A Travellerspoint blog

Seattle and the San Juan Islands:Mount Rainier National Park


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Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Sunday was sadly our last full day in Washington; we would be flying home Monday morning. Our friends were planning on some family time, so Clay and I could do anything we wanted with our last day. We had sort of made a deal that Clay could plan San Juan Islands stuff and I could plan Seattle stuff. Unsurprisingly, this deal only kind of worked because, if you have not noticed, I am a bit of a planner, so I might have interjected my own opinions a time or two or constantly about the San Juan Islands portion of our vacation. Regardless, Clay was nice enough to let me be the one responsible for coming up with an amazing last day!! I had narrowed it down to two possibilities – Snoqualmie Falls and Mount Rainier. Because Clay had stolen the former option, Mount Rainier it was!

Sunday ended up being a beautiful day. On the sunny(ish) and warm(ish) morning, we began making our way out of Seattle and toward Mount Rainier National Park. I love organization and having a clear itinerary, so I was thrilled when I, in my extensive research (which usually occurred when I "needed" a break from anything even tangentially related to grad school), located the White Pass Scenic Byway website. The website provided extensive information about this part of Washington, including several road trip itineraries. We followed the Mt. Rainier Loop. The directions were generally easy to follow and each stop included interesting information about the location.

Even before getting into the park, we began gaining significant elevation. We noticed the temperature quickly dropping and, before long, we could see snow. SNOW in JUNE!!!

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Excited about the snow!

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For some people, that may not be a huge deal, but coming from Texas there was something surreal about leaving Seattle on a warm summery day and arriving at Mount Rainier National Park in what felt like the middle of winter. When we were there in June, there were roads that were just opening for the summer and others that were still closed, so before making a trip there, make sure you check out the National Park Service website for road closings and weather conditions.

Our first stop was Packwood, WA. We were hungry for lunch, but Packwood was not exactly big on food options. We ended up at the Peters Inn Restaurant. Attached to a motel (the Peters Inn, obviously), it was mostly diner food. Really, for being in the middle of nowhere it was not too bad.

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From there we headed along Skate Creek Road toward the Nisqually Entrance of the park. The road was heavily wooded, but the bubbling creek would occasionally be visible from between the trees.

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Once inside the park, we stopped at several places along the way. Sometimes we would hop out for a quick picture and other times we would take a short hike around the area. One of our first stops was Kautz Creek.

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Our next stop was Longmire. This is one of the first places you can get a good view of “the mountain” from within the park. There is also a visitor’s center, restaurant, and national park inn at this stop, so it was relatively crowded. Other than our stop at Paradise later on, this was where we had the most difficulty escaping from the crowds. I can only imagine what it would be like later in the summer. Regardless, it was still a worthwhile stop.

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This is also where we accessed the Trail of Shadows. A pleasant 1-mile hike through both old growth forests and wetlands, this trail was originally linked to the mineral hot springs discovered by James Longmire, which led to this area becoming a popular hotel and spa for a time. The trail provided an interesting perspective on the history of the park area.

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Back on the road, we stopped at Christine Falls...

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...at several scenic locations along Ricksecker Point Loop Drive...

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...and at a viewpoint for Nisqually Glacier.

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Each view was even more incredible than the one before as we began working our way up Mount Rainier. We even got to see some wildlife along the way!

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The higher we climbed, the more snow was on the ground. Did I mention it was June?!

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We finally made it to Paradise. This is the highest area of the mountain that can be accessed by car. It felt like we were suddenly transported to a ski resort, which naturally meant that it was the perfect place to enjoy a steaming cup of hot chocolate. This was hard to believe, but later in the summer, Paradise is supposed to be covered in wildflowers. There is another national park hotel and restaurant here, along with a number of informative interpretive displays. The view of the top of Mount Rainier was unparalleled.

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From here, we began our descent down the mountain, going back a somewhat different way than we came (you have to take the turnoff toward Ohanapecosh Campground unless you want to completely backtrack).

