Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bowman Bay and Deception Pass State Park: Kayaking with Otters

I’m easing my kayak gently into a small cove near Deception Pass when suddenly my peripheral vision catches something moving on the rocks a few feet to the left. With a quick side stroke, I turn just in time to see the tail end of a river otter as it slips into the clear green water with a little splash.

“Did you see that?” I say to Julie, right behind me.

Just then the otter surfaces briefly, dives under Julie’s kayak, and comes up for air on the other side. We get a glimpse of its slick wet coat glistening in the September sun before the otter disappears underwater and swims quickly away like a small furry torpedo.

Kayaking with otters is just one of the reasons I love to paddle around Deception Pass at the tippy north end of Whidbey Island, Washington. I’m not quite brave enough to play in the strong currents and eddies in Deception Pass, which is like skiing a double black diamond run. But there’s plenty enough gorgeous scenery to make a satisfying and scenic few hours or day of kayaking.

I like to put in at Bowman Bay on Fidalgo Island, which is part of Deception Pass State Park north of the historic Deception Pass Bridge. Bowman Bay is a beautiful moon-shaped, protected bay where you can park within 20 feet of the sandy, pebbled beach. You don’t find a much better place to launch a kayak in these parts.

We start by paddling north along the bay and then heading up island, skirting the rocky shoreline through bull kelp forests swaying in the gentle current.

If the water is pretty calm, it’s fun to explore some small coves and arches along the rock faces. Since this side of Whidbey and Fidalgo is exposed to strong currents coming southeast down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, it can get exciting here with big swells and waves. Not so today though.

After an hour or so of paddling north, we turn around and head south toward Deception Pass. A big bald eagle cruises past overhead, throwing a shadow over us for a second. We pass some snorkelers near a rocky outcrop.

When we near the entrance to Deception Pass, we ease up to a small beach and take a break. Kayaking out of Bowman Bay offers numerous small coves and beaches where you can stop and grab lunch or just relax for a bit.

On this lovely early fall day, even the seagulls seem to be having a good time hanging out in the sunshine.

We kayak back to Bowman Bay after being out about 3 hours, nosing in and out of a few coves before gliding back to the beach. Hauling kayaks up from the beach and back onto the car is a heavy load, but it's easy because I'm buoyed by the hours of sunshine in my kayak in this lovely place.

When You Go
From Seattle, it’s about a 60-minute drive north up I-5, then west on State Route 20 towards Anacortes at Exit 230 in Burlington. Take a left 11 miles from I-5 at the stoplight to stay on SR 20 and go south about 7 miles to Deception Pass State Park. The turnoff to Bowman Bay is on the right just north of the historic Deception Pass Bridge. There is a nominal fee to park. If you reserve months in advance, you can camp at Bowman Bay. Campsites fill up early for the whole summer and early fall.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Two Years of Northwest Adventures

Yes, time really does fly. Today is the second anniversary of Pacific Northwest Seasons.

I’ve been trying to reassess what I’m doing with this blog and how to get more noticed.

So I decide to go drink tea.

After dinner I head over to Zen Dog Studio Teahouse, which, lucky me, is just a few minutes from my north Seattle home. This close to the autumnal equinox, it’s a dark, drippy evening as I hop in my car.

A few blocks west, a wall of fog is rolling in off Puget Sound, softening the edges of everything. It’s also unusually warm. I’m reminded of a dark, rainy night in the tropics. Is this a harbinger of climate change?

Regardless, it’s beautiful. The big round red Chinese lanterns strung around Zen Dog seem to float in the mist. As usual, the tea and company are wonderful. But I don’t get any revelations.

So what would draw you back here more often? More recipes? More posts about kayaking, hiking, skiing, tea….? More time in your day? There are so many wonderful blogs!

For now I’ll keep on blogging about what fancies me because I do know this:
I do this blog because I enjoy it. And it’s made me appreciate the region I live in even more.

I’d love to hear your comments below. Enjoy the film clip from a sunny day in July at Carkeek Park!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Northwest Flavors: Half Pint Ice Cream

Is there anything more divine than late summer fruit condensed into an icy sweet treat? I just have to spread the word about some incredible fresh sorbet I got at the Phinney Farmer's Market recently.

Can you believe that rich color?

As part of the wave of fresh, local, seasonal food flourishing here in the Pacific Northwest, ice cream carts are now part of the scene at farmer's markets. At the Ballard Farmer's Market where I usually shop, you can get Empire Ice Cream and Whidbey Island Ice Cream (you've got to try their chocolate-dipped ice cream bars). So when I stopped by Phinney Ridge on a Friday afternoon, I allowed myself the indulgence of a small dish of Half Pint ice cream.

