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Grey to Glorious! Traveling Washington State's shore and tide lands.

Winter weather in the Northwest can be catch as catch can. Rain, fog, and shades of grey are mostly the norm. But sometimes, the sun breaks though, and you are treated to some significantly serious scenery.

Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park

From Cape Disappointment on the Columbia River estuary, to Neah Bay (beginning of the world and home to the Makah, the Cape People) to Point Roberts which requires a trip through British Columbia, Washington has 3,026 miles of shoreland. Most of it is prime habitat for birds, salmon, and wildlife – and most all of it a recreation and inspirational treasure for humans.

So, for the Valentine’s Day weekend (and our first rare snow days in Bellingham) my wife and I boarded the Kennewick, the Coupeville to Port Townsend ferry and headed for the coast. It is an 11-mile ferry crossing, or a 212-mile drive around the Salish Sea. Doing the math is easy, and there is the added benefit of taking the Northwest ferry system where time stands still, and you get a forced but welcome break from the day-to-day grind. During Covid, most travelers opt to remain in their vehicles for the 35-minute passage. But even with that, the gently rolling sea and the lack of distraction provides a great get-away (and maybe a nap).

The first day and half of the second was rain and snow, which continued as we drove Route 101 through Sequim, Port Angeles, and Forks (of Twilight fame) to Olympic National Park and Rialto Beach. We almost always stop in the Elwha River valley, but as we approached the turn-off, we were pretty socked-in with little visibility.

Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park

Rialto is just north of the Quileute Tribal reservation and the Quillayute River, which is formed by the confluence of the Sol Duc, Bogachiel and Calawah Rivers. Visualize awesome breaking waves, sea-stacks, coastal forests, pebbled beach, and walls of driftwood from winter storms. So beautiful. But not visible when we arrived and started hiking up the beach!

Deception Pass State Park

And then, as usual here, magic happened, the sun appeared, and the full beauty of the Olympic coast played out before us. It stayed with us for the rest of our trip, and it really makes you aware of and alert to how quickly the elements change, appreciative of the nuances of the changing light, and thankful for the health and mental benefits of the outdoors.

Ebey Island State Park

On the way home, we stopped at Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, Joseph Whidbey Park, and Ebey Island and Deception Pass State Parks. We were definitely following the light that eventually culminated in a glorious sunset at Deception Pass, where the rangers let visitors stay another 40-minutes past closure to get that last light.

Ebey Island State Park

Doing our part! Even short trips remind us of the need to get out in nature and to protect valuable forests, beaches and marsh, tide, shore, and rangelands. Even as travel is limited and difficult, it is important that natural resources are there forever.

One way is to support your local land trust. After decades of conservation work, and facing new administrations, regulations and budget cuts, I understand the huge benefit from the permanence of perpetual conservation easements, purchasing land outright, and working with individual private landowners. There are more than 1,300 land trust organizations across the nation. To find out more, go to the Land Trust Alliance find a land trust page, and if you live in Washington, go to the website for the Washington Association of Land Trusts (WALT) where you can learn more about the North Olympic Land Trust, Whatcom Land Trust (which I have worked with for nearly 20-years) and others.

Be aware that the pandemic plays out differently depending on the place and situation. Tribes are being hit hard and the Quileute and Makah reservations remain closed, as does the border with British Columbia (and all of Canada). Travel is still possible if you plan it out, keep your distance, mask up, and consider how your actions might affect (or be seen) by others.

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