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On the return trip, we saw the Reflection Lakes, still frozen into blue sheets of ice.

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If possible, the scenery on the return trip was even more breathtaking. Or perhaps it was simply that the openness of the scenery allowed for more opportunities to gauge how high up we actually were!

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Our final planned stop was at Box Canyon.

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Of course, we couldn't resist a few more photos on our way out of the park!

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Although we did not get to stop every place we wanted to because of time, we had a really wonderful day. Mount Rainier is difficult to capture in words, so I only hope our pictures did some justice to the beauty and majesty of our day in the park.

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Sunday evening was one last chance to enjoy the sunset over Puget Sound. Monday morning dawned as perhaps the most beautiful day of all.

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After saying our goodbyes, we headed toward the airport. On the way, we finally saw the iconic view of Mount Rainier dominating the Seattle skyline. It was a fitting way to end what had been an amazing vacation to Seattle and the San Juan Islands.

Posted by cgplatt 16:20 Archived in USA Tagged seattle national_park washington Comments (0)

Seattle and the San Juan Islands: Bainbridge Island

Or, a Mariners Game, Depending Upon Your Gender


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Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Saturday was mostly a lazy day. I think we were all still recovering from the previous day of sightseeing. Or maybe we were just looking for an excuse to sleep in really late and stretch breakfast across several hours. We did manage to leave the house sometime during the afternoon. Mostly because Clay and Derek had Mariners tickets and they were not about to miss out on that. As far as I can tell, they had a great time watching baseball and eating lots of food. Safeco Field is said to have some of the best food among major league baseball stadiums. Of course, the opportunity to watch baseball without sitting in 100+ degree heat could have contributed to their enjoyment (I’m talking about you, Texas Rangers).

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Personally, I think the decision for the girls to go to Bainbridge Island after dropping them off was the better way to spend an afternoon!! Although it would have perhaps been a bit more fun on a sunnier day, even the ferry ride to the island was enjoyable. Although we chose to drive onto the ferry, this is often a trip that people walk on because much of what you would want to see on Bainbridge is within walking distance of the ferry terminal. Sunny or not, it is difficult to beat the view of Seattle from the ferry!

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One of our first stops was Mora Iced Creamery. Their flavor selection was varied and, in some cases, unusual. After trying a few options, you know, just to be sure I chose the best flavor, I settled upon dulce de leche with chocolate shavings. However, I am fairly certain that it would have been impossible to make a bad choice! I know I kind of have "a thing" for ice cream, but I think the stop at Mora's alone made the trip to Bainbridge Island worth it.

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Sufficiently full of ice cream, we burned off some of the calories we consumed by browsing some of Bainbridge Island’s shops. I am a firm believer that shopping totally counts as exercise! Two of my favorite stores were Danger and The Gallery. Both focused on local products, furniture, and art. If I had money to spend by this point in the trip, I probably would have bought something (and probably a way-too-expensive something) and then had to spend even more money to ship it home. Good thing our vacation budget was dwindling to nothing by this point!

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Apparently, we were enjoying shopping so much that we completely lost track of time. We were quite confused when a store that was supposed to be open until 6 pm was already closed, when we suddenly realized it was closed because it was 6:15. That would make sense. Of course, the ferry we wanted to catch was leaving at 6:30, so, after a brief moment of panic, we hurried back to the terminal, making it just in time. After the 30-minute ride back to Seattle, we drove by Safeco Field to pick up the guys.

That evening, we had a wonderful dinner at the incredibly yummy 909 Coffee & Wine (incidentally, how could a restaurant with coffee and wine in the name be anything but amazing?!). I did not take any pictures, so you will just have to take my word that the artisan cheese sampler and crab crepes in tomato cream sauce made for one delicious meal. We then returned to the house for more laziness, which probably involved a hot tub. I don’t know about you, but I think ice cream, shopping, and a hot tub equals a pretty great Saturday. Plus, I am certain Clay would accept baseball tickets any day of the week!

