Monday, April 28, 2014

Deception Pass State Park: In Search of Spring Wildflowers

Way up at the northern tip of Whidbey Island, a spring wildflower display is amping up the already stunning natural beauty of Deception Pass State Park. Within verdant old growth forest, along beaches, and around wild meadows, rare and common native flowers are scattered like jewels on a treasure hunt.

A few days ago I was fortunate to tag along with fellow blogger Dave of Fidalgo Island Crossings and Wild Fidalgo for a hike through the park.  Dave, who has lived near Deception Pass for over 25 years, is an astute observer of the natural world.  He is the perfect guide for a walk in the park he knows well, and shares his impressive knowledge of plants with an infectious enthusiasm.

We meet on a weekday morning at the North Beach Parking lot, where Dave greets Julie, Jerry, and me with a smile and leads us up the trail and into the forest.  Our primary goal is to see the wild rhododendrons (or "rhodies" as I grew up calling them) blooming in the forest below Goose Rock.

Dave leading, scanning the forest.
Right off the bat Dave starts identifying plants that we pass. "There's elderberry in bloom," says Dave, pointing to some white blossoms high up on a shrub about 10 feet off the trail in the thick understory.

Thinking I'll show what I know about native plants from growing up beside a lowland forest, I point out "Oregon grape!" 

In the nicest way possible, Dave corrects me. "That's actually mahonia nervosa, low Oregon grape. Easily confused." 

As we stroll through the gorgeous forest, Dave talks about the poor soil conditions here, and how the smaller trees shoot off from the older, larger trees to grow and be sustained. So really, under the soil surface, much of the forest life is interconnected.  Which I think is quite beautiful and analogous to most life on our fragile planet.

Dave gets excited as he spots the first rhodies in the woods.  While not in bloom, the rich, dark pink buds are visible on several branches, atop the shiny splayed leaves.

Turns out we're a few days early; the only rhodie in bloom is the one pictured at the top of this post.  But there are many other things to spot.  

We skirt down to the Cornet Bay shoreline, where I attempt to go dip my fingers in the sea, a ritual of mine.  The others sensibly watch me from the high tideline. It's too mucky to get to the water.

We then follow Dave up another trail that goes to the top of Goose Rock. En route, we have views down to the bay and spot brilliant orange-red harsh paintbrush alongside the trail. 

Harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida)

Approaching the rock "balds" near the summit, all sorts of delicate meadow wildflowers line the trail.  Cameras come out and we start snapping away in the spring sunshine.

Chocolate lily (Fritillaria affinis, F. lanceolata) in front, blue common camas (Camassia quamash), and buttercups.
Death camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum, Zigadenus venenosus)
Cresting the summit, we're greeted by a breathtaking panorama of Whidbey Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the south-southwest.  On top of all this splendor, we're the only ones here right now, which is a rare thing on a beautiful day. (Go on a weekday, if at all possible.)

Work demands that we head back down now, but first Dave leads us under the south side of Deception Pass Bridge and up onto the bridge. I always find this bridge/view exhilarating.

Have camera, will travel.

Looking west-northwest towards Deception Island and Lopez Island in the distance.
Many thanks to Dave for his cheerful and knowledgeable lead on this hike.  Besides the wildflowers, there are many more trails and beaches to explore at Deception Pass.  Go see for yourself!

What spring wildflowers have you seen this year? We always love to hear from you in the Comments below. Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.

When You Go
Now playing! The show is on now, so go soon for the peak display. Bring your camera, sturdy walking shoes, and the usual suspects such as rain gear, sunscreen, etc. depending on the weather forecast.  You'll need a Discover Pass to park at Deception Pass State Park, which is about a 90-minute drive north of Seattle. Here is a map of the park, where you'll see Goose Rock. We found the rhodies on the Discovery Trail - I think.

Click here to see Dave's blog, where you can learn about the plants and wildlife we saw on this outing. My blog is more about experiences and some things I learned along the way.


Ingunn said...

I've only hiked at Deception Pass in winter and it was beautiful then - in spring it must be amazing!

We went east to Sauer's Mountain this weekend and saw balsamroot and some early paintbrush, glacier lilies and lupine.

jill said...

Hey Ingunn, glad you're getting out and hiking. Hope you're feeling good. Love balsamroot, you're flower sightings sounds wonderful!

Suezy Proctor said...

Hi your post and your friend's post on Deception Pass. I love the chocolate lily - she looks like a spent sugar plum fairy. Lovely photos and narrative and the comment about inter-connectivity.

Dave Wenning said...

Just got back from this morning's visit to "the rock." On Friday, we caught the Chocolate Lilies just in time. The flowers were already drying up and dying this morning. Another beautiful day and even a bit warmer on top. Jerry came along again. Rhodie buds have opened a bit more but still not fully bloomed. We spotted many more blossoms opening than we saw the other day. Good job on the post, as usual. I enjoyed another perspective on a shared experience. You made me look good. Probably better than I really am.

Ron Mitchell said...

Jill, thanks for taking us on the hike. Those chocolate lilies bring me back to Alaska. Jack loved to sniff their manure scent. Hopefully, he will get to do it again! Ron.

jill said...

Suezy, what a lovely description of the flower, love your writerly mind!

Dave, thanks again! Glad you got to see more rhodies.

Ron, you're welcome. Gosh didn't try smelling those flowers. Yes, hope he'll get to do it again also.