Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Travis Spit

It's a long, four mile walk on a coarse gravel and cobble beach from Thompson Spit to Travis Spit at the northwestern tip of the Miller Peninsula. The spit extends westward about a mile across the mouth of Sequim Bay - most of the way across, at least.  


While Travis itself is a fairly simple landform - a classic bay mouth spit - it's part of a complex of barrier beaches that make the story much more interesting. Together Travis and Gibson form paired spits, converging on the mouth of the bay. Gibson is also fairly large, extending south from Port Williams across Washington Harbor, and sheltering a large salt marsh. There's another smaller spit that extends north from the south shore of Washington Harbor. And Paradise Cove Spit is a north-directed spit that has formed just south of the base of Travis Spit on the eastern shore of Sequim Bay. Finally, if you look carefully, you'll see a small secondary spit on the southern side of the distal portion of Travis, with it's own narrow log-choked lagoon. You really need the aerial view and the map for this.

250 meters across the Sequim Bay channel is the site of the old Bugge Cannery (clams), which has been Battelle's Marine Science Laboratory for the last few decades. From the signs, I gather that Battelle may own much of high ground on Travis Spit. The central portion of Travis is narrow, but not so narrow as to show any obvious signs of overwash.

From the tip of Travis, it was a very long walk back to the State Park trail, a not so long walk up the trail to my bike, and then a refreshing ride back to my car. With a quick stop at the Discovery Bay store for chips, I made the 5:30 Kingston Ferry.

For those interested in visiting the Miller Peninsula or Travis Spit, a couple of thoughts. Miller Peninsula State Park is undeveloped, except for a new parking lot off of the Diamond Point Road and a network of trails largely maintained and signed by volunteers. Thompson Spit is best visited by hiking or biking in from the State Park parking lot. Travis would be best visited by parking at Panorama Vista County Park, which is reached off of the East Sequim Bay Road. 

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Thompson Spit

The Miller Peninsula, on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula, lies between Discovery Bay on the east and Sequim Bay on the west. Diamond Point is the cuspate foreland that marks the northeast corner and the entrance to Discovery Bay. Travis Spit extends from the northwest corner across the mouth of Sequim Bay. In between is about 5 miles of gravel and cobble beach, backed by steep bluffs.


The one exception to this long stretch of bluffs is Thompson Spit, located near the eastern end. The spit is a looped barrier - basically a spit that extends out from the coast and then reconnects farther down the shore (in this case, west to east, which is consistent with what we expect of longshore transport here). They're rarely symmetric and this one is no exception. Their updrift ends are often tangent to the adjacent bluff - as if the beach reached a sharp bend in the coastline but couldn't turn fast enough. The downdrift ends tend to merge back to the coastline asymptotically. If there is a tidal inlet, it's usually near this downdrift end (that's not the case at here, which just suggests a more complex geologic or historic story that I don't know).

The berm on the western end is low and narrow and there was evidence of overwash. The lagoon was draining through a shallow inlet and the beach in front of the inlet was marked by several organic ledges (the upper looked more like sawdust - perhaps evidence of some human history?) - which is typical where a barrier beach has migrated landward, exposing old marsh and lagoon sediments. The central point of the spit is marked by a large mound that appears to be fill - was there an old cabin or small mill here once?

This may have been referred to as Deadman's Spit at one point - the dead man being a guy named Thompson in the 1860s. But that may be reading too much into a local history I found online (Diamond Point history).

I'd like to come back and explore more sometime - lots of unanswered questions. But only the western portion of the spit is in the State Park and I'm not sure how welcoming the owners of the eastern half are likely to be.

Looped barriers are common on Puget Sound - here are a few we've visited before:
Perego's Lagoon: December 2015
Cama Beach: April 2017 (and many previous)
Kayak Point: January 2009

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cama Beach

Last week I got a chance to visit Cama Beach to talk to this spring's Sound Water Stewards class. The weather cooperated for the beach walk - which it seems like it usually does, but this year I wasn't so sure!  I managed to grab a few photos, but not many. When I'm with a group, I'm too busy answering questions or looking for topical material to remember to take pictures.