Posted by cgplatt 06:33 Archived in USA Tagged seattle washington Comments (0)

Seattle and the San Juan Islands: Touring Seattle


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Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Thanks to a bit too much fun Thursday evening, Friday morning we woke up exhausted (especially Derek and Kelsey who were still on central time). However, that did not stop us from being excited about the two tours we had booked for the day. Our first tour was the Pike Place Market Tour with Savor Seattle. Our meeting place was the Starbucks just outside the market. Hmmm, a Starbucks, in Seattle, close to Pike Place Market - that narrowed it down! And, just to be clear, it was not the “original” Starbucks, which we later learned is not actually the original Starbucks. Really, we were provided with very specific instructions for which Starbucks it actually was. The tour started off well, with me discovering my new favorite drink – a white mocha with cinnamon dolce. It was so delicious!

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As I enjoyed my sample, along with that of my sweet husband who does not enjoy coffee (that and his dislike of chocolate are two of his more strange characteristics), we met our tour guide and got acquainted with our group.

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Although not exactly a small group tour, our group was about 12 people and our tour guide, Santino, got to know everyone by name. The tour did include the infamous audio equipment and umbrella, but honestly, in the craziness of the market, it was nice to always be able to hear our guide and to know exactly where we were heading next.

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After enjoying our coffee and being oriented to the tour, we set off to our first stop – Daily Dozen Donuts. It was here where we not only experienced donut perfection (seriously, the best donuts ever - warm, surgary, doughy amazingness), but we also had our first experience with what Santino dubbed “the Costco effect.” As we were thoroughly enjoying the samples of delicious food, we would suddenly be swarmed by people attempting to grab one for themselves. I think at literally every stop, our tour guide had to fend off hungry market goers. Ummm, I wasn't about to be the one to share my donuts!!

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In addition to getting to eat delicious samples without waiting in a single line, we also got to learn a lot about the history of the market. I enjoyed that component of the tour almost as much as I loved the food. For instance, the floor of the market consists of tiles with names on them that individuals have bought (the money went to support the market). In one section, there are several tiles with prime numbers on them. These tiles were purchased by a man to reflect his love for his mathematician wife. Who knew that prime numbers could be so romantic?

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Other foods we got to sample were the original tea recipe from MarketSpice,

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Three varieties of salmon from the iconic fish market,

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and fresh pears and blueberries from Frank’s. It was here we learned how to tell the sex of eggplants. Except, our tour guide said gender – I am proud of myself for refraining from explaining why eggplants cannot have gender. I am sure Clay appreciated that, as well.

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Chukar Cherries was one of my favorite stops. We got to try several varieties of their cherries (and I got to eat anything with chocolate that Clay didn’t want – bonus!) as well as a surprisingly delicious peach cherry salsa.

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My other favorite stop was probably Beecher’s. The mac n’ cheese was out of the world, mind blowingly delicious. Clearly Kelsey was enjoying the cheese. Imagine what that cheese must have tasted like all melty and mixed with pasta!

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We got to taste the famous and award winning recipe clam chowder from Pike Place Chowder...

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...before enjoying piroshkies and the best crab cakes in the world.

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Although I certainly enjoyed the food, I also enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the very interesting history of the Pike Place Market. I would recommend this tour to anyone and would love to take any of the food tours that Savor Seattle offers if we are ever in Seattle again.

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We spent some more time enjoying the market (and using the discount we received after going on the tour) before heading toward Pioneer Square for our second tour.

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After a stop at another Starbucks, we began our second tour – the Underground Tour.

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From the beginning, I was disappointed. The tour began with about 200 people crowded into a room listening to a less than interesting version of the history of Seattle.

