Women’s ski camp boosts confidence, builds skill
Written by Deborah Stone
I’ve never considered myself very athletic. It’s not that I’m in poor shape. I discipline myself to workout on a regular basis and I’m always game to try new activities, but I’ve never quite found my inner athlete.
Lone Mountain is the epitome of a grand western ranch
Being surrounded by competitive males in my family probably hasn’t helped. Whenever we engage in an active outdoor pursuit, I’m usually the one lagging behind, struggling to keep up with my clan. And when I wipe out or have one of those embarrassing moments that shows off my less-than-stellar coordination, I know I’ve just created another memorable “Mom story” that will be repeated ad nauseum.
I take my family’s good-natured ribbing in stride, realizing that I’m up against a tough audience who cuts me no slack. But every once in awhile, I wonder what it would be like to be with a warm and fuzzy group who won’t ridicule my feeble attempts or make fun of my tortoise pace.
Enter the women’s camp, a place where the female species can learn a new sport or improve upon their skills without worrying about how their male counterparts will view them.
In the past several years, these camps have been popping up all over the place, offering gals the chance to tackle everything from surfing to rock climbing, within some of the most scenic natural environments around the world. Most employ the attitude that women want to play hard during the day and relax in a comfy setting with all the amenities at night.
I have always wanted to be a better cross-country skier. Not having had any formal lessons, I never quite learned proper technique for this sport, yet I always managed to have fun while doing it and get a great total body workout in the process. But I longed to be a better and more efficient skier — one who was able to glide effortlessly down the trails and approach hills without dread.
The opportunity to improve my skills among a kinder, gentler audience presented itself in the form of Lone Mountain Ranch’s Women’s Nordic Camp. Just an hour south of Bozeman, Mont., in the shadow of Big Sky, is an enchanting enclave where escapism is at its best. Set on 160 pristine acres of Montana wilderness amid the Spanish Peak Range, Lone Mountain is the epitome of a grand western ranch complete with cozy lodgepole-pine cabins, massive stone fireplaces, elk antler chandeliers, log furnishings and Native American décor.
The place has a rich history and heritage of western hospitality. It was first homesteaded in 1915 and over the years it has served as a logging camp, a boys’ ranch and finally a guest ranch, which has been under the ownership of the Schaap family since 1977.
Lone Mountain is a ranch for all seasons with activities to satisfy the many outdoor passions of its guests. In the milder months, it’s a Mecca for hiking, horseback riding, fly fishing and whitewater rafting, but in the winter, when the area is blessed with a consistent snowfall, it’s a cross-country skier’s paradise. With over 80 professionally groomed kilometers of gently rolling meadows, exhilarating downhills and lung-clearing climbs, guests can find trails to match their ability levels and ski to their hearts’ content.
Three times a year, in December, January and March, the ranch offers a women’s camp focusing on boosting participants’ confidence on cross-country skis. Women of all ages come from around the country to take part in this experience, which emphasizes a positive, supportive learning environment.
Throughout the five-day, six-night camp, you get to ski with a staff of certified instructors who conduct all-day instructional sessions devoted to various aspects of the sport. You work on balance, control, speed, turns and negotiating hills, and are able to practice classic cross-country skiing, as well as get a taste of skate skiing.
In addition, you have the opportunity to try out new equipment and find the gear that fits you best. There are also opportunities to take a guided snowcoach tour into the interior of Yellowstone National Park (only 18 miles from the ranch) and go back-country skiing within the park. Yellowstone in the winter is magical and full of hidden wonders that summer visitors never see. Deep snow clings to every surface and geysers erupt into azure skies, with animals posing around every corner. It’s breathtaking. And snowcoaches are the best way to see these marvels.
The climate-controlled, fully enclosed vehicles are equipped with caterpillar treads that offer visitors a comfortable and convenient method of experiencing this majestic natural playground.
