The Beaches of San Juan County – Part 1

20 Aug

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Okay, so to be truly “The Beaches of San Juan County” I’d need to have a much better sampling of various islands, plus I’m including one beach from Island County as well, but while we were on vacation, we visited a total of 8 beaches, and I loved every minute of it!  Most of the beaches were on Orcas Island, but one was on another island, a much smaller and rather secretive island, which I am not going to name but which will feature – nameless – in an upcoming post!

This was the beachiest trip that I’d been on for years! I have too many pictures to make this just one post – in fact, it will have to be even more than two.

Truly, I love beaches. Not the movie – though I liked that okay, much to my husband’s bewilderment – but the places. The physical, rocky, shores of the ocean.

Note I said “rocky”. I’m not as much of a fan of sandy shores.

I found, on our recent vacation on Orcas Island, Washington, that even though I grew up there, I’d forgotten – or, more likely, never spend much time thinking about the fact – that not all beaches are created the same. I mean, I knew about the basic difference in a sandy beach vrs. a rocky/stony beach, but it had been so many years since I’d been on any other sort of beach, that I’d forgotten that such a thing existed.

The first beach for your perusal today is a private beach on Orcas where we went (with permission!) to dig clams. And I’ll even give you my sister’s recipe for clam chowder that was absolutely the best I’ve ever had in my life.

No, not a beach you want to walk barefoot on!!  You'd be cut to ribbons.  Even my flipflops suffered a bit.  The entire beach is like this - broken shells, barnacles, and yes, a few pieces of beach glass.  But, apparently, the clams like it!

No, not a beach you want to walk barefoot on!! You’d be cut to ribbons. Even my flipflops suffered a bit. The entire beach is like this – broken shells, barnacles, and yes, a few pieces of beach glass. But, apparently, the clams like it!

Basically the same, only an underwater shot.  It's clear water, isn't it?  That is, until you dig in on a clam search, then it's murky - for a few minutes.  It was a wonderful beach to go wading on, as you could see so much - many Dungeness and rock crabs (the big ones came out as the tide came in) and hermit crabs.

Basically the same, only an underwater shot. It’s clear water, isn’t it? That is, until you dig in on a clam search, then it’s murky – for a few minutes. It was a wonderful beach to go wading on, as you could see so much – many Dungeness and rock crabs (the big ones came out as the tide came in) and hermit crabs.

This beach was actually a cove, and for the whole half-circle the water was wonderful - and not even very cold, it was such a sunny and warm day.

This beach was actually a cove, and for the whole half-circle the water was wonderful – and not even very cold, it was such a sunny and warm day.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #1: Nope.  Not a clam.  An oyster.  Back into the water it goes.  Yes, oysters are marvelous to eat, but not what we were after that day.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #1: Nope. Not a clam. An oyster. Back into the water it goes. Yes, oysters are marvelous to eat, but not what we were after that day.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #2: The tasty, delicious Butter Clams!  It's not a fast or easy way to get one's dinner, but it's worth it in the end.  The pioneers on Orcas often supplemented their diets with clams - often to the point where their primary protein WAS clams.  Can only imagine the time and effort that took.

The tasty, delicious Butter Clams! It’s not a fast or easy way to get one’s dinner, but it’s worth it in the end. The pioneers on Orcas often supplemented their diets with clams – often to the point where their primary protein WAS clams. Can only imagine the time and effort that took.

My sister, my nephew and his family, oh, and Boo.

My sister, my nephew and his family, oh, and Boo.

My two favorite Minnesota boys hard at work.

My two favorite Minnesota boys hard at work.

Even Boo got in on the hard work - for a while, anyway.

Even Boo got in on the hard work – for a while, anyway.

Sometimes it's a group effort!

Sometimes it’s a group effort!

You have to dig quite deep to get to the good stuff.

You have to dig quite deep to get to the good stuff.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #3: This is not a shellfish!  At first I thought, "Oh, a rock that looks just like an egg!"  And then I picked it up only to discover that it was an egg.  A seagull?  Not sure, but it did not make it into our take-home treasure box!!

Shellfish Identification Lesson #3: This is not a shellfish! At first I thought, “Oh, a rock that looks just like an egg!” And then I picked it up only to discover that it was an egg. A seagull? Not sure, but it did not make it into our take-home treasure box!!

The youngest member of our expedition did not enjoy herself as much as the rest of us.  Her Uncle Sailboat King kept her occupied for a LONG time, further up the beach.

The youngest member of our expedition did not enjoy herself as much as the rest of us. Her Uncle Sailboat King kept her occupied for a LONG time, further up the beach.

