Sunday, February 22, 2015

Wanderings: Rockport State Park

Moss and sunlight. Had I only two words to describe last Saturday's hike at Rockport State Park, those would be the ones I'd choose!

Moss, moss everywhere! Lainey Piland photo

Tucked among the breathtakingly steep, thickly-forested slopes of the Cascade foothills north of Darrington, Rockport State Park is a true gem, and a rarity in our region.  Its 670 acres of forest have never been logged, thus allowing visitors the opportunity to experience an ancient ecosystem left completely intact. Let me tell you: if you're looking for some big trees... and I mean BIG trees... Rockport State Park is the place to go!

Did I mention the big trees? Lainey Piland photo

Wanting to make the most of a rare Saturday completely free of obligations, my husband and I piled our gear in the car and headed north to go explore this state park which neither of us had previously visited. And can I just say, once you exit I-5 and jump onto highway 530... wow.  The scenery is jaw-droppingly spectacular, with vistas of snow-capped peaks sharp against the not-so-distant eastern horizon, and velvet green hillsides ascending sharply from the valley through which you're driving. I can understand why people choose to live there!

We arrived at Rockport State Park shortly after 11:00 on that crisp, brilliantly sunny morning, joining four other vehicles in the relatively small, quiet parking lot. It appeared as though this park doesn't see a high volume of visitors. After eating a quick lunch, we set out for the Evergreen Trail, an easy three-mile hike that loops around the perimeter of the park.

Boardwalk along a muddy section of the Evergreen Trail. Lainey Piland photo

The things you notice right away along the narrow dirt trail meandering through the forest are that firstly, there is moss everywhere, and secondly, these are some truly giant, truly magnificent old growth trees - mostly Douglas fir with a few cedars, bigleaf maples, and hemlock here and there. The forest is characteristically decadent old growth with downed trees, fungi-covered nurse logs, and thick sword fern groves covering the forest floor. Long-dead trees still stand upright, their dessicated trunks bearing thousands of small holes chipped out by woodpeckers. Moss blankets many of the tree trunks and hangs from branches in thick curtains. Where errant rays of sunlight shine through the canopy, the whole mossy forest is flooded with glowing gold.

Sword fern grove - Lainey Piland photo
Lainey Piland photo

Lainey Piland photo

In the beginning, the trail follows the base of a hill, then turns slightly uphill along the eastern boundary of the park.  It is easy to see where the park boundary ends: the big trees suddenly disappear. The trail quickly veers back westward, deep into the forest. We passed by an old, twisted Doug fir stump dating back to the mid 1600's.  Boardwalks cover particularly muddy sections of the trail, and simple plank bridges allow you to keep your feet dry while crossing the many creeks and streams running down the hillside from Sauk Mountain high above.

One of the many streams running through the forest - Lainey Piland photo

A little less than halfway in, the trail follows the steep edge of a fern-covered ravine uphill (there is a whopping 250 foot elevation gain on this hike, after all), and crosses a roaring creek whose noise seems amplified by the overwhelming quiet of the forest.  At a few points, my husband and I just stood still on the trail and listened. A hidden bird warbled the most beautiful song overhead. A woodpecker's beak tapped out a dull percussion in the distance. The melodious and throaty call of a raven sounded through the quiet. An airplane flew overhead and my husband commented how loud, how out of place it sounded.

The bridge over Fern Creek - Lainey Piland photo

Another short jaunt uphill from the bridge, we found ourselves in what appeared to be a completely different forest. It was drier, more open, and with a different collection of plant species. There were still big trees, but half of them had fallen over. There they lay in the world's largest game of pick-up sticks on the forest floor, enormous root systems peeled up and exposed to the bright sun blazing through the wide open canopy. We could only surmise that, being somewhat on top of a hill, these trees had been subjected to strong winds that blew them over. Since they were huge trees growing in close quarters, it looked as though when one tree fell over, it took its neighbors down with it. There were dozens of toppled trees along the whole length of the trail. Too many to count!

Two more uprooted trees! Lainey Piland photo

Lainey Piland photo

The dry, open forest was the highest point on the trail.  From there, we wound back down into the damp, shady forest, and the trail met up with another robust creek, running cold and clear over its pebbled streambed. The trail crossed back and forth over this creek several times. We even spotted a few skunk cabbage blooming in the water. Signs of spring approaching, for sure!

Brave skunk cabbage holding on in the current! Lainey Piland photo

Near the end of the trail, the landscape began to look peculiar.  There were sticks sticking up out of the ground, hundreds of them everywhere.  My husband took a closer look and recognized a familiar foe: devil's club.  Neither of us had seen this plant in its leafless winter dress before, but there was no mistaking those needle-like spines that make you flinch just looking at them.

Now this looks odd. -Lainey Piland photo

The aptly named devil's club.  Don't touch! -Lainey Piland photo

The remainder of the trail was flat and pleasant, allowing us to pay less attention to where our feet were stepping and more to admiring the Doug firs and thick, moss-covered maples that towered overhead. Bizarrely long, thin strands of moss trailed from some of the tree branches, wafting in a gentle breeze like seaweed in an ocean current.

Big Doug fir tree... moss, moss everywhere! -Lainey Piland photo

And all too soon, it was over.  We arrived back at the parking area and bade farewell to the massive trees that stood guard over it.  I would have loved to explore the park's other trails [map] (including the short Fern Creek trail, which purportedly takes you past some of the biggest trees in the park), but at that point, we were well into afternoon and needed to depart on the long, pleasant, beautiful drive back home.

So is Rockport State Park worth a visit? Absolutely! If you're looking for a long, challenging hike, or if you prefer in-and-out hikes with an end destination, this place may not be for you.  But if you love old growth, need an easier hike, or just want to spend time in the forest, this park is a must-visit.  Really, the old growth forest here is amazing. Did I mention the big trees?

Ancient Doug fir tree.  -Lainey Piland photo

As a side note: our drive to Rockport State Park did take us past the site of the landslide that occurred in Oso nearly a year ago.  The magnitude of the destruction is even more terrible and expansive in person than in the photos we've all seen in the media. It is difficult to fathom. I didn't take any photos because doing so just didn't feel right. As we drove past and tried to take it all in, my heart broke for the many lives lost and for the community devastated by this tragedy. That gaping scar on the hillside and those barren acres of mud and debris cannot be cleaned up and are not going away; they are permanent, awful reminders which the residents of this community still have to pass by every day. There is no doubt that this is a strong and resilient community, but I have a feeling they could still use all of the good thoughts and prayers we can send their way.

No comments:

Post a Comment