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Summer In The San Juan Islands

Summer In The San Juan Islands

Posted by on Sep 22, 2017 in Biking, Family, Food, Friends, Gallery, Hiking, Kayaking, Music, San Juan Islands, Washington | 34 comments

We left Lopez Island two weeks ago, waving goodbye from the deck of the ferry as we sailed away. Although we were on the island for two months, our parting is always bittersweet. Are we excited about continuing on to new adventures? Yes! At the same time, it’s hard to leave a place where we feel so deeply connected.

The first year we arrived as volunteers at Spencer Spit State Park, we met a couple that had been hosting there for 15 years. “Fifteen years?” I thought. “I can’t imagine.” Well, we just finished up our seventh summer at the park, and we’re planning to return next summer. There’s something about Lopez…

We’re drawn back year after year by the natural beauty, our delight in teaching the interpretive programs, the diversity of interesting outdoor and cultural events, and the wonderful friends we’ve made on the island.

We feel extraordinarily fortunate to have discovered Lopez, and to have the opportunity to settle in for the summer in a place we love, with people we love, doing volunteer work that we love. We’re also fortunate to have friends and family visit us on the island each year. And with several other islands in the San Juan Island archipelago just a short ferry ride away, we never run out of things to do. For us, life doesn’t get any better than Lopez in the summertime.

I’ve written a lot about Lopez and the San Juan Islands over the past several years, so I’ll keep this simple by just posting photos of some of our island adventures. These photos come with a disclaimer: I could post hundreds of photos, and I still wouldn’t be able to adequately convey the beauty and magic of this special place.

The only real downside to life on Lopez is the almost complete lack of internet, which exacerbates the usual challenge I have of keeping up with our blog. Hence, you’re getting one GIANT postcard. (Sorry about that!)

oxoxo Laurel & Eric

Ferry sailing by Spencer Spit

Settling into our new site at the park; it was a bumper crop year for Dungeness crab

A visitor to our campsite; a Red-breasted Nuthatch comes to bathe

Our favorite farm stand, just a short bike ride away

Inter-Tribal Canoe Journey lands on Lopez en route to Campbell River, British Columbia

Dusk at Shark Reef is always in shades of purple and orange

Views of Mount Baker

Adventures On San Juan Island

Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island

Adventures On Orcas Island

Raven sculpture, Orcas Island

A Day Trip To Sucia Island

Peaceful bay on Sucia Island

Next Up: A Bucket List Adventure: Vancouver Island, BC

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Port Townsend And Beyond

Port Townsend And Beyond

Posted by on Sep 6, 2017 in Biking, Food, Gallery, Washington | 40 comments

Ten years ago, we almost moved to Port Townsend. As much as we love our hometown and our friends in Ashland, we were enamored with the idea of living in a town just as cool as Ashland, but surrounded by water, with boating adventures at our doorstep and within easy reach of the San Juan Islands. We put our home on the market, found a tiny dream house in Port Townsend—and then changed our minds. The timing just wasn’t quite right.

A few years later, we decided to travel fulltime. We’re glad we didn’t make the big move to Port Townsend, because we surely wouldn’t have left a new home to travel. But we still harbor a fondness for Port Townsend, and stop there almost every year en route to our summers on Lopez Island. Each time, we find the town just as appealing as we did the first time around.

Port Townsend is a gem. But not an overly polished gem, which suits us just fine. Positioned at the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, the location is idyllic, with expansive views of protected waters and distant snow-capped mountains.

View from the waterfront on a busy day

Music on the waterfront; there’s always something interesting and spontaneous happening

Port Townsend experienced a building boom in the late 1880’s when the idea of connecting the town to the transcontinental railroad was hatched. Many believed that the town was destined to become a major shipping port on the west coast, akin to San Francisco.

Elaborate Victorian homes, mercantile establishments, and enormous brick waterfront warehouses sprung up to meet the anticipated demand. But only a decade later, the dream evaporated when the railroad stopped short in Tacoma.

People moved away, grand buildings and warehouses sat empty, and Port Townsend was essentially frozen in time. When historic preservation became popular in the 1970’s, new life was breathed into the town. Walking and biking around Port Townsend feels like being transported back in time to a prosperous and bustling Victorian seaport.

Wonderful old brick buildings with original signage, circa late 1800’s

Walkable and interesting downtown Port Townsend

The Downtown Waterfront District was once the rough and rowdy area of Victorian Port Townsend—shanghaiing men and pressing them into service on a merchant ship was common practice. The town is much tamer today, although still colorful. Unique independent shops, galleries, boutique hotels, and cafés occupy 1880’s era saloons, rooming houses, brothels, and warehouses. Up on the hill, in the swanky Uptown District, grand old Victorian homes and churches predominate.

