Case Inlet, south Puget Sound, WA 26 Dec 2020

alexsidles

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Jan 10, 2009
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Seattle WA
[Cross-posted at alexsidles.com]

For mile after mile, so-called development lines the shores of Puget Sound. The houses and docks and breakwaters pile together and spill onto the beaches, stifling the wild environment. Along the worst-affected reaches, the growth is so dense it feels like it is the few, remnant native trees and shrubs that are intruding upon the man-made structures, instead of the other way around. In its vast expanse, it starts to feel as if all this growth is inevitable—as if we live in this stifling fashion because we have no other choice.

Tucked away in odd corners of Puget Sound is evidence that so-called development is not inevitable, that the paving of the shoreline is not a necessary prerequiste to a fulfilling life, and that civilization not need oppose wilderness. Ancient indigenous petroglyphs, dating from hundreds if not thousands of years ago, remind us that humanity has other means at its disposal to live along these shores. The civilizations that chiseled their ideas into these rocks built lives for their citizens whose richness did not depend on destruction. Living among rather than against the natural world, they established a track record of success far longer than our own.

That the petroglyph carvers’ civilizations were overthrown by disease, weapons, and greed does not discredit them, because our own civilization is equally vulnerable to these very threats, as we increasingly and painfully recognize. Some distant day hence, when today’s development is reduced to a shelf of rubble lining the much-abused shoreline of Puget Sound, the petroglyphs will still be there to remind our descendants that it didn’t have to be this way, and that it’s always possible to change the way we live.

One of the best petroglyphs in Puget Sound lies on the east side of Case Inlet in Victor, an unincorporated settlement in Mason County. From the convenient launch at Allyn Waterfront Park, I paddled across North Bay for a gander, and thence down Case Inlet to Stretch Point State Park to look for dolphins.

00 Route map.jpg

00 Route map. According to Mason County property records, the petroglyph is on a privately owned tideland, so something-something public trust doctrine?

01 Launch kayak at Allyn Waterfront Park.JPG

01 Launching kayak at Allyn Waterfront Park. Priest and Ridley’s thorough guidebook, Kayaking around the Key Peninsula, led me to this excellent launch, which also offers overnight parking.

02 Kayaking across Case Inlet.JPG

02 Kayaking across North Bay, Case Inlet. Only a handful of boats were about on this cold, windy morning, and no other kayaks.

Various reference materials describe the Case Inlet petroglyph as easy to find but partially awash during higher tides. Beth and Ray Hill’s Indian Petroglyphs of the Pacific Northwest even includes a photo of the petroglyph with the water lapping at its base.

Today’s morning low tide would only fall as low as eight feet, so I had some trepidation the petroglyph might be partially or wholly underwater when I arrived. There would be a zero tide later in the evening, but petroglyphs are hard enough to spot during daylight. Finding one in the dark would be impossible.

Compounding the difficulty, my reference materials did not describe the exact location. The Hills simply describe the petroglyph as “in Victor.” Richard McClure gives the location by section, township, and range in his Archaeological Survey of Petroglyph and Pictograph Sites in Washington State, but his description gives only one hundred yards of precision, and I know from rueful personal experience it is possible to miss petroglyphs and pictographs at much less than a hundred yards’ distance.

From the northern terminus of Victor, I hugged the eastern shoreline of Case Inlet soutbound, putting my binoculars on every boulder, large or small. I need not have worried. I rounded a corner and there, staring me right in the face with their myriad eyes, were the dozens of carved faces of the Case Inlet petroglyph.

03 Alex with Case Inlet petroglyph at Victor.JPG

03 Me with Case Inlet petroglyph. On an eight-foot tide, several feet of beach were exposed below the petroglyph.

05 Case Inlet petroglyph at Victor.JPG

04 Faces on the Case Inlet petrogylph boulder. The Hills and McClure each describe an unsuccessful effort in 1907 or 1909 to extract the petroglyph boulder from the beach, during which it was revealed that additional carvings on the boulder continue up to fifteen feet beneath the surface.

04 Case Inlet petroglyph.jpg

05 Case Inlet petroglyph. Supposedly, there is a single salmon figure on the boulder, but I was only able to identify faces, of which there are dozens.

As I mentioned in a previous trip report, forensic science cannot be used to date petroglyphs here in the Pacific Northwest. A small minority of Pacific Northwest petroglyphs can be dated, or at least explained, through oral history, but the Case Inlet petroglyph is not one of these. The meaning and age of most petroglyphs, including the one at Case Inlet, have been lost to time. Even the modern-day tribes in the area can only speculate.

The brow-eye-and-mouth motif so prominent on the Case Inlet petroglyph is similar in style to other petroglyphs found throughout the Salish Sea and British Columbia and even into Alaska. In some instances, the date or meaning of similar-looking motifs is known through oral history, but it would probably be a mistake to infer the Case Inlet’s age or meaning from that of distant petroglyphs. Sober archaeologists such as the Hills and McClure do not even attempt to draw such inferences. Even the more impetuous Daniel Leen only goes so far as to speculate, without evidence, that the Case Inlet petroglyph may represent a chief giving a speech or a “family portrait.”

06 Close-up of face.jpg

06 Close-up of face. It is amazing the depth of emotion that emanates from this seemingly simple design.

07 Face on Victor petroglyph.jpg

07 Face on Case Inlet petroglyph. Among many unanswered questions is whether all the carvings were made at approximately the same time or over the course of hundreds of years or longer.

08 Eyes and mouth on petroglyph.jpg

08 Face on petroglyph. I do not begrudge Daniel Leen his freewheeling speculation that some of these carvings may have had a shamanic element.
It’s easy to imagine such a distinctive artifact may have had religious significance.


