photo by Deddeda Stemler, Tourism Victoria New hotels appear every day. Restored grand hotels arrive only a couple of times in a lifetime. In Victoria, the reemergence of Oak Bay Beach Hotel not only returns the beloved Snug Pub to the locals, the 100-room property pronounces Oak Bay a legitimate, exclusive destination. Long considered one of the capital’s quieter municipalities, Oak Bay has moved to the forefront of Victoria’s great neighborhoods. And there are so many ways to explore it: you can bike, stroll, browse the shops, paddle, sip and eat. In fact, its thriving popularity as a destination is in part because of its booming, hyper-local food scene. The Penny Farthing Pub—this genteel neighborhood’s first—launched Oak Bay 2.0. The “Penny’s” dark stained woods and brass finishes fit the neighborhood as tautly as a tea cozy embraces a Brown Betty teapot. Once tucked behind Victoria’s old-guard “Tartan Curtain,” today’s Oak Bay shops take contemporary life and locavore culture to a refreshing, new level. For an insider’s view of what and who are putting the contemporary Oak Bay food scene on the culinary map, take the “Epicure in the Village” tour with local gastro-savant Karma Brophy. The Whole Beast cures award-winning meats provided by the Village Butcher, a separate business that shares the same roof. Breads emerge fresh from Ottavio, the Italian bakeryfromagerie-café,
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Southwest Idahophoto by Michale Vogt You might expect to see sand dunes at the ocean, but in inland Idaho, it’s nothing but a geological puzzle. onetheless, there it is: at 470 feet, the tallest single-structure sand dune in North America at Bruneau Dunes State Park, 65 miles southeast of Boise. In fact, the Bruneau Dunes are the only ones of their kind in the Western Hemisphere. Geologists believe the dunes began forming about 15,000 years ago with material from an Ice Age flood. The dunes sit in the middle of a natural basin where the wind is equally distributed on all sides, causing the dunes to be stable and unlikely to shift or move. Bruneau Dunes State Park is open year round, and on any given day from March through October you’ll see people climbing the dunes and often sliding down the tallest one on plastic snow saucers. But these great sand structures aren’t the park’s only attractions. Bruneau Dunes is also home to Idaho’s largest public observatory. Every weekend night from mid-March to mid-October, it hosts a “star party” for visitors, who get to peer through a 25-inch reflector telescope or other smaller telescopes. “It’s a great place for viewing because of our dark skies,” says assistant park manager Steve Russell. “We don’t get a lot of light pollution here.” Besides exploring the dunes, the park’s most popular activities in daylight hours include hiking and fishing for bass or bluegill in two small lakes. The fishing is particularly good in spring and early summer, when “trophy” largemouth bass measuring more than 20 inches have been caught. Hikers like the Dunes 6-mile hiking trail, which begins behind the visitor center and follows a circular path in semiwilderness desert terrain with lakes and marshland near most of the trail. Temperatures often top 90 during summer, and the rocky terrain can be tough on feet—water, sunscreen, a hat and sturdy shoes are essential. If horses are your thing, Bruneau Dunes has an equestrian facility featuring two horse corrals, more than a dozen semi-primitive camp sites for riders and a nine-mile riding trail around the park. Two other camping areas—Eagle Cove and Broken Wheel—offer hot showers and electrical hook-ups, and two cozy cabins are for rent. Camping is permitted year round, but water is available only from March through October. No matter where you camp, you’re never far from the yell of a coyote or hoot of an owl. This destination park’s most popular season is from mid- March to mid-June. For more information go on-line at parksandrecreation/idaho.gov/parks/bruneau-dunes or call 208-366-7919. For information about visiting Idaho, go to visitidaho.org
by Roddy Scheer | photo by San Juan Cruises|whales.com It wasn’t looking good. We’d been in the whale watch boat for more than an hour and covered fifty nautical miles with nary a gull sighting, let alone orca whales. Ever since my nine-year-old daughter Eliza had caught a late-night rerun of Free Willy, she had been obsessed with seeing wild orcas swimming in our home state’s waters. So here we were, chugging along on the M/V Sea Lion, the 55-foot whale watch boat operated by San Juan Safaris out of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. But even though the weather was cooperating, the whales were not. Where were they? The on-board naturalist was keeping the kids entertained with native tales and scientific facts about orcas, and the mountain and ocean views were astonishing in every direction, but still no whales. Sporadic chatter over the VHF radio tantalized us with reports of isolated orca spottings to the north, so our captain pushed into Canadian waters, hoping this trip wouldn’t turn into the rare dud that yields no whale sightings. Just then, I saw a glint off the water in my peripheral vision. As I turned to look over the starboard rail, an orca breached just fifty feet from the boat. And then another. And yet another. Eliza’s jaw was dropping with each successive breach. The captain cut the engine and we began to bob quietly in the swell. Before we knew it we were in the middle of a group of cavorting whales. The great creatures seemed to be curious about us, the only boat in sight for several miles. A few more minutes went by and just when we were beginning to think the party was over, a mother orca and newborn calf surfaced together, only about ten feet from the boat. And four other adult whales followed in procession. We could hear the force of air from their blowholes. Eliza was grinning from ear-to-ear, snapping pictures. For ten more minutes the show went on, the lines blurred as to which species was watching which. And then the whales were off, racing north, destination unknown. Perhaps they were getting hungry for dinner too. After a few more minutes of optimistic drifting, the captain fired up the engine and we began the long journey back to Friday Harbor, mission accomplished on one of the best afternoons of our lives.