Back at the lodge, evenings are spent leisurely listening to live music in the Horsefly Saloon, while sipping on such tasty libations as Mama Viv’s Hot Buttered Rum, or attending various presentations (slide shows and naturalist lectures about the area, ski tuning methods) in the B-K Guest Lounge.
There’s even a sleigh ride dinner that takes guests through the snow-covered pines to a lovely, lantern-lit cabin in the woods. There you’ll get prime rib cooked the old-fashioned way on a century-old wood-burning stove and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to hear Walkin’ Jim Stoltz sing and tell stories of his extensive wilderness experience. This memorable evening truly encapsulates the romance of the West.
When you’re feeling a bit sore from all the skiing, head for the outdoor hot tub where you can soak under the stars. There’s also a massage therapist available to soothe those aching muscles (the Feel Good Feet Treats massage is true bliss!), as well as on-site yoga classes.
For sustenance, you won’t get the proverbial ranch-style meals of baked beans and BBQ. Instead, you’ll savor creatively prepared gourmet fare in a handsome log dining lodge amid the ambiance of a roaring fire.
One night there was a choice of bison flank steak or salmon with spinach in a puffed pastry, accompanied by oven roasted potatoes, parsnips and rutabagas, and topped off with huckleberry baked Alaska.
A trailside lunch another day consisted of shrimp and veggie kebobs, marinated teriyaki ginger beef, salads and homemade peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. My appetite was enormous after skiing all day and I ate heartily, knowing that it was easy to torch the calories with all the exercise I was doing.
Mealtimes presented a great opportunity to compare ski experiences with the other women in my group. The seven of us formed one close-knit bond, as we shared everything from our triumphs and upsets on the trails to the best types of clothing to layer for insulation against the cold. Most of all, we laughed. The fact that we came from different parts of the country, with varying backgrounds, and had never met before, meant little. The common link was our shared passion for skiing and more importantly, the fact that we were all women.
While skiing, we gave each other support and encouragement to meet new challenges and surmount both mental and physical obstacles.
The Lone Mountain ski staff, a gung-ho group of young, athletic men and women were equally supportive, as well as highly enthusiastic about their jobs. They were positive, upbeat and genuine individuals with a wealth of knowledge about the sport. And they definitely knew how to use humor as an effective instructional tool!
After learning and practicing everything from the easiest way to put on skis to the most effective way to navigate hills, I felt so much more in control out on the trails and was actually able to loosen up and develop a comfortable rhythm to my glide.
All of this knowledge and experience, however, did not come pain free and though I sustained several colorful bruises in the process, I wore these badges of courage with pride.
There were times when I thought I couldn’t go up another hill because my quads were screaming and every other part of my body was crying “uncle.” And there were other moments when I stood at the top of a steep, winding hill trying to work up the guts to head down, knowing there was an excellent chance I would wipe out along the way. But when I took those not-so-graceful tumbles, no one made fun of me.
Instead, they encouraged me to get right back up and ready myself for the next challenge. And so I persevered and when I triumphed, after banishing my insecurities and fears, I had six other women to help me celebrate my accomplishments. I basked within the glow of this positive environment, which not only boosted my self-confidence, but opened the door to my inner athlete.
Unique resort winery is an oasis in the desert
Written by Deborah Stone
Sometimes I really wonder why I live on this side of the mountains when just over the Pass is a land where the sun is a constant presence and rain is an infrequent visitor. On a particularly dismal and wet day last spring, I headed east in hopes of finding clear skies and warmer temps.
The main building at Cave B Inn and Winery with its unusual curved roof and rock exterior. Photo by Deborah Stone.
The weather gods rewarded me with glimpses of blue as I went through Roslyn and by the time I hit Ellensburg, picture perfect conditions had emerged.
I was on my way to Cave B Inn at SageCliffe, the first and currently only destination resort winery in Washington State, located in Quincy, just steps away from the Gorge Amphitheater.
Word had gotten out that Cave B was a unique, one-of-a-kind upscale property and after only a year in operation, it was getting quite a favorable buzz, thus my curiosity was piqued.
