When I found out about the opportunity to take a selfie with the Abominable Snowman, I called my friend Rhonda Hundertmark and she was up for the adventure! We booked a date to visit the Anacortes Museum during its annual Holiday Open house, yet we had no idea what was in store for us that day on our journey to find Rudolph and the island of the misfit toys…

Meandering through Fields and Farms

Farm Stand in the Skagit Valley

Rhonda and I have known each other for 12 years now… she is a graphic designer and we worked together years ago when I owned an art gallery in Stanwood.

We took the back roads, exiting I-5 at Conway and then winding our way through the fields and farms of the Skagit Valley. This drive always feeds my soul with scenery so serene and magical. I mentioned to Rhonda that if she happened to see the snow geese, be sure to let me know and I’d pull over. She laughed, not expecting to see them. We enjoyed our conversation which went back and forth between reminiscing about the good times at the gallery to getting caught up with each other’s day to day lives and families.

Suddenly I spotted a long thin white stripe in a field in the distance. I pointed in that direction, “Is that the snow geese?” As we got closer, we could see that it was a huge flock, and several photographers were already set up with their tripods. Luckily, we were close to the Snow Goose Produce stand (closed for the season) and found parking easily. We dashed across the street just as the birds started to fly and I quickly whipped out my phone to start filming.

Bird photographers in the Skagit Valley

Catching the Wave of 40,000 Snow Geese

They started to swirl, like a giant ocean wave, the deafening sound amplified as they came closer and the wave grew taller. It felt as if the wave would cover us and we stood there stunned with equal parts delight and awe. Over 40,000 of these birds migrate to the Skagit Valley every year from Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean off the far east coast of Russia. The sight so incredible, there are several local birding festivals named after the iconic Snow Goose.

You can get a feel for the experience with this video. Turn the sound on for the full effect!

When we returned to the car, we looked at each other, smiling, gasping and reveling in the moment having just witnessed such a magnificent show. These encounters can’t be planned, but it’s amazing how many times you can have a magical experience with winter birds in the Skagit Valley if you keep your eyes open.

We made a quick stop at Pleasant Ridge Farm and picked up a couple of bags of apples, and then carried on past La Conner towards highway 20.

On to Fidalgo Island

Anacortes is a coastal town located on Fidalgo Island in Skagit County. Many people come here to start their journey to the San Juan Islands as the ferry terminal is located just a couple of miles from downtown. In the summertime, it’s a great place for fishing, kayaking, whale watching and crabbing. There are great viewpoints for watching the boat traffic and busy marina and the annual arts festival in August attracts thousands for a weekend great art and music. But I love coming here in the cooler seasons, when the crowds are fewer and I can spend some time getting to know the locals.

We had an hour or so before the Museum would open its Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer exhibit, so we decided to wander through the shops in the historic downtown area. We started at one of my favorites, the Scott Milo Gallery. Years ago, I became friends with Katherine, the owner, having much in common running our galleries and raising our kids. It’s so good to see her shop thriving through the years! We had a quick visit and then savored the gorgeous feast of artwork hanging in her brightly lit shop. It was like a trip down memory lane for me, seeing the bold and lively characters in paintings by Lorna Libert, bronze sculpture by Leo Osborne, large watercolor succulent paintings by Sandy Haight and beautiful impressionistic works by Melissa Jander. I also enjoyed seeing Eric Weigardts colorful watercolors and remembered how fun it was working with him at a workshop in Stanwood.

Down the block, we stopped in at an antiques shop, the Marine Supply & Hardware. Wow! This store is HUGE! We wandered from one section to the next, enjoying the huge selection of everything from antiques and collectibles, to holiday décor, vintage trailer memorabilia, crab pots, buoys and knives and more. “This store has everything!” I thought, and then grinned when I spotted a sign hanging in the hardware section saying “Need something? Ask. We’ve got it!”

It was time to head to the Anacortes Museum on our quest to find the Abominable Snowman and company, so Rhonda and I reluctantly passed by the record shop (The Business), a consignment boutique and several other stores without stopping in. Note to self – we need to come back and do some Christmas shopping in this town!

Meeting Rudolph, the Abominable Snowman and the Misfit Toys

Seeing the brightly painted cast of characters at the museum brought back so many memories. We took our time finding them all, snapping photos along with the rest of the crowd. And yes, the Abominable Snowman still frightens me!

A museum volunteer informed us that the figures had been owned by Burl Ives himself–the time-honored singer, actor, and voice of Sam the Snowman, narrator of the 1964 animated holiday classic we had grown up with. Ives had retired to Anacortes in 1989 and displayed the figures in his yard each year. There is a nice write up about Burl and his wife on the Experience Anacortes web site.

We ended our Anacortes visit with a glass of wine and some delicious veggie tacos at Adrift restaurant. What a great way to get into the holiday spirit. We both agreed that the old Christmas movie we loved has so many lessons and themes that apply to our world today.

With warm hearts and full bellies, we got back in the car to head home, savoring a great day of nature, history, art, and the tune of Holly Jolly Christmas dancing through our heads.

Gayle Picken

Gayle Picken is a writer and video creator who loves yoga, hiking, kayaking, connecting with people and exploring the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She founded Day Trips in Washington to inspire you to get out and go on adventures in all of the towns and cities across Washington state.