Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cama Beach State Park: Retro Rustic Charm



Want to feel transported back to an earlier, simpler time? On Washington's Camano Island, Cama Beach State Park was converted from an old 1930s-era fishing resort and now features cozy beach cabins, miles of trails through thick lowland forest, and a relaxed, slow-down vibe.

On one of our spectacular September weekends, I grab a friend and head up there from Seattle to check it out, based on the raves from a friend who stayed there recently. 

Our first stop is the Cama Beach Cafe for breakfast, set in a gorgeous new lodge in the woods above the beach. This very popular cafe uses seasonal veggies and fruit, Camano Island eggs, and sausages made in nearby Stanwood. My veggie omelet is excellent, and my table mates rave about the Swedish pancakes.  


Cama Beach Cafe's tasty local fare.
Alas, the  guy just ahead of me in line snagged the last of their famous blueberry scones. I'm sorely tempted by the gorgeous rhubarb pie in the display case, but discipline rules. Next trip.

Cama Beach lodge
 It's just a short walk to the beach and the Center for Wooden Boats, which offers boat rentals and educational programs. Friendly Shane, who manages the facility, is happy to chat with us and show us their boats.

Center for Wooden Boats at Cama Beach
 On a clear day, the westward-facing little cabins overlook Saratoga Passage, Whidbey Island, and peek-a-boo views of the Olympic Mountains beyond.
 


With a low tide this morning, we walk off breakfast by strolling down the beach for starters. Walking along the rocks and sand requires more effort with each step, so I figure we're burning more calories. :)

Waters of Saratoga Passage with Whidbey Island beyond.

With many trails winding through woods, along the bluffs, and over to Camano Island State Park (where there are even more trails) to choose from, we opt to walk through lush lowland forest to the bluff trail for views. 


 It all seems so right and peaceful walking along the well-worn paths through the healthy forest, with just the soft earth underfoot. We hear the distinctive, eeh-eeh-eeh cry of a pileated woodpecker reverberating through the forest canopy above. 

Looking southwest to Cama Beach (left at the point) and Whidbey Island beyond.

After passing several viewing platforms, it's time to turn around and head back to the city.  Too soon. What a perfect spot for a quiet getaway in the winter or midweek in the warmer months!

Have you been to Cama Beach? Do you have a favorite beach park?

  For more photos and Northwest happenings between blog posts, Like the Pacific Northwest Seasons page on FaceBook. 

Happy trail and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.

When You Go
Cama Beach State Park is open year-round, and it's easier to book a cabin in the off-season. Some cabins allow pets. While I haven't stayed there, my friend Don has a few times recently and says the cabins are basic, rustic, but clean and cozy, with WiFi. For specifics and rates, check here. The cafe is open on weekends in the off-season 9 am to 2 pm for breakfast and lunch.  

It's about a 90-minute drive north from Seattle. You need a Discover Pass to enter and park, which you can buy at the entrance or, better yet, when you renew your Washington license if you're a state resident. Click here for location and driving directions.















Friday, September 12, 2014

Vancouver B.C. Must-See: Museum of Anthropology

Away from the tourist bustle of Vancouver's West End is a gem of a destination set high on cliffs above the Strait of Georgia.  The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) on the University of British Columbia campus at the westernmost edge of Vancouver offers magnificent examples of Northwest Coast art, both contemporary and classic.

Well before explorers and settlers arrived in the region from Europe and beyond, the First Nations people of the Northwest Coast had developed a sophisticated and complex culture of wood carving, painting, song, and dance. The MOA features some stunning examples in a lovely setting.
 
On a brilliant late summer weekend, we bicycle from the West End over the Burrard Street Bridge and through lovely, leafy residential neighborhoods out to the UBC campus and the MOA.

After parking our bicycles, we wander down the path to the contemporary MOA building, which was designed to reflect traditional northern Northwest Coast post and beam structures.  Just past the entrance, large and spectacular wood totem poles, bentwood boxes, cedar canoes, and sculptures are displayed in the Great Hall. I swear I can feel the power of these treasures set beneath the 15-meter-high high ceiling and glass windows.

 


Bottom of a Haida totem pole


Down below the Great Hall, we step inside a treasure trove of museum pieces stuffed inside glass cases and pull-out drawers in a darkened collections room. The quantity and quality of the collection is incredible.  To see it all really means many trips here to soak it all in.

