Tiptoe Through the Tulips

REMEMBER TINY TIM STRUMMING HIS UKULELE and singing, “Come tiptoe through the tulips with
me,” back in the 1960s? Well, you too can tiptoe through the tulips, and you don”t have to
go to Holland. Every April, people from all over the world come to Washington state”s
Skagit (pronounced “SKAJ-et”) Valley to do that very thing: tiptoe through the mud to view
thousands of acres of brilliantly colored tulips during the annual Skagit Valley Tulip
Festival. This year”s event will be held April 6-22. In the 1930s and 1940s, Dutch
immigrants moved to this lush and fertile valley that lies between the snowcapped Cascade
Mountains and the sparkling waters of Puget Sound. They brought with them the tradition of
growing tulips, and to- day the Skagit Valley is one of the world”s largest bulb-growing
regions. With approximately 7,000 acres planted in flower bulbs, it is a $42 million
industry that ships tulip, daffodil, iris and lily bulbs around the globe. To reach the
flower fields, travel north on Interstate 5 about 60 miles from Seattle to the little town
of Mount Vernon. The tulip fields are located just west of Mount Vernon and east of La
Conner. You may drive your dinghy vehicle or ride your bicycle to the flower fields, but
the roads are narrow and congested and parking is limited, so you will definitely want to
leave your motorhome in a nearby campsite. An alternative is to take a tour bus from one of
the local towns, such as Burlington (where there is ample RV parking), La Conner or Mount
Vernon. Many fields are located along Beaver Marsh Road, including the beautiful display
gardens at Roozengaarde Farms, where a vast array of tulips, narcissus and daffodils grow
in spectacular arrangements. Each variety is prominently labeled, with names like apricot
beauty or orange emperor, to help you identify the bulbs. The giant arms of a tall white
windmill turn gently with the wind, and nearby picnic tables offer a lovely spot to enjoy
lunch. Visitors are allowed to walk among the blossoms in many fields. Some even have
mule-drawn wagons that take you out in style, with great commentary on the region and the
flowers. You will have plenty of opportunities to buy cut flowers and order bulbs to be
shipped home in the fall. Acres upon acres of tulips and daffodils, resembling a rich and
colorful patchwork quilt, roll on in brilliant hues of every color. The blossoms, dancing
on slender stalks, resemble luscious lollipops swaying to a tune of their own in the breeze
that blows continuously across the valley. Dairy farms and fields of black-and-white cattle
mingle with the rows of flowers. Patches of fog often linger in the mornings and float in
ghostly wisps among the blossoms. Every year, the flower fields are rotated with other
crops to keep the soil rich, so the visitor is greeted with a different-looking landscape
each spring. The patterns change. The rustic barns seem to move to different locations with
different backgrounds. A gentle perfume wafts across the valley. The flowers are exquisite.
There is a feeling of peace here and an earthiness that permeates the soul. It feels so
good to be alive amid such beauty. During the weekends, the crowds are extremely heavy, but
the weekdays have much lighter traffic. Most people arrive with cameras in hand, to capture
that “perfect” photograph of the flowers. Early mornings are good times for picture-taking
because the crowds haven”t yet arrived and the soft light at the beginning of the day makes
for better photographs. Early hours can be nippy, so dress in layers. Springtime can also
be wet in this corner of the world, and the fields are always muddy, so a raincoat and old
shoes or boots are good ideas. An umbrella is useful both for keeping off the rain and for
shading the flowers from the sun or wind while photographing them. Don’t let a little rain
keep you from taking pictures; some of the best photographs that I”ve seen were taken with
raindrops sparkling on the flower petals. Just be sure to keep raindrops off your camera
lens. A tripod is also very useful if you want great pictures, as you may have to frame
your shot and then wait for the breeze to pause before snapping the shutter. Don”t be
afraid to get right down on the ground at the level of the flowers to take your pictures. A
pair of light waterproof pants works for this. Normal peak bloom periods for daffodils is
March 15 to April 15 and for tulips April 1-30. The blossoms are just the byproducts of the
major industry, which is raising bulbs, and they are cut off the stalks as soon as the
bloom starts to fade, much to the disappointment of flower viewers. However, that is
necessary to keep the bulbs healthy. The festival is a community-wide event involving all
of the little towns in the Skagit Valley, and there is much more to see and do than just
visiting the flower fields. Mount Vernon has a street fair, a wonderful salmon barbecue at
Hillcrest Park, arts-and-craft shows, concerts and many other events. Sedro Wolley has the
Woodfest, celebrating its roots in the logging industry. Anacortes, an old oil-refinery
town, has art and quilt shows, as well as a ferryboat to the alluring San Juan Islands. You
won’t want to miss the charming little seaside village of La Conner. Its streets are lined
with art galleries and craft shops. Good restaurants are plentiful, and the seafood is
excellent. You”ll surely want to visit the Skagit County Historical Museum, located at 502
South Fourth Street. Then out along the Bayview-Edison Road, north of town, you”ll find the
Padilla Bay Breazeale Interpretive Center, headquarters for the Padilla Bay National
Estuarine Research Reserve. With its excellent saltwater aquaria, special hands-on room for
children, and bicycle and pedestrian trails, it”s a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.
During the winter, bird-watchers delight in the trumpeter swans and snow geese that flock
to the valley. For visitors who like a game of chance, Harrah”s Skagit Valley Casino
provides fun and excitement. Picturesque old inns, motels and campgrounds are plentiful in
the Skagit Valley, but be sure to make reservations, especially during the tulip festival.
The 2001 Trailer Life Directory lists a number of area campgrounds.

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