Washington’s 157 miles of coastline make it the 12th most coastal state in the union, but beaches hardly seem synonymous with the Evergreen State. You think beaches, and sand, warm water, and sunbathing come to mind, maybe volleyball. You think California and Florida.
Washington’s beaches are a far more ambiguous and complicated affair. Driftwood and craggy outcroppings. Remote shorelines. Water too cold to dip into.
For this month’s cover story senior editor Allison Williams decodes our shores, pointing to the 21 greatest spots for swimming and hiking and, yes, sunbathing, but also introducing us to those who know the beaches best, from sea creatures—starfish, geoducks, otters—to Makah tribe surfers, making a case for our vertiginous shorelines as both destinations and worthy objects of fascination.
Then there’s the matter of the feet.
It’s been a while since one washed up here—disarticulated, athletically heeled, eroded to the bone. Locally, two years have passed since the last, when volunteers cleaning trash at Centennial Park stumbled upon a white New Balance sneaker (size 10 and a half) that encased a human foot—one of 16 shod feet to appear on the beaches of Washington and British Columbia since 2007. Further afield, a family approached a sneaker beached on Vancouver Island in February 2016, picked it up, and puzzled over the shoe for five minutes before realizing it held a podiatric prize inside.
Williams puzzles over the Case of the Salish Sea Severed Feet too. Investigators have yet to provide a satisfying answer, other than to note that extremities—hands, feet—are likely to depart from the body early in the decomposition process, especially at sea, and that tennis shoes are not only buoyant, but do a fine job of protecting organic matter from the elements, including scavenging fish and birds. The remains of plane crash survivors? Suicides? Or the work of a regional serial killer?
No one can say. But the mystery is yet another reason our beaches, clogged with driftwood and difficult to access, remain more fascinating than clear, white-sand strands that qualify as suntan and volleyball turf.