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The City Of Totems: Duncan, BC

The City Of Totems: Duncan, BC

Posted by on Oct 16, 2017 in Art, British Columbia, Canada, Gallery | 25 comments

We sailed away from Vancouver Island on Friday, after five weeks of adventures, British Columbia style. You would think five weeks would be enough time to cover every inch of an island 290 miles long and 62 miles wide. Not quite. But we did our best.

We explored the length and breadth of the island, discovering treasures around every bend. We found whales on the north coast and bears fishing for salmon in the interior. We kayaked in pristine waters, took a mail boat cruise to a remote village, hiked trails through moss-covered ancient forests, visited beautiful gardens, and walked stunning beaches on both coasts. We immersed ourselves in the First Nations culture and the vibrant local art scene. We indulged in a bounty of local foods from farmers markets, vineyards, breweries, cheese makers, fishmongers, tea houses, and bakeries.

The entire experience was pure magic. Except for the lack of internet connection, which was pull-your-hair-out frustrating. If you can’t live without internet, you don’t want to go to Vancouver Island. Your phone might work (sometimes), but your internet connection, never. I’ll share more about this in an island wrap-up post, but for now,  let’s talk about the little town of Duncan, a mere 40 miles north of Sidney.

Leaving Sidney, we envisioned small towns and wilderness ahead. Instead, we found ourselves driving through stop-and-go traffic on a highway lined with strip malls. And then it started to rain. It wasn’t exactly an auspicious beginning to our explorations of Vancouver Island.

But then we pulled off the highway in Duncan, also known as The City of Totems.

There were two things that drew us to Duncan: the large collection of First Nations totem poles, and the farmers market. Both were outstanding, even in the rain.

Totems created by First Nations artists by the railway station in downtown Duncan, BC

The Duncan Farmers Market takes place year round, rain or shine. Every Saturday, 150 vendors gather in the heart of downtown Duncan, laying out a cornucopia of island bounty. The Cowichan Valley is blessed with as close to a Mediterranean climate as you get in Canada, and has become a slow-food mecca for organic farmers, artisanal cheese makers, foragers, fishermen, vintners, brewmasters, chocolatiers, coffee roasters, and chefs. For food lovers (like us!) it’s heaven.

We knew nothing about the Cowichan Valley before stopping in Duncan, but immediately put it on our list for an extended visit later in our trip. As for the farmers market, we came away with feta and Brie from grass fed happy cows, beautiful organic berries and greens, fresh roasted coffee, and local smoked salmon. If our fridge hadn’t been stuffed full of Lopez Island goodies, we would have bought a lot more.

A little rain (or a lot) won’t stop us from visiting a good farmers market!

A local jazz band provides entertainment on a rainy market day

The surrounding Cowichan Valley is known for its Mediterranean-like climate (yes, really)

Along with hosting the largest farmers market in the Cowichan Valley, Duncan has a superb collection of totems in the downtown area. Totem poles are unique to the indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast. It’s not unusual to find totems in British Columbia—many communities raise totem poles as a sign of respect to the First Nations peoples.

It is unusual to find such a rich concentration of totem poles, though. In 1985, the mayor of Duncan initiated the totem pole project to celebrate the close ties between the City and the Quw’utsun’ (Cowichan) people. He also hoped the totems would attract visitors, but that’s not the primary message that comes through (there’s nothing amusement park-esque about the totem poles, fortunately).

Today, 39 totems, all created by aboriginal carvers, are placed throughout the town. The signs accompanying each tell the story of the totem pole from the carver’s perspective. Totem tours are offered during the summer, or you can follow the yellow footprints of the totem trail on your own.

Downtown Duncan has an outstanding collection of First Nations totems

Carved from cedar, totem poles tell stories of individual clans, and communicate history and legends. Each animal symbolizes human traits, personality and values. For example, Bear represents strength, family, and courage. Mischievous and curious Raven embodies creation, knowledge, and the unknown, while Owl signifies wisdom and intuition. Otter is one of my favorites, symbolizing friendship and family, as well as happiness and never ending curiosity.

