Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Still Enjoying Anacortes, Washington

I'm not done telling you about Anacortes just yet.  In our short time here I have found lots to do and have been dragging Betsy and Spirit to all the sites.  They certainly have been troopers and I have not heard any complaints, but that may be because of two elemental needs...water for Spirit to swim in and seafood for Betsy's taste buds to relish in.  Both of which I like too.

No visit to the Anacordes and neighboring Whidbey Island would be complete without lacing up our hiking shoes and enjoying the great outdoors á pied (on foot for you non-French speaking)  You don’t have to drive very far to find old growth trees and sweeping seaside scenery.  Just a few miles from downtown Anacortes (which is on Fidalgo Island) are plenty of locally-managed forest preserves that offer hiking and biking trails.  A visit to Washington and Pioneer Parks illustrates just why the locals (and tourists) cherish these pristine urban parks.  A short 20 minutes’ drive south of town will have you crossing the Deception Pass Bridge and in the middle of Deception Pass State Park - the most visited park in the state park system.

The stunning view from Deception Pass Bridge at 182 feet above the rushing blue water. 
We found a bunch of great trails that were dog-friendly and had the soothing presence of water for us to ooh and aah over at and Spirit to splash in.  Remember two important formulas: water + Labrador retriever = happy, tired dog.  Happy, tired dog = happy owners + a peaceful afternoon.

Since we are in the bountiful Pacific Northwest, we have to talk about food.  The connotations of seafood are everywhere and the smell of salt air is a subliminal message that had us seeking clams, mussels, and crabs.  Besides all that hiking left us famished and well below our required caloric intake (or so we convinced ourselves).  The first stop was a roadside dive that caught our eyes on the way to Deception Pass called the Shrimp Shack.  If Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives has not filmed an episode here, the show should be cancelled.  This funky place had fish and chips that left us satiated and clam chowder which enriched our arteries with its creaminess.  (Upon reflection, I don’t think we hiked enough to justify our lunch.)  



We continued to scour the island for seafood and enjoyed the chowder, clam strips, fish tacos, and flaky fried fish, but our favorite meal was a crab boil at home.  The meal was complete with our fruity Gewürztraminer (from Harper’s Trail Winery in Canada), sweet dungeness crab boiled in salt water, creamy potatoes, and succulent corn on the cob.  Oh, I forgot to mention the pound of sweet cream butter that served as a condiment.  Who wouldn't love Washington? 

The Farmers Market on Saturday and Wednesday is a must-do (even for you non-foodie types).  Who could not resist the sweet home-made coconut cake, tangy goat cheese, fresh baguettes, and flavor-packed fresh local berries?  Not us, we indulged in all!  The flowers were stunning, the smell of wood-fired pizza was salivating, and the eye-popping colors of fresh produce made me pull out the bills and grab the goods.  I was in gastronomic heaven.





A quick stroll around town and we discovered a funky little park, Causland Memorial Park, that has elaborate stonework mosaic and is an artistic statement of patriotism that honors war veterans.  The amphitheater, bandstand, and bulkheads were built out of thousands of native stones that were gathered from Anacortes and nearby islands. The downtown park is still utilized and serves as a setting for memorial services, weddings, lectures and concerts...or just a place to relax on a sunny day.


Next door to the park is the Anacortes Museum housed in one of the most beautiful city buildings - the historic Carnegie building (named after the famed philanthropist Andrew Carnegie).  Carnegie awarded a $10,000 grant to a determined group of Anacortes ladies who were focused on raising enough money to construct a library and fill it with books.  The historic building housed the library until 1958 when a new building was built and the library was moved.  The historic Carnegie Library is now the home for the museum, archives, offices, and a research area.  


The museum is small with just a few exhibits depicting the town's history but worth a visit to admire the gorgeous building...and it is free.


