Beyond the Oyster Dome

Oyster Dome, a rock outcropping in Whatcom County, is an excellent place from which to view the San Juan Islands as well as an area of geological interest. Fortunately, for those like me who don’t like crowds, getting there and back requires a 6 mile hike, about 2,000 feet of climb and 2 hours 20 minutes to 3 hours of time. Chrome Legacy Window 4142015 10740 PM

As my yoga class let out on a Monday morning in March, we talked local scenic hikes: outside the windows of the studio there was not a cloud in the sky. One gal gushed about Oyster Dome. She said that it was a difficult hike “about four miles” long and that the trail head was “along Chuckanut Drive,” “not far from Fort Larrabee State Park,” and “at a placed with parallel parking along the roadway.” I set out unprepared.

After successfully navigating my way along Highway 20 to Farm to Market Road, through Edison and finally, Chuckanut Drive, along which I spent 45 frustrating moments lost, I finally found the trail head, within sight distance of Mile Marker 10. The parallel parking spaces were full, so I continued south a short distance, parked and made my way to the trail. I set my GPS watch to start as I headed uphill, hoping I could complete the distance and get back in time to pick up my kids from school three hours later. Almost immediately, I passed a Pacific Northwest Trail marker.

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Likely because of logistics, the informational kiosk was located at a distance from the trail head. I took at quick look at the map.

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Minutes later, I encountered two women returning from the top who informed me that “the bench” was located about a mile up (one-third of the way) and that they typically complete the “6.5 mile” hike in about 2 hours and 20 minutes. If all went well, I knew I would finish within the allotted time.

Besides the quiet, one of the best things about the trail was the view of the trees. IMG_8976

I was (and still am) in my fungi photographing kick, so stopped to get a shot of this growing on the end of a log.

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When I reached the bench, I stopped to admire the view, looked at my watch, and realized I’d only completed one measly mile.

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Trying to be selective about my stops, I photographed this lichen, a small waterfall, and the standard signage. IMG_8980 IMG_8997 IMG_8994

The terrain varied from smooth, to rocky, to rooty and everything in between. IMG_9002

I noticed some polyphore fungi.

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The first third had been pretty steep. The middle was a little flatter. IMG_9010

A plot of time versus altitude shows the climb: just over 2,000 feet! Chrome Legacy Window 4132015 111821 AM

These red belt conk were near the top.

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Several small streams, including this one, cross the trail. IMG_9019

One particular boulder was absolutely massive.

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As I’d been warned, the upper section, just before a T that you must take to the left to reach Oyster Dome was a bit steep and technical. After walking within the limits of the trees (unable to see the water for the most part) for about 75 minutes, I reached an enormous boulder that I knew had to be Oyster Dome. The view was awesome.

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View to the SW from Oyster Dome

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View to the W from Oyster Dome

I wish I’d had this map to help me figured out which of the many islands was which. Chrome Legacy Window 4142015 12215 PM

I noticed this growth on a tree as I ascended. I knew when I saw it on the descent that I must not be lost. IMG_9033

I also saw this sign that states, “[illegible] STRIATIONS ATOP THIS PARTICULAR MATRIX OF CHUCKANUT SANDSTONE WERE MADE BY REGOLITH SLOWLY RUMBLING ALONG ABOUT 18,000 YEARS AGO UNDER THE PRESSURE OF GLACIER ONE MILE HIGH. ICE EXTENDS WESTWARD OVER VANCOUVER ISLAND AND WORLDWIDE FREEZING LOWERED THE SEA LEVEL ONE HUNDRED METERS.” Cool, huh?

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On the way down, I took a bit more time to take some photographs of things like these mycena mushrooms, trees along the trail, foliose lichen and a waterbar made of rock. IMG_9038 IMG_9049 IMG_9054 IMG_9058

Speed-hiking nearly the entire time, with photo breaks few and far between, I completed the trip in 2:16. A friend offered to join me the next time I went, and did, about a month later. By this time (April 9th), some flowers were in bloom.

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Mimulus guttatus (Yellow Monkey Flower)

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Montia parviflora (Small-leaved Montia)

Things seemed about the same, though I was armed with more experience, water, time and company. Here is the view from the bench.

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I’m not sure I’d ever seen such a large troop of Coprinellus micaceus before. IMG_0597

Further up, I noticed this yellow species of violet.

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Viola sempervirens (Trailing Yellow Violet)

The biggest surprise of the day was many encounters with a flower I remember from my childhood that I hadn’t seen in years: the trillium! It was so dark for the most part, that this (sadly) was the best image I captured of one. I learned from my field guide (Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast), that (p 102), “Each seed has a little oil-rich appendage that is attractive to ants. The ants lug the seeds back to their nests, where they eat the appendages or feed them to the larvae and then discard the seeds on their rubbish piles…Ants disperse up to 30% of the spring-flowering, herbaceous species in the deciduous forests of eastern North America.”

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Trillium ovatum (Western Trillium)

My non-photography friend Erin patiently waited for me to take photos. This is a typical rocky spot near the top.

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The view was just as awesome the second time around. In fact, maybe even better with the subtle morning sunlight. This time, I was sure we were in the right place. There wasn’t much to see Beyond the Oyster Dome except more trees.

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During the descent, we noticed some slippery spots with well compacted clayey soils. This muddy section above meanders down to similar, flatter trail below.

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We noticed just one Pacific Bleeding Heart plant during the entire trek.

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Dicentra formosa (Pacific Bleeding Heart)

The second round trip took nearly three hours, probably because we set a more leisurely pace, made more stops, and…neglected to notice the sign that would lead us down. Instead, we walked about ten minutes towards Lily Lake. After scratching our heads at several unfamiliar landmarks, we realized our error and turned back. We’ll visit Lily Lake another day.

Two trips to Oyster Dome lead me to provide the following advice to fellow hikers: eat your Wheaties, have a map of the San Juan Islands, and arrive early. Although it was a Monday, we encountered only two persons coming down as we went up, but about 25 persons ascending as we descended.

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