Exploring the Pacific Northwest in the Springtime - Part II

Squishy sand, stunning flowers, and towering mountains were all part of the second half of our springtime trip to the PNW, but our son was not. Military duty called and he jetted out for some training, leaving our little foursome to explore on our own for the second half of our trip.

The first day dawned rainy, as is to be expected in this region, so it was raincoats all around and off into the wet world we went. We made a short foray to Lummi Island, and upon returning we headed to the shore on the mainland. Descending a steep flight of steps, we emerged onto the rocky beach at low tide. The rain had stopped and everything was damp and smelled of the sea. The decaying remnants of a dock were well-exposed now, and the sea could barely be glimpsed on the horizon, with nothing but squishy mud in between us and it. While Dave and I wobbled over the slippery rocks on the shore and unearthed small crabs, the girls ventured far out onto the normally water-hidden land. Julia says it was one of her favorite moments of the trip and described it as "like another planet" out there. A small waterfall burbled down to the shore and ran across the rocks and out into the sea. We all loved our time casually spent at this piece of shoreline, as it seemed a truly PNW experience.

Another day. Another raincoat (just in case). Another ferry. Canada, here we come! While there are many options for travelling by ferry to Vancouver Island, the scheduling gets tricky. We found it best to take the early morning ferry out of Anacortes, WA and then leave Vancouver Island from Sidney with a Canadian ferry to Vancouver on the mainland and then drive back to the U.S. (Just a bit of a PNW travel tip, if you're trying to figure this out too.) This ferry ride was just as beautiful, with a bonus of being of longer duration than the ferry on our first day. There were puzzles and dogs and snacks (and a nap for me). Along the route, we passed Spieden Island, a once private game preserve where exotic species still lives. Our captain called the deer that live there "spiedalopes", but that's unverified information. (Read more here.) We then docked on Vancouver Island, on a bright and sunny day.

Our destination was the stunning Butchart Gardens, acres of cultivated gardens in all their springtime splendor. We wandered the paths for hours admiring the flowers and the work, dedication, and vision involved in creating such beauty for people to enjoy for generations. The Sunken Garden is built in what was once a rocky quarry, and a placard told of how Mrs. Butchart would be lowered in a sling to fit plantings into the crevices of the rocks walls. We passed through the Rose Garden (not yet blooming in mid-April) and the serenity of the Japanese Garden before coming to my favorite, the Italian Garden. I definitely regret not making lunch reservations at the restaurant overlooking the manicured lawn. Outdoor dining with no traffic noise is absolutely bliss to me, and this would've been ideal. But we passed through the arbor, whimsically placed in an enormous hedge, and had gelato while resting in the sunshine instead. Before leaving, we simply had to detour into the staff parking lot to gawk at the enormity of this hedge, That's a hedge! I napped (again) on the return Canadian ferry, so have little to report from that other than to say it was less like a ferry and more like a tiny cruise ship (no puzzles provided).

Our last day in the Pacific Northwest found us driving into the mountains and "Sasquatch country". There was much tittering and laughing about the latter, as we kept our eyes open for "him". We even passed through a town which holds an annual festival in his honor. I asked the clerk at the general store if he'd seen him, and he stared hard at me through narrowed eyes (not unlike you might imagine Clint Eastwood) and replied, "Not lately." Hmm. Escaping Sasquatch's grasp (ahem), we went higher and higher into the mountains. The rivers were rushing with the spring thaw and the waters all looked ever so icy cold. The views were simply spectacular on the way to and at our top destination of Mount Shuksan. Simple astounding! We felt as though we must be in the Alps, the mountains rose to such heights and still had so much snow for mid-April. Parts of Mt. Shuksan looked like an avalanche waiting to happen, and I found myself wondering more than once how real a possibility that might be, how far it would flow, if it would cover the road and strand us, and why we hadn't brought food and more water. But all's well that ends well! We weren't attacked by Sasquatch or buried alive in an avalanche -- just another beautiful travel day in the Pacific Northwest!

Helpful travels links to the Pacific Northwest...

Washington DOT for ferry service out of Anacortes, click here.
BC Ferries for ferry service from Vancouver Island to Vancouver, click here.
Butchart Gardens, click here.

Exploring the Pacific Northwest in the Springtime - Part I

We booked plane tickets for our April trip to Washington state in late January. We were eager to see Alexander and India for the first time since the day after they got married last July! We couldn't wait for them to show us the rugged, foggy grandeur of the Pacific Northwest, as they have quickly fallen in love with it. And I was quietly looking forward to seeing how they were creating a life together (with their dog) so far from where they both grew up. What I hadn't known when booking those plane tickets in January, was how ill I would be with pneumonia in late-March up until our departure on April 18th.

