Creek trail along a cool shady ravine lined with ferns. Tall alders and cottonwoods stretched overhead. Bird songs cascaded down from the treetops to the berry bushes by the trail. Chickadees, juncos, kinglets peeped. Ravens croaked, towhees called, and flickers barked. A Pacific wren sang its long, sweet song. A woodpecker drilled nearby. I crept up with my camera ready. It darted to the other side of the tree. Like so much of this hike, just out of sight, hidden from view.
I stumbled upon the wide, Old Entrance Road, with a leafy canopy arching overhead. As the sun came slanting between the trees, I saw below me a sparkling pond. The path guided me to it where a boardwalk led me back toward the trailhead, but I turned the other way to circle the pond. A sign saying PNT reminded me that this is part of the Pacific Northwest Trail connecting hikers from the coast of Washington to Montana. I’ve met PNT thru-hikers that walked the beach from the Coupeville ferry up to this trail. From here they go over the island to the Deception Pass Bridge, through the Anacortes Community Forest Lands and continue going east. I saw no one that day but followed the trail by the pond for a peaceful view over lily pads toward a distant dock.
Though I was well away from the beach, I could hear a foghorn’s mournful cry, then the clang of a buoy. Climbing up from the pond to the bluff, I scared a family of quail. As I passed, the little chicks hid in the wild rose thicket.
Returning to the beach, I found myself with people again. A couple were crabbing from kayaks. A man threw a branch for his dog. Others leaned against the driftwood to soak up the sun. I took the trail from the beach back to my car with a long look over my shoulder, peering through the tall trees, gazing at the blue waters.
There are 25 miles of hiking and biking trails here so if you'd like a map, click here.
Directions: From Highway 20, four miles north of Coupeville, turn west on Libbey Road. Turn left onto Hill Valley Drive which leads into the park.
Bus and Bike: The Route 6 Island Transit bus stops at the corner of Libbey and West Beach Road, about a mile from the park entrance. The Route 1 bus stops at the corner of Libbey and Highway 20, about a mile and a half from the park entrance. The park entrance road is hilly with no shoulder but low traffic.
Mobility: These trails are narrow but mostly a gentle grade and well maintained. They are not suitable for someone who uses a mobility device.
Connections. We all have them, connecting us to friends, neighbors, loved ones, our businesses and daily lives and food sources and oxygen sources and waterways and places to go and memories of the past and dreams for the future.
Some of our connections are tenuous, like water for the southwestern states or the temperature of the earth fifty years from now, where the trail of knowing fades into the fog of the future. Some are deep and strong, like our connections with someone dear to us, or a personal habit or skill, where the trails are freeways paved with experiences we treasure or regret.
Trails connect. The Tommy Thompson Trail connects downtown Anacortes with the waters of Fidalgo Bay and the distant landscapes of March Point, its refinery towers connecting our current lifestyle with the oil it receives, from far-off lands and waters, for us to burn in our travels near and far.
The trail also brings a non-stop parade of bicycles, strollers, joggers, commuters, and dreamers, of those wishing to exercise, or get away from their daily work, to breathe the marine air and feel the sunshine and winds off the waters, and to see wildlife literally at their feet or above their head.
We had some of those goals as we joined the trail at the 17th Street access, where tractors, dump trucks and concrete mixers are transforming the wide-open views along Fidalgo Bay into soon-to-rise apartments, condos, and businesses. We passed people picking ripening blackberries. It helps to get the good ones if you are tall or impervious to stickers. We enjoyed the artwork on the side of a building near 30th Street, became frustrated with a restroom nearby that never seems to be open, then smiled as the 34th Street approach brings the trail right alongside Fidalgo Bay.
From here south we forget about traffic, enjoying the shade (and more blackberries) for a mile on our way to the Fidalgo Bay Resort. Here the trail connects with the water in a real way, crossing the railroad trestle with the incoming tide below bringing unseen fish and very visible and noisy seals following the fish. Eagles and herons flap their way above; seagulls drop an occasional clam to break it open; Mt. Baker rides the horizon, and the trail connects us to all of these.
It also connects us to our past.
The rail-trail follows the inactive corridor of the short-lived Seattle and Northern Company line, which was built in 1890 but which was discontinued a couple decades later.
So who is Tommy Thompson, the trail’s namesake?
