Tag Archives: Orcas Island Washington

The Beaches of San Juan County – Part 2

27 Aug
The Deer Harbor Marina.

The Deer Harbor Marina.

The second San Juan County beach I’m featuring is at the Deer Harbor Marina on Orcas Island. The kids and I went there with a friend of mine who still lives on the island (and who will feature in an upcoming post) when she suggested that we might enjoy visiting there. It isn’t all that far from the beach in my last post, but it is hugely different in feel – which you’ll notice from the very first photo! This is a public beach (there are very few on Orcas) and actually, land-owners own beach rights only to the high-tide mark – below that all beaches are open to the public.

So…I give you a sandy/muddy beach – entirely different from the stony, broken-shelled beach where we clammed. No clam chowder recipes this week, but this is definitely a recipe for having a great time on the beach!!

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Love this.  Sand and mud - excellent at massaging one's feet!

Love this. Sand and mud – excellent at massaging one’s feet!

NOT the same beach as the one we clammed at - totally, 100% different.  From a beach that would chop your feet up to a beach that, while slightly slimy, is soft and mushy!!

NOT the same beach as the one we clammed at – totally, 100% different. From a beach that would chop your feet up to a beach that, while slightly slimy, is soft and mushy!!

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At first I thought these were seagull tracks...but they were so large...and then I saw a heron...and figured they must be from him.

At first I thought these were seagull tracks…but they were so large…and then I saw a heron…and figured they must be from him.

Great Blue Heron - he flew about 15 feet away and then landed again.

Great Blue Heron – he flew about 15 feet away and then landed again.

Boo had fun playing by herself while her siblings took a walk further down the shore.

Boo had fun playing by herself while her siblings took a walk further down the shore.

Barnacles and mussels.  You can eat the mussels, but they're pretty tiny.

Barnacles and mussels. You can eat the mussels, but they’re pretty tiny.

A very old oyster, still stuck on the rock - isn't it cool?

A very old oyster, still stuck on the rock – isn’t it cool?

Another Hairy Chiton - I found 3 or 4 on this beach - so cool!

Another Hairy Chiton – I found 3 or 4 on this beach – so cool!

I adore tide pools!  So many wonderful things to find therein!!

I adore tide pools! So many wonderful things to find therein!!

The marina at low tide.

The marina at low tide.

I posted this picture last week, but I really love it and this is the beach where I took the photo.

I posted this picture last week, but I really love it and this is the beach where I took the photo.

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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!!!

Orcas Island Photos!

13 Aug

I’ve got a lot of photos for you today. These are mostly water-related pictures, taken on or around Orcas Island, Washington, where I grew up. We spent about two weeks there in July. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy!

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Just around the corner from the ferry dock on Orcas.  I've always loved this view.

Just around the corner from the ferry dock on Orcas. I’ve always loved this view.

I love sail boats.

I love sail boats.

Mt. Baker, taken from North Beach.  This was the view from our living room when I was growing up.

Mt. Baker, taken from North Beach. This was the view from our living room when I was growing up.

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Low Tide.

Low Tide.

Mt. Baker and part of the Cascade Mountains, as taken from the ferry boat en route to Anacortes...and back to reality after two weeks of a wonderful vacation.

Mt. Baker and part of the Cascade Mountains, as taken from the ferry boat en route to Anacortes…and back to reality after two weeks of a wonderful vacation.

Camping on the Beach: Part One

25 Jul

Oy, Vey! For the first time in over a year I haven’t posted something on Tuesday morning! Well, maybe Tuesday evening still counts – ’cause it’s still Tuesday here on the West Coast, even if it isn’t still Tuesday back home in Minnesota! I’m back on Orcas Island, Washington – partly for “work” this time…more about that in the future! For now, I give you some Orcas Island memories…

Some of my favorite summertime memories are of sleeping on the beach with my friend, K. We did this twice that I remember, though I’m not sure why we didn’t do it more often. I suppose because it required a great deal of planning ahead, checking on the weather, packing, hiking, and, of course, parental cooperation.

It also took a huge amount of time because we had to lug everything – sleeping bags, pillows, food, cooking utensils, matches, toilet paper, towels, and whatever else a couple of 13 year olds deemed necessary – ten minutes down the road from my house, and then another ten minutes back up the shore to our beach, directly below my house, but inaccessible from the house due to the 90 foot cliff that was in the way.

I say ten minutes, but really, when lugging armfuls of stuff, it took longer, we walked slower. Plus, walking along the beach was slower going than walking along the road because of the stones and rocks and boulders in the way, so, really, one round-trip journey probably took an hour, start to finish (loading up, unloading, resting) so that by the time we took three round-trips, half the afternoon was already gone.

So, yes, it was a big deal just getting our stuff down there. But it was worth it.

The view from a little further west past our beach. Our view of Mt. Baker was more head-on. This is taken from North Beach, Eastsound, WA.


Once we had set up camp – which included finding the perfect place amongst the stones to sleep (we never used mattresses), building a firepit, stocking our “bathroom” (behind some huge rocks) and making sure that everything was well clear of the high-tide mark – we could then play. Depending on the height of the tide at the time, this would include climbing on rocks, wading in the water, investigating tide pools, popping the Bull Kelp heads, and doing anything else that occurred to us as we enjoyed our freedom. We never lacked for things to do at the beach.