Many masks, many more
Another highlight of the MOA's collection is Haida artist Bill Reid's massive wood sculputure "The Raven and the First Men,"displayed to full effect in the Rotunda. Princes Charles (aka the Prince of Wales) was here to unveil this masterpiece back in the 1980s.

The Raven and the First Men
Since I was here in the 1990s, a replica of a traditional Northwest Coast longhouse (or plank house) and a faux beach has been added on the grounds behind the building.  This simulates what a traditional Northwest Coast village would have looked like on one of the thousands of beaches that stretch northward up the coast to Alaska.


As with many museums I've visited over the years for my art history studies and beyond, I can only take in so much before I get sensory overload.  After a couple hours we head to the museum cafe for a cold drink and snack (banana break baked on campus) on the outdoor patio before departing.  

I love this place!  It's on my intinerary for future trips to Vancouver. How about you? 

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.


When You Go
While the MOA is known for its Northwest Coast art collection, it's also world-renowned for its research, teaching, public programs, and community connections. If you're in the Vancouver area or visit often, check out their ongoing public programs.  The MOA is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and stays open until 9 p.m. on Tuesday evenings. Suggested donation per adult was about $16 when we visited last weekend. Check out their website for information on getting there via bus, auto, walking, or bicycle.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Seize the Day: Late Summer in the Northwest


It's September already and another summer is slipping by fast--too fast. Here in the Upper Left Hand Corner of the U.S.A. (apologies to Alaska), we know there won't be that many more shorts and T-shirt warm days here. So we savor each sunny September day.

Our light this time of year, when the sun is out, seems to have a subtle golden glow. Perhaps it's the angle of the sun, but there's just something sweet and particular about September light. I  know it instinctively.

While I've been working too much and through several weekends, I am getting away this weekend. So check back next week for more blog posts about Seattle's progressive sister (and MSL rival) to the north, Vancouver, B.C. Love that city!

In the meantime, just a few shots from this spectacular and special region.  




Art in the Park, Carkeek Park, Seattle, Washington

 
Cypress Island from Guemes Island ferry terminal, Anacortes, Washington

 

 
Mt. Hood sunset, Hood River Valley, Oregon

Orcas Island ferry terminal, Orcas, Island, Washington
And how do you like to savor September? 

Happy trail and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.



Monday, August 11, 2014

Kayaking and Hiking Cypress Island: Pelican Beach Dash

Do you sometimes overdo it trying to squeeze in every bit of summer fun you possibly can?

Here in the Pacific Northwest, with shorter and darker days looming just a few months away, I sure do.  (Hence not as many blog posts this summer.)

Exhibit A:  A recent 23-hour kayak camping adventure to mostly undeveloped Cypress Island, about 65 miles north of Seattle, Washington. I have overtime work to do on the weekend, but still. It's summer! It's sunny and warm! How can I resist the invite?

Here's the plan versus what really happened:

"Let's try for the 6:15 or 6:45 p.m. Guemes ferry Friday evening."

We leave Seattle at rush hour. We get on the 8:30 p.m. ferry.  

Guemes ferry line, Anacortes.

"Slack before ebb at the north end of Guemes [Island, where we launch] is around 6:20 p.m.,  so we'll be pushed south as we cross towards Cypress by the time we get on the water."

We don't start kayaking until 10 p.m., so we got pushed way south crossing to Cypress. In the dark. With wind and waves. It was scary.

Right before we launch...it only got darker.
 
"Get back to Guemes around noon [Saturday]. Slack before flood is around 12:15 p.m., so we'll again be pushed south as we come back,  assuming we leave Cypress around 11ish."

We leave Cypress around 11:30--12 hours after arriving--and get pushed way north as we come back. We arrive at Guemes about 12:45.

But despite actual versus plan and an uncomfortable 30 minutes crossing the middle of Bellingham Channel in the dark, it's truly an exhilarating quick getaway. 

 
Ferry crossing to Guemes, Mt. Baker at sunset.


What's not to love about paddling under an almost full moon past small forest-thatched islands and pulling up to a quiet, easy beach to set up camp?  Then hiking the next morning just 1.3 miles up to a clifftop with stunning 360 views of blue sea, green islands, and snow-capped peaks beyond?

Our destination is Pelican Beach, a  camping spot for nonmotorized watercraft that's part of the Cascadia Marine Trail. This lovely beach on the northeastern tip of Cypress is popular with kayakers and other boaters, and now even features composting toilets. (Because it's the Northwest, after all.)

