Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Low Country Adventures

This will be a brief post because I could not do my typical adventuring on our trip to "Low Country" last week. Two weeks ago, I was out on a 6 mile trail run at Umstead State Park and badly sprained my ankle and foot. Our trip to Edisto Island was scheduled for the following week, so I was in no shape to even walk, let alone run, like I normally would on my beach vacation.

This is the fourth winter in a row we have spent some time on Edisto Island. It's a super laid back island without a resort and with a great campground right on the beach. Much of the island is marshland, which means the bird watching is incredible. We always see a ton of pelicans, egrets, and herons. There are alligators too, but we never see them in January when we are there.

On my 250 yard walk on the beach. Crutches on the beach were not super enjoyable!

Lovely sun rays from the car

Edisto Island is not super easy to get to. It's about an hour off of I-95 on back roads that I highly advise you stay off of at night. It's about an hour south of Charleston and two hours north of Savannah. It's a perfect spot to feel disconnected from the hustle and bustle of "real life" and connected with nature. And if you are needing something more than reading, walking, or running on the beach, then there are plenty of options for day trips.

Because I sprained my ankle, we didn't do much. However, we did adventure out one day to the cute town of Beaufort, South Carolina (pronounced bew-fert). I've read just about every Pat Conroy book since moving to the South, so was excited to check out the town he has lived in and written about. Also, several movies, including Forrest Gump, The Big Chill and The Great Santini were filmed in this cute historic town. I just wish I could've walked more, because it is full of incredible antebellum homes and tons of great photo opportunities. I was limited to taking pictures from the car and on the couple of blocks of Bay Street that I hobbled around.

 Spanish Moss covers low country

 A crazy thunderstorm came in while we were there. Was kind of fun to watch it from under an awning on Bay Street. 

 So many cool homes! I wish we could've walked around all afternoon. We'll have to make a trip back someday!

On previous trips to Edisto, we've done quite a bit right on Edisto Island. Botany Bay is one of my favorite spots for a walk on the beach. We've also rented kayaks and explored the marshes for an afternoon.

Boneyard at Botany Bay

For eating, I recommend getting some locally caught fish from the Edisto Seafood Market and cooking it at your place. If you feel like driving, The Old Firehouse Restaurant has some great southern food (make sure you get a side of cabbage. Seriously, you won't regret it.) I've also heard the Old Post Office Restaurant in Edisto is great, but we've never been because they are always closed for the month of January. On our way home this trip, we stopped and ate lunch at Hominy Grill, which was recently written up in Food & Wine as having some of the best biscuits in the country (and I love biscuits!!!) These biscuits did not disappoint and they had a great veggie plate with really unique and southern options, like mashed sweet potatoes, grits, braised cabbage, and squash casserole.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Turtlehead Trail at Turtleback Mountain Preserve (Orcas Island)

Hike: North Trail and Turtlehead Trail
Hike Difficulty: Moderate
Hike Distance (Round Trip): 5.4 miles (add a bit more for the two overlooks)
Time (Round Trip): 3 hours
Elevation: Turtlehead 1005 feet

Just when I thought Orcas Island couldn't feel more magical or special, we had an opportunity to explore Turtleback Mountain Preserve on the west side of the island. Maybe it was just that in the winter there are fewer people on the island. Or maybe it's that a lot of love and money from local islanders and conservation groups recently made sure this land would never be sold off so rich people could build absurd houses on it and ultimately ruin this pristine, undeveloped, beautiful land. Whatever the reason, Turtleback Mountain Preserve felt special. It is peaceful, quiet, lush, and spiritual. The trails were well maintained and all of the overlooks are worth spending a few moments to breath it all in (and snap a few pictures). 

This hike started at the North parking area off Crow Valley Road. The parking lot is right next to the Crow Valley School Museum. Directions to the trailhead can be found at the bottom of this post. It is really obvious where the trail begins. Below is a map of the north section of the preserve.

We took a few minutes to check out the historic school and its surroundings before heading off down the trail.

