Revisiting the Tulip Fields near Seattle
By Devasmita Chakraverty
How lucky one can be when one gets to time their conference trips with one of their favorite festivals happening concurrently at a different city, in fact, in a different country? Once the conference dates in Vancouver was decided, I waited with bated breath for the official announcement of the dates for the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, about 70 miles and 1 hour 10 minutes drive north of Seattle on I-90 (Exits 230, plus minus one). The tulip festival has been my favorite things to visit in Seattle, and every year, I waited for Spring to arrive, heralding a trip to the daffodil and tulip fields.
Now timing the trip to the fields was tricky for various reasons. First, although the festival goes on for a month, the exact window of the peak tulip bloom (70% or more blooming) is relatively narrow. This is not a problem so much for the local people who can drive at short notice, but for people like me, who buy plane tickets and visit for a few days. Earlier, it was never a problem when I lived in Seattle. I would wait for Facebook pictures of my friends happily posing in the fields before I would make that trip. Now, I just prayed that the peak bloom coincided with my visit. One of the many little things that made me realize I do not live in Seattle anymore.
Anyway, a week before my visit, my friend Siddhartha, who is also an avid photographer, made a trip to capture the sunset, and came back with pictures of fields of daffodils only. The daffodils were beautiful, a fiery streak of yellow and red spanning the field. However, the tulips were not in bloom. Not yet.
Last Tuesday. I set out for the tulip fields early morning with my friend. It was a cloudy day, alright, but it was not raining thankfully. We were a little lost once we exited the Interstate-5 North onto Highway 20. After some detours and stopping to ask for directions at a local restaurant that made amazing omelets, we finally made some sense of where to head. My excitement was unbridled the moment I spotted miles and miles of colorful tulip fields. No wonder the reference of the Bollywood movie Silsila comes up every time I share pictures with friends and family.
We spent the next few hours at the Rozengarde fields (garden entry is $5, field entry is free), amazed at the long rows of colorful tulips stretching for miles. It was a cloudy day, and traffic was relatively bearable, being a weekday. The view of the North Cascades range of mountains in the background was breathtaking. Although they call it a festival, it is not really a rally of people, a fair, or a festival. This is miles and miles of colorful tulips stretched in front of you, with thousands of visitors, photographers, enthusiasts, and excited kids. If you want to enjoy the fields but do not enjoy crowds or being stuck in traffic, I would strongly recommend getting there on a weekday, and/or, starting really early in the morning, as early as 6am if you fancy catching the sunrise by the fields, or perhaps a little later. If it is a sunny weekend and you are past the 8 am deadline, chances are more that you will spend a good part of the day stuck in traffic, and would be standing in long queues to get into the fields, in addition to having difficulty finding parking. In addition, if you are interested in taking good pictures, the lighting is best early morning or in the evening. The harsh sunlight tends to wash out the pictures otherwise. Pack a snack, some food and water, because you do not want hunger pangs to drive you out of the fields just when you have started to enjoy the blooms. The other recommendation is to check the bloom map before you set out. Typically, the blooming period is when about 70% of the fields are in bloom. There is no parking fee as far as I know, but bring cash in order to get into the gardens. The credit card queue is significantly longer than the cash queue. And while you are at the tulip fields, it would be a good idea to look out for the daffodil fields as well, especially the ones that have an amazing view of the snowcapped Mount Baker in the background.
After Tuesday morning, I went back to the tulip fields again on Saturday, such was the temptation of a sunny day in Seattle. This time, the fields looked even prettier, and there were lot many people. Kids happily scampered around, couples posed, and there was one Japanese lady who had dressed as a bride for the purpose of a photo shoot in the fields. I have never seen an enthusiast who wears blue denims under the lacy white bridal dress. We drove for miles that day, stopping to take pictures by the fields here and there, in awe of the beauty and color.
If you live in and around Seattle, you SHOULD make this 1.5 hour long road trip each way and check out the tulip fields in April. If you do not live in Seattle, but plan to visit sometime then, time it so that you can check out the tulip festival. It is a day trip, and you can easily spend 4-5 hours in the fields, depending on your energy levels. I personally like to spend hours, taking pictures of the flowers, the farms, and the people, and enjoying watching hundreds of people take posing and taking filmy pictures. Just remember to start early, take food and water, keep some cash, pack ample memory in your camera card, and grab an umbrella, just in case.
If you have been to the tulip fields elsewhere, in the US or outside, I would be interested to know about your experiences. I have heard a lot about the Holland fields in Michigan (US) and the Tulip Gardens in Keukenhof near Amsterdam.