There’s no end to historical buildings in Port Townsend; this is the Uptown District

A Victorian beauty, well preserved in the Uptown District

We plan our visits to coincide with the weekly farmers’ market. Port Townsend is a small town, but the farmers’ market is superb. Local, organic, creative, delicious—it rivals any market we’ve found anywhere. There’s a tiny market on Wednesdays, but the Saturday market is the one you want to go to.

Enormous organic lettuce bouquets at the Port Townsend farmers’ market

Delicious cheeses from Mt. Townsend Creamery; we bought the truffled chevre. Wow.

Happy to be finding local fresh and smoked salmon

Cape Cleare is some of the best salmon we’ve ever had

Paella masters at the Saturday farmers’ market

Seafood paella with local mussels; a divine combination

Entertainment at the farmers’ market (and taxi service)

Our favorite thing to do in Port Townsend is to bike and walk, exploring neighborhoods in both the Uptown and Downtown Districts. Everything is easily walkable, and there’s an appealing artistic flair to the entire town. Still strongly tied to its maritime beginnings, Port Townsend is known as the wooden boat mecca of the northwest. The town hosts one of the largest wooden boat festivals in the world each September. It’s a blast—if we weren’t headed elsewhere, we would return for the festival. Maybe next year.

Colorful sailboats in the marina

Bronze otters on the waterfront

Biking along Port Townsend’s waterfront

A neighborhood farm stand

Lunch at Owl Sprit Café; local and delicious offerings (Yes, it is sprit, not spirit).

An evening at the Rose Theatre; cozy seating, movies and cocktails. But get there early or you’ll end up in the front row with a crick in your neck, despite the cushy sofas.

Along with visiting our favorite spots in Port Townsend, we always look for something new. This time, we discovered Finnriver Cidery. Located in nearby Chimacum, they produce delicious hard ciders and fruit wines from their own organic apples and other local organic fruits. It’s going on our list of Port Townsend area favorites. Next time, we’ll plan to be there on a weekend, when local food trucks and musicians show up.

Finnriver Cidery

Cider tasting; lots of fun and really yummy

Relaxing at Finnriver Cidery with a blackberry lavender cocktail

About the campground:

Our favorite place to stay in Port Townsend is Fort Worden State Park. There are two separate campgrounds, one in the forest, and one on the beach. We like both (the forest campground is more private, the beach has views). Make your reservations early; this place is popular. There was one site left when I made our reservations in January for the end of June (no surprise, it was just before the holiday weekend).

Although we had a site staked out in the middle of a field in the beach campground, it was spacious and quiet, with the beach just over the dunes. If I had a choice, I’d choose one of the sites on the perimeter that backs up to the trees for more privacy (not on the beach front, this can be a windy place). The beach campground has full hookups and decent Verizon coverage. It’s the best choice if you have a big rig. Fort Worden is just a couple of miles from town.

Beach campground at Fort Worden; that’s what I call a spacious site. Fortunately it wasn’t windy while we were there.

On To Edison-Bow: Our Favorite Little Foodie Paradise

We decided a few years ago that we would much rather take what appears to be a slower, roundabout route to Lopez Island than deal with the traffic in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Port Townsend fits perfectly with this plan.

Leaving Port Townsend, we take a small ferry to Whidbey Island and drive up island to Anacortes, where we catch the ferry to the San Juan Islands. But first, we can never resist a couple of days near the tiny hamlet of Edison-Bow. It’s a haven for small farms and local delights, Pacific Northwestern style.

Biking to Edison on peaceful country roads

Fireweed and the Cascade Mountains

Downtown Edison; it’s about two blocks long

The Breadfarm Bakery is an essential stop

The cocoa nib cookies are irresistible. So are the hazelnut espresso. And the coconut shortbread.

Stopping for breakfast at the Rhody Café in Bow, Washington

Samish Bay Cheese has a wonderful assortment of hand crafted cheeses

The Farm-to-Market Bakery in Bow is another essential stop

A lime-soaked polenta cake came home with us, served with berries and sour cream

Sweet little farmers’ market in Edison

The very picturesque Bow Hill Blueberry Farm

Such a great stop; fresh blueberries and all kinds of delicious hand crafted blueberry deliciousness. And a kitty.

About the campground:

We always stay at Bay View State Park, just a six-mile bike ride from Edison. It’s generally a peaceful park, especially in the front RV section. This time, we ended up in a different area, next to a big central field, which we discovered is where parents turn their kids loose to run wild and free. Particularly on the Fourth of July weekend, which also happened to be Canada Day weekend. My first thought was, “Oh, no way am I staying here. Let’s get on the ferry to Lopez!” But then we couldn’t help but laugh at the circus passing by our site. Fortunately, it quieted down at night.

We still like Bay View State Park. But we probably won’t go back on a holiday or summer weekend. A few RV sites have full hook ups (in the section where we usually stay, sites 1-9). Other sites just have water/electric, and they’re not suitable for big rigs. Verizon coverage is good.

