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Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
Reef Point takes its name from the undersea extension of Cypress Island to the south; an area of uneven shallows, kelp beds and relic structures of docks and fish traps. Extending nearly ¾ of a mile into Rosario Strait, a flashing red light on a navigation buoy marks its terminus. This wedge of shallows points to the highly active area of convergence of no less than three separate channels including, besides Rosario, the Bellingham and Guemes Channels. The combination of strong tidal currents and shallows makes this an exceptionally desirable location for observing foraging marine mammals. Most notable are the sea lions which typically hunt in these waters during the summer months. Huge compared to their year-round cousins the seals, their mass is most apparent when pulled out on shore or when overwhelming the small platforms provided by the rocking marker buoys.

Arriving at reef point by trail (see Reef Point Trail on this website) or viewing from a near shore boat, the two most striking features of the land are its exposure to the elements and the evidence of past olivine mining. A faint ribbon of a former road extends to what is now the shoreline, a jumble of rocks and boulders disappearing beneath the waves. Fragments of bore holes can be seen on the vertical cliff to the west of the point. This rock outcrop, the first mine site, was so close to the water that the boring and removal at its base could only be done at low tide. To the east, another even higher cliff is formed of eroded glacial till. The deposits exposed in this cliff present a fascinating layer cake of gravel, sand and boulders. Along the margins of the headland, pines and madronas dot the landscape revealing an ironically dry but maritime influence. Only a few hundred feet inland from the point the scars of several more mining sites can be seen. The exposed serpentine rock and soil that predominate on this end of the island can be seen in the flashes of distinct orange-rust color that appear beneath the dark green vegetation.

When the tides are low a completely different world emerges from the sea. Among the scuttling crabs, limpets and strangely formed seaweeds are equally strange looking relics of the former mining operation. Engine parts, cables, drill bits, pipes and no longer identifiable pieces of metal are intertwined with the barnacle and seaweed covered boulders leading into the sea. One of these boulders, larger and more often exposed to drying than others, appears to be the "meal rock" for mink, otter, and predatory birds evidenced by the perpetual supply of discarded snail and crab shells littering its table like top.

For those who don’t mind slipping and sliding among boulders and metal spikes, the low tide also allows entrance to the shore below the cliffs and bluff. Be careful, not only for the dangerous conditions underfoot and rock-fall from above, but these areas can become traps for beach walkers caught unexpectedly by fast rising tides. While poking around the marine life exposed by the low tides take advantage of the wider views made possible by your distance from the trees. To the southeast Mt. Erie and Washington Park are clearly in view and make an attractive backdrop for the ferry traffic using the Anacortes dock. Across the open waters of Rosario Strait to the southwest, the dumbbell shape of James Island State Park can be picked out in front of larger Decatur Island. To the west and especially northwest some of the view is only possible from the low tide shoreline. Across the strait Blakely stands out against mighty Orcas in the distance. Closer, the double humps of Strawberry Island can be seen only a mile and a half away, marking the outer edge of Strawberry Bay.

For boaters, nearly everything at this site can be seen from the water but iron spikes and rocky piles can make a close approach dangerous especially for larger boats. Paddlers and small boats may find landing opportunities below the sand and gravel cliffs on the east shore but don’t beach directly below them. The many boulders strewn along their base are proof that sooner or later things will fall. A visit to Reef Point is beautiful at any time but if the low tide exploring is important to you then time your arrival (and safe departure) carefully.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 3/9/2010

Directions

Reef Point, the southernmost tip of Cypress Island, may be reached on land by way of the Reef Point Trail (see article this website) or by passing boats. Be careful if boating close to shore; shallows, boulder piles and metal spikes can make close approaches dangerous. Abandoned pilings offshore may also be a hazard especially for larger boats. Small boats may find a beach at low tide on the east side of the point but avoid getting too close to the high cliffs of sand and gravel due to rock-fall.

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