Tommy Thompson the father studied the sea water chemistry while also teaching at the UW and Friday Harbor Labs. Amazing connections to Fidalgo! His son Tommy Thompson was a train and steam engine buff who dreamed of a tourist train from downtown Anacortes to March Point. He operated a popular six-block narrow-gauge railway for some 25 years until his death in 1999. His name remains connected with the delightful trail now paved for human traffic.
To make more educational connections, read the dozens of Trail Tale signs scattered along the four miles of the Tommy Thompson Trail.
Make even more connections this Saturday at Fidalgo Bay Day: a FREE, fun, family outing from 11 – 3 at the Samish Indian Nation’s Fidalgo Bay Resort, 4701 Fidalgo Bay Road. Celebrate local estuaries and fascinating marine life. Take part in popular educational beach-seining demonstrations, touch live marine critters in an undersea zoo, get creative at the kid friendly craft tables, and learn about local projects and volunteer opportunities at the many educational exhibits staffed by local agencies and organizations.
You will get the chance to taste complimentary chowders and samples of seafood BBQ’d to perfection, and enjoy a traditional salmon BBQ lunch offered by members of the Samish Indian Nation.
Making connections for life.
Directions: the trail is accessible in so many locations in Anacortes. It starts at the Cap Sante Marina near Ninth Street, or anywhere along much of Q Avenue. The 34th Street area has considerable on-street parking and provides an immediate jump onto the trail as it leaves town, following Fidalgo Bay. And Fidalgo Bay Resort has a handful of parking places for the trail.
By Bus: Take Island Transit from Whidbey to the March Point Park and Ride, then walk on March's Point Road almost a mile to the east end of the trail. Or take Skagit County Transit 410 to that same park and ride, or jump off anywhere along R or Q Avenues for a short walk to the trail.
By Bike: The roadways in downtown Anacortes are fairly level with easy urban access to the trail. Just be careful, of course. The trail itself is nearly level the entire way, paved the entire route except for the trestle, which is planked. Just watch out for clam shell fragments near or on the trestle. The Parks Department does a great job of blowing off the shells on a regular basis.
Mobility: the entire route is paved, level, and wide. There are several road crossings in the downtown area with flattened curb edges in appropriate places, many with mobility warning aprons.
I wanted to be in Langley by 7, so I thought, why not go early and stop by Putney Woods for an evening stroll. There was still some heat in the day. The arch at the trailhead was shimmering in the late afternoon sun. I took a picture of the trail map on the kiosk. I’d been here enough to know there's a maze of trails and it would be easy to get lost, which is fun when you have the time. But this evening I had just an hour and a half.
Studying the map, I decided to go toward the Metcalf Woods as I’d not traveled that way before. Putney Woods is over 600 acres and it’s connected to Saratoga Woods, another 100 acres. Add Metcalf Woods and you have 15 miles of trails to explore.
I’d met equestrians on these trails before, but not this evening. It was quiet. From the Trail of the Wild Fell, to the Canter Berry Trail, to the Coyote and Wile E. Coyote Trail, I walked in solitude and silence. At the start the trail is wide and smooth. Parts of the forest were thick with undergrowth, salal, ferns and evergreen huckleberry. But some sections were void of underbrush. The forest floor was littered with logs lying at odd angles like in a game of pick-up-sticks. A breeze brushed the treetops swishing branches this way and that under a blue summer sky.
As I continued the trail narrowed with dense hedges on each side. I couldn’t see very far ahead. But I heard voices and came upon a couple at a trail intersection studying their map. I did the same referring to the photo on my phone at every trail crossing. With a quick greeting we went separate ways. I took the Spider Web and then Stix Varia and kept walking on to the North Leg Saratoga Loop. Something was coming down a steep hill just ahead. A mountain biker applied the brakes as he came around the corner, surprised to see me but smiling. He was off again in a moment.
This end of the forest has some slope to it with larger cedars and firs. A junco hopped among downed logs. A chickadee sang out from the salal. A spotted Towhee sent a warning from the brush. I heard a nuthatch and a woodpecker high up in the trees.
The owner of the private land on the south edge of the woods had signed the property saying basically, you may walk here if you stay on the trails. And if you get hurt, that’s on you. Seems reasonable. I appreciate their willingness to share this woodland with us. The Whidbey Camano Land Trust helped protect these woods. Island County owns it now and maintains it with help from the Backcountry Horsemen and other volunteers. It’s a community effort.