Pleasant Valley School (later called Crow Valley School) built in 1888

After the school, we started up North Trail (and it is up, for most of the trail), taking a short detour to enjoy North Valley Overlook. 

 North Valley Overlook. Mount Constitution in the distance and Crow Valley down below.

 Several beautiful Madrona trees at the overlook

 North Trail

We continued up North Trail for 1.5 miles to Waldron Overlook (Waldron Overlook can be found by following a little trail to the right. There is a sign that points you in the correct direction.)

The view from Waldron Overlook of Waldron Island. We kayaked right along the coast down below on our San Juan Islands kayaking adventure in 2011. 

We took the Waldron Overlook Trail back to North Trail and almost immediately to the right is the Turtlehead Trail sign. This sign says the trail is 1.0 miles, but the map at the parking lot says 1.2. It definitely felt longer than 1 mile (but every step was awesome)!

The Turtlehead Trail is no longer a fire road, but instead is single track. The sign says no bicycles are allowed on this trail. From this point, we were going down hill for awhile before heading back uphill to the vista point. 

 Not sure what type of critter this is. Maybe a fox? 

 So much green! And yes, it's dark and feels like the sun is about to set, but it's really only 1:30pm. 

 The moss was literally glowing. So magical (and hobbity)!

 Views from Turtlehead. 

How awesome is this little character!?

We encountered 3 families and one single guy on the entire hike. We basically had the afternoon to ourselves. I loved every second of it. So much so, that we figured out a way to get one more hike in at Turtleback Mountain before leaving the island. Next post: Ship Peak at Turtleback Mountain Preserve

Directions to North Trailhead from Eastsound
Head south on Orcas Road for 1.2 miles. 
At Y, turn right on Crow Valley Road. 
Continue south on Crow Valley Road for about 1.5 miles. You will go through one stop sign. 
When you see Crow Valley School Museum on your right, the trailhead parking lot is right beyond it on your right. There is room for probably 5-6 cars.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Orcas Island in Winter

Allyson and I decided kind of last minute to head to Washington State for the holidays. We hadn't met our 5 month old twin nephews yet, and the rest of Allyson's family was planning a trip up there to see them and the rest of the clan. Obviously, we couldn't be in the Seattle area and not make it back to Orcas Island. We were last there for our wedding in August 2012. We have been there several time during summer months, but I had never been there in the winter. I was expecting dark and rainy the entire time and I was still fine with that. Nothing quite like getting cozy next to a fire looking out on the rain over the water with the fog covering the trees. However, we were pleasantly surprised! It only rained one morning in the 3 1/2 days we were there. And even then, we made the most of it.

I'm going to highlight what we did during our time on Orcas in this post. Then I'll dedicate two more posts to the hikes we did while we were on the island.

Day 1 - Getting to Orcas
Yes, it's a pain in the butt to get to Orcas, especially when you are coming from the east coast. We flew (not a direct flight) to Seattle and had to spend the night at the airport that night. The next morning we rented a car, stopped at a grocery store in Seattle (it was Christmas Day, so we are lucky something was open), and then made our way up to Anacortes (about a 2 hour drive from SeaTac). From Anacortes, we took the ferry to Orcas. Of course, we had to time all of this very carefully, because the ferries only leave a few times a day from Anacortes to Orcas Island. 

Despite all the careful planning and extended travel time, the rejuvenation I experienced on the island more than made up for it. 

The island experience starts in Anacortes. As soon as I see the ferry (or even hear it approaching), I get goosebumps. But even before we made it to the ferry, we made our way to a marina and park (I think it was Seafarers Memorial Park off Q Street) in Anacortes for lunch and a walk. We had such a blast checking out all the boats and encountered our first hooded merganser!

We lined up for the ferry about an hour before our scheduled departure time (3:35pm) and then were on our way. By the time we got to the island, the sun was setting. The days are so short up there in the winter! I knew they would be, but it was pretty crazy to wake up an hour and a half before the sunrise every morning!

