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Review

Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
The Upland Trail of the Limekiln Point Preserve offers a wonderful variety of natural and cultural sites for hikers to explore. Beginning above peaceful Deadman Bay the trail climbs through remnants of once extensive grassy meadows and rocky balds. Along the way dramatic “wolf trees” are passed as well as interesting mixtures and specimens of madrona and Douglas fir trees. Near the state park border a cluster of long abandoned limestone quarries have been reclaimed by nature forming grottos of lush vegetation with examples of less commonly found native plants.

The forests above Deadman Bay face south and west catching all the warmth the sun has to offer. The thin soils also affect the vegetation. The dry forest floor is often open with patches of grass and low understory. The feeling of spaciousness is enjoyable. Several stops along the trail provide welcomed opportunities to pause, catch one’s breath and enjoy limited views of the sea and distant islands.

The trail climbs sharply but pleasantly, moss covered rock steps add interest as well as functionality on the steep slope. In a slight depression of topography a once sunny exposed grove of madrona now forms a strange forest of densely packed light colored trunks and branches. When the wind blows, their rattling music fills the air. Soon after, the trail crosses busy West Side Road. Use care when crossing.

Along the trail interesting examples of “wolf trees” are encountered. These ancient giants are indicative of an environment that was once characterized by extensive grasslands and widely spaced Garry oaks with an occasional isolated Douglas fir tree. Unlike their crowded forest relations, these Doug firs grew in the open with plenty of light and space around them. The surrounding vegetation was swept clear of shrubs and encroaching seedlings by the seasonal occurrence of grass fires. With no competition, the lower and oldest branches were retained rather than shed allowing these trees to form their unusually complex structure of branches. Their heavy even monstrous limbs as well as wind tortured trunks made them not only extremely difficult to harvest but worth little as lumber sparing many from the early axman’s work. Today they exist in a more thickly forested environment that would never allow them to form; another reason to enjoy these exceptional giants.

From the dappled light and shadow of open steeper slopes, the trail levels as it enters a more shadowed forest of denser and relatively younger trees. Clear-cutting and mining activities once cleared this land of all vegetation. Watch for old road-like spurs that branch toward the uphill side of the trail. These short approaches lead to a gallery of abandoned limestone quarries. As the high quality and easily accessible limestone along the coast was depleted; more inland sites like these had to be found. Along the quarry floor, repetitive patterns of ladder like bumps can still be found. These are all that remain of the railroad tracks that allowed small loaded rail carts to be pushed from the quarry by hand, the limestone then loaded onto trucks for transportation elsewhere. Now, in the process of being reclaimed by nature, the quarries form fascinating grottos of extreme conditions for their plant communities; temporary wetlands on the floor, dry rocky ledges on the walls, and thin soiled forests along their rims. Use caution during your visit; all the sights to be had are available without climbing or standing too near crumbling rock walls.

Beyond the quarries, several connections with the preserve trails and the state park are encountered. Enjoy visiting more natural and historical sites while lengthening your walk. To form a loop, eventually make your way down to the state park and follow the Deadman Bay trail back to your starting point.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 10/15/2009

Directions

Access the Upland Trail from any of the Limekiln Point Preserve trailheads. The most easily accessible of these can be found near the small roadside turnouts located just above Deadman Bay on the west side of San Juan Island. See related articles, this website.

Map

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