The petroglyph would have been reason enough to visit Case Inlet, but I decided to head farther south to search for common dolphins. Common dolphins are normally a tropical species, but a small number moved in to Case Inlet in 2016. I had encountered a pair of them during my last visit to this area, but I hadn’t been quick enough to get a photograph. Maybe I would have more luck today.

From Victor, I paddled down to Stretch Point, a boat-in state park. Winds were blowing ten knots with gusts to fifteen, which was bad news for dolphin spotting. The way to find cetaceans is to listen for their breaths and look for their fins, neither of which is possible from a kayak when there are whitecaps and whooshing wind. If there were dolphins in the inlet today, I missed them.

Stretch Point consists of a long, curving pebble beach encompassing a brackish laggoon. It would make a beautiful campsite for kayakers but unfortunately, like many other state park properties in the south sound, Stretch Point is day-use only.

09 Paddling Case Inlet to Stretch Point.JPG

09 Kayaking Case Inlet toward Stretch Point State Park. Winter kayaking in the rain reminds us that we live on a world of water. The pockets of land are merely incidental.

10 Arriving Stretch Point State Park.JPG

10 Arriving at Stretch Point State Park. There were not many birds in Case Inlet today, just glaucous-winged and mew gulls, buffleheads, goldeneyes, and surf scoters, horned grebes, and pigeon guillemots. There were mallards in the lagoon at Stretch Point.

11 Alex at Stretch Point State Park.JPG

11 Beach at Stretch Point, looking north up Case Inlet. Who says drysuits don’t look “cool?” They look cool!

The Case Inlet petroglyph is a treasure hiding in plain sight. Beyond its intrinsic value, the petroglyph also calls us to explore the world around it—these beautiful waters and shorelines that were the cradle to the petroglyph’s carvers and all subsequent people.

Alex

[Cross-posted at alexsidles.com]
 
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AlphaEcho

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Jan 24, 2010
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Quadra Island, BC
I very much hope that we come to our collective senses and change how we do things. We already live in artificial environments all the time. We need the natural world to keep us sane.

Thank-you for posting. Just the photos of those petroglyphs leave me with a deep feeling of time. I don't get down your way much, but I have family and friends in Puget Sound. One of these days (after the border opens again) we will get together and go over and look.

I note on the WWTA.org site that Jarrell Cove State Park, further down around the corner, is the nearest place to camp. The shoreline access there doesn't recommend itself though. I like that beach in your photos of Stretch Point much better.

Edit: grammar
 
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JohnAbercrombie

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Dec 7, 2011
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Victoria, BC
We already live in artificial environments all the time. We need the natural world to keep us sane.
:thumbsup::thumbsup::thumbsup:

But, human tastes vary a lot....I have friends who really LIKE paddling along and commenting on the 'mansions' that can go for miles in places. I call those paddles "real estate tours' ...I try to just look at the ocean and ignore the patter: "Wow, look at that deck and stairs; they must have cost $xxxxxx.00" .... :)
 

AlphaEcho

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Jan 24, 2010
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Quadra Island, BC
The current terminology is "McMansion". My daughter (budding design genius) showed me This Site.

I have the privilege of knowing two architects in my club (SKABC). We did a paddle along West Vancouver where they did that very thing. It was both entertaining and terrifying. I am sure @alexsidles would experience the same thing around Bainbridge.
 

alexsidles

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Jan 10, 2009
Messages
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Seattle WA
I note on the WWTA.org site that Jarrell Cove State Park, further down around the corner, is the nearest place to camp. The shoreline access there doesn't not recommend itself though
Jarrell Cove is popular with the sailboat and powerboat crowd, because it’s an extremely well-protected moorage with a full-service marina. For us kayakers over on the state park side, however, the marine trail campsite is small, cold, wet, dark, and lacking in scenery. The landing does indeed suck, as you observed. Jarrell Cove is also accessible to car-campers, with all the attendant bad behaviors thereby implied. I’ve stayed there a few times, but only because there are no better sites nearby. Joemma Beach is, if anything, even less appealing than Jarrell Cove.

State Parks periodically makes noises about opening up camping on McMicken Island and Stretch Point, both of which would make sublime boat-in campsites. As things currently stand, however, the only really grade-A campsites in south Puget Sound are Hope Island and Anderson Island. (Penrose Point is also nice.) We need more and better campsites in the south sound. The paddling here is so lovely, there ought to be better camping.

Alex
 

AlphaEcho

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Jan 24, 2010
Messages
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Quadra Island, BC
@alexsidles - do you know the folks at Washington Water Trails? Are they onside to campaign for more paddler oriented camping sites? Even looking on Google Earth, you can see there's a need for sites that are a little more isolated from land access.

Your Harstine Island trip looks like a fun weekend. Definitely more fun than being beach-bound by a strong outflow pattern from the Fraser River. I didn't realize that it carried all the way down to Padilla Bay and the tulip fields of the Skagit River delta.
 

drahcir

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Mar 26, 2010
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562
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North Idaho (Sandpoint)
I very much hope that we come to our collective senses and change how we do things. We already live in artificial environments all the time. We need the natural world to keep us sane.
I live near a large lake, much of it surrounded by Forest Service and BLM lands. But there is some housing, old cottages mixed in with more recent construction which is quite'spendy'. The outflow river (on its way to the Columbia) has a small city called Dover just downstream from the lake. There is a relatively new development there which includes a fat peninsula featuring a large hill covered with McMansions, often unoccupied. The old name is Tank Hill. Nowadays I always refer to it as Cape Ostentatia.
 
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