Baby starfish?  Or just naturally that small always?  Not sure.

Baby starfish? Or just naturally that small always? Not sure.

Shellfish Identificatino Lesson #4: A Hairy Chiton, a mollusk - though not an edible one.  At least, I assume it's a shellfish.  I'm no expert, so don't quote me for a research paper on this!  There's a teeny Limpit clinging to the rock, showing just beneath the hairs on his upper center.

Shellfish Identificatino Lesson #4: A Hairy Chiton, a mollusk – though not an edible one. At least, I assume it’s a shellfish. I’m no expert, so don’t quote me for a research paper on this! There’s a teeny Limpit in the hairs on his upper left.

Very gritty mud.

Very gritty mud.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #5: This is a Cockle...yes, it's a clam, and yes, I understand that it's tasty, but apparently they're a pain in the rear end to clean...so, we ditched all the cockles we dug up.  Which, sadly, was rather a lot.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #5: This is a Cockle…yes, it’s a clam, and yes, I understand that it’s tasty, but apparently they’re a pain in the rear end to clean…so, we ditched all the cockles we dug up. Which, sadly, was rather a lot.

Sorry that this isn't a better picture.  Guess where we found this guy?  INSIDE OF A CLAM!  He must have gotten in when he was tiny and then could never get out - or chose not to.  He was practically shell less and albino and fat and he couldn't really walk too well.  We let him go into the water, but I have a feeling that his life was not going to be a long one.  Fascinating, though...

Sorry that this isn’t a better picture. Guess where we found this guy? INSIDE OF A CLAM! He must have gotten in when he was tiny and then could never get out – or chose not to. He was practically shell less and albino and fat and he couldn’t really walk too well. We let him go into the water, but I have a feeling that his life was not going to be a long one. Fascinating, though…

A beach is a perfect place for a wee boy to get wet and explore and have a marvelous time!!

A beach is a perfect place for a wee boy to get wet and explore and have a marvelous time!!

AND NOW, WHAT YOUR MOUTH IS WATERING FOR: MY SISTER’S RECIPE FOR FABULOUS CLAM CHOWDER! (Is it as good with canned/jarred clams? Probably not, to be honest, but if you like chowder, why not give it a try?!!)

Here’s the e-mail I got from my Island-Living Sister:

My recipe for clam chowder -

Bring enough shovels! Dig clams! (Butter and/or Horse clams) Remove from shells, leaving the empties on the beach. Clean, making sure to slice the neck in half lengthwise down both valves to rinse it all out, keeping what liquid there is from the clams and grind! (You will not have all the liquor from the clams when you clean them on the beach.) Set aside.

I do it all in one big pot so you get the bacon stuck-on bits to later end up in the chowder.

Brown bacon, lots, remove to a paper towel to drain

Onion, chopped, added to the bacon grease until tender, remove to drain if you like

3 or 4 potatoes, diced to the size you want to eat. Put in the large pot. Add back in the onions if you took them out. Add your clam liquor if you have any. Cover with enough water to cover potatoes and onions. Bring to a boil until potatoes are almost done.

Add clams, 2 cups or more, or a couple of cans if you can’t dig your own clams!

Add 2 cans evaporated milk, or more if making quite a lot

Salt and pepper

Heat to almost a boil, and it should be done.

I, GRETCHEN, HAVE ONE CAVEAT TO ADD: IF YOU ARE CLEANING YOUR OWN CLAMS, YOU MUST HAVE A STRONG STOMACH! The smell is rather strong…and it’s all a little overwhelmingly beachy!! BUT…it does NOT taste like the beach at all. It’s marvelous!!!!!!!

MANY THANKS TO MY SISTER FOR ALL HER HARD CLEANING AND GRINDING AND COOKING WORK SO THAT WE COULD ALL ENJOY SUCH A WONDERFUL MEAL!!!!!!!!!!! My brother-in-law made fresh bread for us, too, which was also fantastic! I just wish I’d taken a picture of the finished product. I was so excited to eat that it never occurred to me!!!

PS – Be careful if you are ever clamming and/or oystering (is that a word?!) to check first on something called Red Tide, a potential lethal algae bloom in the water that effects shellfish and the people who eat them! Sadly, my nephew’s wedding this coming weekend was supposed to include 400 oysters…but, due to Red Tide, will include zero. So sad!!!

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22 Responses to “The Beaches of San Juan County – Part 1”

  1. Minnesota Prairie Roots August 20, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    Thanks for the educational post. I know nothing about beaches, rocky or sandy, so I learned a lot. This must have been like being on a treasure hunt. What fun for kids, and adults. Enjoy your nephew’s wedding.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell August 20, 2013 at 8:32 am #

      I’m glad you enjoyed it and yes, it is like a treasure hunt – that’s a great way to describe it!