The Eagle Totem, the first totem created for the Totem Project in 1986

Each totem has unique symbolism and tells a story

The Transformation in Life Totem

Eagle represents wisdom, great vision, and healing, and this totem tells a story of transformation. An eagle carries away a man on a vision quest. He returns as a young person wrapped safely in the eagle’s wings, representing his Guardian Spirit. Now, his life begins again, with a second chance to change his ways.

Totems against a background mural in downtown Duncan

The mythical Thunderbird, bringer of great storms, thunder, and lightning

A bronze water fountain totem, including a frog fountain for pets

If you get hungry wandering in Duncan, the Duncan Garage is a gathering place for locals and visitors offering homemade soups, salads, and lots more, all focused on local foods and with a definite retro hippie vibe. While you’re at it, you can browse the excellent little bookstore and shop the little natural foods store. It’s a cute, colorful place, right along the totem trail.

The Duncan Garage offers everything but gas, oil changes and tires

Hippie comfort food is on the menu at the Duncan Garage Cafe

Ten Old Books Bookstore

We spent several hours in Duncan and then resumed our journey northward. It was a great stop, and well worth the short detour off the highway.

Next Up: Nanaimo, BC: The Harbour City

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Vancouver Island: A Bucket List Item

Vancouver Island: A Bucket List Item

Posted by on Oct 5, 2017 in Canada, Gallery | 36 comments

Vancouver Island, British Columbia, has been on our bucket list for years. Truthfully, it would have stayed on our bucket list had it not been for the fires raging throughout much of the West this summer.

We had plans for Glacier in early September, but scratched that idea because of uncontrolled wildfires. Washington, the Canadian Rockies, Idaho, and Oregon were also choked with smoke. In mid-August, just a couple of weeks before we were due to leave Lopez, we had no idea of where we were going. And then we came up with the brilliant idea of exploring Vancouver Island.

Brilliant, and also a bit overwhelming. We don’t know anyone who has spent time RVing on Vancouver Island. We’ve visited Victoria, the capital of BC on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, twice—once on a tent camping adventure 20 years ago, and again recently while staying in an Airbnb. However, hauling our trailer to the island felt a bit daunting. Not because of the ferry crossing; with all of our travels in the San Juan Islands, we’re accustomed to traveling by ferry.

The Challenges

We had no reservations for places to stay, weren’t sure about campsite availability in September, and we wondered what it was going to be like crossing the border with our trailer. Plus, we didn’t know much about the island (except Victoria), and had no clue about where to go and what to do. With no easy access to internet on Lopez to research our options, for the first time in 15 years we bought a travel guidebook. It wasn’t as helpful as I had hoped. Despite the fact that the internet is a time-sucking vortex, it is infinitely better than any other way of researching travel plans. Being without internet drives me crazy. But I digress.

There were two things we knew for sure we wanted to do on Vancouver Island: Whale watching in Telegraph Cove, far north on the island. And exploring Pacific Rim National Park, on the wild west coast. We would fill in the blanks for the rest of our journey as we learned more along the way.

Border Crossing Trauma

Deciphering information about border crossing restrictions is an exercise in futility. There is no way to determine precisely what is and what isn’t allowed. I spent a couple of hours trying to make sense of the rules only to discover this disclaimer: “the requirements may be adjusted at any time.” Not helpful at all.

It’s not that we were planning to haul drugs or guns or plants across the border. Or even large quantities of alcohol. But we had a freezer stuffed with local Lopez Island meats and salmon, and a fridge filled with two dozen local eggs and fresh vegetables from our favorite farm stand. I didn’t want any of our beautiful, organic, island-grown food confiscated at the border. (Of course, the easiest solution is to travel with an empty fridge and freezer. But we had stocked our freezer in preparation for our trip to Glacier.)

I wasn’t being completely neurotic. We’ve heard horror stories about border crossings, including a tale from a close friend who was threatened with stiff fines for neglecting to declare a dessicated lime lolling about in his fridge drawer.