In case you’re wondering at our parents allowing a couple of young girls to sleep on the beach alone, let me explain something. Our beach was basically private, as were all of our neighbor’s beaches. If one owns waterfront land on Orcas Island, Washington, they own it down to the low tide mark. So, the beach was ours and the only other people who might possibly venture down there were just our neighbors, crossing over to their own land, but as they were mostly retired people who never went to the beach, that never happened. My mom or dad would always call down the cliff to us at bedtime, checking in with us, ensuring that we were well and truly fine. They might have peeked at us at other times in the evening or night, I don’t know, but there was nowhere else that we wanted to be, and we were tired after a long day of setting up camp. Sleep came easy.

To further isolate us, there were promontories at either end of the neighborhood’s beaches, impossible to get around except by boat, of course. So, really, we were quite safe. Just the sea otters and crabs came to visit.

It turns out, actually, that we were the interlopers on our beach. Unwittingly, we had built our bathroom in the sea otter’s playground. We woke up during the night to strange sounds. Squeaks and splashes and a weird sandpapery rubbing which was, we discovered, the sound of the otter’s bodies sliding down our bathroom walls. Or, should I say more accurately, their playground equipment: the gigantic boulders that marked the edge of our property.

We watched in the moonlight as they repeatedly slid down the natural curve of the rock into the water, swam up through the murky depths, and climbed back up the rocks to do it again. Time after time, with no breaks, they repeated this wonderful circle of amusement. Almost we could understand their excited chattering as if they spoke; surely we could understand their love for their sport.

When we woke in the morning it was as if we’d dreamed it.

My sister, circa the time of my sleeping on the beach years, throwing a rock into the water so that I’d get splashed. Ah, the joy of big sisters.


One of the mornings we awoke to voices floating across the water. A fishing boat was idling not far off shore, its occupants peering at us over the bows. We scowled at them and, apparently, we looked fierce enough for them to chug away, much to our relief, as we had, inexplicably, changed into nightgowns for our repose.

What were we thinking?

The second time we slept on the beach we slept in our clothes.

Yes, we were naïve.

And that was okay.

On Thursday: Camping on the Beach, Part Two.

The Gnome House

27 Mar

The Gnome House, Deer Harbor, Orcas Island, Washington.

In case I haven’t mentioned it often enough, I live in Minnesota. My parents and sisters, however, live in Washington State. It’s a total drag being so far away.

When we had very small children, I suffered some serious parental-location jealousy pangs when my friends would talk about going to Grandma’s for Sunday lunch, or spending the weekend at Mom and Dad’s or, worst of all, dropping the kids off at Grandma’s while they went out with their husbands for dinner or even for a WHOLE NIGHT!!!

Yes, I was jealous. Still am sometimes.

There were lots of games in a cupboard and even some movies and books.

But then along came the holidays. My friends would talk about having two Thanksgiving meals in one day. About 6 Christmas celebrations, about having to drive here, there, and everywhere just to make all the relatives happy.

And suddenly living hundreds of miles away from my family didn’t seem so bad any more.

At least, that’s the silver lining I chose to find in it all.

Outside the front window.

We do our best to get out to the Pacific Northwest as often as possible. Or we meet half-way at my Aunt and Uncle’s in Colorado for reunions (thanks, Aunt Sandy!). Strangely, no one seems to want to come to the prairies of Minnesota. Go figure.

This looks like a wood carving, doesn't it? But actually it is a pine cone we found out back - I have never seen one like this - don't even know what kind of tree it's from, but it's so cool!

You might think that when we went out to Washington over Christmas that I spent every possible minute with my family…and you’d be mostly right. HOWEVER…I also took advantage of “dropping off the kids” for a night or two…after all, when I can never do that, do you blame me?

So many little fun things inside the house.

So, as I posted about in January, my husband and I went to Vancouver, B.C. for two nights, but we also spent another night sans children when we were on Orcas Island. We stayed at a quaint, marvelous, cozy, fun, picturesque, fabulous little cabin called The Gnome House. With a name like that, how could I resist?

We took the kids with us the first night, because we knew they’d love it, too.

No matter how you feel about plaster Gnomes...this house is wonderful!

The Gnome House is located in Deer Harbor, Orcas Island, Washington. It is owned by long-time islanders and it has marvelous off-season rates! It has a woodstove but also electric heat – so it’s cozy, no matter what. It has a small kitchen with basic pans and such, a hot tub, two beds – both double, and comes with a beautiful drive around Orcas Island just to get you there.

It is so worth the stay and I’d totally go again – and recommend it as well! (There is a two-night minimum…though two nights is, of course, not enough!!)

I’ll let the pictures tell most of the story…

My sister and my kiddos - upstairs in the Gnome House.

The view down from the balcony.

The stairs and kitchen - where my husband made us a marvelous dinner of salmon and noodly stuff with mushrooms and bacon...yum!

A close-up of the log supporting the stairs - true island driftwood.

The kiddos - peeking out from their bedroom.

It's good to be small. Our youngest slept on the slelf...and LOVED IT...and the other two slept on the mattress which IS the whole room in their room just off the stairs...and I'm not sure why I didn't remove the wadded up sheets...sorry!

More wadded up sheets. Oops. But the wall is wonderful!!

Fun little touches everywhere - the top of the stairs; the second bedroom.

Everywhere you look...funness.

The window above the double bed.

The double bed upstairs.

Yes, there's a hot tub behind the house. But, of course, that's not what you noticed at first when you saw this picture, is it? We called this the Lord of the Rings gazebo. Not sure any other name is possible.

It's pretty cool. Upside down trees...in case you were wondering.

The side of the Lord of the Rings gazebo. Yes. We played LOTR inside of it.

The roof from the inside. Very, very neat-o.

So...ready to book a vacation?

http://www.orcas-island-rentals.com/gnome-house.htm

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