Pelican Beach, popular on a summer weekend.

After getting clear of the wind and waves as we draw close to Cypress, each paddlestroke stirs up little sparkles of bioluminescence in the water. I've witnessed this enchanting phenomena from the Sea of Cortes all the way up into British Columbia along the West Coast.

Being a warm summer weekend, the campsites are almost all taken when we glide up to Pelican Beach at about 11:30 p.m. We find an empty space next to a picnic table. Sleep comes quickly after the excitement of getting here...

...then we enjoy an excellent breakfast in the morning. One thing I extra like about kayak camping versus backpacking is being able to bring more fresh food and cooking gear.


Fresh egg scramble with 'shrooms, zukes, cheese, and avocado.

On my first kayak trip to Pelican Beach in the late 1990s, our group of four shared the beach with just one other group out here on a summer weekend. This weekend, there are many others here, including a guided group trip from Anacortes Kayak Tours. I call it Kayakpalooza.



Since it's a dine and dash kind of trip, we're off right after breakfast into the woods behind the beach for the fairly easy trail up to Eagle Cliff. This rock promontory that juts about 800-900 feet above the sea below is closed for hiking from February until July 15 every year to protect the peregrine falcons that nest there.


As we're nearing the top, we pass a few viewpoints and emerge from the forest into grassy rock balds. It's just a short scramble to the top after climbing a short step ladder anchored to the rocks.

And the views!



Looking SW across Rosario Strait to Blakely Island

N-NW view of Rosario Strait, Lummi Island beyond

Don't stray too close to the edge of the cliff!
And then we scoot back down, pack and load the kayaks in record time, and shove off into the brilliant blue sea for the paddle back to Guemes.

We skirt eastward north of the Cone Islands, which lie off the northeast side of Cypress in the channel. A shiny-headed, dark-eyed seal pops up and watches us warily from a safe distance. Generally we see plenty of harbor seals when kayaking the Salish Sea.


Cone Islands


About halfway across it becomes clear we're being swept northward by a steady breeze.

"I don't want to end up halfway to Vendovi Island," says John. We adjust our target southward on Guemes  to compensate. Then it's clear sailing (well, kayaking) back to our put-in at Guemes Island Resort.


Mt. Baker dominates the skyline of northwestern Washington.
I'm sorry we have to load up and leave so soon; these bucolic islands call for a more leisurely pace.

Bye-bye Guemes
 But all in all, I consider this summer weekend thoroughly squeezed for fun.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
I don't recommend crossing Bellingham Channel after dark; however, we did have U.S. Coast Guard-approved lighting on our front and back kayak decks. (It helps to travel with an engineer:). Much of Cypress Island is a state-designated Natural Resources Conservation Area because of valuable habitat for marine and terrestrial wildlife. Pelican Beach and Cypress Head, another campsite farther down island, are only open to overnight camping from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year. So get out there soon, and then leave a comment below to tell me about it! 
 
If you don't have a kayak nor are experienced kayaking in the sea, try booking a trip with the friendly folks at Anacortes Kayak Tours. The trip to Cypress can easily be done in day, too.











  


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Orcas Island Hiking: Turtlehead Turns Heads

While Washington's San Juan Islands are known as a boating and kayaking mecca, Orcas Island offers miles of well-maintained trails through forest and mountain peaks. A splendid addition is the new trail (opened late 2013) off the north end of Turtleback Mountain out to Turtlehead Preserve (aka Orcas Knob).

On a brilliant spring day my friend Steve, who lives on Orcas, took us up the new trail for the breathtaking view from Turtlehead Preserve. He was involved in the effort to secure funding via the San Juan Preservation Trust and San Juan County Land Bank for this beautiful addition to the Turtleback Mountain Preserve. (For specifics on the effort, this story in the Island Sounder provides more detail.)

We meet at the North Trailhead of Turtleback Mountain Preserve (off Crow Valley Road, next to the historic schoolhouse) and head up the gentle grade (an old road bed) through the forest.  After about 1.5 miles, the short detour to the Waldron Lookout is worth a quick trip for the first of fantastic views.

 
When I hiked here last (November 2012), the trail to Turtlehead Preserve just past the Waldron Lookout detour wasn't yet openBut today we take the well-marked cutoff at the saddle and plunge into the woods through what appears mostly second-growth and remnant old-growth forest.



Save for a couple young women we pass, we're the only ones out here on a gorgeous sunny weekend afternoon. Nothing beats getting outdoors on off-peak days/season to avoid crowds of like-minded hikers.