I called the RV Park in Sidney where we would spend our first night, asking if they had any idea of current border restrictions. The woman tried her best to help, searching the same official website that I had tried to sort through. “Hmmm…this is confusing,” she finally said. And we both agreed that essentially, the ease of our border crossing would depend on the mood of the border guard, and whether or not the guard fancied lunch from our well-stocked fridge.

It Was A Piece Of Cake!

On September 8th, we loaded our trailer onto the ferry, sailed away from Lopez, and caught another ferry in Anacortes to Vancouver Island. Two hours later, we cruised into the port of Sidney and queued up for our turn with the customs agent—while watching the trailer next to us get pulled over and searched.

Our agent asked where we were headed and how long we planned to be on the island. Her only other question was whether we had weapons (only bear spray, which is allowed as long as it’s labeled as such). We then had a pleasant conversation about our plans to head north to Telegraph Cove for whale watching. “That’s the best place on the island for whales—I saw orcas there!” With a smile, she waved us on.

A Brief But Fun Visit To Sidney

We made a good choice to stay in Sidney the first night instead of hitting the road and immediately heading up island. The waterfront is a beautiful place to walk, with sculptures and a picturesque harbor.

A colorful welcome to Sidney, British Columbia

Strolling the Sidney waterfront walkway; about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) one way

Flowers along the waterfront

Hanging out with the bronze fisherman by the pier

An orca mosaic at the Sidney Marina

Our entertainment in Sidney consisted of walking along the waterfront, visiting the sweet little aquarium (our docent at the touch tank was probably 12 years old, and very knowledgeable), and enjoying happy hour at the excellent gin distillery. All very wholesome activities.

Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea, a delightful local aquarium on the waterfront

The doors to the inner sanctum of the aquarium; very Jules Verne

Inside the fascinating Salish Sea Aquarium

Dancing sea nettles

Our wonderful young aquarium docent, keeping watch over the touch tank

Treasures of the Salish Sea; fancy pink anemones and blue sea stars

The fabulous Victoria Distillers, right next door to the aquarium (how convenient!)

Gin tasting at the distillery; three different gins, two tonics, two bitters, and garnishes

Purple gin created for the Empress Hotel; the color comes from dried butterfly pea flowers

About the RV Park:

Oceanside RV Resort, in Saanichton, is only 15 minutes from the ferry terminal in Sidney. It’s beautifully maintained, with a mix of seasonal and overnight sites. Our site backed up to a wetland with trails to a small beach. Paved roads, level gravel sites, full hookups, erratic wifi, immaculate showers and laundry. It has the reputation as the nicest RV park in the area, and from the looks of a couple of the others we passed by, I’d say there’s no question about it.

Oceanside RV Park, Saanichton, BC

Next Up: A  Couple Of Days In Nanaimo, BC

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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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Wildflowers And Wildlife: Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

Wildflowers And Wildlife: Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

Posted by on Aug 14, 2017 in Friends, Gallery, Hiking, National Parks, Washington | 36 comments

When we hiked on Hurricane Ridge a couple of years ago in October, we were enthralled by the display of autumn colors blanketing the hills. A fellow hiker on the trail remarked, “You really should come in the spring to see the wildflowers.” Hurricane Ridge went right back onto our list. (This is precisely why our list never gets any shorter.)

In late June this year, we hit the trail on a perfect day for another hiking adventure with our friends Pam and John. The sun was shining, the colors almost blinding, and we had a crystal clear view of the Olympics. As promised, the wildflowers were beautiful. But even better was the wildlife, which we didn’t expect.

Hurricane Ridge is the most easily accessed mountain area in Olympic National Park. A gently winding 17-mile road from Port Angeles climbs 5,242 feet to the visitor center. From there, we hiked the Hurricane Hill Trail (1.6 miles one way) to the top of Hurricane Ridge. It’s a beautiful trail, with grand views all along the way. If you’re lucky enough to have a clear day, from the crest of the ridge you’ll be treated to a panorama of snow-capped mountain ranges, islands, and the Strait of San Juan de Fuca.

