According to the U.S. Forest Service, stinging nettle, Urtica dioical, is commonly found throughout most of the United States. Because of its “stinging hairs,” wildlife and livestock have no interest in eating this ubiquitous plant; however, it “has many medicinal uses,” its leaves, when boiled, “are edible and can be substituted for spinach,” and “Stinging nettle fibers were used by Native Americans in the Northwest to make twine, fishing nets, and rope.” More important to me as my bare skin brushed against the heart-shaped, serrated-edged leaves of these plants draped across the trails at Cornet Bay was The Chemistry of Stinging Nettles.
“Stinging nettles are covered in tiny hollow hairs (trichomes). When you brush against them, you break the fragile silica tips off the hairs, and they the act like a needle, piercing the skin, and causing the nettle’s venom to be injected,” “Histamine, acetylcholine and serotonin cause inflammation & pain, whilst tartaric & oxalic acid in some nettle species have been linked with extended pain duration.” I’ll bet that the species that grows at Deception Pass State Park contains the acids that result in extended pain, as several hours afterwards, the exposed areas along my legs were left with the dull discomfort of pins and needles feeling you can get from nerve compression. Fortunately, the fifth and final day of my quest to traverse every mapped trail at Deception Pass State Park (DPSP) was the only one that had to be done during inclement weather. And I was not alone; My friend Nina volunteered to join. Soaked to the skin, we made our way across roots and rocks, splashed through puddles, and squeezed through sections of trail covered in sword ferns and salal.
Day One (15 May) Cornet Bay (north trails): Have you ever licked a banana slug? Me neither, but if you did, you’d learn, that coming in contact with its slime can make your tongue go numb. The first day of the quest (along my favorite five mile route in the entire park) didn’t feel much like it because I decided on the spot to make that run the first one. On a separate, photo-taking trip along the same route in wet weather, I observed tons of banana slugs, which have a top speed of six and a half inches a minute, nearly 10 meters per hour.
Day Two (22 May) Pass Lake Loop and Tursi Trail: Have you ever entered a cave? The Tursi Trail gives you that chance. We tackled it from the north, parked at the end of Donnell Road, ran 0.4 miles south, and encountered a guy walking a trio of goats along the way. From the trailhead, the route climbs 300 feet in 0.4 miles. Past this first crest is a view of Rodgers Bluff, the former site of Morris Graves’ cabin, a miner’s shack, rocky-walled craggy cave and quarry before the southern terminus of this mile long trail. At a completely unfamiliar, short steep spot around mile two, we reached the unmapped Big Cedar Trail. Most of the trails in this are steeper and more rugged than in other areas, so those willing to accept the challenge are rewarded with a higher level of peace and quiet.
Day Three (29 May) Bowman Bay, Rosario, Lottie and Lighthouse Points: Have you ever wondered how a place was named? Although it can be crowded, Bowman Bay (named after Abram Bowman, brother of founder-of-Anacortes, Amos) provides some of the most efficient, scenic hikes in the park. The section between Bowman and Rosario (likely named because it’s “adjacent to the south end of Rosario Strait“) is a mere half mile long with expansive views along its entire length as well as access to Rosario Head and tidepools. In the opposite direction are two loops, Lighthouse Point (a favorite, though actually just a channel marker) and Lottie Point (named after a steamship that “went ashore in the bay during a blinding snowstorm in 1887“). Follow the trail that parallels Highway 20 north to Pass Lake and south to get to the bridge.
Day Four (5 June) Dune, North Beach, and Goose Rock Trails: Have you ever seen an 850-year-old tree? We started to the south where we completed the absolutely flat, surrounded by sand, Dune Trail (see the old tree to the east); followed the shoreline of Cranberry Lake SE, then east to and around the Upland Interpretive Trail; continued along the road to the fishing dock near the park entrance; and returned to our starting point to tackle the North Beach Trail. With lots of roots and rocks, it is one of the most technical in the park. Before the Bridge, we exited south and completed the Discovery, Summit and Perimeter trails, then returned to the trailhead. The best hike here, accessible from the lot south of the bridge, is the two mile Discovery plus Perimeter trail loop.
Day Five (12 June) Cornet Bay (south trails): On our second trip to Cornet Bay, we accessed the area from Ducken Road. Standing water and continuous rain meant that we spent nearly two hours soaked to the skin. An hour in, the Nuu-Muu I wore hung down like a sopping wet, oversized bathing suit and my wet, foggy glasses obscured my view of the trails…but it was still fun.
In the end, my skepticism was legitimate: DPSP has 26 unique miles of trail. The most important thing I learned from traversing all of the trails at DPSP is that some of the best ones are off the beaten path.