As I came to another trail crossing, I found a mountain biker just stopping to read the sign. He said he enjoyed trying to figure out where he was without a map. But he wasn’t on a schedule. For me it was getting late. I picked up the pace and circled back on the South Leg of the Saratoga Loop.
The sun was low. I was walking fast, until I saw a brown creeper on the side of a large fir tree. It zig-zagged upward pecking at the bark as it went. I heard an owl call in the distance, which reminded me to move on.
Surrounded by tall evergreen shrubs I was thinking I'm glad we don’t have to worry about lions and tigers and bears, when a huge beast appeared! The biggest, friendliest puppy one would ever want to meet at twilight in the woods. I stepped aside to allow room for the enormous and energetic animal to pass. With a quick lick of my hand, we parted, a sweet end to my evening stroll.
For a trail map click here.
Directions: From Highway 525 on South Whidbey, turn north at the light on Bayview Road. Drive 1.8 miles to Andreason Road and turn left. At the next stop sign, turn right on to Lone Lake Road. Within a mile you will see the large gravel parking lot on the right.
By Bike and Bus: The closest bus stop is at Bayview Park and Ride 3.6 miles away. You may bike the road which is mostly level, 40mph with a paved shoulder.
Mobility: The trails closest to the parking area are the smoothest and most level, but trails get more narrow with more roots and steepness the farther you get from the trailhead.
It was Midsummer, and one of the hottest days of the year so far. Some people went swimming in local lakes, some boating on a lake or the sea. Some played in pools or splash parks. Me? I climbed a mountain that was drenched in burning sunlight and heat, drenching me in sweat.
It seemed like a good plan in my head: ride our bikes down to the Guemes ferry, enjoy the wind-blown waters riding the ferry across the channel, leisurely bike the island backroads to the base, then hike the short trail through the firs and ferns to the top of Guemes Mountain. Somewhat new to the area, Kath had not yet been to the top. I was looking forward to being her guide and showing her the view.
She questioned my timing: mid-afternoon? The hottest day of the year? Not to worry, I said, it’s in the shade. Well, mostly…
And it started out so well. The wind in our faces as we rode through town and coasted down the hill to the ferry; the ferry ride across the channel with marine breezes keeping us cool; and lazily pedaling the gently rolling South Shore Road past farms and fields and forests.
We locked our bikes at the trailhead, and that’s when the furnace blast of summer heat hit us full force. It was hot here! Wearing sunscreen and hats, we started up the mile-long trail. It’s just over a mile. Uphill. In full afternoon sun. Like through an oven. The sun was packing heat and aiming at us.
Maple leaves and dark firs kept the direct sun off us, for a while. The forest was silent. Nothing stirred, not wind or leaf or bird.
We took our time, resting often, drinking often. The small overlook halfway up gave us a chance to see the ever-growing view. We continued on. The trail continued too, uphill, always uphill, and soon the forest became only shrubs; the sun baked our sweaty skin, frying us like peanuts.
At the summit, we saw Mt. Baker looking like an ice-cream cone, snow-covered and inviting but far away. The waters of the Salish Sea spread blue and cold to the north and west. Hardly a breath of wind stirred the tall grasses around us.
We sat on a shaded bench facing north, drinking more water, eating an energy bar, admiring the view, and amazed at the quiet. And the heat.
We looped around to the west where others photographed the views. Kath took it in then looked for shade. I paused to see our world below, the waters bustling with boats, people staying cool indoors or out, if they could. Here, nothing stirred, save a dozen flies circling us like electrons. The golden grass stood baked into place.
Our native plants are adapted to summertime heat and drought, up to a point. Grasses go to seed and wait for fall rains. The wildlife knows to find shade and rest this time of day. But evergreen saplings are struggling. Cedars and hemlocks are stressed. Wild cherry leaves changed to golden brown, almost as we watched. Some like it hot, some don’t.
Several sweaty hikers were coming up the trail as we turned to go down.
Going down is always easier, of course. The trail rose to meet our feet. We could feel the cooling shade as we descended, and then back on our bikes we felt the breeze on our foreheads as we pedaled back to the ferry. The air felt cooler near the cold waters of the sea. We chatted with old and new friends on the ferry, sharing our different Guemes adventures. And then biking back to Skyline, the temperature dropped even lower, quite comfortable now.
The blazing heat of the day had become pleasant memories of a quintessential northwest adventure.
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