During my recent visit to Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, I had the opportunity to have a small but intriguing taste of Deception Pass State Park. This is the most visited state park in Washington. Sadly, because of the pandemic, the campgrounds were closed, and the Civilian Conservation Corps interpretive center at Bowman Bay was as well. I’d have dearly loved to have checked that out. I hope to do so in happier times. No boat or kayak rentals were available either.
It sounds like I did nothing. But in fact, the trails were open, and they provide spectacular views of the pass. You wander among some of the oldest growth forests still extant in the state. You walk under and/or over the breathtakingly high bridge, and look down upon the waters rushing through the narrow pass when the tide is going in or out. The current can get up to 8 knots, and can produce standing waves, whirlpools and eddies. You might even catch a glimpse of seals or whales going through (we didn’t). You’re even more likely to see boats waiting for the tide to change direction before they make transit.
The park is 3,854 acres, some on the Whidbey side, some on the Fidalgo side, and it also includes 10 islands. There is plenty of fishing, camping, hiking, boating, beaching and tidepooling (which isn’t a word, but you get the idea) to do. I’m particularly intrigued by the rentable cabin that is only accessible by rowboat.
Deception pass was named by the explorer George Vancouver, because he felt deceived by that narrow pass. He thought it was simply a river, and didn’t even realize that Whidbey was an island until his lieutenant, Joseph Whidbey, circumnavigated it. That’s why Vancouver named the island after him. But as with all European “discoveries”, the Coast Salish tribes had already settled the area.
If you’re ever in the neighborhood, I highly recommend that you visit Deception Pass State Park. Here are some of the pictures we took during our all-too-brief visit.
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Recently, while visiting Whidbey Island, Washington, I had the opportunity to wander around Fort Casey State Park. If you were to approach this park from the water, you’d see nothing but a nice, green, well groomed hill, flanked by Admiralty Head Lighthouse. You’d have no idea that there was a well designed, sneaky little fort behind those hills.
By 1901, big guns were mounted on disappearing carriages. They’d only pop into view when they were about to fire. It’s quite a stealthy design, but one would assume that it would have only taken one battle for the world to know about it.
I got to wander around on the concrete batteries of this fort, taking in the spectacular views and thinking about how much money it must have taken to build the place. Because, yeah, that’s how my mind works. It turns out that the entire harbor defense system was finished in 1905, and cost 7.5 million dollars, which, adjusted for inflation, would be 218.5 million today. But I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Fort Casey began construction in 1897, to help guard the inlet to Puget Sound. That fort, along with Fort Worden at Port Townsend and Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island, formed what was called a “triangle of fire”. If any enemy ships were to attempt to enter the sound, they’d have been very quickly destroyed.
The thing is, none of the three forts ever fired a single shot. When airplanes were invented in 1903, the face of warfare changed drastically, and these forts became obsolete. The guns were taken for use during World War I, but most were scrapped by World War II. The fort itself was used as a training facility until the end of World War II. Your tax dollars at work.
But, yeah, in 1955 Fort Casey was turned into a lovely 999 acre state park where you can camp and picnic and fly kites, so there’s that. You can also check out the lovely lighthouse, but on the day we were there, it was encased in scaffolding, and was most likely closed for the pandemic.
Before describing the other two forts (below), here are some photos that we took at Fort Casey:
I did not get a chance to visit Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island, but it sounds beautiful, based on what I’m reading in Wikipedia. Again, it was quickly obsolete after its construction, but actually didn’t close down until 1953. It, too, was made a state park, in 1955. This one also has a lighthouse, but it’s not nearly as pretty, and it’s always closed to the public.
Fort Flagler state park has camping, boat launches, and historical buildings that can be rented out, as well as a museum. You’re welcome to wander its 1451 acres. I hope I have the opportunity to do so someday.
I did get to visit Fort Worden a day after I visited Fort Casey. This one is located on the edge of very developed and extremely charming Port Townsend, so the parks department was only able to grab up 433 acres in 1973. Before that, from 1957 to 1971, it was used as a juvenile detention facility, or, as some called it, “a diagnostic and treatment center for troubled youths.” I bet there are a lot of interesting and probably tragic stories from that period.
But before that, it was arguably the most active of the three forts. It was the headquarters of the Harbor Defense Command of Puget Sound. It was used as a training center during World War I, and many barracks were added to house the men. An observation balloon hangar was built there in the 1920’s, to the tune of $85,000 (or 1.1 million today). These observation balloons were used as aerial platforms for intelligence gathering and artillery spotting. It remained a military fort until 1953.
