South Beach on Cypress Island

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South Beach! The name may conjure up images of swaying palms and miles of soft sandy beach but this is after all the Pacific Northwest. Instead you can expect or depending on the tide hope to find a beach of gravel and broken shell, attractively decorated with hull cracking rocks framed with an upland border of giant sun bleached driftwood logs. Despite this seemingly dire description, relative to the northwest, this actually isn’t a bad beach for paddle craft and dinghy’s to land on when the wind and waves are gentle.

Whether staying on the water or safely transitioned to land, look for the area above the beach. It is an unusual open grassy meadow. East facing, the views of Guemes and on clear days the distant mountains of the North Cascades can be stunning. Despite the feeling of exposure, the wind can often slip past making your time here more pleasant than you might expect. Visitors to a cabin that once stood in the meadow often remarked on the gentleness of the breezes and the warm morning light and beautiful sunset colors.

In the late 1800s this was a prosperous farm with orchards, food crops, and animals. The original pioneer family was Nedrow. For many years and well into more modern times the name was often associated with both the beach and the nearby area of Secret Harbor. For more than two years, this very location was the site of the official post office for Cypress Island, further proof that routine landings though not always ideal, were frequent. In the tall grass of the meadow you can find flat rectangular areas and a few rotting logs indicating where buildings once stood. An occasional boulder or concrete block used for a foundation might stub your toe while wandering through the clearing. Some years, a springtime flush of apple or pear blossoms along the forest border will mark a wild descendant of the once productive orchard but the forest is steadily reclaiming its boundaries with native trees and shrubs.

Gazing along the shoreline to the south, some of the large boulders on the beach, more visible at low tide, are actually not from Cypress but are glacial erratics. Pieces of distant northern mountains broken off and swept south by the great continental glaciers of a previous ice age and left to drop wherever they happened to be when the glaciers melted. Use caution if you decide to do some beach walking to the south. The high steep bluffs offer little escape from rising tides. Better to hike the South Shore Trail (see article this website) which parallels this coastline from the top of the bluffs and provides connections with the rest of the Cypress Island trail system.

To the north, clearly visible from South Beach, are the ruins of an old olivine mine and dock. The light yellowish-orange colored rocks and soils are indicative of exposed olivine deposits. A short segment of abandoned road parallels the coast toward the mine but ends shortly never reaching it. The mine was most likely completely contained on this small point of land and didn’t require any other connections with the island. If you walk up this way, enjoy the open forest of widely spaced trees and low shrubbery. The area above and beyond the mine is not open to access due to property ownership issues and concern for wildlife recovery as well as safety concerns due to crumbling slopes and edges. The most interesting viewing is easily done from the comfort of the beach as long as you make sure not to get caught by a quickly rising tide.

At the inland most side of the meadow an old roadway leads up into the forest. This is the remnant of the first "highway" ever built on Cypress Island. Cleared by axe from native forests it passed through Secret Harbor before swinging around the south end of the island traversing all the way past Strawberry Bay to somewhere in the Tide Point vicinity far up the western side of the island. The trees in this low saddle between Olivine Hill and the main island are indicative of a rapidly maturing forest and if protected they may one day rebuild an old-growth ecosystem.

The abandoned road continues only a short distance before encountering another open field and warning signs placed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources indicating the end of public access. Due to hidden hazards from demolition and natural area recovery projects as well as the need to protect new fragile native plantings, public access is currently prohibited. Once the recovery projects are completed, hazards removed and native plantings are established, limited public access will be allowed.

When approaching Cypress Island from Anacortes or other points from the southeast, South Beach may be the first somewhat accessible point you reach in the San Juan Islands Archipelago. For better and much easier landing areas continue further up to Cypress Head or Eagle Harbor on the east side of Cypress Island. Even if you only approach the South Beach area, consider cruising the Olivine Hill Coastline and enjoy viewing a number of interesting natural and historical features from the water as you pass by.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 7/28/2010

Directions

South Beach is located on the southeast shore of Cypress Island. The clearing above the beach is usually visible from the water and appears to the southwest (to the left if approaching from Anacortes) of distinctively symmetrical Olivine Hill which forms the southeast corner of the island.

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