Salmon and eagles and bears, oh my!

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Photo by Deborah Stone Petunia and her 2-year-old cub in search of a salmon snack.
As we rounded the bend, we saw them. A mother grizzly bear and her cub were combing the banks of the river looking for their next snack. Mama saw us and flicked her ears to let us know she was on to our game, but then she pointedly ignored us and continued her search with her young’un dutifully following behind.

I gazed at these majestic creatures in an awe-filled silence, drinking in every detail of this memorable, stirring moment.

"That’s Petunia and her 2-year-old son," Gary said later after the bears had left the area. "They’ve both got those same exact halos around their necks."

Meet Gary Zorn, the Cariboo Mountains "Bear Whisperer," a man who has devoted his life to studying the social hierarchy, habits and body language of these creatures, while communing with them in their natural habitat.

Gary and his wife Peggy own and operate Ecotours-BC, a Canadian adventure tour company specializing in offering unique and intimate experiences for guests interested in viewing wildlife and learning about the natural history of an unspoiled wilderness.

The Zorns were in the ecotourism business long before "green" became a buzz word in the industry.

"We’ve been preserving the environment and showing it to folks for over 30 years now," explains Peggy. "And that’s what ecotourism is really all about. It’s about providing opportunities for people to interact with nature, while educating them about their environment."

The Zorns operate their business out of Likely, British Columbia, a tiny hamlet deep in the heart of the Cariboo Mountains region, approximately three hours from the province’s northern capitol, Prince George.

The area is located within a rare, temperate interior rain forest. It’s a region of dramatic scenic beauty, dominated by high mountain peaks and glaciers, densely forested valleys, thundering waterfalls, and picturesque lakes, including Quesnel Lake, the deepest fjord lake in the world. This diverse landscape provides habitat for hundreds of species of birds and animals, including one of the largest concentrations of mountain grizzlies in North America.

Most of the Zorn’s guests come to this remote piece of paradise to see the wildlife, but according to Peggy, they leave with so much more.

She says, "They usually go away with a greater appreciation and respect for this special environment and all that it offers, as well as an understanding of how important it is to preserve it for the future."

The bears, of course, are the star attraction. And Gary, your guide extraordinaire, will do his utmost to ensure that you have an unforgettable encounter with these impressive creatures. He’ll introduce you to the Cariboo Mountain grizzlies in their wild, natural habitat, out on the Mitchell River.

The grizzly bear is one of the largest predatory and most solitary animals on the planet. Characterized by its razor sharp claws, tell-tale hump over the shoulder and dished nose, this creature is regarded as the signature species of the Canadian wilderness.

On an Ecotours-BC bear viewing adventure, you’ll rise before dawn, eat one of Peggy’s hearty breakfasts and then take a prop boat down to the north arm of Quesnel Lake.

There you’ll transfer to a jet boat and head toward Mitchell River, where the bears congregate to feast on salmon.

Each year, the salmon return to the area to spawn and the bears are there ready and waiting. They gorge themselves on the fish in preparation for their winter hibernation. This event provides exceptional bear watching and photography opportunities for visitors, who come from all over the globe to catch sight of this natural phenomenon.

They also get an added bonus, as along with the grizzlies, the river is lined with bald and golden eagles, feeding on the salmon carcasses. It’s quite a show and truly an adventure of a lifetime. There’s nothing that can prepare you for seeing bears up close in the wild.

Grizzlies, in particular, have a larger-than-life presence that renders viewers speechless. This is a good thing, as one of the cardinal rules of wildlife viewing is silence. It’s imperative when you see the bears that you remain quiet in order not to startle or agitate them. This rule also applies to when you’re moving along the river.

Gary, in full wader regalia, basically walks the boat through the water, as it is the only way to come upon the bears without them being aware of your presence ahead of time.

Voices and motor noises would scare them off long before you had the chance to see them.

Early on in my trip, we spied several bears from a distance, but by the time we got to them, they had already left the area.

Hours went by without another spotting and I began to despair that I would ever see a grizzly up close. Gary needed to remind me that patience is another rule of wildlife viewing.