Pam and John at the Hurricane Hill Trailhead

A stunningly gorgeous day on the trail

The views are grand all along the trail

We were hoping to see Olympic marmots, a species that lives only on the Olympic Peninsula. We saw them last time we were here, and sure enough, they made a repeat appearance. Apparently, Hurricane Hill is one of the best places to see these engaging creatures. They whistle to one another across the meadows, sun themselves on rocky outcroppings, and occasionally scamper across the trail. “Back in Pennsylvania, we call those groundhogs,” said John. (He’s right—they are groundhogs. But they are exotic groundhogs.)

A rare Olympic marmot crosses the trail (“Looks like a groundhog to me,” says John)

Trying to capture a photo mid-step as the marmot speeds by

Safely across the trail and striking a pose in the sun

As we hiked, we enjoyed displays of the colorful alpine wildflowers that thrive in the rocky, wind-buffeted landscape. Hurricane Ridge gets its name from the hurricane-force winds that assail the mountain, but we lucked out with nothing more than a gentle breeze. It couldn’t have been a more ideal day—once at the top, we had views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains, Canada’s Vancouver Island, and the San Juan Islands. We could even see Lopez, our island destination for the summer.

Alpine wildflowers on Hurricane Hill Trail

Lovely pasque flower (Pulsatilla spp.) on the mountainside

At the top of Hurricane Ridge

Views from Hurricane Ridge on a perfect day, including Lopez Island, our summer destination

We love seeing wildlife in the wild, in their natural environment. We even enjoy seeing black-tailed deer, which are a nuisance in our hometown in southern Oregon. There’s a thriving population of “city deer” in Ashland, and they annihilate everything. We tried planting deer proof plants, only to discover that the deer do not read the Sunset Garden Book. The deer are not cute when they’re mowing down your vegetable garden, emptying your bird feeders, killing your Japanese maples by rubbing their antlers on them, and spreading disease via ticks. An eight-foot tall cedar fence solved our problems.

Out here on the trail, where there isn’t an overpopulation of deer, we enjoy seeing them. A few joined us at our lunch spot at the top of Hurricane Ridge. And one popped out from behind a tree when Eric left the trail for a quick rest stop. (Yes, he takes his camera everywhere. You never know when a photo opportunity might come along, right?)

Lunch spot on Hurricane Ridge with deer (and Pam and John’s famous boots)

Not sure who was more surprised, Eric or the deer

Hills covered with sweetly-scented spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) on a side trail

Sharing a fun moment with good friends

Pam, Queen of the Mountain

There was still snow on parts of the trail in late June

Hiking back down the trail, we spotted a small gathering of people. We knew there was something interesting going on, and quickened our pace. The “something interesting” was a tiny black dot on the hillside. Up close (through our binoculars and camera lens) it was a big black bear.

A bear draws a small crowd of hikers

That tiny black dot is a bear

A better view through the magic of a zoom lens

We returned to the visitor center, thinking we were finished hiking—until we heard that mountain goats were hanging out near the Sunrise Point Trail. Mountain goats have been high on our list of critters that we’ve wanted to see, and our group unanimously agreed to try to find them. As it turns out, it would have been nearly impossible to miss them.

Heading back down the Hurricane Hill Trail

Hiking back up another trail; the view from Sunrise Point Trail

We hustled up the steep, partially snow-covered trail. Just before we reached the crest, we spotted a small herd grazing on the mountainside. When the goats decided to move in our direction, they used the trail, and we gave them right-of-way. Later, we learned that the goats are not native to the park, and have become problematic.

Mountain goats grazing near Sunrise Point Trail

The goats start making their way toward us

We backed up as far as we could on the narrow ridge

A mama goat and baby trotting by

I’m separated from our herd, and waiting for the goats to pass by

Local sportsmen introduced goats for hunting near Lake Crescent in the 1920s. In 1938, Olympic National Park was established, and the goats were off-limits to hunters. Since then, the goat population has increased by leaps and bounds. They damage native plant communities, seek out hikers for salt (from perspiration and urine), and although it’s unusual, they can be aggressive toward people.

When we returned to the visitor center after our hike, the ranger told us about a tragic incident a few years ago where a goat in the park killed a hiker. He advised that when we encounter goats on the trail, that we should stand our ground and not allow the goats to dominate. (“Right,” I thought. “You first!”)

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