The beach at the south end is very low, although not necessarily lower than in 2012 (Cama Beach: May 2009). However, a little farther north, near the old gate in the seawall, it was as low as I've ever seen it. The old wooden piles were completely exposed and there were large patches where the beach veneer was completely absent, with the underlying silt and clay showing through.

At the north end, we checked out the two big slide scars from previous years (see linked posts below). Despite this winter's record rainfall, it doesn't look there's been that much activity.

There was eelgrass hanging from the branches of the trees - a reminder of the interaction between the terrestrial and marine ecosystems. And there was a wonderfully delicate micro-berm of ground up clam shell marking last night's high tide.

Previous posts that mention Cama Beach.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Hug Point

Hug Point is a small rocky headland that extends out across the beach a few miles south of Cannon Beach. The rocks include both Tertiary sediments and an intrusion of Columbia River basalt. 100 years ago, travel along the coast generally used the beach, but at Hug Point, a road was carved into the promontory (the old roadbed doesn't show in these photos).


Fall Creek arrives at the beach over an 8' waterfall. As streams often do on these kinds of beaches, it exposed the coarse cobble that underlies the upper part of the more ephemeral sandy beach. 

Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach extends south from Tillamook Head and Ecoloa State Park. It's best known, visually and geologically, for Haystack Rock, a very large sea stack located just offshore, yet still accessible during low tides. Haystack Rock is Columbia River basalt, extruded into the surrounding sediments as the flows reached the former coast and then subsequently exposed by erosion.


Cannon Beach seems to be several communities stretched out along the shore. The northern end is very low - a barrier beach associated with the mouth of Ecola Creek. But much of the rest of the town to the south lies on somewhat higher ground behind a modest bluff, although I'm not sure if this is a marine terrace or just old dunes.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Indian Beach

Indian Beach, in Ecola State Park, is a two kilometer long pocket beach tucked into the southern side of Tillamook Head. The upper beach is a very steep coarse gravel and cobble berm - the lower beach is flat and sandy.


A small stream empties out onto the northwest end of the beach. And a landslide (or several landslides) empty out onto the other end of the beach. The cliffs that rise behind the beach is Columbia River Basalt that flowed out to the coast 15 million years ago, before the modern coast range was established.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Seaside Point and Cove

South of Seaside, the wide sandy beach runs into the rocky headland of Tillamook Head, which projects westward into the Pacific. But even this northern edge of the headland has a beach, it's just a very different one. The lower beach is rounded boulders and the upper beach is a coarse gravel and cobble berm. I assume this coarse material is all basalt, eroded from the promontory and spread eastward along it's northern shore.


The westerly swell sweeps along this shoreline, breaking at a very sharp angle and creating (at least under the right conditions) a strong left break just offshore. Seaside Point is a beach with a guarded, but apparently well-deserved, local reputation. During our visit, the waves seemed a little choppy and chaotic (surfers probably have a better vocabulary), but there were still a lot of surfers in the water. A strong rip develops right along the beach, making it easier for them to paddle out, but also creating a bit of a hazard.

I think the little divot in the corner (where the headland meets the main beach) is what is referred to as "the cove." The cobble beach takes an inland excursion (see aerial), leaving a sandy pocket - makes an easier entry for the surf crowd then stepping through the boulders farther out. Interestingly the cobble then continues a little farther north until it is overwhelmed by the sand (see previous post). I was curious about the origin of the cove (it's more complicated than simply being an inside corner between the north-south sandy beach and the east-west cobble beach), but so far my ideas are pretty speculative (even more speculative than usual).

Sunday, April 02, 2017


The main beach in Seaside is broad and sandy, with a wide band of low grassy dunes between the promenade and the beach - enough to keep storm waves out of town, but not enough to shelter the town from a significant tsunami. The plate boundary is not far offshore - twenty minutes would be barely enough time to get to high ground under the best of conditions.


Seaside lies just north of Tillamook Head, at the south end of the Clatsop Dunes. This segment of beach, from Seaside north to the Columbia River is a sub-cell of the larger Columbia River cell and most of the sand on these beaches came out of the Columbia River. The other three sub-cells all lie north of the river mouth, in Washington.

