Site 217 looks okay to me. Go ahead and make our camp, humans.
Deception Pass is near and dear to my heart. It's less than an hour's drive from my house, whether you hop the Mukilteo ferry and drive up to the north end of Whidbey Island or dash up the interstate and come down from the other direction.
And it's a piece of pure Pacific Northwest heaven - a massive and ridiculously picturesque bridge (or pair of bridges, if you want to get technical), beautiful vistas of tree-topped islands floating in the churning waters, beaches covered with huge bleached logs, endless smooth stones, and bits of coarse gray sand.
While I've visited here dozens of times - bringing my babies for their first outings, hauling up carloads of teenagers to hike the hills, even making some midnight runs with my daughter and her telescope to look at the stars - I've never spent the night.
Yes, there's a campground tucked in between the beaches here, and all these years, I've dreamed of making a proper overnight stay.
This week, my daughters and I finally made that dream come true.
Little did I know what a magical moment was waiting for me.
Traveling makes me thirsty. Did anyone pack me some ice?
Planning for just a one-night stay, we rolled in on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, and first set up camp.
My fourth-born and I are a well-oiled camp-pitching machine.
Mom? Mom! Where did you pack my treats? I need some.
I arranged the kitchen gear and set out our bags each on our own seat in the car. Like duffel-bag closets.
I don't mind sleeping in the tent as long as Mom doesn't hog the air mattress.
She is the tent princess.
At campfire time, I just lie in the dirt like a common animal.
I believe it's called, "roughing it."
And whoever finishes first sets out the chairs. This time, it was me.
Our site was huge with big bushy boundaries that kept our neighbors from view, though our ears immediately filled with the chatter from next door. Seems a group of twenty-something former frat boys were gathering to celebrate a birthday, and they were amped. Though their language would have made a pirate blush, and their sense of humor was on par with a fifteen-year-old, we found them endlessly entertaining and spent a good part of our time spying on them and whispering about their latest rantings.
Every camping trip comes with a few characters and these gentlemen did not disappoint.
My job is to guard our vehicle. Mission accomplished.
While we worked, Gracie waited in the car.
Rugged adventure dog.
With our chores done lickety split, we headed down to the beach.
Beaches, to be technical.
Here, let me offer a brief geography lesson:
Deception Pass is a strait that separates Whidbey Island to the south, from Fidalgo Island to the north. The east side of the pass opens up into the relatively tame Skagit Bay, while the west flows out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean.
I know. That's super confusing. So think of it like this: the water makes the shape of a letter H, and our camp was located inside the bottom half, just underneath the cross bar and up against the left hand edge.
So as we hiked out a short trail to the north, we soon came out of the trees to find ourselves on North Beach.
And that's where we played first.
Hey, follow me! I think I know the way.
Once Gracie was soaked to the skin and my shoes were full of sand, we decided to head over to West Beach.
To get to West Beach, which faces out to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific, one must take a short hike thought the woods. You'd think that the beaches would connect but there's a huge rocky bulkhead in the way. Don't even thing about swimming here - the currents are notoriously strong, unpredictable, and crazy dangerous.
Resting on a bed of sticks.
Over on West Beach, gentle waves lapped at the shore as toddlers ran back and forth in pure delight, and big boys threw rocks out into the placid water. Hazy clouds gathered over the western horizon as we ambled about; the air was warm and soft. Resting on a comfortable beach log, my daughters and I all felt drowsy in the pleasant sunshine, and decided to head back for a quick nap before dinner.
This is what happens when delayed sleep phasers get up early to go camping. We need naps.
Thankfully, Gracie is always agreeable to some snooze time.
Dinner?! Yes, I'd love some.
And you remembered to bring me my usual post-dinner apple? Thank you!
We cooked our traditional packet dinners over the fire and decided to save our s'mores till later.
Then, with our day continuing to unfold like calculated clockwork, it was time to walk down to West Beach for the sunset.
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We hiked back through the woods, and down a low hill to the open air of the beach.
The instant that we stepped out from the cover of the trees, every predictable thing about my day disappeared in a flash.
Gusting winds hit us so hard we staggered. Glancing ahead, I was dumbstruck to see huge five-foot white-capped waves slamming into the stony beach, with a sound and fury unlike anything I've ever experienced.
As I tried to make sense of this glorious and slightly terrifying commotion, I noticed that the orange ball of sun had just slipped out from under a layer of cloud, and lit up the sky with gold, orange, yellow, pink and purple.
Awestruck, we stood fast in that moment, just taking in the unspeakable power of sea and sky.
Then, our eyes still glued to the scene, we walked twenty meters down the beach to the corner, the place where the water turns, and we climbed up on the rocks to the highest vantage point.
And the effect was even more spectacular.
I have seen some mind-blowing sunsets in my day.
But I have never experienced the majesty of a moment quite like this one. And as I stood on a massive rock high about the churning, crashing water and stared out at the watercolor sky, I knew I would remember forever this life-changing moment in my long-awaited camping trip to Deception Pass.
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More stories about my trips to beautiful Whidbey Island and Deception Pass: