After living on Whidbey Island for a decade, I finally made my way to South Whidbey State Park, located between Greenback and Freeland. Of it, the Washington State Parks site says, “South Whidbey Island State Park is a 347-acre camping park with 4,500 feet of saltwater shoreline on Admiralty Inlet. Park features include old-growth forest, tidelands for crabbing and clamming, campsites secluded by lush forest undergrowth, and breathtaking views of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains.” I arrived early on a Monday morning, hoping to have some alone time on the beach and trails. Minutes later, another vehicle showed up, probably with the same idea in mind. I cut my informational kiosk viewing time short and followed the sign towards the Beach Trail.
The first thing I noticed was the greenery. Sword ferns and maple trees lined the well-packed path. The sign said “moderate to steep climb” but, except for the last bit before the beach, it was an easy hike. Although I didn’t see any birds, I heard them, including what I think were Dark-eyed juncos. I’m familiar with Douglas firs, but not used to encountering so many maples. Salmonberries, which range from ruby red to yellow and everything in between, were ripe for the birds and people, like me, who don’t mind that their “insipid” taste.
Ten minutes later, I exited a set of steep stairs that led to the beach. Once there, I scrutinized the shoreline in hopes of finding some shells, but as is typical of a lot of beaches along Whidbey, I instead observed only rocks and different species of colorful seaweed. Towards the south, horsetails and other grasses grew along a sandy hillside. And driftwood. I experimented a little with my camera’s shutter speed while getting some shots of the water. For a short while, I was the only one there. At least I thought I was. In fact, there was at least one seal swimming around in the water. Off in the distance, I noticed a Bald eagle, which is almost a daily occurrence around here.
The bigger surprise was the osprey that showed up and then spent nearly ten minutes fishing, diving into the water multiple times before it finally grabbed one. I took a bunch of photos, but the whole telephoto-lens-with-bird-in-motion can be a little tricky. I ended up with just a few cool shots, among them, one of the osprey flying off to its nest with a fish. Except for one other family, the beach was deserted. It was a peaceful place to spend some time in the morning before the crowds arrived. When the osprey left, so did I, returning to my vehicle which I drove to the entrance, then parked in a gravel lot.
Across the road, I found the Ridge Loop Trail head, shown on this map. The sign warns of its difficulty, but I thought it was an easy hike. The first part of the trail was a little narrow with sword ferns growing tight up against it, but soon it straightened out and continued in a nearly straight path. Grace and ferns gave way to ferns and trees. Logs extended across a dip to a bank on the opposite side and I resisted the urge to try to cross without falling and continued along the trail.
Since I’d recently learned about the Twinflower, actually a shrub, and am a little obsessed with them, I stopped to take photos of a patch of the plants. According to the USDA site, “Linnaea borealis was reported to be Linnaeus favorite plant, and was named by his close friend and teacher Jan Frederik Gronovious in honor of Linnaeaus.” The next section of the trail was lined with salmonberry bushes, so I stopped to eat some of the yellow ones. They aren’t as flavorful as blackberries, but I don’t mind them. Neither do the birds. I heard the calls of the Varied thrush and Spotted towhee. Buttercups lined the path further along the way and I scrunched down to get a rabbit’s eye view of the trail.
I had already planned to walk to the Ancient Cedar. So, when I noticed the signs, I followed. I noticed the smell of the skunk cabbage plants before I saw them.
Numbered stakes mark cedar trees of interest. I didn’t stop at every one, but did at 5 and 7 on my way to the special tree. Finally, I found the Ancient Cedar, a tree that has been around for 500 years, which means it was just a youngster around the time Michelangelo completed work on the Sistine Chapel 9000 miles away, which I only know because I looked it up. I admired some freshly fronded ferns, returned to the beginning of the Ancient Cedar detour, returned to my vehicle (0.4 miles) and headed home. I checked my watch and noted that the Ancient Cedar encounter detour cost me about 0.7 miles but was well worth it. The entire hike was a mere 2.4 miles with about 400 feet of climb. I think it would also make for a scenic, easy trail run.