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Originally published Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Walkabout

Wander through native history on Monroe's Landing beach walk

Take a walk along Penn Cove on Whidbey Island, a site of historical importance to a local tribe whose main village was there.

Special to The Seattle Times

Location: Penn Cove, south of Oak Harbor, Whidbey Island.

Length: 3 ½ miles round trip.

Level of difficulty: Gently sloping sand and cobble beach.

Setting: Located on the north side of Penn Cove across from Coupeville, this historic site was once the main village (called cokwol'a) of the Skwdabs, a subgroup of the Skagit tribe. This area is now within the Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve. Walk east along the sandy beach toward Oak Harbor for about two miles (make sure that when you set off on your walk, the tide isn't coming in, or you'll get your feet wet on the return).

The stretch of beach lies beneath Blowers Bluff, which shows levels of sediment left behind by the last retreating glacier and reworked by streams near the glacier's base. Occasionally, the unstable sediments slough off and fall, so keep away from the base of the bluff. You'll pass several boulders left by the glaciers (erratics), and after 1.75 miles, you'll reach a large polished boulder known as Klootchman Rock (Chinook jargon for "woman"). This is a good place to turn around; you can continue along the beach, but the next stretch is less wild.

Highlights: An interpretive sign at the parking lot relates that a longhouse stood here until about 1910. It was a place to gather during winter for ceremonies and feasting. This was the last of the longhouses to stand on Whidbey Island, and it stood atop a shell midden that indicated use of the site for 4,000 years. The people dug horse clams at this location, and hunted deer and ducks, farmed camas bulbs and maintained berry patches.

Facilities: None.

Restrictions: Leash and scoop laws in effect.

Directions: From the ferry terminal in Clinton, drive north on Highway 525, which becomes Highway 20. Near Milepost 29, turn right on Monroe Landing Road and drive 1.6 miles. When you reach Penn Cove Road, the parking lot is across the street.

Bus: Free Island Transit buses (Route 1) connect the Clinton ferry dock with Oak Harbor Monday through Friday starting at 8 a.m. on weekdays (9 a.m. Saturdays; no service Sundays or holidays). For the bus schedule, call 800-240-6747 or see www.islandtransit.org.

For more information: 360-678-5111 or www.islandcounty.net; Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve: www.nps.gov/ebla.

Renton-based freelancer Cathy McDonald, a former geologist, has written about science and nature travel for 20 years. She's currently a travel guidebook editor at Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door. Contact her: nwwriter@hotmail.com

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