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I think I was so disappointed because the tour had so much potential. Seattle has a fascinating history, but I felt that our tour guide spent more time making stupid jokes than actually sharing the history. And I like stupid jokes! Although we broke into smaller groups following the introduction, the groups still felt too large and awkward. It was such a neat experience to get to see the original city of Seattle (after it was rebuilt following the fire of 1889), which is now underneath the modern city of Seattle. What we did learn was so interesting, but overall the tour fell far short of what it could have been. It felt like they were more interested in making money than providing a quality tour when I would have gladly paid twice as much for a smaller group and a better tour. Okay, so I was clearly disappointed in the Underground Tour, but we didn’t let it ruin our day.

We did what anyone would do – got lost in Little Saigon, spent 30 minutes trying to find our way back to the correct road, and shared a pickle so that we didn’t starve to death because, after all, we had hardly eaten anything that day!

Our day ended with a truly gourmet dinner courtesy of Kelsey’s aunt. I mean, it was probably one of the best meals of my life. The food, the wine, and the company were absolute perfection. It was kind of like one of those evenings that you see in the movies where friends are having dinner and everybody looks happy and the conversation is perfect and the food is ridiculously delicious, but that you think can never possibly exist in real life. Well, that Friday, in Seattle, such an evening did exist.

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Posted by cgplatt 10:42 Archived in USA Tagged tour seattle washington favorite_food Comments (2)

Seattle and the San Juan Islands: On to the Next Adventure


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Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Thursday would be an unknown adventure for me. Clay had done the planning, so I could sit back and relax while the surprise unfolded (except that, well, I never actually relax, so just imagine me trying to sit back and relax while simultaneously attempting to control the entire day, but having no idea what we were going to do). After the indispensable stop for my dose of caffeine, we reluctantly made it onto the 8:50 am ferry back to Anacortes. We got in line around 8:10, again benefitted by the lack of crowds in June. The ferry ride was rainy, but beautiful, nonetheless.

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Making it back to the mainland a little after 10 a.m., we set off to our destination, which Clay revealed to be Snoqualmie Falls. Ironically, this was one of my options for our as yet tenuous plans for Sunday. We took the scenic route (but really, what route is not scenic in western Washington?) and incidentally found our future home. We were both incredibly charmed by Duvall, Washington – it seemed to be the perfect combination of small town, access to nice shops and restaurants, and beautiful location in the Snoqualmie Valley, all within an easy driving distance of Seattle. The only problem is that we don’t actually have plans to move to Washington. As Clay says, "Minor details!"

We arrived just in time for our 1 p.m. lunch reservation at the Salish Lodge & Spa.

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Located literally at the top edge of Snoqualmie Falls, the restaurant was basically a front row seat overlook of the falls. Cozily tucked into our table by the window, we enjoyed the view of the falls, safe from the rain and the cold. It was one of those days when all you really want to do is curl up with a good book and hot chocolate next to a fireplace. Thankfully, comfort food and the roar of the falls was a more than adequate substitute.

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The food would not have even had to be that good for us to enjoy our lunch. The food was, however, very delicious. We shared the cheese fondue – warm, melty cheese with fresh from the oven bread? Yes, please! We each had a sandwich, complete with homemade chips and even a homemade pickle. The entire experience – the food, the view, the ambience – was perfect.

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Clay had left his camera in the car, but we were planning to walk to the overlook of the falls, so he ran out to the car to get his bag. Instead of heading toward the falls, he headed back inside toward the spa!! When he stepped out of the car while we waited on the ferry (and then totally stressed me out by disappearing and not responding to my frantic texts), he had actually been booking a couples massage. Yes, I readily admit that I am spoiled. We were early for our massages, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the spa facilities. We changed into our swimsuits to make use of the sauna and hot tubs.