As I got closer to the inn, I wondered whether the place would live up to its advance hype. I’ve been disappointed before when expectations have been too high, but I needn’t have worried this time.
I noticed the apple orchards and lush vineyards first as I drove down the inn’s long driveway and immediately felt transported to a slower place in time.
I could see the Cave B winery off to one side, but it was the main building with its unusual curved roof and rock exterior that caught my attention. Intrigued with the design, I spent some time outside snapping photos before entering.
Once through the doors, I was greeted with a view that literally stopped me in my tracks. Grand floor to ceiling windows look out upon a jaw-dropping vista of the Columbia River Gorge. It’s impossible not to head right through the lobby and out the back doors onto the deck to take in this awe-inspiring scene of geological splendor.
After appreciating Mother Nature’s work, your eye wanders to the buildings with rock walls (constructed from basalt found on the property) and similar curved roofs that appear tucked into the side of the cliffs in camouflage fashion.
The roofs actually seem to mirror the lines on the bluffs across the river and the buildings look like they have grown out of the ground.
In creating Cave B, owners Vince and Carol Bryan instructed architect Tom Kundig, “to make the land his client.” The result is a design that doesn’t compete with the environment, but rather blends in with the surroundings organically. Use of natural materials is not only evident in the exteriors of each of the buildings, but also within their interiors.
Inn sign at the entrance off the road. Photo by Deborah Stone.
There are 30 well-appointed guest rooms: 15 Cliffehouses, 12 Cavern rooms and three additional rooms located in the main building. The Cliffehouses are each named after one of the many grape varieties grown on the property (the one I stayed in was called “Sangiovese”) and consist of 11 spacious one bedroom units and four two bedroom units.
Each Cliffehouse is its own separate, intimate hideaway built into the hillside with a commanding river view, featuring a cozy sitting area, curved high ceilings, handsome wooden flooring, expansive windows with French doors that open to a private, trellised terrace, luxurious king or queen-size bed, gas fireplace and spacious bathroom done in Italian slab granite.
Colors are themed to reflect white or red wine grape variety and provide rich accents in each unit.
The Cavern rooms, which sit at the edge of the cliff overlooking the river, are accessed through a cave-like basalt rock corridor and although smaller than the Cliffehouses, they share many of the same amenities.
The main building contains three additional luxurious guestrooms, several meeting spaces and the inn’s restaurant, Tendrils. Named for the part of the grape plant that provides support for the growing vine and wraps itself around the wires of the trellis, tendrils are in the words of Carol Bryan, “the thing that holds everything together.” She says, “We wanted the restaurant to be the gathering area for the inn, the place that really holds it all together, so Tendrils, with its association to grapes, was the perfect name.”
Here, James Beard Foundation award-winning chef, Fernando Divinia, whips his culinary magic to create innovative regional fare with flair.
Specialties such as Roasted Laughing Stock Farm Pork Loin with sweet potato puree, apples and beets and Wild King Salmon served with wild rice and fiddleheads are artfully paired with local wines. Desserts range from a sinful Warm Fallen Chocolate Soufflé to refreshing, intensely flavored, homemade fruit sorbets.
This world-class restaurant, with its dramatic backdrop, particularly at sunset when the sky is full of flaming colors, is the ideal romantic setting.
Guests who wish to dine alfresco can sit out on the ample wraparound terrace. With such an amazing view, however, don’t expect to have the undivided attention of your companion, as nature is a fierce competitor!
If eating sumptuous food and soaking in the breath-taking scenery are not enough, there are plenty of other activities to engage in during a stay at Cave B.
The working winery is a feature attraction on site and visitors are welcome to take a self-guided walking tour of the vineyards before making their way to the tasting room. As you stroll the grounds, you can see the various areas where the 15 different grape varieties are grown and take a peek in the Cave.
This arch-shaped building, which is actually half-buried in the ground and covered with dirt, straw and sod, is the perfect atmosphere in which to barrel age the wines.
