Kayaking around Burrows Bay

Monday, August 2, 2010

One thing I love about this is the abundance of paddling opportunities. There are flatwater lakes, swift moving rivers, and challenging open water courses. I never get to do as much kayaking as I would like when I’m up here, so this time I decided to make sure I got to paddle at least a little bit. I booked a five-hour tour with Anacortes Kayak Tours before we left South Carolina.

I set out early, planning to catch breakfast in one of my favorite joints in Anacortes before starting the tour. The bay between Samish and Fidalgo Islands was completely fogged in, but it looked like skies would be clearing. When I drove onto Fidalgo, the fog really set in. I found my way to my restaurant and had a fantastic breakfast while also putting out fires at work over the phone. So much for vacation.

I headed on over to the kayak place. I had been another another tour around Hat Island several years ago, but it turns out that it was a different group. This place not only had kayak tours, but also offered whale watching tours.

I was early, and got my instructions to meet the rest of the group on the other side of Fidalgo. Since I had some time, I stopped by Washington Park, which is just past the Anacortes Ferry Terminal. This early the road around the park was closed to auto traffic, so I walked around and took a few shots.

Pretty soon it was time to meet my group, so I headed to the Skyline Marina on Burrows Bay. In addition to myself and the guide, Ken, there were three others – Robbie from Tasmania, and sisters Sue and Carolyn. Robbie and I got single 17 foot Necky Looksha sea kayaks, and the two sisters got a tandem kayak. All of us were experienced kayakers, so Ken gave us some obligatory brief instructions, and we set out across the foggy water.

Our route would take us out around Burrows Island, with a stop at the lighthouse there. We would paddle on around Allan Island, then out to Williamson Rocks if we had time. Continue reading “Kayaking around Burrows Bay”

Upriver on the Skagit

Diablo Lake Panorama

NOTE: Just catching up with blogging after traveling around the islands. Things are a bit post-dated right now.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Yesterday we followed the Skagit River through Mount Vernon and out to its confluence with the bay. Today we decided to head the opposite direction and follow the river upstream. Our route would takes up into the North Cascades National Park.

Old Skagit Railroad Trestle

We started on the Skagit River Road along the south side of the river, away from the more crowded Highway 20. The road twists through farms, runs through large stands of trees, and crosses many tributary streams. The last time we were up this way we found several access points that let us get down to the river for a better view. This time we couldn’t find the same access points, so we kept driving.

Near the town of Concrete we crossed the river and picked up Highway 20. The road crossed the Baker River, where we found a nice dirt road leading down to where The Baker and Skagit Meet. Continue reading “Upriver on the Skagit”

Skagit Ideal

Samish Island View

You see those mountains out there? They aren’t just mountains, those are islands!

So said my soon-too-be father-in-law, Jim Wright, as we drove across The Flats for my first visit to Samish Island in 1988. The reclaimed farmland that connected the mainland to the island created the illusion that we weren’t close to water at all. It wasn’t until we gained a bit of elevation that I saw that we were, in fact, surrounded by it.

Samish Island Panorama from Chuckanut

From that moment on, I was hooked. There was so much to see and do, and it was all so different from where I lived. Over the years, and with subsequent visits I’ve built up an ideal of life in Skagit Valley County. It’s an ideal of a slower pace of life, filled with cool weather, incredible scenery, wonderful coffee and fresh baked goods, produce from the local farms, and fantastic seafood. Each quaint little town is filled with curious characters and Victorian architecture. Travel up the Skagit River, and you enter the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, with soaring trees and volcanic mountains and lakes filled with glacial waters. Head two hours north or south, and you have the cultural vibrancy of Seattle or Vancouver. If I were to move from South Carolina, I think this would be where I’d want to settle.

Skagit Barn Continue reading “Skagit Ideal”

Charleston to McClellanville and Beyond

Sewee Shell Ring Boardwalk HDR

So far we had already had a great trip to the South Carolina Low Country. Yesterday we explored Beidler Forest and the ACE Basin, and the weather looked great for more exploration today.  The day was already hot and humid, so we decided it would be more of a driving trek than hiking.  The trek took us through a large swath of the Francis Marion National Forest.

We started the day by driving onto the Charleston peninsula and touring the area South of Broad. There was the obligatory drive along the battery, but what we enjoyed most was driving through the residential areas and looking at the stately homes with their enclosed gardens.  For some reason, I wasn’t in much of a photography mood, so I don’t have any photos of that part of the trip.

From Charleston we crossed the new Cooper River Bridge into Mount Pleasant, then headed north on Highway 17.    Eventually we came to the Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge.  I had already checked online, and the ferry out to Bull’s Island doesn’t run on Sundays, so we walked out to the pier and watch birds and boat traffic out on the ICW. Continue reading “Charleston to McClellanville and Beyond”

ACE Basin

Donelley House

Our visit to Beidler Forest only took up half of the day, and we were ready to see more wildlife. Therefore, we cut across the country down toward the ACE Basin and the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area. Donnelley is only one small section of the ACE Basin. To the east is the Ernest Hollings National Wildlife Refuge. However, we prefer Donnelly because it’s a bit easier access, and it tends to be a bit quieter.