After meandering through the forest for about a mile, with a bit of up and down, partly along an old grade and winding through trees, we get glimpses of the glorious island views.  I pick up the pace.


Soon we scramble up onto the balds to an open native grass savannah, with "tiered" rocky outcrops. Needless to say, the panoramic views of the Salish Sea and islands are SPEC-TAC-ULAR.




Looking south, Olympic Mountains in the distance on the Olympic Peninsula.
While up here gulping in the magnificent day/panorama, we try to be mindful of the delicate native grasses and flowers. Things are still green and flowering in April, but by midsummer things are likely much drier and brown up there.

And then it's an easy amble back down to the trailhead.

Big thanks to all the organizations and volunteers who helped plan, develop, and build this marvelous trail (the San Juan Preservation Trust, San Juan County Land Bank, Washington Trails Association, Washington Conservation Corps, and  local volunteers)!

Have you been to Turtlehead yet?  Would love to hear your Orcas/San Juan Islands hiking experiences in a comment below. Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.
Happy hiker!

When You Go
Here is an excellent trail map with specific information at the San Juan County Land Bank website. I think overall we hiked a little over 4 miles, and this is not a challenging or difficult hike (but I did break a sweat). Turtlehead is at 1,005 feet above sea level.

Methinks that the south access trailhead to Turtleback Mountain is more popular, with more open views.  To get to Turtlehead, we hike through a few miles of woods until we're rewarded with the views. For this reason, this will probably stay a lesser visited trail. And for this reason, a good reason to go.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hiking Esmeralda Basin: In Celebration of Wildflowers and Mountains

As snow recedes from higher elevations in the Northwest, fragile yet hardy wildflowers spring to life.  While the wildflowers around Paradise on Mount Rainier are legendary, mountain meadows with wildflowers are all over the Cascades. 

Over Fourth of July weekend, we hike up to Fortune Creek Pass through Esmeralda Basin in the Teanaway region of Washington's central Cascades. On the way up we pass gorgeous mountain meadows spiked with brilliant Indian paintbrush, shooting stars, and more.

Our hike began at the end of the road up the North Fork Teanaway basin, at a trailhead for numerous excellent Teanaway hikes. Here on the eastern crest of the Cascades, the landscape is more arid, with less thick underbrush and more pine trees.

I'd done this hike back in the 1990s, but this time we see many diseased and dying trees as we start up the trailthe curse of the pine beetle, fire suppression, and likely climate change.  It's noticeably different.



But the healthy creek swollen with snowmelt is a nice contrast. As the trees transition to subalpine varieties, they appear healthier.






A mile or so up the trail, which angles up Esmeralda Basin at a gentle grade, we start passing more wildflowers. The real treat, though, is the brilliant meadow full of flowers.


Magenta paintbrush in foreground
 
Shooting star


We pass a few more meadows, amble along sideslopes, and walk up a few switchbacks to the last stretch through a quickly melting snowfield. Before I realize it, we've reached the saddle at Fortune Creek Pass. Overall it's a pretty mellow 3.5 miles here, ascending over 1,700 feet.

And the views!  

Hawkins Mountain

Fortune Creek Pass

Mt. Daniel in the distance.

Name that peak!


So we pull out sit pads and take a leisurely break enjoying the view and our lunches.  Not a bad way to spend a day.

Up here on the exposed ridge at almost 6,000 feet in elevation, the flowers are more sparse and hardy.


Since this is not a steep hike, the trek down doesn't batter the toes or knees like some downhill hikes can do. We stop and take lots more flower shots and wind up back at the trailhead a little less than 6 hours after we started.

Friendly hikers

Scarlet gilia


Six hours has passed? Times flies when you're outdoors in a beautiful mountain valley surrounded by wildflowers, happy hikers, and sweet fresh air.

Have you hiked in the Teanaway too? Would love to hear about your trip or favorite hikes in the comments below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

When You Go
A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the trailhead. From Seattle area, take I-90 east to Cle Elum, then exit east of town to Blewett Pass/SR 970. Take SR 970 north to the Teanaway Road. Follow the North Fork Teanaway Road to the 29 Pines Campground where the pavement ends at a fork in the road. Take the right fork, FR 9737, 10 miles to its end at trailhead #1394, Esmeralda Basin.

Don't forget your sunscreen! It gets hotter and drier here than on the western side of the mountains.