Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Travels with Chili: Cama Beach on Camano Island

As a kid I loved going to summer camp, a few days away from home spent in an old Episcopal Church retreat center in Eastern Oregon. Days were filled with swimming at the natural hot springs pool in town—diving for rocks in the deep end was the main activity—and art activities in the ancient crafts cabin taught by an equally ancient, and very sweet, woman who'd taught children to weave gimp lanyards and glaze copper jewelry since my mother went to the camp as a child.

The setting. The cabins are on the point of land jutting into the water in the upper left.

The original cabins, small and unadorned except for rows of cots for the campers, had the sweet smell of old wood and fresh air, a scent memory I was reminded of when we toured Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island. The cabins there, 24 of them set in double rows along a stretch of beach on the Saratoga Passage, were no doubt made from trees logged on the property. The wood-paneled interiors were spartan, but with beds instead of camp cots, and furnished with a dining table, refrigerator and microwave oven.

Cubbies and thumbtacks in the office.

The park was originally a fishing resort in the 1930s, though the beach had been fished for centuries before that by the island's Native American population, and the old office building still had the cubbyholes and complicated colored thumbtack system that served to keep track of the renters. It also featured a historical collection from its heyday as a vacation spot for Seattle families along with natural history displays, including a whale jawbone.

A cabin interior.

No cars are allowed at the beach cabins, so campers and their supplies are shuttled by bus from the Welcome Center at the park's entrance. The Center, a concession to modern needs, was designed to fit in with the older style of the cabins and is set on a bluff overlooking the beach. It has a café and a small store in case campers need a break from the rustic cabins (or a box of matches), and also features a large hall for events.

Main boat dude Shane Bishop, the Cama Beach manager.

The Center for Wooden Boats is located on the shore near the cabins, with classes on toy boat building for kids and with boats of all stripes available to rent. There are also various historical boats on display, some that belong to the center and some that are being restored for clients. Which means that if you're a boat nerd, this is the place to go to get inside info on building and caring for wooden watercraft, or if you have a yen to stroke the hull of a 100-year-old Maine canoe.

And if the park itself feels like you're stepping back to a simpler time, it's easy to hop in your car and visit the other attractions of Camano Island, or drive over the dramatic bridge at Deception Pass and go on a day tour of Whidbey Island.

The peace and quiet of cabin life with a soupçon of modernity on the side? Sign me up!

(Map to drive the four hours from Portland here.)

Read the other posts in this series: Whidbey Island Idyll, Pt. 1, about the town of Langley, and Whidbey Island Idyll, Pt. 2, about Greenbank Farm and Camano Island Coffee Roasters.

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