Thursday, January 19, 2012


The eastern shore of southern Whidbey Island forms a well-defined drift cell with the dominant southerly storms and waves transporting sediment northward.  The cell originates at Possession Head at the south end of the island and terminates at Sandy Point, near Langley.  The abundant sandy sediment has led to the development of long spits parallel to base of the high bluffs.  One of these lies just north of Possession Head (Possession County Park lies at its southern end).  Another is Columbia Beach, the long low strip of land lined with waterfront homes that you see from ferry as you approach the Clinton terminal.

North of the ferry dock, the shoreline bends slightly westward and another barrier beach emerges, forming Randall Point, Brighton Beach, and Camper's Row along Hastings Road (aerial view). The original spit must have fizzled out along here somewhere, but ingenuity and some earth-moving equipment (perhaps just a big hose) filled the narrow strip of low beach berm and wetlands to create a wide enough platform on which to build cabins.

It makes for a neat neighborhood, but a geologically hazardous one, as homes are tucked into the base of steep slopes that periodically fail during heavy rain storms.  Elliott, my guide today, recalls living in one that got hit by a slide several decades ago.  Some owners have built walls to block or divert possible mud and debris. In addition, a couple of steep stream gullies also empty onto this beach, their lowermost reaches in pipes and channels that would be challenged by a large debris flow or a flash flood.

I have no trouble seeing the appeal of these places, but the geologist in me can't help but shake my head.  I doubt I'd sleep comfortably during rainy spells.

For more on the history of this community and a wonderful sense of what draws people to these places, look for Frances Wood's Down to Camp:  A History of Summer Folk on Whidbey Island.


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