Friday, March 26, 2010

Kayaking Skagit Bay: Falcons, Bull Kelp, and Scenic Islands

We’re blessed with some of the most accessible and scenic sea kayaking in the world here in the Pacific Northwest. When I have a few days to spare, I head north to the lovely and magical San Juan or Gulf Islands. But some great day trips around Puget Sound offer scenery similar to the San Juans without an expensive ferry ride from the mainland.

For easy access and gorgeous scenery, northern Skagit Bay is one of my favorite day paddles. Here you can take off from gently sloping Snee-Oosh Beach and paddle out to several small, uninhabited islands in a fairly protected bay.

From the Seattle area it’s less than a 90-minute drive north up I-5. After getting off I-5 at the Conway exit, skirt through pastoral Skagit flats farmland, charming La Connor, and the Swinomish Indian Reservation before parking just above the beach off Snee-Oosh Road.

From the put-in beach, the northward panorama encompasses Hope and Skagit Islands, both Washington State Parks with primitive campsites. Northern Whidbey Island stretches forest green on the western horizon across the bay. On a sunny day it’s all blue sky and sea and forest-fringed islands, with glacier-encrusted Cascade volcanoe Mount Baker to the east.

I like to start by paddling north to Hope Island, then heading clockwise around the island along the shoreline. On the southern side, I scan the trees above the exposed rock faces for peregrine falcons or bald eagles, which I’ve seen frequently here.

Crossing around the western tip of the island, I’m always cautious and careful because strong currents and rip tides here can be dangerous and even cause a capsize—so I stay very close to shoreline.

On the north side of Hope Island, the vegetation is more mossy and lush, and creeps closer to the waterline. I mosey east along the shoreline past protected little coves and tangled bull kelp forests swaying on the water surface. Often we stop at a pretty little beach on the northwest side of the island for a break.

From about mid-island, I usually cut north and cross over to Skagit Island about a ½ mile away. Directly north, Mt. Erie on Fidalgo Island rises like a big round lump of granite dough.

When I get about even with Skagit Island, the Deception Pass Bridge is visible off to the west. That’s where the real action is, with huge whirlpools and swift, strong currents running through the pass.

But instead I turn right along the north side of Skagit Island and pull up to the broad cobble beach at the island’s eastern tip—a great place for a lunch break. The highlight at this little campsite: a compost toilet.

From here I head back south, either skirting along the eastern bay shoreline, or scooting back across to Hope Island. For a longer day, you can also head back west along the south side of Skagit Island and scoot over to Cornet Bay on Whidbey (part of Deception Pass State Park).

If the tide isn’t out too far and I’m not ready to quit, I’ll continue south to Dead Man’s Island for a loop around before landing back at Snee-Oosh Beach.

It’s not just the great paddling that draws me to Skagit Bay. There’s also plenty of good eats on the way home.

After a good day paddling, sometimes we stop at cozy La Conner Brewing Company on First Street for good beer and over-roasted pizza. Heading back through Conway, Snow Goose Produce is a must stop.

Local, organically grown produce is often half the price here of what you’d pay at farmer’s markets in the Seattle area. In the summer, they sell wild spot prawns from the San Juan Islands and fresh, wild salmon.

Good kayaking and good food. It’s just life in the Northwest!

When You Go
Check the tide charts for your arrival time at Skagit Bay since the southeast side of the bay is a mudflat at low tide. (It’s not fun carrying kayaks through sticky, mucky mudflats to get to the water.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Country Boy’s BBQ: Finger Lickin' Dee-lish

Lots of guys are passionate about good barbeque, but I simply appreciate a good, flavorful meal prepared with care. And if it happens to be barbeque, I’m happy to earn bragging rights for a great find like Country Boy’s BBQ.

Even though I’m mostly a meatless eater, I do indulge in occasional carnivore pleasures. So when I can’t get a hummus-veggie sandwich because Wenatchee’s Great Harvest Bakery is just closing, I take the owner’s recommendation and head up to Cashmere for Country Boy’s BBQ tasty fare.

Country Boy’s is easy to find, right across the Wenatchee River off Highway 2 between Leavenworth and Wenatchee. I look left after crossing the bridge into Cashmere, and there’s Harley the pig out front with the picnic tables.

Inside Country Boy’s is clean, cozy, and decorated with humor. Some prize Wyoming jackalope heads hang on the back wall, a gift to owner Tom and Anitra Dew from a friend.

I can’t quite decide what to order, but finally choose the chicken dinner with a little encouragement from Anitra behind the counter. “The pulled pork sandwich is the most popular, but I really like the chicken,” she says. Chicken it is for me.

When my meal arrives, I plunge in since there’s no tidy way to eat wonderfully slathered, slightly drippy barbeque. My order is huge! (I end up getting three meals out of this.)

Now this is good tastin’ chicken. It’s meltingly tender but oh-so flavorful. The sauce is spicy, tangy, smoky, and slightly sweet at the same time. I’m also pleased to say that the side of cole slaw is crisp and fresh, not like the soggy slaw I’ve had at other BBQ joints in the past.

After I’ve been chowing down for a few minutes, Anitra brings me a cup of pulled pork to taste, which I think is very sweet!

“This chicken is amazing!” I tell her. “We smoke it first,” she confides. I don’t dare ask for the BBQ sauce ingredients.

Tom and Anitra opened Country Boy’s BBQ in 2004, but it was the culmination of a long-held dream for Tom. “Tom wanted to open a BBQ place for years. He and his friend Jim played with BBQ for over 20 years – experimenting with sauces, rubs, how long to smoke, using different woods out on the deck," explains Anitra. “We tested recipes on friends a lot.”

When I say I’m from Seattle, she tells me they have regular guests from the Seattle area who stop on their way to Chelan. “One customer drives over from Everett just for the day,” says Anitra. “We almost think some customers are local because they come so often, but they don’t even live here!”


When You Go
County Boy’s is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. I tried the pulled pork, but my favorite was the chicken. Enjoy!