The flat sandy beach in these photos is a big contrast with the cobble beaches at the very south end which I'll describe in the next post. But as you walk south - to the vicinity of "U" Avenue - a cobble berm begins to assert itself.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park is one of the better documented beaches on Puget Sound, although much of what was written is now 25 years old. And apparently, this is the first time I've included it in the blog. A good reminder that there are just too many beaches.

The glacial landscape of West Seattle juts out into Puget Sound on the north side of Fauntleroy Cove. As commonly occurs on promontories on Puget Sound, a very small depositional landform - a cuspate foreland - has formed at its tip (this is in contrast to Brace Point, to the south, which is a much larger cuspate foreland). You may have learned in Beaches 101 that headlands get eroded and bays get filled in until the whole coast is straight, which may be true if you're on a coast where large waves approach straight on. But here on Puget Sound, where waves approach at a strong angle to the coast, it seems that sometimes sediment is attracted to the points, not removed from them. Or at least that's sure what it looks like to me.


The photos show both the more heavily visited south beach and the somewhat less explored north beach. And the riprap that protects the point itself. Note that this landform was perfectly happy without riprap, despite its exposed position, for hundreds of years. The riprap probably reflects the need to protect the walkway, which was likely built over the original backshore. Colman Pool (saltwater) replaces whatever little lagoon probably once occupied the same place on this landscape.

The south beach is the main story here. During the 1930s, the WPA built the stone bulkhead (now largely buried) and the promenade. Over the next few decades, the beach eroded and dropped in elevation and by the 1970s the wall had been repaired many times. Old photos show the beach far below the top of the wall. When Seattle approached the Corps of Engineers for help, the Corps proposed beach nourishment. Resource agencies pushed back - the idea of burying the beach under fill was unthinkable (they preferred the idea of a riprap apron at the toe of the wall).

Fortunately, nourishment won out over riprap. The initial placement in 1988 was large - something like 80,000 cubic yards - but the few subsequent renourishments have been much smaller. And despite some wrinkles along the way, I think the overall project remains a big success story. I think it was critical in reshaping the opinions of the agencies about the potential value of nourishment. This was also because monitoring, required of the original project, led to some good early work on Puget Sound beach biota and their response to seawalls and nourishment.

Wolf Bauer, who had been advocating and building gravel beaches on Puget Sound for more than a decade before the work at Lincoln Park, was a bit skeptical of the design. He had some valid gripes (the berm was too high, for one, so it immediately developed a large scarp), but I suppose he also just sort of enjoyed poking the Corps (don't we all?).

Most folks walking the beach last Sunday (the last day of winter), probably had no idea of the beach's history. I don't recall if the park has any interpretive signs showing the 1930s construction or the engineers standing below the towering bulkhead in the 1970s.

There's more about Lincoln Park - it's relationship with the sandier Fauntleroy Cove to the south, the asymmetry of the north and south beaches, and the heavily developed shoreline to the north of the Park along Beach Drive (which is also the story of the uplifted terrace of the Seattle Fault). Maybe another time.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sculpture Park

Some beaches change all the time. Or at least you can be pretty sure that if you haven't been there in while, it will be different when you come back. This beach isn't one of those. It has few degrees of freedom - admittedly, that was a key point of its design. It's the beach equivalent of putting a wide-ranging predator in a small enclosure in an old-fashioned zoo. Not very authentic, but much easier to manage.


The sediment is all nicely sorted gravel. Which means the beachface remains the same in both shape and texture. The coarse gravel also tends to stay high on the beach - it has less tendency to want to get lost offshore (ignoring stone-throwing children). The two rock groins assure that no material escapes and therefore the beach volume and position don't change. The groins also constrain the small opening of the beach to Elliott Bay which assures that the wave regime is limited and the beach can't shift back and forth too much in its cage.

I love this little beach and wish we could incorporate beaches into our urban shorelines more often. But I also think it is a good reminder that we shouldn't confuse domesticated beaches for wild ones. On the surface, they may look similar, but the domestic ones are more predictable and as a result, may have a little less character.