Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bellingham's Byways

In 1992, the US Department of Transportation began a program of designating National Scenic Byways, those American roads noted for their outstanding scenic, historic or cultural qualities. The town of Bellingham, about 90 miles north of Seattle on I-5, is unique in having two such byways at its doorstep. More interesting is how completely different the two roads are with one offering stunning alpine scenery and the other a peaceful panorama of water and islands.
Downtown Fairhaven
The Mt. Baker Scenic Byway (State Route 542) heads due east from Bellingham and travels 58 miles to dead-end at Artist Point.  Ideally, the journey should be undertaken on a clear, sunny day (yes, they do exist) because it’s all about the view. According to the WSDOT the road is now open for the season. An earlier blog (January 2010) covers this spectacular drive.
Bellingham’s other National Scenic Byway begins at the southern part of town, in an area known as Fairhaven. This historic district, filled with restored brick buildings, is loaded with galleries, unique shops, cafes, and an excellent indie bookstore. The area is also an important transportation hub served by Amtrak and the Alaska Ferry System. From Fairhaven, the Chuckanut Drive (State Route 11) travels south along Samish Bay. Its funny sounding name is a Native American term meaning “beach on a bay with a small entrance.” The narrow and winding road hugs the bluffs and cliff sides of Chuckanut Mountain, providing expansive views of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands. Things get really exciting when there are cars in both directions and a team of bicyclists all sharing the same spot! Fortunately, several pull-overs along the route allow the driver to enjoy the vista as well. Oyster lovers will want to stop near the south end of the drive at the Oyster Bar which has been serving local oysters since the 1920s. Fried, fresh on the half shell, or baked, the oysters are accompanied by a beautiful view overlooking the water. The drive ends after 21 miles in the flat farmlands and potato fields of Skagit County where it’s only a short drive east to I-5.
Along the Chuckanut
 Bellingham, as the hub for these drives, is worth a visit as well. It hosts a number of museums and a good-sized farmers market on Saturdays in the summer and fall months.

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