FINDING THE WHALESby Northwest Travel Magazine staff Whales follow food, and where the food swims is influenced by the tide. According to Captain Shane Aggergaard, founder of Island Adventures, this is the secret to spotting whales in the Salish Sea. He has been spotting and tracking whales since 1996, and, during that time, has found consistent patterns enabling him to predict with 96 percent accuracy where whales will be, and when, on any given day. “Our resident killer whales [orcas] move 100 miles a day,” Aggergaard says. Their favorite food, when they’re running, is Chinook salmon. “Finding whales is all about where the fish are in relation to the tide.” For a map pinpointing Aggergaard’s whale sightings, go to island-adventures.com/whale-watching-tours/guarantee.php, and click on the dot map.
WHEN YOU GO:For more information about visiting the San Juan Islands, go online at visitsanjuans.com. For ferry schedules and fares, visit wa.gov/ferries. Charters: >> San Juan Excursions, 800-809-4253, watchwhales.com. >> San Juan Cruises, 800-443-4552, whales.com. >> Island Adventures, 1801 Commercial Ave., Anacortes; avoid ferry traffic and go whale watching directly from Anacortes; 800-465-4604, orcawhales.com. >> Island Mariner Whale Watching Cruises, 2621 S Harbor Loop Drive, Bellingham; whale watching departing from Bellingham, on the mainland; 877-734-8866, islandmariner.com. >> Puget Sound Express, 227 Jackson St., Port Townsend; whale watching cruises from Pt. Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula to the San Juan Islands; (360) 385-5288, pugetsoundexpress.com. Attractions: >> The Whale Museum features exhibits about the orca life cycle and the marine ecosystems in and around the San Juan Islands. Youngsters can “adopt-a-whale” for $35 and get periodic updates on the health and whereabouts of a specific orca from the “Southern Resident” pods; 62 First St. N, Friday Harbor; 360-378-4710; whalemuseum.org. Lodging: San Juan Island whale watching is a day trip from Seattle or Vancouver,B.C., but if you decide to spend the night on the island, you’ll find plenty of lodging options. >> In Friday Harbor, walking distance to the ferry: Friday Harbor House, 866-722-7356, fridayharhorhouse.com. Bird Rock Hotel or Earthbox Inn & Spa, 800-793-4756, earthboxinn.com. Island Inn, 360-378-4400, 123west.com. Tucker House Inn/Harrison House Suites, 360-378-2783, tuckerhouse.com. >> In the center of the island: Lakedale Resort, 800-617-2267, lakedale.com >> On the north end of the island: Roche Harbor Resort, 360-378-2155, rocheharbor.com. Friday Harbor Dining: >> The Bluff, 866-722-7356, fridayharhorhouse.com/dining.php >> Backdoor Kitchen, 360-378-9540, backdoorkitchen.com >> Coho, 360-378-6330, cohorestaurant.com
by Adam Sawyer | photo by Adam Sawyer Spread out over roughly 80 miles of ruggedly scenic central and eastern Oregon landscape, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a geological grab bag of semidesert shrublands, badlands and riparian zones that showcase the state’s natural history and beauty. Comprised of three different, wildly diverse units, the National Monument is a day-tripping dream from the town of Bend, Oregon. Altogether, these units total some 14,000 acres in the John Day River basin. The biggest draw the Monument offers up is, of course, fossils. Well-preserved plant and animal fossils detail over 40 million years of natural history. The fossils found in this little section of Oregon are among the most diverse in the world; and they’re on observable, explorable display. At the Sheep Rock unit, visitors are welcome to peruse the numerous fossil displays and interpretive murals at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. The center is also home to the Monument’s working laboratory, complete with a viewing window for the public. Across the street from the Paleontology Center, the Cant Ranch and its Historical Museum offer a look at the human history of the region, from native tribes to ranchers. Just up the road, the Blue Basin is an otherworldly spot to view fossils in a pre-lab state. The “Island in Time” and “Blue Basin Overlook” trails lead through blue-green layers of ancient volcanic ash.