Thursday, May 17, 2018

Yellow Island

Yellow Island sits in San Juan Channel, one of the small Wasp Islands between Orcas and San Juan Island. Like all of these islands, it consists primarily of metamorphic bedrock and most of the shoreline is marked by rocky cliffs. But also like on many of them, there may be patchy deposits of glacial drift, which form an erodible substrate that forms small bluffs in the few places it reaches to the water.


At each end of the island, small spits extend out to rocky ledges, creating tombolos, with small gravel beaches on both sides of each. In addition, there is also a pocket beach below a low bluff on the south shore of the island. 

On some rocky islands, the dearth of erodible sediment and the abundance of shellfish and barnacles on the resistant substrate gives rise to beaches consisting primarily of shell  debris. But as far as I can see, the beaches here are primarily gravel, presumably derived from the glacial deposits -- although there's not an obvious active source of this material, aside from occasional erosion of the toe of the bank associated with particularly major storm events. Of course, what we don't know is whether there might be a source, or at least a reservoir, of sand and gravel in shallow water offshore.

According to Phil, who has been watching this place carefully for a long time, the eastern tombolo is subject to significant changes from year to year. In particular, the cobble on the south beach is sometimes exposed (as on this trip), but may be covered in gravel some years. The fact that the beach changes significantly from year to year is not surprising, but understanding what drives this is more challenging. On a low tombolo like this, there may be large transfers of gravel back and forth across the berm during high tide storms from one direction or the other.

For more on the Preserve:
Yellow Island: The Nature Conservancy

And for a first hand account of life on Yellow Island:
Island Time on Yellow

Weaverling Spit

The new beach at Weaverling Spit has progressed in three phases, the most recent of which was completed this past fall.


Each phase was designed a bit differently, reflecting slightly different site conditions, objectives, and perhaps lessons along the way. Of course, I suspect budgets and permit requirements were slightly different on each phase, too. All three involved beach nourishment, combined with planting of the bank/backshore and the use of anchored logs as small sills or groins.

Phase 1, farthest west, is 9(?) years old now and looks great.

Phase 2, in the middle, was done a few years later. The nature of the anchored log sills was different - the root masses were oriented differently and they were placed fairly high compared to the adjacent beach grade.

Phase 3 is still fresh and I assume plantings are planned. The folks who rent out those RV spots probably don't want trees and thick brush, but there are a lot of good options. The berm is much larger, although I suspect this is a function of the backshore being lower here than on the earlier phases.

Note the log placed perpendicular to the beach immediately west of the boat ramp at the easternmost end of the project. I assume this was to limit the movement of the added sediment onto the ramp - which might be expected since the new nourished beach is slightly higher (and there's a slight tendency for eastward drift of material along here anyway). I'll be curious to see how well this works.

There's more on this project at:
CGS: Weaverling Spit

And here's a link to all of my posts from here:
Gravel Beach: Weaverling Spit

Friday, May 11, 2018

Kukutali Preserve


I love this little tombolo between Kiket Island and Flagstaff Point, particularly the arcuate fine gravel pocket beach on the north side, which sort of underscores the challenges of simplistic beach classifications. While the overall landform is a tombolo, a type of barrier beach, this particular beach acts in most ways like a pocket beach - not an unusual situation. The one complication might be that under the right conditions, sediment might get carried to this beach by overwash from the south side, slightly confusing the otherwise simple picture of a pocket beach as an isolated sediment cell with negligible import or export of sediment.

The south beach gets more wave action and collects logs (south winds push them onto the berm on high tides). The north beach is more protected and logs don't accumulate, since south winds blow them off the beach (if they ever make it there in the first place).

Visitors are discouraged from tromping across Flagstaff Point in order to protect the vegetation community on the relatively rare rocky bald (I think that's the right name). Around the edges, we could see the Camas coming up and the rock outcrops were covered with sedums.

For shots from previous visits, check out Kukutali 2016 and Kiket Island 2009. And for a nice view of Kukutali from the air, check out the drone footage at:'

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Hidden Beach

Hidden Beach is hard to find. It's tucked in at the base of a high bluff along Saratoga Passage, at the bottom of a steep road that most folks on the main road don't even know exists. Even when you get to it, the beach is still sort of hard to find. It's buried beneath rocks and fill and old concrete and the occasional auto part. A row of piles out on the beach testifies to the original intentions, but this stretch at the north end was never developed, or if it was, little is left of it now. 


Years (decades) ago, I came down here and walked north to check out the wonderful high fluted till bluffs and some large glacial boulders just offshore. I don't think I've been back since, although I often look across at this shoreline from Cama Beach (on Camano Island), just across the water. 

The Hidden Beach community to the south is a great example of a type of development that is pretty common on Whidbey Island (elsewhere, too). Or was - most of the initial earthwork occurred in the 1950s and 1960s - you could never fill on top of the shoreline like this today.

Here's what it looks like on Ecology's Coastal Atlas: Aerial Photos

I've heard different versions of how these places were built, but basically the developer built a seawall out on the beach and then filled behind the bulkhead, burying the beach and creating building lots where logs once floated and fish once swam. They added just enough fill to raise the building sites above (most of) the highest tides. The fill material typically came from the bluff itself. Sometimes they used equipment, sometimes they used hoses, and sometimes they used dynamite.