  2. treadlemusic August 20, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    Last weekend we smoked fresh (flown in) oysters. Awesome!!! Wish we could have gotten them your way!!

  3. Kathleen Mickelson (@kcmickelson) August 20, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    I loved all those photos and the commentary that told me what I was looking at! When we visited northern California with my daughter several years ago, she loved digging up whatever was there, looking at all the shells, tidepools, rocks, etc. I think that’s one reason she ended up in a marine biology class during her senior year of high school and got her first real job at Sea Life at the Mall of America! Rocky beaches are awesome.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell August 20, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

      Oh, how fun that she got a job to match her interests! That doesn’t happen every day. Yes, sandy beaches are rather boring by comparison, I’ve always felt.

  4. thewritesteph.com August 20, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Clamming in the northwest is now on my bucket list! Do you know that I’ve never been to a rocky beach? The only ones I know have soft, white sand. It takes us about 6-8 hours to drive down to the Gulf of Mexico, one of our favorite places in the world.

    We’ve already been to the beach this summer, so we can’t take another trip. But today’s Google Earth destination? Pacific Northwest!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell August 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

      Excellent! I’m so glad to have inspired that virtual visit! There’s so much more to see on a rocky beach than on a sandy one. I have very little patience for sun-bathing types of beaches!

      • thewritesteph.com August 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

        We don’t sun-bathe, either. My husband, dd, and I are always in the water, trying to catch waves on the boogie boards. :-)

        We also like to snorkel and look for crabs and shells.
        :-)

        • Gretchen O'Donnell August 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

          I am a dismal swimmer, so I have never snorkeled – it sounds so fun!

  5. Hotly Spiced August 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    That’s a shame about the oysters for your nephew’s wedding. I’m sure you must have loved holidaying at the beach after being in Minnesota where you’re not on the coast. I love all the different shells you showed but I have to say, I do like a bit of golden sand where I can place my towel for a lie down! xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell August 20, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

      I know – so sad to have this great plan, work towards it…and then have it fail. But yes, it’s wonderful to be on the beach – you are lucky living so close to the shore! I do agree that sandy beaches have their place – you’re right for sure. I am not a fan of huge crowds, though, and sandy beaches in hot places tend to have crowds…

  6. Dennis September 30, 2013 at 12:52 am #

    Interesting place and nice nature! Like the photos. Greetings from germany.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 30, 2013 at 9:18 am #

      Thanks so much for stopping by! I lived in Germany myself for two years. Loved it!

      • Dennis September 30, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

        Wow that is cool! I am happy that you liked it. Where exactly have you been in germany?

        • Gretchen O'Donnell September 30, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

          I lived in Berlin – though at the time it was West Berlin! I was there from 1986-1988. My parents were still there when the wall came down and I got to visit them a month later as well as a year later when they moved. Went back 2.5 years ago with my husband – so much has changed! It was amazing and wonderful to see. I visited Frankfurt and somewhere close to Munich, though I can’t remember the exact city, but the majority of my time was in Berlin. Did drive through the country to the Netherlands once. My husband travels there 5 or 6 times a year for work and he loves it – he’s usually in Munich or Cologne, but has also been in Frankfurt and Hamburg.

        • Dennis September 30, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

          Interesting Gretchen. Looks like you and your family have seen a lot of germany. You mentioned some great spots :)

        • Gretchen O'Donnell September 30, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

          It’s a lovely country!

        • Gretchen O'Donnell September 30, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

          Oh, and are you near Kiel? My aunt and uncle lived there for a year during the time we were in Berlin, but I never was able to visit them because of school schedules. My uncle taught at a university there I think…or did research or something…

  7. Dennis October 1, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Yes, Kiel is not too far away from Lübeck where I live. It´s round about one hour with the car. I have worked in kiel 7 years ago too but only for a short period. I worked in a laboratory there and had a small office where I translated red flags from german to english as there were also some international workers who couldn´t read german. While some of the symbols of the signs were maybe international known, they wanted to ensure anyway that everybody would be able to understand the additional text message which they initially printed in german.

    It was a fun job and taught me some more english vocabulary as I constantly had to use a translation website. :D My english is not perfect and it was even worse 7 years ago. But it was enough to translate the things and if not, then the translation website was a great help.

    Sadly it was a temporary job as they just looked for a person with acceptable english skills, to translate a particular amount of those red flag signs. The job was done when I translated and printed all of them. Later I got a job in my hometown Lübeck. Saved me at least one or two hours in the morning :D

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