Published: May 15th 2009April 26th 2009
Odd Man Out
One yellow tulip stands above a sea of red petals during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.
Did you ever watch the Wizard of Oz
and in that scene where Dorothy et al are running through the endless red poppy fields trying to reach the Emerald City think "I wish I could do that!" Same here! Well we finally made it to the tulip festival (fittingly, a few hours north of Seattle, our own "Emerald City"). I've been wanting to visit the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival with Andras for years. Not only does the area transform into a photographers dream, but acres upon acres of wildly colored flower fields cannot manifest any feelings other than happiness. Last year the rare April snow delayed the bloom and our work schedules prevented us from leaving the city and this year the weather almost threatened to do the same thing, but during the last few days the sun appeared, the flowers went into full bloom and it worked out perfectly.
The promise of tulips prompted an early morning start in Seattle and we hit the road before the weekend traffic could delay us further. I'd been the tulip festival years ago but never as an adult so as we exited off the interstate into Mount Vernon driving behind a small
One of my favorite photos of the day. I love the way the sunlight causes the petals to glow nearly translucently.
but steady line of cars towards a yet unseen destination, I was partially worried that my recollection of the area had been obscured by my childhood imagination (the world always seems so much larger when you're so small) but thankfully that was not the case.
On the outskirts of town lie the flat, agricultural fields of RoozenGaarde and the Washington Bulb Co. What amazes me more than anything about this month long celebration of tulips, daffodils and irises is that the main spectacle, the flowers themselves, are nothing more than a by-product of the real profit maker, that is, the bulbs which are eventually dug and sold throughout the world. It's win-win-win for the landowners. Charge parking fees to view the flower fields, sell the fresh-cut flowers on site, and then dig the fields up and sell the bulbs. Normally I would be put off by such an obviously money-making scheme, but I'll make an exception for something so pretty.
In typical spend-thrift fashion, I didn't feel this way when we first arrived. We saw our first glimpse of the fields off the main road - acres of red and yellow stretching towards the horizon and a half-dozen
Another one of my favorite photographs. These purple tulips spread for acres in all directions with only this old barn breaking up the monotony.
or so vehicles parked in a dirt pull-off along side the fields. Resisting the temptation to stop at the first flowers we saw (like everyone else) we drove past only then to see a orange-vested attendant charging $4 to park in the make-shift lot. I commented how we certainly wouldn't be so stupid to pay a parking fee to attend a FREE event. The nerve of those people trying to capitalize off this public treasure and so on and so forth. Instead, we headed toward the haze of pink and purple we saw off the instance.
Of course, once we got closer we realized there were people charging the same the park there as well. The original plan had been to bring our bicycles so that we could park in town somewhere and ride between the fields at our leisure, but the cool weather, combined with the fact that our bicycles were stored away left us in the predicament we now faced. After driving around the valley for a half-hour now trying to see some tulips, I relented to the fact that we would have to pay parking. Besides, Andras' really needed to use the restroom. Still I was
Tulips in Skagit Valley
Facing east, with the North Cascade mountain range in the background.
self-congratulatory in knowing that at least this field was much larger than the first, so we were getting a better value for the buck, at the very least. And this area had Port-a-Potties, which Andras made a bee-line for the moment the car stopped. I don't know why we carry so much water with us on road-trips - adequate hydration really makes for hassle later on.
It was all I had hoped for and then some. Still early in the day, the crowds hadn't yet arrived and we strolled casually between the designated paths among rows and rows of blooming petals. The singing of the birds and the rustle of tulip leaves in the breeze was punctuated only by the yells of a flag-bearing field attendant trying to chase some trampling children out from between the flower rows or the sound of other visitors, like us, commenting in glee whenever an errant tulip was spotted amongst the hundreds of identical clones. The perfect morning.
As the sun rose and clouds lifted, the peaks of the Cascade mountains made an appearance in the distance to the west and on the edges of the fields old barns and tool sheds
This tulip shade reminds me of a watercolor painting, or maybe of dreaming...either way it's lovely.
made for opportunistic backdrops to my many landscape photos. We took turns sneaking in-between the rows of bulbs, trying to capture an image of each other surrounded by thousands of colorful petals without getting caught by the aforementioned flag-bearing guards. At one point we even threw caution to the wind and run half-way down a row to take a photo of a unique green and red-striped tulip with feathered edges - the only flower to bloom in a field of green. I ran back to the marked path with adrenaline coursing through my veins - what an outlaw I am, trespassing through the rows to steal a photo of a unique flower! What a rush.
As it turned out, the $4 parking fee was good for all
the fields in the area, a fact that definitely not announced but that I'm happened across by accident. So of course we headed back to the red and yellow field and even put up with a unreasonable amount of traffic congestion as the largest field behind the display gardens. Why pay admission to see a display garden when there are hundreds and thousands of tulips are in sight, I have no idea.
Pink Tulips in a Row
Love how they just keep going into the distance.
By noon we'd had our fill, the lighting was no longer good and the crowds were arriving en masse. Our peaceful, idyllic flower fields had succumbed to the ills of popularity. So instead we headed out to the islands for a little beach-combing and eventually made our way home. The main event here though is certainly not our travelogue, but most definitely the photos we took, so be sure to give them a look. There's more on the next page and that still doesn't account for the half of them. Did I take over 300 photos in about two hours? Sure did! But we tried to narrow it down to the best of the bunch.
There are more photos below