We’re squished into the corner of the curve next to the free-for-all-playfield. This little guy has apparently just been released from prison.

The speedway at Bay View Campground, right in front of our site. The show went on for hours.

Sunset at Bay View Campground


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A Lighthouse Hike And Lavender Fields: Sequim, WA

A Lighthouse Hike And Lavender Fields: Sequim, WA

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Biking, Food, Friends, Gallery, Hiking, Washington | 28 comments

As we stood on the bluff overlooking Dungeness Spit, I said to Eric, “No way am I hiking out to the lighthouse. Why would anyone want to trudge five miles down a sandy spit, and then turn around and endure the same tedious five miles back?” Two days later, we made the trek. And we’re glad we did.

It helped a lot that we were able to lure our friends Pam and John into hiking with us. A 10-mile hike on a sandy spit with nothing but gulls and driftwood could be tiresome—or meditative, depending on your frame of mind. (Oh, and there’s an additional half-mile to actually get to the spit, making the hike 11 miles in total.) But factor in good company, and the miles fly by.

An aerial view of Dungeness Spit; 5 miles one-way to the lighthouse (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The hike must be timed to coincide with low tide, lest you find yourself stumbling over rocks and driftwood on the return trip. We met up early for our adventure on a beautiful late June morning. Maintaining a brisk pace and with no lack of conversational topics (don’t ever play Beatles trivia with John—you will lose), we arrived at the lighthouse in about two hours.

Our most exotic bird sightings were gulls (and lots of them)

We had a beautiful day for our hike

The lighthouse comes into view, but there’s still a long way to go

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Dungeness Spit is the longest naturally occurring sand spit in the United States and one of the longest in the world. Another tidbit: The lighthouse was originally one-sixth of a mile from the tip of the spit. But the spit continues to grow, and the lighthouse now sits approximately one-half mile from the end of the spit. We had no desire to hike to the tip of the spit. Getting to the lighthouse was good enough for us.

We were given a choice; Serenity or Reality

New Dungeness Spit Lighthouse and the light keeper’s house

New Dungeness Spit Lighthouse

Looks like the wind always blows from the west

It’s a lovely lighthouse, in pristine condition. Built in 1857, it was the first in the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. It still acts as a beacon for sailors today, although sadly (at least to my way of thinking), a utilitarian acrylic lens replaced the original beautiful glass prism Fresnel lens in 1976.

Pam and John head in for the tour

Inside the New Dungeness Spit Lighthouse

The original Fresnel lens from Cape Flattery Lighthouse on Tatoosh Island, near Neah Bay

From the top of the lighthouse (wish the lighthouse still had the original Fresnel lens)

A view of the light keeper’s house from the lighthouse

If you’re not in the mood for an 11-mile round trip hike, you can get a ride if you pay $375 a week to stay in the light keeper’s house as a volunteer (along with 4-6 other paying volunteers). Responsibilities include staffing the lighthouse, giving tours, raising and lowering the flag, mowing the lawn, and polishing the brass. The volunteer program keeps the lighthouse staffed year round, and prevents the vandalism that typically befalls lighthouses that no longer have a full-time keeper.

Heading back from our lighthouse adventure

Gulls picturesquely posed against the mountains

Our campground at Dungeness Recreation Area was just a few miles from Sequim, and we were looking forward to visiting the lavender fields. Sequim is famous for its many lavender farms—it has the perfect Mediterranean climate for growing the fragrant herb. We’ve twice been in mid-July for the annual Sequim Lavender Festival. In late June, the lavender was a faint hint of the beauty to come, but we still enjoyed wandering the fields at Purple Haze Lavender Farm. The last time we were here, we indulged in lavender infused gin and tonics while we strolled the fields. This time, there were no gin and tonics offered. We made do with lavender ice cream.

Lavender fields at Purple Haze Lavender Farm

Beautiful poppies and delphinium in Purple Haze gardens


Our other adventures in our three days in Sequim included biking another portion of the Olympic Discovery Trail, this time from the campground to the Dungeness River Audubon Center. We also indulged in a strawberry picking extravaganza at Graymarsh Berry Farm. It never looks like a lot of berries until you get them home. Lastly, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Nourish Sequim, a delightful farm-to-table restaurant with beautiful gardens.

Railroad bridge at Dungeness River Audubon Center

A brilliant Western Tanager along the trail

Picking strawberries at Graymarsh Berry Farm

The beautiful gardens at Nourish Sequim, a farm-to-table restaurant

Grilled local salmon sandwiches and salads from the garden

About the campground:

Dungeness Recreation Area is a wonderful county campground less than 10 miles from Sequim. There are no hookups, but the location makes up for the lack of amenities (it’s not completely roughing it; there are bathrooms, showers, potable water, a dump station, and even good Verizon coverage). Our site was perched at the edge of the bluff, with peek-a-boo views of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. You can choose full sun sites or shady sites (the website offers helpful descriptions), and most of the sites are spacious and private.

