I drove south and faced the daunting American border. But soon I was across and exploring the northwest corner of Washington state, deep in nature and a foodie paradise.
I settled into the Semiahmoo Resort, no ordinary hostelry. Located at the tip of a curving, mile-long spit - a county park - the resort is secluded and surrounded by nature. A cannery operated here from 1882 to 1964 and several of the buildings, including an iconic tower, have been preserved and incorporated into the resort. Historic photos and artifacts abound. There's a sense of times past.
Next morning, under a cobalt-blue sky, I joined a bird-watching group. We set off along a shoreline teeming with herons, gulls, and eagles, led by Paul Woodcock, a passionate birder and three-time president of the North Cascades Audubon Society. "This spit is one of best bird-watching areas in the northwest," he said, pointing to eel grass in the shallows. "The grass is crucial, attracting small fish, which attract bigger fish, which attract birds." Pointing to a long tailed duck he noted that it can dive to a depth of 200 feet. "You've got to return for the Birding Festival in mid-March," he said, "The place goes crazy."
In the afternoon I hiked to the Alaska Packers Association Museum, housed in an original cannery building. I wandered among the displays which revive the years 1873 to 1968 when a salmon cannery operated at the site of the Semiahmoo Resort, receiving fish from Alaska. A scale model of a large salmon trap, antique machinery and historic photos make those times come alive. I loved the film of early tall ships and imagined being high in a crow's nest.
As the sun settled lower, I squeezed into a kayak and paddled into the bay. Dozens of seals were flopped on the marina dock, their big round eyes watching me warily. Behind them, Mount Baker lay like a sleeping giant on the horizon. There was a glorious feeling of oneness with the watery realm.
Next day, hungry from hiking and exploring, the C Shop in Birch Bay beckoned. I rushed through a lunch of pizza and chowder because my sweet tooth was calling. The owners explained that C stands for candy, which the family-run business has been producing for more than 40 years. Shelves groaned under mounds of candies and baked goodies. Then they made a large batch of peanut brittle. With the rich, still-warm caramel sticking to my teeth, I thought I was in heaven.
I was drawn like a lemming to Mount Baker, a constant sentinel on the skyline. Ranger Magenta took me in tow, and we drove high to the Heliotrope Trailhead. Heading off in driving rain Magenta, rolled her eyes at my outfit of shorts and a sopping camping hat, a contrast to the svelte, younger, Gore-Tex-clad hikers sharing the trail. The mountain stillness was broken by water cascading down from the melting glaciers, and stream crossings were an adventure. We hiked upwards into the snowline. On the steeper pitches we kicked steps to avoid a long sliding tumble. Reaching Survey Rock, the rain let up. I gasped at the enormous, steel-blue glacier, criss-crossed with treacherous-looking crevasses. An ominous cracking sound enveloped us adding to the dramatic beauty. High above climbers headed for the summit.
That evening, famished, I wandered into the Semiahmoo Resort's Pierside Kitchen. Our starter, the Chilled Shell Fish & Crustacean Plateau was loaded with oysters, mussels, crab claws, clams, and more. Two charcuterie platters followed with cheeses, salamis, and artisan bread. Chowder was served. Chef Eric Truglas (a transplanted Frenchman) emerged from the kitchen to explain the steaming, spicy cioppino with saffron, mussels, and prawns, cooked in a wood-fired oven. By now the wine and culinary extravagance was taking effect. A delicious roast chicken and halibut with artichokes, heirloom tomatoes floated past. The pièce de résistance was a cedar-plank salmon. I only vaguely remember the desserts. Content, I waddled back to my room.
When the customs official at the border asked what I was bringing back, I smiled and thought, a thousand wonderful memories.
Best of Bellingham
Hans Tammemagi has written two travel books: Exploring Niagara - The Complete Guide to Niagara Falls & Vicinity and Exploring the Hill - A Guide to Canada's Parliament Past & Present. He is an environmental consultant.