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Soon enough it was time for our massages. The couples massage room was really nice. There was even a real wood fire crackling in the fireplace. Although the facilities, including the massage room, were incredible, the massages were somewhat disappointing. There had been multiple problems with our reservation and the massages themselves were just okay. For instance, my massage was a hot stone massage, but hot stones were incorporated into only about 15% of the massage. Compared to previous hot stone massages, it was hardly worth the additional upcharge for the hot stones. (Okay, I realize I sound like a total massage snob, but, in my opinion, if you are going to pay for a massage at a nice spa, it should be worth the money). Plus, the massage itself just was not all that great. I do want to point out that the spa staff went out of their way to correct the mistakes in the reservation and offered a substantial discount on the massages because of the problems they were unable to correct. I realize this was just our individual experience, but our overall impression was that the spa facilities were great, but the spa services were not of the same quality as those at equivalent spas. As a whole, however, the Salish Lodge & Spa was a positive experience. And really, it wasn't exactly like it was a miserable way to spend an afternoon.

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We spent some more time relaxing in the pool room following our massages before groggily getting redressed to go see Snoqualmie Falls (for real, this time). Usually, there is a hiking trail that will take you to the level of the river, but it was closed until Spring 2013. We had to content ourselves with the view from the observation deck.

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Not too shabby!! After being adequately soaked by the spray from the falls, we began the trip to Seattle where we were planning to meet up with our friends.

The plan was to grab a late dinner in Seattle before going to the house where we were staying. There is something you should know about us – we love Mexican food. Like, we are basically addicted to it. When we go more than a few days without it, we have symptoms like irritability and the shakes. This would explain why we attempted to seek out Mexican food in SEATTLE. We found a well reviewed restaurant and began to head in that direction. Unbeknownst to us, the restaurant happened to be located in what was apparently one of the trendiest areas in Seattle (Ballard), so it was literally impossible to find a place to park. Even the promise of free guacamole was not enough to entice us to drive around for more than the 30 minutes we tried to find a parking spot. Seriously, I can’t think of many things that are worth that, much less Mexican food in Seattle. So, we settled for our backup plan – Serious Pie. Pizza as wonderfully delicious as this should not really be considered a backup plan. Oh. My. Goodness. It was perfectly cooked in the wood-fired oven, with a crust slightly burnt and crispy on the outside but soft in the center, with gooey melted cheese and gourmet toppings. Just so we didn’t feel like total gluttons, we began with a salad and then shared the morel and truffle cheese pizza. I also branched out and tried one of their specialty drinks. It was made with vinegar and, well, it tasted like it was made with vinegar. Not really my thing, but Clay’s homemade root beer was excellent. All in all, a very delicious introduction to Seattle.

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Being that we were in Seattle, it was only appropriate that we followed dinner with coffee. We both enjoyed espresso drinks at Vivace (in Capitol Hill) before finally going toward our friend’s aunt and uncle’s house.

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We arrived just before they did. We ended what had already been a relaxing day (well, other than the whole trying to find a place to park in Ballard fiasco) with even more relaxation – catching up with friends and meeting new ones. We stayed up way too late, but enjoyed every minute.

Posted by cgplatt 16:02 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls seattle washington favorite_food san_juan_islands Comments (0)

Seattle and the San Juan Islands: Sailing Day Take 2


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Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Wednesday morning dawned bright and early, emphasis on the early. Thankfully, Wednesday morning also began with lots of sunshine! In a repeat of the previous morning, we attempted to eat as much breakfast as humanly possible. This time, we tried another Eastsound spot - Wildflour Bakery.

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We could smell the baked deliciousness from across the street and the taste certainly lived up to the smell. Sufficiently full of baked goods, we proceeded to Deer Harbor Marina.

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Our day charter was with Emerald Isle Sailing on the Na'Walak. Captain Dave does longer chartered trips into the Great Bear Rainforest (in Canada), Misty Fjords and Southeast Alaska, and multi-day trips around the San Juan Islands, fitting in day charters and custom itineraries around these longer sailing trips. Although up to six individuals (in addition to the captain) could have been included on our day sail, on this day it was just Clay and me. After the wonderful single day charter we enjoyed, one of the longer trips is definitely on our one-day-when-we-have-LOTS-more-money bucket list!