He said, "You need to remember that these are wild animals, roaming freely in their natural habitat. They don’t show themselves simply for your entertainment. They don’t just appear on command. You have to be patient and persistent and then maybe you’ll be rewarded. But, there are no guarantees."

I heeded his words and decided to just lie back in the boat and bask in the peace and tranquility of my surroundings. I told myself to slow down and enjoy the experience of being in the present, without thinking about goals and must dos.

While we waited, I watched proud eagles soar overhead and took the time to listen to Mother Nature’s conversation. I also observed my guide and took cues from his calm, yet constantly aware behavior.

As someone who has lived in the great outdoors for most of his life, Gary has developed acute senses. He sees and hears things that others don’t because they’re not attuned to the rhythms of the wilderness.

"Listen and watch closely," he says. "There’s always a story that’s being told. Hear the birds screeching, look at the way the fish move in the water and take note of your surroundings. Look for things that might be out of place."

Gary emphasizes the need to understand an animal’s habits and its behavior patterns in order to become a proficient wildlife observer, but he stresses that this type of knowledge only comes with experience. He adds, "You can read all the books in the world, but experience is truly the best teacher."

After spending years in this environment, Gary knows most of the bears in the area intimately from their unique habits, temperaments, family units and colorings. He has given names to many of them: Albert, the elder statesman, twins Homer and Jethro, Sad Little Bear, Happy Little Bear, Elmo, Grouchy One, and of course, Petunia, the featured star of my experience. While amongst the bears, he tries to think like them. And when he talks to them, which he often does, he speaks softly in a monotone voice, often inserting his own special brand of humor into his comments: "Hey, bear, how’s the fishin’?" he might ask. Yet, he can convey a stern command when necessary, saying "Enough bear, back off now," if the animal is getting too close for comfort.

In all his years, Gary has never been attacked by a bear. He maintains a constant and vigilant respect for these massive and powerful creatures and his most often repeated advice when encountering a bear is: "Grizzly bears are wild animals. Remain calm. Never run from a bear."

When you’re not out viewing the bears, you might be engaged in other activities with the Zorns, such as hiking amid the alpine, trekking through ancient old growth forests, birding in the wetlands or taking an interpretive history tour of the Gold Rush Trail.

Guests stay at Pyna-tee-ah, the couple’s comfortable lodge in Likely. It’s an inviting, homey place, complete with a friendly resident dog, Trouble, and two charming cats, Whiskers and Callie. You’ll find Peggy presiding over the kitchen, where she prepares delicious, healthy meals to satisfy appetites of any size and type. It’s here that the guests usually congregate before dinner to sip some wine, compare their experiences and hear Gary tell his engaging and often humorous bear stories. The man has a wealth of knowledge about flora and fauna, and the natural history of the area. And he takes great joy in sharing it with others.

After dinner, folks move into the spacious front room to continue their conversations in front of the cozy fireplace or to peruse the Zorn’s collection of quality photos, books and articles about wildlife and local points of interest.

Peggy and Gary are gracious and hospitable innkeepers, who sincerely enjoy being hosts.

"What I like most about doing this are the people," comments Peggy. "We get folks, of all ages and backgrounds, from all over the world. They have such interesting stories to tell. And it’s fascinating to hear their reasons for wanting to get back to nature."

The Zorns have created more than just opportunities to discover and connect with nature. They have set the stage for renewal and rejuvenation.

"We believe that this environment can refresh your soul and cleanse your inner spirit," says Peggy. "It has the power to enlighten and redefine one’s inner self. And it can have a profound and lasting impact, as it can change the way people view the world around them."



