Apparently, unbenownst to me but clearly “benownst” to most of Washington State’s residents, Long Beach Peninsula is a summertime mecca. Which means that in the winter it is blissfully uncrowded. Empty save for the local residents, the oysters, the clams and crabs. Deliciously empty.
During the holiday break, we found ourselves wandering up to Leadbetter Point State Park, the northernmost point on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, which is on the Southwestern most tip of Washington. The peninsula juts up, with the Willapa Bay on its east side, the Pacific on its west, and the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge occupying the northern point as well as parts of the Bay.
Trails from the parking lot run along the Willapa marshes, across the peninsula, and out to a wide stretch of beach. The entire beach was empty save for us on the day before Christmas. We hit the parking lot in mid-afternoon and followed the Bay Loop trail, which takes you along the Willapa Bay side of the peninsula, with views of the salt marsh, out to the Bay, and then we merged onto the Bearberry trail, traversing the peninsula, through wet bush, undergrowth, damp trails, puddles and rich habitat; then out of a sudden onto a bright prairie of dunes.
Like an Oklahoma wheatfield, the dunes winter grasses caught the sunlight, wide and as far north and south as the eye could see. And these are no scraggly dunes; they are full, robust fields of golden stalks and reeds. Home to the Western snowy plover, so the signs say, which also tell you to stay on the trail, and who wouldn’t. To tromp across such beauty would feel somehow just wrong. It is for looking, for absorbing, for wonder.
And then there’s the beach—miles of sand with no other footprints but ours —and the Pacific with row after row after row of rolling surf.
I write about this today, a gray winter day in Portland because I struggle to find the beauty in the long stretches of gray that mark the season here. It is winter, season of short days and leaden skies. And so I imagine what my feathered friends are doing back on the peninsula. The refuge is a winter paradise for several different birds, including Canada Geese, loons, grebes and mergansers. I know they are there today. Flying maybe or huddled against the coming evening breezes, beaks to the wind.
Of course, all of this is my perception, the non-scientific view of a visitor. To get the lowdown and the facts on the area, check out the Leadbetter Point State Park page on Washington State Parks’ website. And for the Peninsula, see the Visitors Bureau Website.