On our last day in Anacortes, we decided to drive south to Whidbey Island and visit the Greenbank Farm’s Wag 'n' Walk annual event (a fund raiser for the Whidbey Animals' Improvement Foundation).  The farm once bore the title of the largest loganberry farm in the country.  Today, the heritage farm has exploded into an eclectic array of wine tasting, pie shop, art gallery, cheese shop, and maze of off-leash dog-friendly hiking trails all set in an idyllic island location.  I was a little puzzled when first reading about all the farm entails but thought it was a great idea just the same.  Essentially, the farm is a community-founded nonprofit organization which manages 151 acres to support local commerce, natural resource stewardship, recreation, and agriculture.  So you can stop in for a dog walk, have your wedding, shop for fine art, enjoy cheese and wine under the afternoon sun, or sign up for the residential Organic Farm School.  Cool.


The hiking trails run through an open meadow and into a neighboring
forest preserve.  They were decorated with happy pet signs and
pictures of pets up for adoption.
Spirit made out pretty well with the freebies.  She was quite happy to participate in the hot dog eating contest that required her to jump in a kiddie pool with water and fish out the hot dog pieces - not a very hard task for a lab.
The farm visit was a great ending to our stay in Anacortes.  We found lots to do in this little town and on the neighboring islands.  I highly recommend a visit to this area.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Anacortes, Washington

“Coast in. Hang out” is the well-suited motto for Anacortes, an island town located in the midst of jaw-dropping scenery in the Pacific Northwest.  You will find Anacortes just 80 miles north of Seattle, just a short ferry ride from Vancouver, British Columbia and within eyesight of the San Juan Islands.  Here you will find the perfect mix of old growth forests and dramatic coastline and plenty of activities for those that visit. 

We started our visit by heading downtown to check out the historic district and soak in the salt air and to count the masts in the harbor.  A quick drive up to Cap Sante provided a spectacular view of the downtown, marina, and neighboring islands.  Oh, and you also get a view of the humongous refinery that kills the gorgeous view but you just have to look the other way and it disappears. 

The name "Anacortes" is a consolidation of the name Anna Curtis, who was the wife of an early settler. 

There is quite the history in this coastal town dating back 10,000 years when explorers encountered the Swinomish Indian Tribe.  It has gone through many industrial transformations and the economy has been driven by the usual suspects - the railroad, logging, and fishing. 

Decorating the downtown buildings and illustrating the town’s past is one of the uniquely characteristic Anacortes charms - the historic murals.  The murals were (and still are) painted by the local artist, historian, and “colorful character,” Bill Mitchell.   Starting in 1984, Bill has painted 120 life-sized murals from his wheelchair and is still going strong as he is still commissioned for more murals.  The murals have a whimsical way of interpreting the city’s past and representing the many trades that have kept the town afloat and the people that have called this city home.



But you don’t have to look just at the murals to grasp the city’s history, you
can look at the garbage can where you are throwing your empty coffee cup.  Anacortes was once crowned the “Salmon Capital of the World” and has the garbage cans that pay homage to the industry.  Today, the canning industry has virtually disappeared as most products are fresh or frozen when they reach the market.  No canneries exist today but there are three fish-processing plants and the legacy lives on through the eye-catching labels adorned by the all-important trash receptacle.

It is only fitting that Anacortes would have a maritime museum and a boat plunked down in the middle of town.  This eye-catching site beckoned us in as we have never had a close-up look at a “snag boat.”  The W.T. Preston was used to remove snags (mostly large pieces of logs or driftwood) from waterways deemed navigational hazards.  This boat was instrumental in maintaining the waterways that were so vital to the fishing and maritime industries.  Remarkably this paddle-wheel driven boat (which was commissioned in 1929) remained in service until 1981.  The W.T. Preston continues her service to the community and visitors by interpreting some of Anacortes past.


In 1972, the W.T. Preston was recognized for her historic value and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Maritime Museum is a great place to get acquainted with the city's nautical past. 
We are finding lots to do in this maritime town and the perfectly sunny and cool weather is keeping us busy…but I’ll save some for another post.



Friday, August 23, 2013

Goodbye Canada, Hello Washington

Amazing sights, history, nature, culture, and people filled our six-week visit to Canada.  Our jaunt was way too short to see and do even a minute amount of things that Canada has to offer.  But even we wandering vagabonds must acknowledge that the “we can’t do it all” cliché applies to us as well. 