Walking trails skirt the bluff, the sunsets are wonderful, and Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is walking distance from the campground. So is the lighthouse, if you’re in the mood for an adventure.

Dungeness Recreation Area

This was probably the most spacious campsite we’ve ever had

Next Up: Port Townsend And Beyond

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A Delightful Week At Salt Creek Recreation Area: The Olympic Peninsula

A Delightful Week At Salt Creek Recreation Area: The Olympic Peninsula

Posted by on Jul 26, 2017 in Biking, Friends, Gallery, Washington | 38 comments

Recipe for relaxation: Get up, make coffee, walk to the tide pools and look for treasures. Go exploring during the day in nearby Port Angeles or the northern side of Olympic National Park. Come happy hour, sit outdoors and enjoy the views over the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. Repeat daily for one week.

We first stayed at Salt Creek Recreation Area four years ago at the beginning of our full-time travels. It was just as good as we remembered—actually, even better this time, because our fellow full-time traveling buddies Pam and John were staying nearby and we met up for several fun adventures together.

Tide Pooling And More Tide Pooling

On the day we arrived, Pam and John joined us for an afternoon of exploring the tide pools at Tongue Point, a half-mile walk from our campsite. We had fun catching up after not having seen each other for far too long.

A fun reunion with Pam and John

Exploring the tide pools at Tongue Point, within Salt Creek Recreation Area

Walking down to the tide pools is always a small but delightful adventure—you never know what you’re going to find, and we never tire of looking. I always hope to find something unusual—an octopus, perhaps. No octopi, but we found all kinds of creatures, including some that we’ve never before seen. As a marine preserve, there’s no harvesting allowed at Tongue Point, which the mussels must be happy about. I’ve never seen so many mussels. They would have made a delicious dinner.

Rockweed and California mussels

A beautiful ochre sea star; they come in all shades of purples and oranges

A rich tide pool filled with purple sea urchins, a bright red urchin, and pink coralline algae

Minus low tide at Tongue Point

Iridescent seaweed colored a brilliant red

Leaf barnacles, sometimes called goose barnacles

A leather chiton; these are tough little critters

Great tide pools hide behind the giant molar

Aggregating anemones look like the flowers of the ocean

A giant green anemone

Exploring Port Angeles

Port Angeles, a pretty little seaport town, is 15 miles east. The views of San Juan de Fuca are outstanding, and the beautiful sculptures and murals scattered along the waterfront add to the ambience. We were intrigued to see that street signs are lettered in the native Klallam language as well as English.

Welcome to Port Angeles!

Bilingual street signs, inscribed in Klallam and English

Sea star decorated fence on the Port Angeles waterfront

Mural honoring local Native American tribes

Cormorant sculptures along the waterfront

The outstanding Olympic Discovery Trail runs along the waterfront. It’s mostly flat and has excellent views—in my opinion, the perfect bike trail. We first biked three miles to Ediz Hook, where we looked back across the bay toward Port Angeles.

Biking to Ediz Hook

Whale sculpture on the Olympic Discovery Trail

Biking on Ediz Hook; Port Angeles is across the bay

A big cargo ship and a little tender

After biking back to town for a delicious lunch at Jasmine Bistro, we headed out for a six-mile ride in the opposite direction along the waterfront toward Sequim. (A stop for lunch at a nice café adds a certain élan to a biking expedition. But we did forgo an IPA to accompany our grilled shrimp salad, lest the desire for biking fall by the wayside.)

Back into town for lunch at Jasmine Bistro

Returning to the bike trail for a six-mile ride in the opposite direction

Surf Scoters; always a favorite to see

Along the bike path we spotted a family of river otters, who entertained us for 20 minutes with their over-the-top cuteness and antics. They seemed to be as curious about us as we were about them, but they grew bored with us long before we lost interest in them.

A family of river otters on the shore

Three curious otters; could these guys be any cuter?

Yes, definitely cute

Along with the wonderful art installations along the waterfront, Port Angeles has a small Fine Arts Center with frequently changing exhibits. The lovely mid-century modern home that houses the center is alone worth the visit.

Port Angeles Fine Arts Center; housed in a wonderful mid-century modern home

An interesting building with a replica of a dugout canoe over the entrance caught our eye while driving through town. The Elwha Klallam Heritage Center is beautifully designed, and was inspired by the structure of traditional longhouses. Inside are small but well-done displays of ancient tribal artifacts and contemporary Native American artwork.

There’s also an excellent exhibit on the Elwha River, part of the ancestral lands of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. The river has recently been freed from a century of dams that wiped out the salmon runs and severely affected the tribal culture and economy. After the removal of the dams in 2012 and 2014, the salmon immediately started to return. It’s nothing short of miraculous; to have this opportunity to start over and to right something that was an environmental and cultural disaster.