Borscht, bone china and memories to last a lifetime

  • Written by Deborah Stone

   Imagine hearing the following comments made from a pair of adolescents while on a family vacation abroad: "The Hermitage has one of the most incredible collections of old master painters I've ever seen!" "It's understandable why a revolution occurred in Russia after seeing these ornate palaces and wasteful displays of wealth." "This borscht is not to my liking, but it was interesting to try it." "There is a real attempt to preserve the old architecture in Europe and it's fascinating to see buildings that date back to the 1100s." "In quite a few European countries, the monarchy still exists. It's amazing to see this tradition in practice today."
   Now, hear reality: "The catsup's really watery here and it tastes funny." "Things take forever to get done here!" "Those guys must be dying in those hot uniforms and shaggy hats and stuff!" "Chips are crisps and fries are chips Ñ weird!" "These old buildings really smell inside! Haven't they heard of air freshener?" "Open-faced sandwiches are a pain to eat." "Their money weighs a ton!" "This ice cream really rocks!" "Look at all the McDonald's everywhere. They're even selling hotdogs at that one!" "Beet soup, yuck!"
   Yes, out of the mouths of my babes came those precious gems on a recent family trip, combining a cruise of Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland), Russia (St. Petersburg) and Estonia with a stay in London. Traveling abroad with children (in this case, 12- and 14-year-old boys) is a unique experience that guarantees much laughter and a host of new insights that will constantly amaze you. It is a wonderful opportunity to open eyes, elicit an appreciation of cultural differences and provide multiple chances for kids to be put in situations outside of their normal comfort zones.
   A cruise is a delightful way to travel through parts of Europe, particularly for families with children. The ease of transportation from port to port, the ability to eliminate the hassles of changing accommodations from one city to the next and the opportunities for relaxation on board a ship make travel abroad in this manner relatively easy and extremely enjoyable for all ages.
   For Scandinavia, the cruise experience is especially wonderful due to the many islands, fjords and breathtaking scenery available only to those traveling by sea. Our ship, Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas, the newest of this cruise line's fleet, was stunning in its design and interiors and came equipped with a host of cushy amenities and recreational opportunities for all ages. There were over 250 kids on board (from all over the world) for our sailing in early August, and several cruise directors were available to plan a multitude of activities for tots to teens. On sea days, my kids were off on their own, either participating in programmed activities with other kids, or doing their own thing, independent of a group. My husband and I read on deck, took a dip in one of the many pools, luxuriated in a spa treatment (I highly recommend the hot stone massage!), spent time planning our itinerary for the next port, took in the excitement of an art auction, worked out in the state-of-the art exercise facility or simply enjoyed each other's company, free of interruptions.
   When the ship docked in port, we went off to explore the area on our own as a family (with the exception of St. Petersburg, where we purchased organized tours with English-speaking guides to help facilitate our way around the sights). Guidebook in hand, we set out to hit various highlights, keeping in mind our kids' interests, along with our own. We toured our share of historic castles, palaces, cathedrals and museums, but also took picturesque canal boat rides, perused shops and sat in outdoor cafes sampling local specialties, while doing what we enjoyed most Ñ people watching.
   Balancing the tour element with the more simple pleasures of imbibing the senses is important when traveling with children. Trying to see every museum and historical structure is an unrealistic goal and will often lead to a general melt down, which, trust me, can get very ugly! I think this holds true with adults, too, because after a while, sights begin to blur and the whole experience tends to be overwhelming and increasingly difficult to digest. Our kids loved pointing out interesting and often humorous differences in cultures, as well as noting similarities while strolling through the streets and narrow passageways of the towns we explored.