We learned so much about glaciers, carriages, Mounties, Mormons and so much more but the one thing that shocked us about Canada is that there are parts of the country that are desert.  Yep, in case you did not know there is a desert in Canada, let me enlighten you.  And we learned this the hard way when we landed in the high desert town of Kamloops for five nights.  Since I’m not a fan of the desert, you can image the look on my face when I saw the brown landscape and felt the scorching dry heat.  Just because you are in the northern portion of the continent and Canadian post cards are decorated with snow covered mountains and creeping glaciers does that mean the whole country exists in that view?! 

Kamloops was a cute little town with a lot happening, but it was HOT.  (Like 100°F hot!).  We persevered by making our daily outings around town in the early morning.  Spirit had no objection to our new schedule and was quite happy to be heading to the dog beach at 7 a.m. to frolic in the cool water while we chatted with friendly Kamloopians (I guess that’s what you call them).  The dog park is where we got great tips on where to buy the best corn, where the closest winery was, not too miss the car show and farmers market on Saturday mornings. So many times in our travels, it is the people we meet that bring life to a town and this was no exception.  

"I'll take the purple and pink ones, but I can only pay you with dog biscuits."
An awesome coffee shop that drives to the farmers market.  The back of the bus has tables and booths to enjoy your java.












The desert left us longing for a view of the Pacific coast, the smell of salt air, and taste of sweet seafood which led us back to the U.S. to the Washington state town of Bellingham.  Bellingham is a cute coastal town with a working waterfront, funky stores, and even funkier people.  We strolled the riverfront parks, ate at the local joints and took in the laid back flare that charms this little town.  Bellingham came on a recommendation from a fellow RV’ing friend (Cheryl) that we met in Tucson last winter and it was a good one.  Neighboring Bellingham is another cute town, Fairhaven, which provided an idyllic setting for a stroll with the pooch.





But cruising around town and exploring came to an abrupt and sudden end when the transmission in our tow car went kaput.  A step on the gas pedal yielded an unpleasant grinding sound and lurch until finally the step on the gas pedal yielded nothing.  Bummer!  (What came into our minds was “transmission smashed-in.”)  But a great Ford dealer service guy and a positive attitude got us a rental car and back on the road in time to still enjoy some of the city.  Ironically, we are on our way to have work done on the moho so we will be keeping our fingers crossed that all goes smoothly and we are done with grinding sounds and lurching.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Huckleberry Hand Pie


Our jaunt through Idaho, Montana, and southern Alberta brought us in touch with huckleberries.  Huckleberries are wonderful, little balls of blue sweetness which look similar to their blueberry cousins.  These parts of the country celebrate huckleberries the way Georgians celebrate peaches.  I was amazed just how many products huckleberries were incorporated into…everything from the typical tasty treats like jam and chocolate bars to the far reaches of cosmetics and candles.  Who knew burning antioxidants was good for your health as well?  But by far our favorite way of enjoying these little gems was in a creamy milkshake or using flaky pie dough as a conduit to get them in our mouths.

Once we discovered huckleberry ice cream and milkshakes (in Elk River, Idaho) we were possessed and eagerly made the 45 minute drive down a dusty gravel road to indulge in this sweet delight.  We risked our lives for these treats as we dodged lumber-laden logging trucks dashing to the mill on a narrow, windy road.  But it was well worth it and I did not complain once during the hour-long car washing episode that was required to get all of the dust off the car.

I wanted to try my hand at concocting a huckleberry recipe – would I put them in a pie, a savory sauce to accompany meat, how about a cocktail with rum or in a salad?  Hmm?  I was ready to go, scheming and dreaming about huckleberry something…but there was just one problem, I could not find huckleberries.  A fellow work camper (from our time in Idaho) told me that they were not in season at the time I was looking.  He also proceeded to tell us that picking fresh huckleberries in July and August can be hazardous.  Why hazardous?  Are there thorns, crazy people lurking in the Idaho fields, steep terrain with a deep gulch for me to fall into?  Nope, guess who else likes fresh huckleberries…bears.  Uh duh!

I was not dismayed but set my sites on finding frozen huckleberries.  Grocery stores have frozen everything…except…huckleberries.   The huckleberry something would have to wait until finally, I laid my hands on a bag of frozen huckleberries and the recipes were on.  And wow, were the frozen ones expensive when I did find them out of season.  