The Elwha Klallam Heritage Center

Oh! And the farmers’ market. There’s a small, but very good farmers’ market on Saturday mornings in downtown Port Angeles. We came away with pastured eggs, smoked salmon, enormous bunches of organic kale and salad greens, grass fed local beef, and more. There’s a first-rate natural foods store in Port A as well (Country Aire Natural Foods) where we found everything we needed to restock after our previous week in the wilds of Olympic National Park.

The wonderful little Port Angeles Farmers’ Market

About the campground: You will not be alone here. Locals love Salt Creek Recreation Area, and book far ahead for their favorite spots. But despite the popularity, it doesn’t feel crowded or crazy. The RV section is arranged in tiers, offering good views for everyone.

The front row is first-come, first-served, which is great if you don’t want to plan ahead. That’s where we stayed on our first visit to the park. This time I booked in advance, and we discovered that we prefer the upper tier. The sites seem to be further apart, and feel more private because they back up to a huge open field.

The RV sites have water and electric, there’s a nearby older but adequate bathhouse, and a dump station. Be prepared to do without internet and cell coverage, because it doesn’t exist. (The tide pools and views make up for the lack of coverage.) But you can get coverage as soon as you leave the park (seriously, right at the entrance) and there’s a very nice library in Port Angeles with internet.

Salt Creek Recreation Area RV campground

View of Mt. Baker from the campground

Mt. Baker at sunset

A vibrant orange sunset at Tongue Point

It was a relaxing and fun-filled week. Next time, we might even return for two.

Next Up: A Wonderful Hike in the Sol Duc Rainforest

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Cape Disappointment And The Long Beach Peninsula

Cape Disappointment And The Long Beach Peninsula

Posted by on Jul 8, 2017 in Biking, Food, Gallery, Washington | 34 comments

Leaving Fort Stevens and the delightful town of Astoria, we bid farewell to the Oregon Coast and drove a short 25 miles to Cape Disappointment. Located at the tip of the Long Beach Peninsula in the extreme southwestern corner of Washington, we arrived to gray skies, wind, rain, and a state park with zero internet connection.

But despite our less than enticing welcome, we extended our original two-day stay to five days. What kept us here was our desire to bike the Discovery Trail along the coast (but not in the rain!), our interest in Lewis and Clark National Historic Park (this is where they ended their epic journey), and a craving for oysters in historic Oystertown, at the far northwestern end of the peninsula.

Cape Disappointment really deserves a more appealing name. The gloomy moniker was bestowed in 1788 by British explorer John Meares, who was peeved when he failed to find the mouth of the great river reputed to be just around the cape. “No such river exists,” he declared. Imagine his embarrassment when just a few years later, American merchant sea captain Robert Gray sailed across the bar into the river. Gray claimed the land for the U.S. and named the river Columbia, in honor of his ship.

Cool Stuff on the Long Beach Peninsula:

• Lewis and Clark National Historic Park: Here, on the banks of the Columbia River and on bluffs and beaches overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the story of Lewis and Clark is brought to life. The 33-member Corps of Discovery arrived here in November 1805 after an arduous 4,000-mile journey from St. Louis to the Pacific. Their journey was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, who said: “Find a route to the Pacific. While you’re at it, draw good maps; discover and document plants and animals; establish relationships with the Indian tribes you meet; and get there before anyone else can lay claim to it.” (I’m paraphrasing here, but this was pretty much the essence of their mission.)

We started our explorations with the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, located high on a bluff in Cape Disappointment State Park. It kept us busy for several hours, with absorbing exhibits of their arduous journey, the many discoveries they made, and accounts of their interactions with the native peoples who lived along the Columbia. It was a perfect way to spend a rainy day.

“Your mission…the Pacific Ocean.” Coffee in hand, he’s ready to go.

A replica of the plant presses used by Lewis and Clark in their journey

The enormous replicas of Chinook canoes caught our attention at Middle Village/Station Camp. Just a few miles from Cape Disappointment, this marks the last camp the Corps made in its journey west; it was here that they decided where to spend the winter. Arriving in late fall, the Corps assumed it to be a deserted Native American settlement. But in fact, it was a summer fishing village for the Chinook, who had called this area home for thousands of years. The park at Middle Village/Station Camp focuses on the Chinook Indian Nation history, as well as telling the story of the Corps and the town of McGowan that was later founded here (hence, the church). We found the stories of the Chinook to be especially fascinating.

Middle Village/Station Camp with replicas of Chinook canoes

The river provided a natural water highway for the Chinook—they were far more skillful at navigating the unpredictable waters than the Corps. The abundance of the region, including salmon, shellfish, elk, berries, and tubers, sustained hundreds of villages along both sides of the river. Were it not for the food and other help provided by the Chinook and the Clatsop Indians on the opposite side of the river, the Corps would not have fared nearly as well.