The result was small, isolated beach communities that were wonderful escapes in the summer but that were squeezed beneath landslides from above and storm waves from the Sound in the winter. And an access road that would become impassable just when folks most needed to get out.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


A year and half ago, a 400' creosote timber bulkhead was removed from this beach (Waterman: May 2016). Restoration projects are always difficult and complex, but this one was conceptually pretty simple. Remove the old bulkhead and let nature take over. Which it (she?) is. Erosion, slides, falling trees. Fresh sand on the beach. You can still tell that something was done, but in a couple of years this shoreline will look like much as it did 500 years ago (some of my friends among the forest elves may disagree). The active slope will always make the trail a little muddy and challenging (it's currently closed), but with a little ongoing upkeep, it seems like folks should be able to get down and enjoy the beach (Waterman Preserve).


I'm sure I've noted before how difficult it is to describe the typical Puget Sound beach - what makes them all so special is that they are all so different. But a sand and gravel beach at the base of an eroding bluff, drift logs caught up among the fallen trees, eelgrass draped from the overhanging branches, truly gigantic pieces of wood, and occasional glimpses of human history - that's pretty much it. Of course, there's also early morning sunshine, views across the water of snow-capped volcanoes, and recognition that while humans are amazing builders, they also have the amazing capacity to see the value in unbuilding things now and then.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Linda Mar Beach

Pacifica State Beach, or Linda Mar Beach, after this part of Pacifica, was the last stop of my short Pacifica tour. A lot has been written about this beach - largely related to a project in the early 2000s that dealt with at-risk structures, stormwater, dune rehabilitation, and the mouth of San Pedro Creek. 


It's cited as an example of "managed retreat," a coastal strategy that aims to remove vulnerable structures and allows beaches to widen and shorelines to retreat, while managing the adverse impacts to coastal infrastructure. In this way, it is seen by many as a more logical and ultimately more affordable approach to chronic erosion and rising sea levels than an escalating battle to fortify development. To others, particularly those that have a lot invested in that vulnerable development, this is described as giving in to nature and as threatening the vitality of coastal communities. I think a lot of this is about people's time frames and about balancing public costs and private benefits. I guess if this was easy, it wouldn't be such a critical public policy issue.

Some quick observations --- that mostly avoid the controversy. Most of this beach has a wide backshore and dunes. The bathhouse remains, and looks pretty vulnerable, but hasn't led to extensive armor -- at least yet.

The most interesting area to me was the southernmost end, beyond the mouth of San Pedro Creek. The row of small homes on pilings looks exceedingly vulnerable - maybe that's what gives it its character - but there will eventually be a reckoning. Meanwhile, this end of the beach is also marked by a distinct cobble berm, which might provide some hints to less intrusive ways of protecting some of these places - or at least buy some time.

The tag line for this blog suggests its about Puget Sound, but the last post from Puget Sound was from Whidbey Island, last July (Double Bluff). Since then, I've wandered to the Gulf Islands (almost Puget Sound), to Utah (the Spiral Jetty, at Promontory Point), to Rhode Island, and most recently, to California. I think I'm going to finally get back to Puget Sound this week (probably Whidbey Island again). Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Sharp Park

The northern portion of Pacifica is dominated by high bluffs, but the southern part is divided into a series of low bank reaches, separated by high rocky headlands. Sharp Park is one of these low neighborhoods. Beach Boulevard follows the water atop an impressive seawall. The fishing pier is high enough to stay clear of all but the largest winter waves - conditions were a little rougher on my previous visit (January 2013).


Laguna Salada lies behind the barrier beach south of here. A riprap sea dike protects the lagoon and the golf course from big storms - at least for the moment. It's too bad the rock dike couldn't be replaced with an artificial dune, but for that to work, I suspect it would also have to be shifted farther inland, which might require changes to the golf course. So it's not likely to happen until a lot more money has been spent beefing up the rock. Fortunately, not every year is an El Nino. 

For another post about eroding beaches and golf courses:
Doughmore Beach: 2018

Pacifica - Palmetto Avenue

Moving south from Esplanade Avenue, the bluffs drop a little, but the edge just gets more ragged. This stretch includes an RV park, mobile homes, car repair shops, and a recycling yard, plus a few houses - a strange mix of land uses in such a spectacular setting. But maybe it simply reflects an awareness of the inevitability of the geography.


I visited here more than 15 years ago and things were falling off the edge then. But now the conveyor is delivering new stuff to the sea. I suppose this will go along for a long time. I guess it will always be a mess.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Pacifica - Esplanade Avenue

Someday people will stop building stuff right on the edge of the sea. Or if they do, they won't be so surprised when the ocean arrives. They won't expect their community to buy their house or to pay to demolish their apartment building. They will accept the loss, pay to have it removed before it ruins someone else's beach, and treat it as they would a subscription that runs out in few years or a poorly built bicycle that falls apart. Someday, but not yet.

Buildings along Esplanade Avenue were already hanging on the edge long before the 2016-2017 El Nino arrived with its winter storms and high tides. Here are some shots from my last visit (Gravel Beach: January 2013). Since then, several structures have been removed and a great deal more rock has been placed or rearranged along the beach.


There's plenty of video and news coverage of Pacifica from the past few years (easy to find online), but here are a couple of drone videos that I particularly liked:
January 2016
July 2017

The next few posts will be from a little farther south along Pacifica's coastline.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Devil's Slide

The western ridge of Montara Mountain sticks out into the sea just south of Pacifica and for most of the last century the road used to skirt the steep, unstable cliffs above the ocean. But increasingly frequent closures led to the opening, in 2013, of a tunnel that bypasses the worst of Devil's Slide.


The road is now closed to cars, but remains open to foot and bike traffic. At least until the next big slide.

The old bunker just south of Devil's Slide