Traveling when you're sick, or with someone who is sick, alters the trip and creates its own unique type of travel experience. Sometimes, it causes us to slow down, prioritize, and yield to the importance of flexibility over itinerary. Other times, I think we look back and realize that those travel moments encourage us in our present to marvel at our strength and resilience. And still other times, I think the big lesson in traveling ill is to be found in the kindness we are shown by others. I will definitely always remember this trip for the last reason -- for Dave and Julia dragging my luggage through the airport, to Alexander and India altering plans to include more drives, and everyone's sympathetic understanding as I caught naps my weary body needed on every car ride, every ferry ride, and all the moments in between.

Our first full day in the Pacific Northwest found us traveling by car, train, and foot. We caught the ferry out of Anacrotes, to San Juan Island. Don't you love ferries? We think ferry travel is just THE best! And this ferry had all the essential elements that make a ferry crossing pleasurable: vintage vibes, a cafeteria (popcorn---yay!), comfortable seats, jigsaw puzzles for working on together during the crossing, friendly fellow passengers, and dogs. Dogs and small children make ferry rides ever so much more fun! AND the views of the pine tree-studded, fog shrouded small islands we passed kept us hopping up from our puzzles and snacks to marvel at the beauty of each one.

We docked at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island (the largest of the San Juan Islands), and after purchasing some huckleberry jam and huckleberry syrup and everyone refueling on coffee or hot chocolate, we headed out to our first destination, Cattle Point Lighthouse. I have not yet been to coastal England, but I have a sense that this area might be very much what it looks and feels like there. We meandered (me, very slowly) along the footpath through the tall, waving grasses to our lighthouse destination. As an avid walker who hadn't been able to venture outside our home for nearly a month, I must say that feeling the solid earth beneath my feet and the wind in my hair, and to feel well enough to stand on the edge of a cliff and soak in the beauty of it all, was positively therapeutic. We walked up and down the paths, studied the stark lighthouse (c. 1935), marveled at the driftwood logs tossed upon the rocky shore, and felt immensely grateful to be together.

Our next stop was another lighthouse, Lime Kiln Lighthouse. Even though both lighthouses exist on the same island, the terrain around them could not be more different. This lighthouse (c. 1919) was found by following a defined path through the woods and past gnarled trees. We wish we'd packed a picnic, as there were tables strategically placed along the path to take in the sweeping views of the water. This is a good viewing area for Orca whales, but although we kept our eyes out for them, we saw none. We think we were a little early in the season for whale watching--its season running in the San Juan Islands area from May through October.

After returning to Anacrotes on the ferry, we drove a short ways to Deception Pass. The view from the enormously tall bridge was spectacular! The nearly mint-green water below sparkled in the late afternoon sunshine. We spied a seal in the water! By driving across the bridge and entering Deception Pass State Park, we were able to access the rocky beach we had viewed from the bridge. Now it was our turn to look ant-size to the people above. As I sat on a driftwood log, everyone else took turns skipping stones on the water and clambering about the rocks.

Day two's highlight was attending the Roozengaarde Tulip Festival in Vernon, Washington. It was a Saturday AND the day before Easter, so throngs of people had come to enjoy the seasonal display of acres upon acres of color-coded tulips waving in the breeze. We wandered among the rows, amazed at the variety that could be found in one flower. I enjoyed watching the field's workers picking armloads of tulips--their presence reminding me that beauty comes often through hard work. Most of the fields are planted in rows upon rows of tulips. Nearer the entrance were stylized gardens full of tulips, other bulbs and blooms, and flowering trees. And there were display areas with the more rare varieties carefully labeled. I made a note of several varieties, including some that were perfectly enormous, which I'd like to try growing.

Some miscellaneous travel tips and/or observations from our first two days in the PNW:

- Coffee can truly be found everywhere.
- Make advance reservations for ferries out of Anacortes.
- Pack a warm scarf, wool sweaters, and coats as it's cooler than you'd expect it to be in April.
- Go to the Roozengaarde Tulip Festival on a weekday.
- Pack a picnic to walk the trail to Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island.
- We never saw any mosquitoes or ticks.
- Pet all the friendly dogs on the ferries!

Part II of this PNW travel memoir will include: Canada, mountains, and Sasquatch.
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