Nearby is the gift shop and tasting room, where it’s not uncommon to see Cave B’s highly decorated winemaker, Rusty Figgins, behind the bar pouring one of the several featured wines of the day.
Figgins advocates using traditionalist techniques that emphasize a natural, low-intervention wine-making practice.
Cave B Estate premium wines can be found throughout the state in restaurants and retail establishments and they have won numerous awards from prestigious wine societies.
I had the pleasure of tasting a lovely, citrusy and crisp 2003 Semillon and a velvety rich 2003 Cuvee du Soleil; the latter which was a gold medal winner at the Seattle Wine Society.
If you’re so inclined, get a bottle of one of your favorites and head outside to picnic in the grape-trellised piazza, an expansive lawn area dotted with benches and loaded with atmosphere.
For a more vigorous activity option, take a hike from the inn down the hill to the Columbia River. The Columbia River Gorge was the result of several tumultuous Ice Age floods, which carved out deep canyons while at the same time depositing tons of sediment. The boulder-strewn valleys and giant ripple marks are testament to nature’s violent forces and give the region its distinct geology.
Just to be in this unique environment is a treat, but you’d be amazed at the calming, almost Zen-like affect it has on your persona and its ability to soothe the soul.
After hiking back up to the inn, you might feel the need for a massage. You’ll be in good hands if you head for the Spa at Sagecliffe where you can soothe tired and sore muscles or simply unwind while enjoying one of the numerous body treatments available.
I chose the Anti-Aging Wrap, a sublime experience that involved a variety of essential oils and natural ingredients with intoxicating scents applied to my body by a therapist with magic hands. I was exfoliated, massaged, covered in a melon and papaya mask, wrapped up cocoon style and given more massage.
Then I was sent to rinse off in the spa’s seven-head rainforest shower, an experience that I can only describe as heavenly.
The treatment was targeted at improving skin elasticity and tone, as well as at preventing skin sagging, that dreaded process which creeps up on you along with your age. I don’t know if I looked 10 years younger after emerging from the spa, but my skin seemed to glow and I felt totally rejuvenated.
With the completion of Cave B Inn, the owners have now turned their attention to the further development of SageCliffe, a culturally based resort, of which the inn is the first phase.
The Bryan’s vision includes a spectacular 18-hole links-type desert golf course, an equestrian center, additional lodging and housing, studios, galleries, an exhibition hall, performance halls and more conference spaces.
The couple established the SageCliffe Foundation, a non-profit component of the resort that will support art, science and educational programming on site.
“It’s our goal to bring people together from all disciplines and give them a place and the opportunity to interact with one another,” explains Vince Bryan. “Professionals will enrich each other and also enrich the public who will come here to view performances, attend workshops or take part in classes. We will have artists-in-residence and put people in contact with greatness. It will be a vibrant and stimulating center of creativity and expression.”
The couple’s vision stemmed from their land and the awareness of their responsibility as land stewards. The question they pondered for many years was how to best share this land with others without ruining it.
“The land is special,” adds Bryan. “It is the canvas upon which we can participate in painting out. SageCliffe presents the opportunity for mankind and the environment to interface, for there to be a celebration of the environment and a celebration of man’s achievement in the arts and sciences.”
The Bryans believe in the magic of this land and after a stay at Cave B Inn, I, too, am a believer.
Riviera Maya: a world-class destination
Written by Deborah Stone
Chocolate, in any form, is my weakness. It tempts me like a Siren calling to Ulysses. Most of the time, I try to keep my chocoholic addiction in line and choose to indulge in this ambrosia in moderation because it wreaks havoc on my waistline.
Early morning on Punta Brava Beach
But recently, I found a healthier way to satisfy my fix. It was on a trip to Riviera Maya that I first heard of chocolate utilized in a spa treatment. Always willing to try anything when it comes to body treatments, I headed to the spa at the El Dorado Royale Spa Resort, my luxurious lodgings for the week, to experience this sensory treat.