With an intriguing array of flavors, I opted for Earl Gray chocolate and blackberry sorbet. After blissfully savoring the creamy sweet explosion of flavors on my tongue, I splurged on a pint of the hand-packed blackberry sorbet to take home.

As a girl whose favorite ice cream was raspberry sherbet because of its rich pink color, of course I was a sucker for the deep magenta blackberry sorbet. But the flavor and texture have to also shine, which they do. Not overly sweet but sweet enough, creamy with a touch of ice like a good sorbet should be. Perfect.

Owner Cle Franklin whips up weekly batches of four different flavors using mostly local and fresh ingredients. To see what she has whipped up this week, check Half Pint on Twitter.

Find Half Pint Ice Cream in the Seattle area at the Columbia City Farmer's Market on Wednesdays, Lake City Farmer's Market on Thursdays, Phinney Farmer's Market on Fridays, and Broadway Farmer's Markets on Sundays while the season lasts.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Along the North Cascades Scenic Highway: Hiking to Blue Lake

No matter what my worries du jour, a brisk hike always seems to clear things up.  Studies show that being in a natural environment helps improve everything from wound healing to depression and ADHD.

So step away from the computer, turn off your smart phone, and get outside. I guarantee you'll feel more alive and attuned to the world around you.

One of my favorite places in the Northwest for outdoor splendor is Washington’s North Cascades, a dramatic jumble of mountains up near the Canadian border. I think early fall is the best time to hop in your vehicle or on your bike and head over the North Cascades Scenic Highway (Highway 20). Summer crowds are down, and the stretch from Newhalem to Mazama (about 50 miles) is a nonstop panorama of craggy, glacier-scoured peaks laced with crimson and gold, and mountain lakes fringed with evergreen forests. I always find the trip invigorating and awe-inspiring.

On Labor Day weekend with North Cascades Institute (NCI), a group of us drive to 5,300-foot-high Washington Pass for a hike up to Blue Lake. At the pass, the granite spires of Liberty Bell tower over the highway. Behind them, Blue Lake shimmers at the base of a glacial cirque. Blue, however, hardly captures the shifting shades of aqua, turquoise, green, and sapphire of this alpine lake.

First we stop at Washington Pass lookout for expansive views down toward the Methow Valley and a bathroom break before hiking. We’ve crossed over east of the Cascade crest, where the sun shines more and rain falls less.

Alas, we have to use the old-style outhouse, despite the presence of a $1.2 million green compost toilet facility that has been closed for a few years. Word of mouth is that it won’t compost well. I vote for taking out the toilets and making the beautifully crafted timber building a latte stand/teahouse.

At only 2.2 miles from the trailhead to the lake, the trail to Blue Lake meanders 1,000 feet up a mild grade through subalpine forest. We pass through a clearing of trees downed by an avalanche, and stop in the forest along the way for a bit of environmental education. After all, three naturalists from NCI are with us.

More than halfway to the lake Katie, NCI staffer and climber, points up. “There’s the rock climbers' access route for Liberty Bell,” she says as we look at the backside of the peaks. With binoculars we spy a red-helmeted climber way up the north spire.

One of the pleasures of hiking in the mountains later in the season is the lack of pesky mosquitoes and black flies. As we arrive at Blue Lake, the air is clean and bug-free. Since it is a sunny Saturday on a holiday weekend, however, it’s not people free. But the setting is still beautiful. (Go on a week day if you can.)

As we splay across talus boulders near the lakeshore and munch lunch, tufts of white clouds drift overhead past the cirque ridge top above the lake. Cute little stripe-backed chipmunks skitter up to us and dart away. I call them the hummingbirds of the rodent family – small and constantly moving at hyper-speed. One bold little guy even scampers across Don’s legs as he naps.

Although the low-to-the-ground shrubs are starting to turn red, as of Labor Day weekend the larches haven’t yet begun to turn gold. They will quickly, though.

On the way down, views of the distant peaks are spread before us. We’re back at the trailhead within a few hours of when we started, not too tired but flush with all that mountain fresh air.

When You Go
The Blue Lake trailhead is just before the Liberty Bell spires on the right side of Highway 20 if you’re coming from the wetter, west side of the mountains. This is an easy hike for the whole family. We even saw a family with a stroller at the lake for their toddler, although the trail is dirt and sometimes a bit rocky. Dogs are allowed on the trail since it’s not in the North Cascades National Park complex. And a special thanks to our weekend organizer/leader Paul Wiemerslage, who has a great future ahead as an inspiring and enthusiastic environmental educator!