With winter nipping at their heels, the Corps crossed the Columbia to set up camp, where elk were reputed to be plentiful. They built Fort Clatsop, named after the local Clatsop Indians, and spent the winter replenishing food supplies, making buckskin clothing, working on journals and maps, and preparing for the long journey home. When they left in the spring of 1806, they gave Fort Clatsop to Chief Coboway, who had been a helpful friend to the expedition.

A replica of Fort Clatsop, where the Corps spent the winter

Bigger than our trailer, but not as comfortable

• Biking The Discovery Trail: This multi-use trail is about as perfect a bike path as you’ll ever find. The Discovery Trail covers 8.5 miles of gently rolling terrain, from Long Beach to the North Beach Lighthouse in Cape Disappointment State Park—that last mile or so to the lighthouse is an uphill climb, but worth it. We had a blast cruising along the crest of the dunes, enjoying the ocean views and the interesting sculptures along the way commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition. It’s a great 17-mile round-trip ride.

Biking the Discovery Trail; doesn’t get any better than this

A monument to Clark along the trail (with a sturgeon and a random bouquet)

Local school children’s artwork protecting birds along the shore

• Visiting the Lighthouses: Cape Disappointment overlooks the Columbia River Bar, AKA “The Graveyard of the Pacific.” It’s such a treacherous area that it requires two lighthouses, both still in operation, and both within the state park.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, built in 1856, is perched on a cliff, a three-quarter mile uphill hike through layers of lush green forest. It’s a fading beauty in need of restoration and not open for tours, but nonetheless photogenic. And the views from the bluff are wonderful.

North Head Lighthouse, built in 1898 on the northwestern spur of Cape Disappointment, is generally open for tours, but it’s currently closed while the park restores it to its original glory.

On the trail to Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse from Waikiki Beach

Cape D Lighthouse with a bit of color provided by a visiting school group

Looking across the bluffs to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

Bald eagle enjoying the view

• Exploring the towns: Well, it’s certainly not Astoria, but we found some interesting little towns to explore. Long Beach is the poster child for a touristy beach town, but the long stretch of sandy beach is beautiful and the boardwalk along the dunes is lovely for a stroll. (The boardwalk parallels part of the Discovery Trail, so you can explore many of the cool sculptures from here.) We bypassed the shops along the way but couldn’t resist a quick visit to Marsh’s Free Museum. It’s stuffed full of a bizarre assortment of oddities, from taxidermy to vintage peep shows to antique arcade games.

Lovely boardwalk through the dunes in Long Beach

Downtown Long Beach and Marsh’s Museum of Bizarreness

I admit, we had some good laughs in here

The little fishing village of Ilwaco was much more to our liking. The harbor is picturesque, there’s a nice little farmers’ market on Saturdays, and we continued our seafood binge at Ole Bob’s Seafood Market—we came away with fresh mussels, cod, shrimp, and salmon. So good!

Picturesque Ilwaco Harbor

Ole Bob’s Seafood Market, the place to go for seriously good fresh seafood

Other local meanderings included the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, a very local, old- fashioned museum (free on Thursdays). There’s lots of intriguing stuff here, including a life jacket made of corks from 1904 that is way more interesting than the vest I have for kayaking. I’m going to start saving our wine bottle corks. We also enjoyed happy hour at Salt Pub, overlooking the harbor, where we had a delicious North Head IPA (named after the lighthouse) from North Jetty Brewery. We were wishing we’d stopped by the brewery for a tasting of more of their offerings.

A collection of life vests at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum

The Salt Pub in Ilwaco

Local steamers and local IPA (and cranky because I want to take a photo before he can eat)

Oysterville was the final stop on our wish list, at the northwestern end of the peninsula. Built on the rich harvest of oysters from Willapa Bay (one tiny oyster brought as much as one silver dollar in San Francisco in the mid 1800’s!) the oyster boomtown is now a quiet village of well-preserved homes from the era. The smoked oysters and smoked salmon dip from Oysterville Sea Farms are among the best we’ve had, and their deck overlooking Willapa Bay is lovely.

Oysterville church, circa 1892

Oysterville Sea Farms; great smoked oysters and smoked salmon dip

Feeling pretty relaxed after those oysters (oh yeah, and a beer)

About the campground:

We had only two nights reserved at Cape Disappointment State Park and were unable to extend our reservation. But we found a wonderful spot to hang out for several more days just a few miles down the road at River’s End RV Park. We moved into a spacious site with blazing fast internet, and just across the river, Cape Disappointment lighthouse winked at us. (As an unexpected bonus, it was less expensive than the state park.) It was a great find, but unfortunately, the property has been sold and will no longer be an RV Park.

