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By Hans Tammemagi
For Travel Writers Tales

Driving south from Vancouver, I was soon across the US border and exploring the northwest corner of Washington state-rich in natural beauty and a foodie's 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.

Wildflowers and Semiahmoo Resort tank

Next morning, under a cobalt-blue sky I joined a bird-watching group. Led by Paul Woodcock, a passionate birder and three-time president of the North Cascades Audubon Society , we set off along a shoreline teeming with herons, gulls, and eagles. "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.

Making peanut brittle - C Shop

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 forty years. Shelves groaned under mounds of candies and baked goodies - and a large batch of peanut brittle was in the making. With the rich, still-warm caramel sticking to my teeth, I thought I was in heaven.

Glacier - Mount Baker

I was drawn, lemming-like to Mount Baker, a constant sentinel on the skyline. Ranger Magenta took me in tow and we drove high up to the Heliotrope Trailhead. As we headed out in driving rain Magenta rolled her eyes at my shorts and a sopping-wet camping hat, in contrast to the svelte, younger, Goretex-clad hikers sharing the trail. The mountain stillness was broken by water cascading down from the melting glaciers, and crossing streams was something of an adventure. We hiked upwards into the snowline. On the steeper pitches we kicked steps to avoid a long sliding tumble. When we reached 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 drama. High above us, climbers headed for the summit.

Charcuterie Platters - Pierside Kitchen

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 too, 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.

IF YOU GO For more information:

" Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism:
" Semiahmoo Resort, Blaine, WA. Close to Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria. Spa, two 18-hole golf courses, meeting facilities, swimming pool, indoor and outdoor tennis courts.
" Via Birch Bay Café and Bistro, right on the water, great seafood, great service.
" The C Shop, Birch Bay:
" Kayaking:

PHOTOS by Hans Tammemagi

1. Charcuterie Platters - Pierside Kitchen
2. Glacier - Mount Baker
3. Making peanut brittle - C Shop
4. Seals
5. Wildflowers and Semiahmoo Resort tank

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