Archive for the 'Pacific Northwest' Category

Vancouver Westin

January 03rd, 2009 | Category: Pacific Northwest,Travel

I’m working in British Columbia, a few days in Vancouver and more time in the Courtenay valley of Vancouver Island (which has nothing to do with Vancouver the city).  Here are some shots from my hotel room in Vancouver.  It’s pretty nice here, even in the winter (cold, but scenic).

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More pacific northwest animals

November 26th, 2008 | Category: animals,Pacific Northwest,Travel

Here are some animals I saw in the strait of Juan de Fuca lately:

This is a long-tailed duck, which is a specialized “sea duck.”

That’s Mount Baker in the background.

There are more images at

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Ferries are the glue

November 25th, 2008 | Category: animals,Pacific Northwest,Travel

Ferries are a unique aspect of life in the northwest corner of the northwest. Two hours north of Seattle and a little westward, it’s all islands. Between Everett – a larger city on the mainland coast of the Puget sound – and Vancouver Island (which does not contain the city of Vancouver, strangely) – lie the San Juan Islands. If you’re on the Canadian side, it’s called British Columbia, but the geography is the same. Beautiful, mountainous islands with wealthy people living on them. Wihout regard to status are the other residents: eagles, hawks, loons, otters, sea lions, and in the deep water, whales and porpoises (in this region, deep water can be six feet from shore). There are few bridges; ferries carry the lifeblood of the region, are the glue that holds it together and unifies it. I know I’ve arrived when i board one of these.

If the weather is good, you get fantastic views from the ferries, specially at sunrise and sunset.

You’ll know envy when you see houses like this one:

Maybe you’ll see a rainbow over the shadowy Olympic peninsula, which often wears a mysterious fog veil…

And you’ll definitely witness spectacular sunsets.

I know this sounds like a ferry advertisement, but you haven’t truly experienced the region if you haven’t spent time on ferries.  there is a comforting feeling leaving your car, being whipped by the bitter northwest wind, and then entering the spacious interior with its rumbling warmth an enormous windows.  Get a cup of hot chocolate and watch the view roll by through the enormous windows, and people watch too.

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Whale watching

November 24th, 2008 | Category: animals,Pacific Northwest,Travel

Every time I come to the San Juans I look for whales. Sometimes its as easy as waiting on the shoreline n a good place (Lime Kiln park on San Juan Island is a good place) but usually it’s better to go on a boat. As of late, I’ve grown a little weary of the scene, as it’s so crowded. In the summer, when most tourists are there, you can be part of a fleet of boats pursuing the whales, and it feels spoiled. But in the fall or winter months, almost nobody does this, and the experience is quite different. Much more peaceful, probably less stressful on the animals and a lot more fun. Usually I see orcas, minke whales, and Dall’s porpoises. This time we didn’t see any orcas. Oh well.

We used Jim Maya’s service, because he came highly recommended as a personable, knowledgeable, and customized whale-watching provider. All of this proved true.

The sun cast a gray light over oily calm waters, the air temperature just right for crisping apples. For half an hour we cast about, finding only the enjoyment of being on a boat with the Olympic peninsula looming indistinctly in the distance like a reminder of unreachable greatness. Every so often we’d cut the engines and stand on deck scanning the water for anything unusual, any telltale signs of activity below the surface. Twenty minutes of nothingness, and my mind began to wander. Threads of ideas – memories of embarrassments years old, people whose names have been forgotten, minor debts owed – and I idly considered things like “I wonder how deep the water is here, and man, it will be stressful to return to work.”

A shotgun blast churned the water beneath the bow into a foaming crown.

J.C. on a popsicle stick! What the hell was that? Okay, maybe it was not a shotgun blast, more like a bowling ball dropped into the water from a height of 3 meters. I pointed to the disturbed water 1 foot away from the bow. “It’s right here!” I called out, realizing the pointlessness of trying to explain what “it” was, since I had no idea. Jim started the engines and eased the boat around in a slow but tight turn. He didn’t look alarmed.

I’ve seen plenty of whales, but they usually show up with plenty of warning, and from a distance. What was this thing? It happened again, but this time I had my camera ready:

Finally, the cause revealed itself more fully, but only while we were under way and at a good clip:

Dall’s porpoises! They are common in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but this was unusual because there were so many, so close, and for so long! The water boiled with these animals, which look like little orcas. They move very rapidly and erratically. They seemed to be about five feet long, and in a group of perhaps 10-15.

All day long, while we looked for larger animals, these porpoises played in our bow wave. As soon as we slowed down or stopped, they abandoned us.

And let’s not forget the true whale we found, or should I say whales. We think there were two or three individual minke whales, but we’re not sure. They can be distinguished by the placement of their dorsal fin, which is oddly close to the tail. They gracefully arch out of the water, only their backs showing:

Finally, here is a picture of me, sitting on the bow of the boat holding my big glass, sneering at the camera (it was cold, and my glasses were sliding off of my face):

Holly also captured some great images and video from this whale-watching day.


In the Pacific Northwest

November 24th, 2008 | Category: Pacific Northwest

Work has taken me to the San Juan Islands, in the very north-western corner of the country. I love this area; it has a fantastic coincidence of sea, mountains, and wildlife that makes it a rare pleasure. When flying over it, is is sensuous; when walking through it, it is rapturous; when sailing through it, it is divine, and when diving under it it is fascinating. I’ll post images of each of these things, but for now, here’s a start:

I arrived at night…

Fir trees - iconic of the northwest

But awoke to the spectacle of Mount Baker.

... but I awoke to this.

Mount Baker dominates the scenery in the region, as does the Olympic range to the west:

With features like this around, you usually know where you are to some extent, as long as it’s not foggy, or you’re not in a canyon – two things that happen regularly if you travel enough here.

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