   And eating was a definite highlight for them! They were open to trying new foods and discovered what they liked (chicken Kiev, wiener schnitzel, citrus flavored licorice, every kind of gelato and "real" Danish pastries) and what they disliked (borscht, salted licorice, water with gas, herring and heavily piled open-faced sandwiches with, as my youngest said, "all sorts of nasty stuff!"). They took pride in mastering the challenges of learning to use different currencies, reading maps and negotiating a variety of transportation systems, from trolleys and trains to buses and the Tube (London's underground system). Realizing that it was OK to make mistakes, get lost or misunderstand people, made them relax in their new surroundings and gave them confidence to take certain risks. They tried to learn some expressions in each language they encountered, even if it was just a simple greeting, and were delighted when they could use these new words successfully.
   As we went from port to port, they became more astute at noticing ways of life and customs of each place. They were able to articulate how healthy, wealthy and clean many of the Scandinavian countries appeared in comparison to the depressed states of Russia and Estonia. One of my sons noted how "gray" it seemed in the latter two countries and how hard life must be for the people. He said, "You can see it in their faces, Mom."
   They heard firsthand stories from people about the poverty and economic struggles in these places, but more importantly, they saw with their own eyes evidence of these problems. Not once, but many times, did my kids mention how lucky they were to be living in the U.S. They acquired a newfound appreciation for the opportunities afforded to them, simply by being Americans.
   At the end of each day in port we returned to the haven of the ship where each of us could digest our experiences in whatever way we desired. We knew the children were safely on board and free to roam about the ship with their newly made friends and the only decision we had to make was what to order for dinner that night! At the end of the cruise, we were fortunate to be able to spend several days exploring London, which is a particularly wonderful city to experience with children. So many of the city's landmarks are famous and well known by most kids, so it's especially fun when they become reality to them. London is also a very accessible city to get around in and everything is well marked.
   Highlights for our family included visiting Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Parliament, the Tower of London, Wimbledon (just outside of London) and the Eye (London's gigantic ferris wheel built for the millennium), as well as taking in a performance of "The Lion King," riding a double-decker bus, cruising down the Thames, eating lots of fish and chips and partaking in the customary high tea event (picture two active boys at a table with bone china, pots of hot tea and a host of finger sandwiches in an elegant tea room. I say no more!).
   Our three week trip went by quickly, leaving us with a wealth of great memories to last us a lifetime. As a parent who believes in travel as an educational as well as recreational pursuit, I hope that each time my children leave home for a new destination, they become more flexible, adaptable and knowledgeable about the world in which they live.
   The learning outcomes may not be readily apparent after such travel, but over time, hopefully my kids can process what they experienced and see its lifelong value. I can only wish that years down the road my children will not only remember the watery catsup and beet soup, but the emotions they felt seeing Russian dancers performing traditional Cossack dances in one of St. Petersburg's oldest palaces or the eerie sight of ravens resting on the Towers of London, testimony to a tradition that has lasted hundreds and hundreds of years.
   More importantly, I hope they treasure the little moments, the laughter and the family camaraderie that made such an experience so special.