After a coconut exfoliation scrub, my body was smothered with chocolate cream (the aroma was enough to send me into chocolate rehab!) and then tightly wrapped up in towels.
During the next 20 minutes, I received a facial and scalp massage, while waiting for the natural cacao to supposedly draw the impurities from my body. I remarked to the therapist that I felt like a bonbon, but as she spoke very little English, I don’t think my idea resonated.
After a thorough rinsing and a finishing massage, I emerged rejuvenated and glowing with baby soft skin. I realize that this treatment is no substitute for eating the rich confection, but it sure takes a close second, plus it’s calorie-free!
A Mayan chocolate body wrap was just the first of several novel experiences for me in Riviera Maya. I had never been to this part of Mexico before and when offered the opportunity to explore it, I eagerly accepted. I saw it as the perfect escape from enduring a third straight week of Seattle’s liquid sunshine.
Located south of Cancun in the far east of the Yucatan Peninsula, Riviera Maya spans 60 miles along the coast of Quintana Roo. This locale has become a popular destination over the years, as it offers tropical weather, warm hospitality, secluded white sand beaches and a unique culture. The area is particularly known for its diving and snorkeling because off the coast of Quintana Roo lies the second largest coral reef in the world, the Great Mayan Reef, which is home to over 5,000 species.
There are several eco-archaeological parks in the region, which provide prime opportunities for visitors to have unparalleled environmental experiences, and each beach is a paradise for water sports. At Maroma, rated the number one beach in the world by the Travel Channel, the activities range from deep sea fishing and scuba diving to speed boat racing and jet skiing. On land, visitors can ride ATVs through the jungle, take a horseback ride down the beach or simply soak up the dazzling rays. I ate the best fresh seafood ceviche here while sitting under a palapas (thatched hut) and listening to local musicians play traditional favorites.
At Xcaret, one of the eco-parks in the region, I had another first-time experience. Xcaret is all about water, preservation of the environment and cultural restoration. Here, you can see colorful macaws and flamingos, observe mammoth sea turtles and manatees, catch lazy crocodiles pretending to sleep in mangrove swamps and watch spider monkeys get into mischief, as well as explore a bat cave or even try to count the hundreds of iguanas that roam the park.
Water, in lagoons, pools, the bay and underground rivers, is definitely a featured attraction, but it’s the dolphin program that caught my attention. I had always wanted to swim with these playful creatures because they have fascinated me ever since I was a young girl. To be able to have an up-close and personal encounter with them exceeded all my expectations.
Maya and Fanny, two friendly mother and daughter bottle-nosed dolphins with that famous perpetual “smile,” swam around me, nudging me with their bodies and encouraging me to stroke them on their undersides. I was amazed at their muscular definition and at the silky smoothness of their skin. They also truly seemed to relish the human contact and socialization opportunity.
Travel writer Deborah Stone gets a kiss from Fanny the bottle-nosed dolphin.
After the trainers gave the pair a number of tasks to do to demonstrate their keen intelligence, everyone in my group got the chance to have the dolphins take them for a ride. As I lay face down in the water, remembering to keep my body rigid, Fanny and Maya swam around to my rear and pushed against my feet, propelling me through and up out of the water. It was an exhilarating ride that was over way too soon. A final kiss and hug opportunity with Fanny was the icing on the cake for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Xcaret also offers visitors the essence of Mexico through its cultural programs. There’s a model Mayan village where you can watch local artisans working at their crafts and throughout the park, at various times of the day, opportunities abound to see performances of traditional dances and rituals. One of the most spectacular shows is the Papantla Flyers, an all-male group who perform a Mayan ritual dedicated to fertility and the sun god. As the Big Chief plays his reed flute and pounds his drums, four men, in colorful red and white clothing, climb up a tall pole and take their positions at its four corners.