We entered from Bennett’s Point Road and immediately got turned around. We were taking a different direction, but eventually wound up where we wanted – at the old farm house that serves as a landmark for the rice field hiking trails.

Continue reading “ACE Basin”

US 1

When I was about 12 years old my brother-in-law gave me a Rand McNally Road Atlas. I had already been collecting maps for some time, so having an atlas with a map of every state in the US was a dream come true. I pored over every state, plotting out extended road trips.

One road that especially caught my attention was US 1. First, there was its primacy in the numerical highway system. It must be important if it’s number 1. Then, there was the route. It runs all the way from Key West, Florida, to the northernmost point in Fort Kent, Maine. And finally, there were all of the interesting cities that it connected – places I’d never been, such as Washington, D. C., Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. It seemed like the perfect highway to me.

Recently I’ve had the occasion to drive different segments of US 1 – in Columbia last week, in Florida two weeks ago, and in Maine over this past summer. The recent jaunts on this highway rekindled my interest, so I started exploring the route in Google Earth, and trying to find out what I could about its history. Continue reading “US 1”

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Woods Pond Trail

It was a second Saturday, and the Lowcountry Unfiltered group had another trip planned.  This time it would be a bicycle trek to the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge on the Georgia coast south of Savannah.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to join them.  We were making a quick trip to Florida to pick up Laura’s mother.  However, since we would be driving right past, we decided to stop on the way down.  We liked it so much that we also decided to stop on the way back to break up the trip.  It turned out to be a great discovery.

Sometime between 1929 and 1932 this area was developed as an airfield, and served as an emergency landing strip for air routes along the Eastern coast.  In WWII it was redeveloped as an Army airfield and was used to train both fighters and bombers.  In 1946 there was an attempt to transform the Army base into a commercial airfield, but that ultimately failed.  In 1962 the area was designated as a wildlife area.

The runways of the old airfield are in an unusual triangular pattern.  The old tarmac remains, and this serves as an excellent base for hiking or biking.  There is also a wildlife drive that loops through the area, using part of the old runways and taxiways.

On our first stop it had just started raining, but we decided to do the wildlife loop anyway.  We first stopped at Woods Pond, and were amazed at the number of storks and green herons.  The whole place was covered with birds.

The road continued through pine, live oaks, and hanging Spanish moss…

…then crossed several of the old runways. Continue reading “Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge”

A Tourist in Your Own Home Town

Lake Hartwell

In 1991-92 we moved to Tucson, AZ for a year. Laura was on sabbatical from Furman, doing research at the University of Arizona, and I spent the year wandering in the desert – quite literally. I would drop Laura off at the lab, then go find a canyon to climb or arroyo to explore. On the weekends we would pick some other location, trying to take advantage of all that the area had to offer.

We made many friends among the locals while we were there. Occasionally we’d talk about some of the places we had visited, and the response was often, “I’ve never been there” or “I didn’t know that was here.” In some cases it was ignorance, and in some cases they just hadn’t gotten around to it. We always said in reply that we knew we had a finite amount of time to see things – one year. Living in an area you tend to think you’ve got plenty of time to visit all of these places, which means that often you just don’t get around to it.

For that reason I’ve found that it’s not a bad idea to pretend you’re a tourist in your own home town. Check out what the local tourism board or other resources have to say about spots in your area, then actually VISIT those spots. Continue reading “A Tourist in Your Own Home Town”

Lighthouse Score Sheet

Early Sunday morning we missed breakfast at the inn, but our host had set aside coffee and scones to go for us. We loaded up the rental and made the trek from Belfast through August and Lewiston to Portland. Rental returned, flights boarded, we made the trek home without incident and found both cats and … Continue reading Lighthouse Score Sheet

Acadia in the Fog

Otter Point

Wednesday, June 24

The weather continued to be rotten. It was alternately cloudy, foggy, or rainy and sometimes all three. We were really glad to have our new rain gear from L. L. Bean. It had been a worthwhile stop.

The breakfasts continue to be fantastic at the inn. This morning was another three-course meal, culminating in a wonderful fritatta.

Despite the foul weather, we decided to head up to Acadia National Park. We figured that mid-week would be less crowded than the weekend, so now was the time.

We headed north out of Belfast on US 1, retracing the route we had take Monday. Once again, I had to resist the urge to stop and photograph every one of the Victorian mansions we passed. Of particular interest to me was the traditional Maine farm house. This usually consisted of a small wood frame cottage, usually with Victorian Gothic trim, and a huge cedar-sided barn that would be attached to the house via a passageway. I guess the farmers wanted a way to get to their barns without having to trudge through winter weather. In many of these the barn had now been converted to living space or garages, so the actual square footage of the house had been greatly increased.

US 1 from Bucksport to Ellsworth was fairly non-descript. Ellsworth itself was a quaint town, with a lovely riverfront area. However, the town was much larger than others we had encountered. The town was somewhat extended even further, by virtue of it being near a National Park. The route from Ellsworth to Bar Harbor was lined with motels and the types of distractions that come with such parks – campgrounds, miniature golf places, etc., etc. Continue reading “Acadia in the Fog”