I instantly recognized Fort Worden when I visited, because the movie An Officer and a Gentleman was shot there. So I walked in the footsteps of Richard Gere. Woo hoo! The movie The Ring was shot there as well, it is claimed, but I just rewatched that movie and didn’t recognize a thing.
Again, we explored the concrete batteries, but were unable to visit the museum, the School of Woodworking, the Marine Science Center, or any of the restored quarters that are available for vacation rentals, because, you know, pandemic. I wasn’t even aware of the military cemetery until I started research for this blog post.
Two pictures of our visit to Fort Worden appear below. One is someone’s humorous idea of an art installation. It kind of gives me the willies. (All the other photos included my husband, and he prefers not to partake of my modest blog fame.)
If you’re ever in the area, these forts are definitely worth checking out!
On day one of our Roamin’ Holiday, we decided to visit two islands that I have long been fascinated by, but have never quite gotten around to exploring. We took a ferry from the mainland, which is always fun, and then drove over a bridge to get back home. The place names alone are a delight.
We went from Useless Bay to Shelter Bay, crossing Deception Pass in the process. We passed by (in no particular order) Mutiny Bay, Heart Lake, Double Bluff Park, Guemes Channel, Grasser’s Lagoon, Snee Oosh Road, Dugualla Bay, Doon Way, Similk Bay, Ala Spit, Cranberry Lake and Strawberry Point. I could fall in love with these islands just by looking at a map.
What I wasn’t prepared for was how huge Whidbey Island actually is. It’s the 4th largest island in the continental United States. It’s nearly 169 square miles of land. Fidalgo Island is an additional 41 square miles. Needless to say, there was much to see.
While crossing these islands, you can get lost in forest primeval, or look at farmland that seems to stretch beyond the horizon, all without even glimpsing the gorgeous waterfront views. Whidbey alone boasts six state parks and three nature reserves.
Deer abound, and we did spend some time skirting the Donald Borgman Nature Preserve in hopes of spotting Bruiser, Whidbey’s only elk (I’ve written about him before), but sadly, had no luck finding him. He tends to hang out in that beautiful, unspoiled area, and who could blame him?
I loved how both islands are rural in the south, and more inhabited in the north. South Whidbey gets most of its income from tourism, farming, and art. North Whidbey is the home of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, and along with that comes apartment complexes, trailer parks, package stores and fast food. About half the island’s 67,000 residents live rurally.
On Fidalgo Island, the majority of the people live in the lovely town of Anacortes, which has a population of about 16,000. The late Burl Ives lived there. (I think of that every time I watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.) I look forward to visiting Anacortes again in less viral times, when I can visit the many restaurants and shops.
What follows are some of the photos we took during this leg of our journey. We also visited Fort Casey and Deception pass, but they both merit their own blog posts, so watch this space!
Whidbey Island lies on the northern end of Puget Sound, and is about 30 miles north of Seattle. About 80,000 people live there, and there’s a naval air station out there as well. Until today, that was all I could tell you about Whidbey. I’ve never been there, although I’ve always wanted to check it out. And now I want to see it even more, because I’ve just learned about Bruiser.
Bruiser swam to the island in the fall of 2012, and has been hanging out there ever since. He’s the only one of his kind on the island. He rules over an elk kingdom of one. As a matter of fact, he could very well live longer than the average elk, since he doesn’t have to fight with other males.
Food is abundant for Bruiser, and he seems to spend the bulk of his time hanging out in the nature preserve on the north end of the island. He has no natural predators to disturb him. His only real worry is the possibility of being hit by a car.
Well, that and getting tangled up in stuff. Apparently that happens a lot. When Bruiser’s antlers are about to be shed, he likes to rub them on things. According to this article, he’s had at least two bicycles stuck in his antlers, as well as barbed wire, lawn ornaments, a horse blanket, and most recently, a blue plastic tarp. Mostly, the wildlife officers let him figure it out on his own, since tranquilizing him is not the healthiest option. But sometimes they have to intervene.
A lot of people seem to feel sorry for Bruiser. They think he’s lonely. They think he needs a mate. But really, the only time he needs a mate is during mating season. He’s not a swan. He doesn’t want to mate for life. Male elk usually lead pretty solitary lives.
I think Bruiser has it pretty good, considering. Hey, he’s explored Whidbey Island, which is more than I can say. I’m jealous.
If you’ve ever encountered Bruiser, tell us about it below!