Monday, June 25, 2012

Whale Watching

My youngest brother has been working in our area for several weeks and that has become a golden opportunity for some hiking and other adventures.  Saturday, June 2nd, we went whale watching, he and I, and were gone for the day, from about 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

We left from Bellingham and the day looked to be cloudy and rainy, but began to clear about the time we left the harbor, and turned out to be a beautiful and relaxing day, though there were storm clouds on the horizon when we returned and the next day brought rain.

We were not far out Bellingham harbor when we saw numerous Harbor Seals on a small rocky island, the name of which (if it had a name) I do not remember.  The captain steered us close enough for some good pictures and a good view of them, the closest I've seen them.

Further out in the sound as we sailed among the islands we saw several eagles and other waterbirds, but all too far away for decent pictures.  We did however see a California Sea Lion on one of the navigational buoys in the sound.  He waved to us as we went by.

Finally, some three hours out we saw a small pod of Orcas being followed by other boats and followed themselves ourselves for about half an hour before turning back home.  There were four of them, a big male, two females and one delightful little baby.

We were informed that the Orcas or Killer Whales that can be seen in Puget Sound are of two kinds, transients who move in small pods and are only seen in the Sound for short periods and several larger pods who make the Sound their summer home and travel in much larger pods.

We were also told that the Orcas who live in the Sound are mainly fish-eating, but that the transients eat other mammals, seals, other whales, etc.  We learned, too, that all the Orcas are identified by numbers and names, are carefully studied and watched.

That was the first time I had seen Orcas in the "wild" and though it was difficult to get good pictures because of the distance one is required to keep from them (200 yards by law), it was a delight to see them and learn about them and we hope to go again some time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Whatcom Falls Park

The last day of May was a Thursday, a less busy day for both of us, and so my wife and I went to run some errands in Bellingham and went on to one of the parks there.  Whatcom Falls Park is nearly 250 acres and is on the east side of Bellingham, near Whatcom Lake.  It follows the meanderings of Whatcom Creek and includes several falls, one which drops about fifteen feet and which can be viewed from a beautiful old arched stone bridge just below the falls.

We decided to go there since the day was overcast and there was some threat of rain.  It never did rain, but the lack of sunshine made a good day for photographing the falls.  Finished with main falls, we hiked some of the trails and found the Western Spotted Coralroot blooming on the hills above the falls, and also took pictures of an old railroad trestle in the park, as well as the creek.  Had a very pleasant walk, though we did get a bit muddy photographing the orchids.

Finished we headed for a local Bellingham micro-brewery, Boundary Bay, and had a delicious supper there of tapanadas followed by beef stew (my wife) and a pesto salmon sandwich (myself) accompanied by an excellent glass of local bitter.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thunder Creek

My youngest brother, who travels a great deal for his work, has been in our area several times this spring and was here again the weekend of the 26th of May.  We try to do some hiking when he is around, since he is an even more avid hiker than we are, and on the 26th we decided to do the Thunder Creek Trail in North Cascades National Park.  After several hours of driving we were on the trail before 8:00 am and did about five miles each way, arriving back at the car around 3:00 pm.

The trail begins at the Colonial Creek campground and follows the creek through old growth forest for about a mile before a bridge crosses to the other side.  From there one can choose several trails including the trail to Fourth of July Pass, which we did not take.  The Thunder Creek trail goes up above the creek, which is more like a small but very powerful river and crosses a number of streams which empty into the creek, some of which can be crossed on foot, but one of which has another bridge.

We went nearly as far as MacAllister Camp where we began to catch glimpses of the surrounding peaks.  The trail is well maintained and in the five or six miles we followed it gains less than a thousand feet in elevation.  Beginning at about 1200 feet elevation it is one of the earliest trails in the North Cascades to be free of snow in the spring and a very pleasant hike at any time of the year.  We have done several backpacking trips on the trail and taken it further than we did this time.

We found a lot of wildflowers in bloom.  The Western Trilliums were nearly finished but the Western Bleeding Hearts were in full bloom.  We found, as we expected, a lot of Fairy Slippers and thousands of Western Heart-leaved Twayblades.  The Fairy Slippers were in the shadier, better drained and mossy areas along the trail, but the Twayblades seemed to be everywhere.  They are so small, however, than most hikers would not even notice them or think much of them if they did.  Close up they are delightful.

By early afternoon, however, we were tired and turned back (I had been on a three-day camping trip with a group of school children Wednesday through Friday).  We hiked out much more quickly than we had gone in and were back home around supper time.  The day was sunny and beautiful, the trail was one of our favorites and we would recommend it to anyone who has a day to spare in the North Cascades.  There is always something to see and enjoy on this trail.