Cape Disappointment is a fine state park, though. We enjoyed our two nights there, even in the rain. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, lighthouses, and hiking trails are all conveniently within the park. The campsites are arranged in spokes, offering plenty of privacy. We liked our site in Loop A, with the sound of the ocean lulling us to sleep at night. Full hookups, paved sites with picnic tables and fire pit, and absolutely no internet or cell connection whatsoever.

Our backyard for a few days at River’s End RV Park

Some of the bounty from the seafood market (Thai curry mussels)

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A Charming Maritime Town: Astoria, OR

A Charming Maritime Town: Astoria, OR

Posted by on Jun 21, 2017 in Biking, Food, Gallery, Oregon | 34 comments

From the first moment we saw Astoria, we were captivated. It’s a picturesque town, with hills of colorful homes overlooking a Victorian era downtown and working waterfront. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to describe the town as a miniature San Francisco.

With beautiful natural surroundings, plenty of outdoor recreation, seafood right off the boats, a wonderful farmers’ market, craft beer, and friendly folks (and only 10,000 of them), I think—“oh yeah, this would be an easy place to live.” And then I remember that Astoria gets an insane amount of rainfall each year.

This is a wild place, at the confluence of the mouth of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. The weather was tame and sunny while we were there. But it’s not always that way, as Lewis and Clark would attest. This is the place they ended up in their epic journey down the Columbia River in November of 1805. I’ll bet they would have enjoyed their stay more had they arrived in summer instead of winter.

With the arrival of Lewis and Clark, Astoria became the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Of course, they weren’t the first people here—the first were the Chinook Indians, who had villages up and down both sides of the Columbia. I’ve often thought that if I were to be plunked down somewhere and forced to survive off the land, I’d choose the Pacific Northwest. With an abundance of salmon, shellfish easy for the taking, and bountiful harvests of berries, there would be plenty to eat.

From the Chinook to the Coast Guard

Astoria has a rich maritime history. Here, the convergence of the mighty Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean creates one of the most treacherous harbor entrances in the world. With 2,000 vessels wrecked along the coast and 700 souls lost, this dangerous stretch of water has long been referred to as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”

To enter or leave the Columbia River, any ship over 100 feet must relinquish the helm to a bar pilot. This elite group of ship captains undergoes rigorous testing to qualify for the job—one of their many exams includes drawing a nautical chart of the bar from memory.

The Columbia River Bar Pilots credit a one-eyed Chinook Indian chief named Concomly as the first bar pilot. A skilled navigator and savvy trader, Chief Concomly would paddle a dugout canoe across the bar, providing ships safe passage in exchange for blankets, fishhooks, and tools.

Today, the river bar pilots use speedy pilot boats and sometimes helicopters to board the ships—both involve swaying rope ladders and a risky descent (and ascent). Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is always standing ready to rescue boats of any size that run into trouble on the bar.

For a fascinating immersion in the maritime history of the Columbia, don’t miss the excellent Columbia River Maritime Museum. We spent half a day there and were completely captivated by the history of the river, the salmon fisheries, the bar pilots, and the Coast Guard. Watching the videos of the bar pilots and the Coast Guard in action is terrifying.

More Cool Stuff in Astoria

• The Waterfront: Interesting historic buildings, breweries, cool shops, fisheries, and the maritime museum are all located along the scenic waterfront. We walked five miles of trails along the water, and hopped on the historic red trolley for a ride back just so we could listen to the entertaining conductor regale us with the history of the waterfront.

• Northwest Wild Seafood Market: This was a fabulous find! It’s a little hole-in-the wall seafood market with excellent seafood and a beautiful dock with a view of the Columbia and the Astoria-Megler Bridge. We enjoyed a bowl of steamer clams, and took home smoked tuna, fresh salmon, and fresh Pacific cod.

• Sunday Market: Covering three city blocks in the attractive Victorian downtown area of Astoria, the Sunday Market offers up local produce, arts and crafts, and music from 10 till 3. If you’re there in early June, expect lots and lots of asparagus. I wanted to bring home the miniature goat at the goat soap stand, but Eric said no.

• Fort George Brewery: Astoria boasts half-a-dozen craft breweries; that’s a lot for a small town, but hey, we’re not judging. We chose Fort George out of the bunch, and loved everything about it—the upstairs location with a view of the waterfront; the organic, local food offerings (we enjoyed delicious chop salads with grilled chicken); and the tasty beer. As always, the IPA’s and the stouts were our favorites.

• Blue Scorcher Bakery: In the same building as Fort George Brewery, the Blue Scorcher Bakery brews excellent organic coffee and knows how to make perfect almond croissants. We started off our Sunday market tour here, and also treated ourselves the morning of laundry day. It always helps to have a treat on laundry day.

• The Astoria Column: Built in 1926, the column is the tallest point in Astoria, at 660 feet above sea level. There’s a steep winding staircase to the top, and it’s claustrophobic and dark and dank inside. The views are great, but honestly, I think you can see just about as much from the viewpoints near the parking lot. It’s worth paying the $5 fee to get into the parking area, but I wouldn’t bother making the trek to the top of the column again.