The flyers, who are each tethered, leap off the platform and swing around the pole thirteen times (13 times four is 52 – the number of years in the pre-Hispanic cycle), descending lower and lower until they reach the ground.
At night, Xcaret comes alive with the Mexican Folkloric Ballet, a festive pageantry of music, song and dance representing the different states of Mexico.
On another day, I visited Xel Ha, a well-known water theme park in the region. Once again, I opted to try something new and this time, it was the Sea Trek. I liken this experience to taking a moon walk in a blue planet. Wearing a 60-pound space-age helmet, I descended, with the help of divers, to the bottom of the sea. The helmet provided a continuous flow of oxygen, allowing me to breathe normally underwater, while keeping my face and hair completely dry.
My group of six proceeded to walk along the sea floor, holding onto a handrail to guide our way, while we gazed in wonder at the sea life swimming around us. The divers brought stingray over for us to touch and pointed out various treasures in our midst.
A sucker fish sucked on the palm of my hand, while other little fish nibbled at my fingers. I felt like an undersea astronaut exploring a whole new world. Another memorable first!
Riviera Maya is also the site of several ancient Mayan ruins. Tulum, one of the more famous of these sites, is the only Mayan fortress built by the sea. This walled city was used by the Mayans as their port of entry for Caribbean goods and as an important ceremonial center.
To visit Tulum is to travel through a time machine. Walking around the temples and examining the frescoes depicting Mayan gods and symbols of nature’s fertility gives one the opportunity to learn more about pre-Hispanic life.
The buildings date back to A.D. 564 and at the highest point on the site, the Castillo, or castle, sits, commanding imposing views in every direction. Although visitors can wander around on their own, I highly suggest taking a tour to get the full historical background of this unique place.
Upon return to my hotel, I decided to check out some of the property’s on-site activities. A salsa dance class got my attention, as I saw it as a chance to put my two left feet in motion. If I had any hopes, though, of coming home and taking the salsa world by storm, they were quickly erased as soon as the lesson began.
Remembering the steps was a challenge in itself, especially for someone who is directionally dyslexic, but then the instructors encouraged everyone to “feel the music in your body and just let go.” Pandemonium in the form of a Latin mosh pit ensued, as people took the instructors’ words literally. I emerged black and blue, dripping in sweat, with the realization that perhaps the subtle nuances of this step had evaded me.
After that, I was perfectly happy lounging in a hammock on the resort’s picturesque Punta Brava Beach. And when my stomach began to grumble, I knew I could take my taste buds for a whirl at one of the hotel’s seven gourmet restaurants or head off the property to dine at the many choice eateries in the area. Riviera Maya is a world-class destination with top-rated hotels, offering a winning combination of history, natural beauty and exciting adventures. So, the next time my limbs begin to rust and moss has become a second skin, I’ll simply say “adios Seattle” and head to this south-of-the-border paradise.
Note: Although Hurricanes Emily and Wilma caused large scale destruction to parts of this region (particularly Cancun), massive efforts have been made to rebuild and at the time this writer visited the area, substantial signs of recovery could be seen. The Cancun Tourism Board expects most, if not all its hotel properties to be fully functioning by early spring.
Poets Cove: gem of the Gulf Islands
Written by Deborah Stone
In my opinion, riding in a seaplane is perhaps the ultimate flying experience, providing the weather cooperates and you have a good pair of earplugs.
Kenmore Air seaplane arriving at Bedwell Harbor. Photo by Deborah Stone.
There are no long waits to taxi down endless runways; instead, you simply glide along the water and then smoothly rise up in the air in seemingly effortless fashion.
On a recent trip to the Canadian Gulf Islands, I decided to opt for a Kenmore Air seaplane as my transport, instead of the usual car/ferry combo that most folks commonly use to reach this special getaway.
One minute I was looking out at the Lake Union dock and the Seattle skyline, and the next, I was above it all, but not so far up that I wasn’t able to distinguish buildings, boats and rock formations from my magnificent bird’s eye perch.