 The Olympic Mountains from the ferry. 

We stayed in a well-appointed studio at SeaStar Lofts right in Eastsound, directly on the water. It's a great little place from which we could walk to restaurants, beaches, shops, etc. I think in the summer, the noise from the bar and grill next door would get annoying, but in the winter it was perfect! And watching the sunrises and sunsets while warming up next to our gas stove was exactly what we were aiming for on this trip!

Day 2 
In the morning, we took our time getting up and around. We watched the sunrise while drinking our tea. We didn't feel like getting in our car right away, so we decided to go for a long walk around Eastsound. We went down by Odd Fellows Hall, where we got married (you can see more of our wedding photos here and here), and out on the dock at the end of Haven Road. Then we went north of town by the school, and then over to Ship Bay to walk along the beach for awhile.

 Skate park at the school

 I think this guy is a Bufflehead duck, but I'm no bird expert. If you know, please comment!

 Looking out on Ship Bay

After our lovely walk, we went back to our studio and made some lunch. Then we got in the car and drove over to Turtleback Mountain Preserve for a hike. When I first started coming to Orcas Island, this area wasn't open for hiking. This was our first time exploring the trails on Turtleback Mountain. Most visitors frequent the more popular (and also incredible) Moran State Park. Both are worth a visit! If you have never been to Orcas Island, you have to hike Mount Constitution. You can see details of our last hike up Mount Constitution here. However, since we've done that a few times, I was excited to explore a new part of the island.

I provide more details about our two hikes in Turtleback Mountain Preserve on other posts (Turtleback North and Turtleback South). However, here are a couple highlights from this day's hike (5.5 miles) from the North Trailhead out to Waldron Overlook and Turtlehead (1005 feet).

 North Valley Overlook and Mount Constitution in the distance

 Waldron Island

Magical view from Turtlehead

Day 3
The forecast for this day was rain all day. We were prepared for that. This day is when I realized that when I check the Eastsound weather forecast on my phone from North Carolina, I shouldn't believe it. All day my phone said 70% or higher chance of rain. It always said it was raining. And yet, the sun came out in the afternoon for an absolutely gorgeous afternoon and sunset! 

But back to the rain. It did pour in the morning. We decided it would be fun to do a trail run at Mountain Lake in Moran State Park. The trail around the lake is a 3.9 mile long loop and through big redwood trees. We figured we would be sheltered from a lot of the rain. I obviously didn't bring my camera for the run, but it was beautiful and the cold rain was invigorating. I'm glad we didn't chicken out because of a little rain. 

No better way to follow up a run in the rain than with brunch. We went to Mia's Cafe in Eastsound and had an incredible brunch with hot tea and some of the best biscuits ever.

After a warm shower, we spent the rest of the day relaxing in our studio and walking around town. We spent some time shopping in Darvill's Bookstore and had dinner at a fabulous farm to table pizza place called Hogstone. Yum! We finished up by getting a drink at the best-named bar, The Barnacle. 

 Odd Fellows Hall

Day 4 - Heading back to reality
We headed back to Seattle/Tacoma and began that journey on the 12:20pm ferry. This gave us plenty of time to get one more hike in! We hiked to Ship Peak from the South Trailhead at Turtleback Mountain Preserve, so we could get a good sense of all the preserve has to offer. Another great hike that I will provide more details about in another post! For now, here are the highlights from our morning hike to Ship Peak. 

 West Overlook

Quick stop on the side of Deer Harbor Road on the way to the ferry

If my pictures don't sell you, I'm not sure what will. Turtleback Mountain is a must do when you are on Orcas Island. If you are looking for a place that isn't swarming with people but has some of the best views you will see anywhere, this is your spot. Either of the hikes we did will not disappoint. And the hike to the vista points is just as beautiful, with moss covered trees, rocks...heck, everything is covered in moss. It's incredible. 

Once again, Orcas Island, you have taken my breath away. I am already thinking about when I can next come to visit...hopefully for longer than a few days. How about forever?