Mind, body, spirit renewal on a budget

  • Written by Deborah Stone

It was with much anticipation that I headed to The Oaks in Ojai, Calif., a fitness and health spa, where I hoped to find rejuvenation, relaxation and renewed energy. Located 90 minutes from sprawling, urban L.A., the town of Ojai is one of the best kept secrets in California. The enchanting Ojai Valley is a mythical Shangri La, with its jagged mountain peaks, its tranquil creeks and streams and its groves of orange, lemon and avocado trees, which intoxicate the air with their heavenly scent.
   In this charming small town of 8,000, an eclectic mix of writers, artists, philosophers and film stars make their homes, along with several spas, a world-class resort hotel, five of the nation's top private, college prep schools, the 276-acre International Center for Earth Concerns and outdoor clothing superstar Patagonia's flagship store and corporate headquarters.
   The Oaks has been a part of Ojai for 25 years and during its longevity, it has earned a reputation for being an affordable retreat for a healthy mind, body and spirit. Owner Sheila Cluff, a fitness expert pioneer, started The Oaks in 1977 because she wanted to provide an affordable alternative to beauty spas, pampering havens catering only to the wealthy, and to fat farms, which she saw were mainly militaristic boot camps that used exercise as punishment.
   Over the years The Oaks has become known as a value-oriented destination spa, appealing to a wide age range of individuals from many walks of life. It attracts those seeking R&R and those who want a jump-start to their fitness. The emphasis is on a three-part philosophy that includes nutrition, exercise and alleviation of stress in one's life. The latter focus appealed to me the most when I made my decision to check into The Oaks for a long weekend. I was looking for a place to unwind, but not necessarily to veg out, as physical activity energizes me and helps me clear my mind. I wanted to concentrate on both my body and mind and a fitness spa seemed like the ideal solution to meeting my needs.
   The affordability factor of The Oaks enticed me, as I had always assumed that such places were only for those living life-styles of the rich and famous. Rates at The Oaks start at a reasonable $155 per person per night (plus tax) and include room, all meals and snacks, fitness activities, evening programs and complete use of the facilities (swimming pool, sauna, steam room, hot tub, weight training and cardio equipment). These modest rates do not give you glitz and glamour, but rather comfort in an informal and friendly environment lacking of any pretense.
   Staff, many of who have been at The Oaks since its inception, are warm, helpful and attentive. After I checked in, I was given a welcome orientation, explaining the spa's programs and activities, and then taken on a tour of the property.
   The Oaks was once a 1920's hotel and vintage touches still remain today, but over the years renovations have occurred to update the place and reflect a California mission style. There is still more work to be done, as evidenced by the worn and out-of-date look to many of the furnishings. Plans include opening a new dining room and remodeling the lobby, library and treatment areas. The property has 46 guestrooms which range from basic standard twin doubles to deluxe spa suites containing Jacuzzi bathtubs, fountains and artwork created by members of Ojai's artist community.
   Guests gather around the pool, the courtyard, in the dining area or lobby to mingle when they are not otherwise engaged in classes, treatments or other activities. Following my orientation, I was eager to try several of the dozen or more fitness classes offered on the daily activity schedule. I noticed that there was a full range of classes for all fitness levels and that they could be categorized into one of three areas: stretch and range of motion, cardio or muscle strengthening/body conditioning.
   The staff at The Oaks encourages guests to take at least one class from each category per day.
   Over the course of a weekend, I managed to sample 10 different classes and take one very brisk three and a half mile walk through scenic Ojai.
   The focus at The Oaks is on foods that are low in fat, salt and sugar and high in protein and complex carbs, essential for the energy needed while exercising.
   Menus emphasize fresh seafood, poultry, fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, clear soups, with herbs, spices, lemon juice and nonfat sauces substituted for more caloric flavorings.
   Calorie counts are posted next to the menus each night for the next day. Guests can preorder additional items or make substitutions to the menu items, at no extra cost.