In just a little over an hour, including a brief stop for customs at Sydney (where a group of sea otters lounging on the pier along with a pair of Canadian Mounties greeted the plane), I reached my destination for the weekend, Poets Cove on Pender Island.
The plane landed right in front of the resort, touching gently down on the water in a welcoming kiss. In minutes, I was on land, refreshed and exhilarated from my scenic flight and ready to explore my new surroundings.
Pender Island is one of about 225 Gulf Islands, most of which are small, uninhabited and accessible only by private boat. Pender and five others, including Salt Spring, Mayne, Galiano, Saturna and Gabriola, comprise a group of the largest and most accessible of the islands, with year round populations that inhabit them. Known for their heavenly beaches, lush forests, rolling countryside, abundant flora and fauna and balmy climate, these islands offer visitors peace and tranquility amidst a spectacular natural setting.
Pender Island is actually comprised of two islands, North and South Pender, which are joined by a picturesque, one-lane wooden bridge.
View of waterfall at resort and harbor below. Photo by Deborah Stone.
Together, the islands measure 14-square miles in size and are home to a population of 2,200, a figure that almost doubles during the summer months. As far back as 6,000 years ago, the Coast Salish aboriginal people hunted and fished around these islands. They were permanently settled in the 1800s and named after Daniel Pender, master of the ship “Plumper.”
Over the years, steamships began to arrive, dropping off mail, freight and passengers to the small harbor on South Pender Island. In May of 1959, the Bedwell Resort and Marina was built on the banks and hillside of this bay and in time, the place became a favorite refuge with boaters.
But in 2002, the modest resort, showing signs of age, was torn down and construction began on a new luxury property in order to make way for a new era of tourism on Pender. A little over a year ago, Poets Cove Resort & Spa officially opened and began welcoming visitors to its docks with warm island hospitality.
Seemingly remote, in the heart of Canada’s newest Marine National Park, the resort is actually geographically central to the urban areas of Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver, making it an accessible getaway for those in the Pacific Northwest. It has fast become a year-round destination that appeals to couples and families, as well as to corporate types seeking a retreat. Designed in classic West Coast style, with breathtaking water views, Poets Cove is a jewel amid the rugged beauty of its landscape.
The resort consists of a 110-slip marina, a 22-room lodge, nine luxury villas and 15 deluxe cottages, a fine dining room and lounge, spacious meeting/conference rooms, two heated outdoor swimming pools, a fitness center, tennis court and a world class spa. All of the rooms have spectacular ocean views and feature large outdoor patios and stone fireplaces.
Thoughtful touches abound from local seashells filled with bath salts infused with aromatic lavender to handsome writing desks, complete with elegant coil bound notebooks for guests to record their musings or reflections. The notebook nicely ties in with the resort’s moniker. Island lore has it that this idyllic spot and romantic setting by the bay was a favorite for local couples to become engaged.
The owners of the new resort chose to name their creation, “Poets Cove,” as they felt it captured the intimate feeling and lyrical spirit of this special place. Although the resort and Pender Island itself offer many experiences for quiet contemplation and plenty of opportunities for well-deserved R&R, there are a number of other activities visitors can engage in, from athletic pursuits to sight-seeing and cultural events.
Poets Cove Resort & Spa. Photo by Deborah Stone.
Poets Cove offers kayaking adventures, sailing courses, deep sea fishing, scuba diving instruction (the region has been rated as one of the world’s best for diving), educational eco excursions, guided hikes and bicycle tours of the island. Pender is well-known for its artisans, but there are only a few galleries and shops open to the public.
One of my favorites is Renaissance Gallery, an eclectic world bazaar specializing in glass jewelry creations and antiques. The island also has a reputation for having one of the best disc golf courses in North America.
To the uninitiated, disc golf is an international sport played with a Frisbee instead of clubs and balls. Pender’s 27-hole course is set in the middle of the woods and folks from all over come here to challenge their skills in this unique sport.