Although there are over 150 islands that are part of the San Juan Islands, only four of the islands are served by Washington State Ferries. There are some populated islands reachable by other means of transport, a handful of privately owned islands, and some islands that are no bigger than a large rock, disappearing almost completely during high tide. Obviously, we were not going to get much more than a brief glimpse of what the islands had to offer in a 6-hour sailing trip, but it was an incredible way to see and learn about islands that would have been impossible to see otherwise. We sailed past celebrity owned islands, nature refuges, and one island that still maintained some of the animal population from when it was an exotic game ranch. Captain Dave was very educated about the wildlife and ecology of the islands.

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Our sailing day was beautiful, educational, and fun. During the morning, we enjoyed the sunshine and blue skies. We hoped to see some whales, but alas, they were not around the islands that day (during June, the presence of the pods is less predictable than in July and August). However, this was one reason we booked the sailing trip rather than the more available whale watching tours – if we did not see a whale on a whale watching tour, we knew we would be disappointed, whereas if we saw a whale on the sailing trip, it would be a bonus. Although we did not see any whales, we did see many other types of wildlife, including harbor seals, the shy (and thus not often seen) harbor purpoises, and eagles.

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A snack of cheese, fruit, and crackers, along with drinks, was included.

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By the afternoon, the clouds had rolled in and the temperature had cooled, so we spent much of the afternoon inside the boat. However, the scenery was no less beautiful and our afternoon was no less fun.

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After thoroughly enjoying our time on the Na'Walak, we pulled back into Deer Harbor and said our goodbyes to Captain Dave.

Clay had more “west side of the island” plans for the afternoon.

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Our first stop was Orcas Island Pottery. As cliché as this may be, there is no other word to describe it other than magical. After driving down a small path hidden among the trees and walking along the footpath through a perfectly untamed garden, we arrived to the gallery, which consisted of many small, rustic buildings containing handmade pottery scattered throughout more of the lush and charming garden. Against the backdrop of the ocean, it was almost impossible to focus on the pottery. Almost. We were eventually able to focus enough to make our selections, including a vase to add to the pottery collection slowly building on our mantel. I would have loved to spend more time there, but we arrived at the end of the day and the gallery was close to closing. If we ever return, we will definitely arrange a longer visit. I think Orcas Island Pottery is a “must stop” location on any trip to the island.

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Of course, by this point we were quite hungry because, obviously, we had practically starved ourselves that day. The West Sound Café had been highly recommended, so we decided to give it a try. Surprisingly, we were barely able to get a table. We had had every restaurant practically to ourselves, but this time, we just happened to be able to get the last available table for 2, but only if we could eat in less than an hour. The café was one of the very few restaurants on this part of the island, and there were more locals than tourists eating there, so it is not surprising that it would be busy, but it was so different than our experiences elsewhere. I would imagine that dinner reservations might be difficult to come by later in the summer and are really needed just about any time, even in June. However, the West Sound Café was worth the effort. Both Clay’s carnitas tacos and my shrimp pasta putanesca were absolutely delicious. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and the putanesca sauce had just the right amount of spice. Best of all, it was relatively affordable, at least by Orcas Island standards. It was probably our favorite meal on the island.

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We followed up this delicousness with another stop at the Madrona Bar & Grill for dessert. Love is when your husband agrees to share a chocolate dessert with you even though he doesn’t really like chocolate.

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After a really fun day, we arrived back at our cabin. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy and rainy to see the sunset, but that certainly did not stop us from enjoying the hot tub, a warm fire, and roasted marshmallows one last time. Neither of us really wanted to leave the cabin or the island the next day, but I am pretty sure it would be inappropriate to try to move in permanently (not to mention that neither of us could actually generate income on the island, which could be an important component of deciding where to live). Thus, as we made the most of our last evening on Orcas, Clay secretly planned a way to ensure that the next day, the day we left Orcas Island, would be just as amazing.

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Posted by cgplatt 10:03 Archived in USA Tagged sailing washington san_juan_islands Comments (0)

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