Experiencing the magic of Washington, D.C., with kids

  • Written by Deborah Stone
"Why do some presidents get their own monuments and not others?" "How does a draft work?" "Why did people let the Holocaust happen and not do anything to stop it?" "How come everyone thinks George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are such good men? They owned lots of slaves and never did anything to stop slavery." "What was the Korean War about?" "What is so bad about communism?"
   These difficult and often hard to answer questions bubbled forth from the mouths of my children at each stop along the way during our family's recent trip to the nation's capital. Everywhere we went, history confronted us, drew us in and caused us to think, question and puzzle over the events of the past.
   A trip to D.C. will have that effect on most people who take the time to explore the many fascinating facets of this city. It is an especially amazing journey for families to make together, and I was determined to make it with my family over spring break.
   Having been to D.C. several times before, I felt it my patriotic duty to show my husband and children the sights and let them experience the magic of this great city.
   It truly is an incredible place, with its splendid architecture, famous monuments, prestigious museums and impressive parks and waterways.
   D.C. has the ability to stimulate minds and stir up patriotic fervor within people. Children, in particular, are provided with many opportunities to have a total sensory connection with history. Those who have recently studied or are studying U.S. history and government in their schools will particularly find it to be a powerful experience because they are easily able to connect the words and images from their books to reality.
   Our trip made history come alive for my kids and awoke within them a deep interest, curiosity and appreciation for our country's past.
   Doing D.C. with kids, however, involves much planning and it is a trip that works best if the children are over 10, due to the complexities of the historical themes involved.
   In addition, there is much reading, concentrated listening, waiting in lines, walking from one place to another and patience involved in such an experience.
   My kids are 12 and 14, and in my opinion they were at good ages to take such a trip because they were able to process what they saw (through continued dialogue and discussion) and had the necessary stamina to last through each full day. The days were busy and we packed them to the max to get the most from our short time in this city.
   Pacing is the key for a successful experience with children because they can only handle so much at one time before their eyes glaze over and they become walking zombies. We made sure to take plenty of rest and refueling breaks along the way to keep us energized and fresh.
   Unfortunately, a freak heat wave hit the area during the time we visited and provided some discomfort, but we combated this with lots of liquids and periodic trips inside one of the many air-conditioned museums.
   It helps to secure tickets in advance to some of the more popular attractions, including the Washington Monument, the Holocaust Museum the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Capitol in order avoid long waits in lines or disappointment due to sold out situations (admission is free to most everything in D.C., but a finite number of tickets are issued per day and when they're gone, you're out of luck for that day).
   To obtain same day tickets, it is necessary to wake up at the crack of dawn and get to your destination by 8 a.m. to secure a place in an often lengthy line.
   Even with tickets in hand for a specific entry time, be prepared to wait, as there are post 9/11 strict security procedures in place that can cause delays.
   We were able to reserve timed tickets for certain places, such as the Washington Monument and the Holocaust Museum in advance of our trip via the phone. There is a small service charge to do this, but it was worth it to avoid exceedingly early starts to our mornings.
   One day we spent walking along the Potomac, seeing all of the monuments and visiting the Holocaust Museum (a particularly deeply moving experience).
   On another day, we toured the Capitol and the Supreme Court, visited the White House Visitor Center and viewed the White House from the outside (tours are only open to large school groups scheduled in advance).
   A third day was spent in several of the Smithsonian Museums, including the Air and Space and the American History. We were also able to visit Mt. Vernon (George Washington's home) and Arlington National Cemetery.
   To make our stay in the area more interesting, we booked a hotel outside of D.C. in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, about a 25 minute ride from the city via the Metro (the area's clean, efficient light rail transportation system).
   One doesn't need a car in D.C. because it's best and easiest to explore on foot, plus parking is a nightmare. The Metro conveniently connects you from one end of the city to another and it is a simple system to navigate.
   My kids loved figuring out the fares each day and checking to see which line to use and the number of stops involved in reaching our destinations. After just two days, they were savvy users.
   Staying outside of the city provided us with a needed break from the constant go-go feeling we had when we were touring the sights. Old Town Alexandria is a charming, historical area with many colorful shops and excellent restaurants. In the evenings, we enjoyed meandering down the streets and taking in the quaint ambiance.
   One evening, however, we chose to stay in D.C. to catch a performance at the Kennedy Center. "Sheer Madness," the longest running play in D.C., was on one of the several stages at the Center and provided a fun dose of comedic entertainment for the whole family.
   It also gave us an opportunity to get a look at the Center's unique architecture and expansive interiors.
   After being in D.C. for several days, we rented a car to travel south to visit Jefferson's home at Monticello and also experience Colonial Williamsburg.
   Monticello is impressive and the tour captivated my kids with its interesting details about Jefferson's life-style and his creative intellect.
   Spending a day in Colonial Williamsburg provided a true taste of colonial times and was a rewarding way for my children to experience America's past.
   There are 88 original and hundreds of reconstructed buildings on site filled with working tradespeople and noted figures of the past (actors dressed in period costume who portray such individuals as George Washington, Patrick Henry and Ben Franklin).
   We sat in on several trials at the old Courthouse, listened to "Patrick Henry" give his famous speech about liberty, sampled colonial specialties as peanut soup, yams, pickled relishes, ginger cakes and rice pudding at a historical tavern, heard colonial music played on a spinet and felt transported back to the time of our country's prelude to independence.
   In one week, we managed to see many wonderful sights, but there were still others that eluded us due to lack of time. Ideally, it would have been wonderful to have spent another week in the area, but I feel confident that we will return on another trip to continue our explorations.
   My kids are already asking when they can go back, which I will take as a sign that the experience made a significant impression on themÑ or perhaps it was getting to order room service that affected them so deeply?
   For up-to-date information on D.C. and all its attractions, visit

Camano Island: One of the Northwest’s best kept secrets

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Photo by Deborah Stone.
It’s close, yet so far from the madding crowd. With fifty-two miles of picturesque shoreline, breathtaking views of Mt. Baker, the Cascade ranges and the Olympics and a thriving arts community, Camano Island is a secret jewel of the Northwest.

This is a destination with distinctive appeal, offering a real-life island experience without the hype. There are no trendy tourist traps here or tacky gift shops selling souvenir key chains and mugs. Nor are there the proverbial taffy or fudge shops lining the streets or vendors hacking their wares along the beach.

It’s all about the pristine beauty of the environment and the pace of life and residents will tell you that they like it just fine this way. Visitors in the know, who come to this idyllic island, do so to retreat from big city existence for the opportunity to enjoy life’s simpler pleasures.