Guests can also rent a wide variety of boats from the resort and explore the beaches and secluded coves tucked along the coastline. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot seal otters, harbor seals and porpoises frolicking in the water and spy eagles soaring high above the Arbutus trees.
Many guests at the lodge opt to do the Mt. Norman by the Sea excursion, which involves taking a boat shuttle into Beaumont Marine Park and then going on a guided hike to the summit of Mt. Norman. At 244 meters, this peak is the highest point on the island and on a clear day, you can have breathtaking views of the surrounding Gulf Islands and even a San Juan Island or two.
I was fortunate to have the weather gods with me when I made the two kilometer trek up the mountain. Colorful foxglove were in bloom along the path and when I reached the top, I was rewarded with one of Mother Nature’s dazzling displays. The sea sparkled below and Saltspring, Morsby, Sydney, North Pender and Stuart Islands were in full view.
After taking in this dramatic show, I headed back down the mountain and made a beeline for the spa for some indulgent pampering.
The spa at Poets Cove is aptly named “Susurrus,” a word meaning a whispering or murmuring sound, like that made by the waves or the wind. It’s also the sound of contentment that escapes your lips after experiencing one of the spa’s therapeutic treatments.
In this oasis of well-being, I sipped herbal tea and relaxed with a hot scented lavender neck pack, before heading outside to sit in the eucalyptus steam cave. Set in a rock grotto, underneath the veil of a 10-meter waterfall, this sandstone cave was built to harness an ancient healing practice. Inside, the temperatures range from 110 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit and as you sit on one of the benches built into the rock, steam envelops you, causing you to sweat and release toxins.
If you get too hot, you can splash cool water from a nearby fountain on your face or there’s also a cold plunge shower outside the cave for a full body refresher. Being in the steam cave can best be described as participating in a primordial ritual to revitalize and restore the body. As the steam misted and enclosed me in a warm cocoon, I was aware only of the sounds of the cascading waterfall overhead and my own breathing. I remained in this almost trancelike state until I heard another person enter the cave, at which point I left, feeling cleansed and calm. It only seemed natural to walk across the rocks and take a soak in the nearby Ocean Falls Jacuzzi for the complete Calgon experience.
As I sank into the bubbling cauldron, I gazed out at the sea, taking note of all the different water craft making their way in and out of the bay. Bedwell Harbor is an active marina where boats of all sizes and shapes are moored. Large, luxury yachts come in alongside small pleasure craft, while float planes land and take off on a regular basis. Despite this flow of traffic, it is a peaceful spot, loaded with quaint island charm.
All too soon, I was called into the spa for my treatment. Susurrus offers a wide range of relaxation and esthetic services, from hot stone massages and seaweed wraps to salt glows and organic facials.
The 3,500 foot facility has six treatment rooms, some with ocean views and many with fireplaces, and prides itself on incorporating Mother Earth fundamentals to create its signature treatments.
During my Poets Cove Signature Massage, my therapist’s hands were gifted instruments that worked wonders on my knots of stress. But it was the Raindrop Therapy that was the true magic. Oils of basil, thyme, peppermint, wintergreen, marjoram, Cyprus and frankincense were dropped in a sequence along various points on my spine and then spread in feather fashion outward on the rest of my back. The oils each had special properties. Some helped to promote relaxation and stabilize circulation, whereas others induced deeper breathing and soothed aches and pains. As the drops lightly fell on me, I embarked on an amazing sensory, wellness voyage that resulted in a sensation of complete balance and harmony. This feeling of well-being continued throughout the duration of my stay at Poets Cove.
I left the resort, rejuvenated in body, mind and spirit, but as soon as my plane took off from the dock, I was already greedily planning a return visit to this Gulf Island gem.
Camano Island: One of the Northwest’s best kept secrets
Written 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.
Photo by Deborah Stone.
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.
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.
The perfect picnic spot at Camano Island State Park. Photo by Deborah Stone.
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.