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Low Tide Walk: Deception Pass, August 20, 2020

For my final series of "good" low tide explorations for the year I chose Deception Pass State Park as our destination. I had only done one low tide walk at Deception Pass previously, earlier this summer, and wanted to return with a companion. The beaches I visited the first time were somewhat tricky to access and having a partner would help me focus on the creatures instead of worrying about a safe return.

We set out earlier than necessary and treated ourselves to a short hike around Goose Rock trail on the south side of the pass before getting down to the business of tide pooling. We then drove over to the north side and parked at Rosario Beach at around 9:30 am anticipating our lowest tide (-1.2") to arrive at about 11:30.

Tide pool at Rosario Beach

I would not recommend parking here if you have seen Rosario Beach before as you will waste some time getting to the good locations. Amanda had not seen Rosario before so we took the quick walk around the area designated at the beach by a permanent rope. There wasn't much to look at and since the entire walk was above the tide this early there wouldn't be much point in returning. Afterwards we headed over to Bowman Bay where we headed down the Lighthouse Point Loop. We skipped over a lot of beach territory on my way. It wasn't very enticing- the sand was sludgy and featureless.

Heading down the left fork of the Lighthouse Loop we walked past a muddy tidal flat, through the forest, until we came to a rocky beach. There was a minor amount of scrambling involved to get to the shore. This would be the easiest beach to access.

The left side of this beach had a rocky formation where the water would normally flood in. The narrow inlet would have funneled the seawater fairly high, as you can see in the left image. On the right side of the beach there were numerous rocks to explore, mostly covered in the slippery seaweeds. This beach was absolutely crawling with rock louses, some of which were obscenely large. The folds in the rock walls were teeming with all sorts of life. Plumose anemones dangled from rocks, often tightly packed together. There were numerous large painted anemones, both in and out of the water. Looking closely in the cracks of the rock we frequently spotted a very small type of sea star that never seemed to get much bigger than 5" across. I have not yet been able to identify it. It was often tightly packed into the rock wall.

Heading back along the path, I kept my eye out for the way down to the second beach. It was hidden in the bushes to our left and the route consisted of a steep sandy "path" made out of tree roots with a rope tide to it. This one would be more difficult to access.

Amanda climbing the root & rope

Luan photographing anemones

After clambering down I headed immediately to the left and started inspecting the rock crevices and caves that led down to the beach. In my opinion this area was the best part of the whole walk. On the rock walls dangled plumose anemones so stretched out it didn't look possible. There were beautiful, plump painted anemones all over. Purple rock crabs collectively made a cacophony of chittering as they scurried into their hiding places. Best of all were the rock caves of aggregating anemones that were a more brilliant green here than anywhere else I have observed. They were utterly unreal and amazing. Quite a few must have been missing their commensal algae as they were colorless.

This area was covered with feather duster worm tubes and more of those mysterious small not-quite-ochre stars. The right side of this beach was more open and rocky, covered in seaweed. There were more large painted anemones over here and a couple of blood stars, brilliant against a background of grey rock.

As with all low tide walks, time was not on our side and I had to pry myself away from the anemones before heading to our final beach. Given that the landscape here is quite dramatic I did not want to risk being on these difficult-to-access-no-cell-signal beaches much past the lowest tide. We scrambled back up the roots and made our way further along the path.

Third beach, path on right

After a short walk I could see the path down to the third beach through the brush on our left. This route was less exposed than the last but had no rope to aid us and therefore was equally as challenging. The beach was similar to the prior ones- narrow walls of rock to the left and a more open beach to the right. The seaweed covering the rocks here was an extremely slippery variety. The right beach was much more accessible as the rocks were smaller and more flat.

After checking out that side and seeing blood stars and anemones, I ventured on the left side alone where the rocks were much bigger and covered with huge barnacles. The walls were much higher here and I vanish out of sight from Amanda. Over here I saw the largest painted anemones I have ever seen, some of them packed tightly in small clusters. I wondered how many other humans have seen these particular individuals and how old they were. Anemones don't age, so there might not ever be a way to answer that question. The oldest known captive anemone lived for eighty years! There is one anemone on Rosario Beach purported to be fifty years old, according to a park ranger who said there was a drawing of a currently living anemone from fifty years ago...fascinating!

Upon scrambling back up we decided that we were done for the day and started making our way back. We continued our route through Whidbey Island and took the ferry back, arriving home late afternoon.

Deception Pass is one of my favorite locations so far because it feels mysterious and untouched. While there we numerous people in the state park itself, we did not see another soul on the beaches. I'll be on the lookout for similar, new locations to explore in the future!

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