What’s ideal about Camano is its accessibility to the Seattle area. Within an hour and a half, you can be taking a hike in old growth forests, gathering driftwood on the beach, or espying eagles soaring across Saratoga Passage. And the best part is that there are no long ferry lines to contend with to get to Camano; in fact, there are no ferries involved at all.

Once you leave the freeway, you’ll go through Stanwood, a small town with historic buildings, antique shops and cafes in an agricultural setting.

Stop by at the Scandia Bakery and Lefse Factory on Main Street, a Stanwood landmark, for a quick bite or to drool over the pastries and specialty breads, all baked fresh daily on site. The restaurant has been around for over thirty years and is well-known by locals who frequent it often for its hearty fare. The specialty is lefse, Scandinavian flat bread, made with potatoes, that has the consistency of a tortilla.

The perfect picnic spot at Camano Island State Park. Photo by Deborah Stone.
As you leave Stanwood and head over the bridge onto Camano, stop at the Camano Gateway Visitor Information Center to grab a map to get your bearings. The friendly volunteers who staff the place will be happy to steer you in the right direction to beaches, scenic drives and galleries, as well as provide you with a list of accommodations and available services on the island.

Take note of the local artwork around the center, particularly Paula Rey’s “Fish Boy,” a whimsical bronze of a boy hugging a fish, and Jack Gunter’s “Clam Diggers,” which depicts a favorite island pastime. If you’ve brought your picnic basket, but lack that perfect bottle of wine or smoked salmon for those crackers, pull into the newly opened Brindles Marketplace, just past the Gateway at Terry’s Corner.

Here you can taste regional wines at the Great Blue Heron Wine Cellar, get the day’s catch or some barbecue fixings at Quality Meats and Seafood and also take a peek upstairs in the Gallery in the Loft, one of three galleries on Camano, showcasing island artists.

As I drove further into the heart of the island, the road began to wind, passing through bucolic countryside dotted with alpaca and llama farms and framed by dramatic waterfront views.

It became apparent that the Native Americans who had first named the island, Kol-lut-chen, “land jutting out into a bay,” had described it to a tee.

Unfortunately, this name never appeared on a map and over the years, it was changed, first to Macdonough Island, to honor Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough, captain of the 26-gun ship during the War of 1812, and then to Camano, for Lieutenant Don Jacinto Caamano of the Spanish Navy. In the 1855 treaty with local Indians, Governor Isaac Stevens of Washington Territory referred to the island as Perry Island. Then came the loggers who had a jargon of their own and nicknamed it “Crow Island,” a name it retained locally through the early 1900’s.

After that time, it reverted back to Camano, a musical Spanish name for an island settled predominately by Andersons, Petersons, Olsons and Hansons! My plan to explore the island was simple: drive around it, stopping when the mood hit me to hike, beachcomb or pop into one of the galleries, and eventually end up at the B&B I had booked for the evening, Inn at Barnum Point.

There are numerous parks on Camano, but the largest one, which gets the most foot traffic, is Camano Island State Park. This is a gem of a playground for hiking, fishing, camping, picnicking and boating. Ben Sollie, one of the initial organizers of the petition to create the park once wrote of the place: “The fishing is good, the clams delicious and the waterfront is easy on a fellow’s feet.”

It’s also easy on one’s senses, as it is beautifully laid out piece of land that contains 134 acres with 6,700 feet of beach front on Saratoga Passage.

There are five miles of marked trails within some 600-year old growth forests full of Douglas fir, western red cedar, hemlock and red alder trees. The interesting story behind the park’s creation involves a group of determined individuals who started a grassroots movement for a public green space with access to the waterfront.

Back in the late 1940s, there was no public access to waterfront on Camano because all of the shoreline was owned by individuals, resorts or businesses.

The residents put their support behind the movement to create a park and the Parks Land Commission eventually purchased 93 acres of land on the waterfront, on the condition that area residents would help construct the facility.

People responded eagerly and on July 27, 1949, over 900 volunteers came out and cleared land, built the road, dug a well and created their park, all in one day. The place almost doubled in size nine years later with the acquisition of more land for a campsite, boat launch and ramp. It was one of those warm, sunny spring days when I explored the park and I relished having an entire beach almost all to myself.