About the campground: We spent five nights at nearby Ft. Stevens State Park, just across the bridge from Astoria. The campground is gorgeous, with five miles of hiking trails and nine miles of biking trails that lead to the beach, the 100-year old wreck of the Peter Iredale, and to the historic military fort. We loved being able to bike everywhere in the park on dedicated trails.

Fort Stevens guarded the mouth of the Columbia River from the Civil War through World War II. There’s a small museum, and an interesting short tour of the guardhouse with memorabilia from WW II.

This is an enormous campground, with at least 500 campsites. We loved our site in loop N; we lucked out with a corner site with neighbors only on one side and a big grassy lawn area on the other. There are many sites in the campground that would undoubtedly be more private, but would also be unbearably dark and dreary on a rainy day. In early to mid-June, the mosquitoes are frightening—there are lots of wetlands for them to breed. We weren’t bothered during the day, but come dusk, we were safely inside. All of the sites are paved, with water and electric hookups (some loops have sewer), and Verizon coverage is uniformly terrible.

Ship And Old Cannery On The Waterfront

Picturesque Downtown Astoria

Vintage Trolley On The Waterfront

Waterfront Murals Of Days Gone By

View From The West Mooring Basin

Steamers At Northwest Wild Fish Market

The Megler-Astoria Bridge

View From The Top Of The Astoria Column

Gorgeous Views On A Clear Day

The Columbia River Maritime Museum

Full Size Fishing Vessels In The Museum

A Retired Coast Guard Rescue Boat

The Columbia, A Floating Lighthouse

The Astoria Sunday Market

He's Little, He'll Fit In The Trailer

Roosevelt Elk Along The Roadside

There's A Bakery And Brewery Here

Starting The Day Right At Blue Scorcher Bakery

Beer Tasting At Fort George

Enormous Vintage Hardware Store

Antique Wooden Floats And Other Interesting Stuff

Battery At Fort Stevens

Inside The Guard Station

The Wreck Of The Peter Iredale

Biking The Trails At Fort Stevens

So Many Choices Of Trails

Our Backyard At Fort Stevens Campground

Serenaded By Wilson's Warblers

Ship And Old Cannery On The Waterfront
Picturesque Downtown Astoria
Vintage Trolley On The Waterfront
Waterfront Murals Of Days Gone By
View From The West Mooring Basin
Steamers At Northwest Wild Fish Market
The Megler-Astoria Bridge
View From The Top Of The Astoria Column
Gorgeous Views On A Clear Day
The Columbia River Maritime Museum
Full Size Fishing Vessels In The Museum
A Retired Coast Guard Rescue Boat
The Columbia, A Floating Lighthouse
The Astoria Sunday Market
He's Little, He'll Fit In The Trailer
Roosevelt Elk Along The Roadside
There's A Bakery And Brewery Here
Starting The Day Right At Blue Scorcher Bakery
Beer Tasting At Fort George
Enormous Vintage Hardware Store
Antique Wooden Floats And Other Interesting Stuff
Battery At Fort Stevens
Inside The Guard Station
The Wreck Of The Peter Iredale
Biking The Trails At Fort Stevens
So Many Choices Of Trails
Our Backyard At Fort Stevens Campground
Serenaded By Wilson's Warblers
Ship And Old Cannery On The Waterfront thumbnail
Picturesque Downtown Astoria thumbnail
Vintage Trolley On The Waterfront thumbnail
Waterfront Murals Of Days Gone By thumbnail
View From The West Mooring Basin thumbnail
Steamers At Northwest Wild Fish Market thumbnail
The Megler-Astoria Bridge thumbnail
View From The Top Of The Astoria Column thumbnail
Gorgeous Views On A Clear Day thumbnail
The Columbia River Maritime Museum thumbnail
Full Size Fishing Vessels In The Museum thumbnail
A Retired Coast Guard Rescue Boat thumbnail
The Columbia, A Floating Lighthouse thumbnail
The Astoria Sunday Market thumbnail
He's Little, He'll Fit In The Trailer thumbnail
Roosevelt Elk Along The Roadside thumbnail
There's A Bakery And Brewery Here thumbnail
Starting The Day Right At Blue Scorcher Bakery thumbnail
Beer Tasting At Fort George thumbnail
Enormous Vintage Hardware Store thumbnail
Antique Wooden Floats And Other Interesting Stuff thumbnail
Battery At Fort Stevens thumbnail
Inside The Guard Station thumbnail
The Wreck Of The Peter Iredale thumbnail
Biking The Trails At Fort Stevens thumbnail
So Many Choices Of Trails thumbnail
Our Backyard At Fort Stevens Campground thumbnail
Serenaded By Wilson's Warblers thumbnail

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