The huckleberry parfait was good, as was the huckleberry mojito, but my favorite was the huckleberry hand pie.  A sweet little desert perfectly, neatly folded into a nice little package you can pick up and eat without needing a plate of utensils - perfect desert for sitting around a campfire.  Hope you enjoy.  Just remember, you could easily substitute blueberries or any other fruit.  Or, you can fight the bears for fresh huckleberries.

HUCKLEBERRY HAND PIE

PIE DOUGH

INGREDIENTS

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
¼ cup ice water

PREPARATION

Place flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse until combined.  Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles very coarse meal.  (If you don't have a food processor, you could mix using your fingers or a pastry cutter.)  Add ¼ cup ice water and pulse just until dough comes together.  Add more or less water, as needed.  Form dough into a square, wrap in plastic, and chill until firm, about 2 hours.

NOTE:  Crust can be made 3 days ahead.  Keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before rolling out. 

PIE FILLING

2 cups huckleberries
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅓ cup sugar (may need to adjust sugar depending on the sweetness of the berries)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg, whisked with 1 teaspoon water
¼ cup raw sugar

PREPARATION

Preheat oven to 375° F. 

Roll out dough on a floured surface to a 15x12-inch rectangle.  Cut into 6 rectangles.

Place blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla extract, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and combine.  Mound an equal portion of the huckleberry mixture in the center of the pastry dough rectangles.  Brush edges of rectangles with the egg wash.  Fold dough over and press edges tightly to seal.  Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet (or else you will be sorry).  Brush tops with egg wash, and sprinkle with raw sugar.  Cut a few slits in the tops to allow steam to vent.

Bake hand pies for approximately 35-40 minutes until the top is golden brown.  Serve warm or at room temperature. 

NOTE:  Fully assembled pies can be frozen for a week.  Place frozen pies directly in the oven and bake as directed.




Saturday, August 17, 2013

Falls, Falls, and More Waterfalls

Helmecken Falls
The Wells Gray Provincial Park in Clearwater, BC is known for its waterfalls, so much so that it bears the nickname “Canada’s Waterfalls Park.”  Scattered throughout the piney park are some 39 named waterfalls and plenty more unnamed cascading flows channeling cold water into the Clearwater River. The falls range from tall and narrow to short and wide but are all powerful and awesome cascades of rushing water that appear to have a purpose and somewhere to go.

The Clearwater River
The park covers over 1.3 million acres, making it British Columbia’s fourth largest provincial park but it almost was not to be.  The minister of public lands was not swayed by environmental lobbyists that were convinced the pristine falls and dense forests needed protection.  He declared that the falls were already there and surely could not go away.  Early developers (as far back as 1918) saw the Clearwater River as a source of hydropower and schemed an extensive series of dams to harness the rivers' power.  A concerned ecological group devised a plan to sabotage the dam and subsequent flooding by generating public opposition.  They greeted tourists as they were overlooking the falls and told them to imagine how the valley would look when it was flooded and how the marvelous Clearwater River would no longer flow free with concrete dams.  The strategy worked and under a new lands minister (Arthur Wellesley Gray, after whom the park is named) the park came to fruition. 

Our neighbors at the RV park (Bob and Vicki) visited the park the day before and shared their pictures and video of the falls which got us really excited to start touring ourselves.  (By the way, not only did they share park information but gave us a jar of homemade jelly – how nice!)  Most of the main falls are easily accessible by a short walk from the parking lot.  But a few offer a little more of a hike.
Dawson Falls

Bailey's Chute - one of more than a dozen stretches of turbulent whitewater stretches of the Clearwater River. 

Spahat Falls - an amazing 120-meter deep falls that flows through a deep volcanic canyon.
Thank you Mr. Gray and tireless crusaders who protected this beautifully unique piece of land for all to enjoy.  Too bad our hiking was cut short when Betsy and the baby dog stirred up a nest of fast-flying vengent stinging insects so we all ran for the car and called it a day.  Spirit took the brunt of the beasts.  Despite the pathetic face that resembled the losing side of a bar room brawl, we couldn't help making "head smashed-in" comments again.  Don't worry she and Betsy recovered well and are back on the trails.

Disclaimer: No animals were permanently harmed in the making of this blog.