Sitting on a log, I could see Whidbey Island across the way and the peaks of the Olympic range in the distance. Time certainly seemed to stand still, but when I checked my watch, an hour had gone by, yet I hadn’t moved off my perch. The impetus to finally leave this spot of paradise stemmed from my desire to check out some of the local galleries and perhaps chat with a few of the artists.

Camano is well known for its vibrant arts community with artists whose work represents all mediums of the spectrum, from paint and pottery to glass, wood, bronze and photography.

In addition to the gallery at Brindles, there’s the Gallery at Utsalady Bay at the north end of the island and the History of the World Fine Arts Gallery towards the southern tip. Both run shows featuring specific artists that change periodically. The Gallery at Utsalady Bay, in particular, has received a name for itself for its popular “Unclad” show that it holds each March.

Work depicting nudes in many forms is the theme and each year, the show has gained momentum and recognition. All of the island artists participate in the Studio Tour, held annually over Mother’s Day weekend. This is the one time of year that the artists open their studios to the public and thousands of visitors flock to Camano for this opportunity.

Although I was not on Camano for this event, I did get the chance to stop in at artist Susan Cohen Thompson’s waterfront studio and talk with her about her work. Thompson has only lived on the island for the past year and a half, but she already feels a sense of connection with the place and the people.

She says, “There’s such support here among the artist community and also among the residents who are not artists. There are many long-time artists who’ve created this community and it’s a very developed place for art. People care about the environment and about each other.”

Thompson paints in watercolor and oil and uses jewel tones that give her work its vivid colors. She is a nature advocate and her inspiration comes from the outdoors, particularly from the environment of the Amazon jungle, a place dear to her heart.

An important theme of her work is the generosity of nature and she views her paintings as “serene” and “organic.”

After getting my fill of art for the moment, I decided to grab an early dinner before retiring to my inn.

There are just a handful of restaurants on the island and all are casual establishments serving standard fare. The Islander at Terry’s Corner is the newest of the bunch and offers some variety, including panini sandwiches, salads, soups, pasta and a few seafood entrees.

The halibut with mango chutney sauce I ordered was tasty and it came with roasted red potatoes, grilled veggies and a side salad, all for under $20.

Just as there are few choices for eateries on Camano, there are equally as few lodging options; all of which fall into the category of small inns and B&Bs.

The Inn at Barnum Point is owned and operated by Carolin Barnum Dilorenzo, a71-year-old grandmother with family ties to the island dating back 100 years.

Dilorenzo’s grandfather came to Camano a century ago and homesteaded 125 acres of land at Barnum Point, overlooking Port Susan. Dilorenzo has fond memories as a little girl of playing on the beaches and swimming and boating in Port Susan Bay.

In 1992, she had the inn built at the Point in order to be nearer to her family, many who had also settled in the area, and to be able to share these special surroundings with others who came to visit the island.

The house sits at the end of a long, winding road, on the tip of the Point, with spectacular, panoramic water and mountain views. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Rainier and the Cascades in all their glory.

“This view always seems to melt worries away and help put life back into perspective,” comments Dilorenzo. I can attest to that, for after having spent a very restful night at this unique property, I felt refreshed and at peace. The inn has three airy and comfortable rooms for guests, all which look right onto the water.

From the front door, you can walk down onto the beach or take one of the trails through the fields.

Or simply sit in your room watching the sunset turn the sky all shades of pink, while being mesmerized by the sound of the waves lapping at the shore.

In the morning, wake up to one of Dilorenzo’s famous breakfasts (i.e. oatmeal scones, fresh fruit and eggs Florentine) and spend a cozy few hours chatting about the island.

Dilorenzo knows pretty much everyone on Camano and she will gladly provide assistance with planning an outing or helping you make contact with a particular artist.

When you leave the Inn at Barnum Point, you will feel as if you’ve known Dilorenzo a lifetime and you will be eager to return for another dose of her warm hospitality.

Camano Island is a pleasant getaway destination for a day or an overnight and what makes it special is that you won’t have to share it with the masses.