The Traveler's Journal  
Travel Articles by David Bear
Versions of these articles and columns have appeared in newspapers around the county. Please enjoy them for your own use, but if you want to reproduce or publish them in any form, please let us know first by emailing us

Tulip time in the state of Washington rivals Holland's


David Bear
Girls stroll in the tulip fields of Washington's Skagit Valley, which holds its annual tulip festival for the entire month of April.


MOUNT VERNON, Wash. -- Multicolored ribbons of tulips unfurling as far as the eye can see, acres of blue irises, yellow daffodils and purple lilies all blossoming in the spring sunshine -- these are sights a traveler might expect to find amid the fabulous flower fields of Holland. But the state of Washington?

David Bear
Tulips spring forth in mid-March in theSkagit Valley although colder-than-usual weather at night this winter may delay the blooms by a week or two.

If You Go:
Skagit Valley, Wash.
   For complete details on the Skagit Valley and its Tulip Festival, including accommodations, dining, events and bloom forecasts: 1-360-428-5959 or
   While driving is the easiest way to get to the Skagit Valley, it's also possible to take Gray Line day cruises to La Conner from Seattle or Victoria, British Columbia: For information 1-800-426-7532 or www.
   Of course, you don't have to travel to Washington State to witness tulips in their glory.
   On April 23 and 24, Cape May, N.J., will hold its 24th annual Tulip and Garden Weekend. For information: 1-609-884-5508 or
   And folks up in Holland, Mich will be celebrating their 76th annual Tulip Time Festival May 7-14. In addition to the flowers, there will be performances by the Kingston Trio and Brenda Lee. For information: 1-800-822-2770 or


-- David Bear

Backed by the snow-capped Cascade Mountains, the wide Skagit (pronounced "SKA-jit") Valley opens on the warm waters of Puget Sound, an hour's drive north of Seattle on Interstate 5, halfway to Vancouver. The fields along the Skagit River's broad alluvial valley, boasting top soil four feet deep, have been farmed for a century and a half, and flowers have been grown there for nearly 100 years.

But the floral extravaganza began only in the 1950s, when Dutch immigrants arrived seeking a mild climate and naturally fertile soil to work their floral magic. Perhaps the pan-flat expanse also reminded them of their low-lying homeland, albeit with stately Mount Baker in the distance.

At any rate, it was an idea that worked out very well. According to local estimates, there are now more acres of tulips under cultivation in the Skagit Valley than in the whole of Holland.

Skagit's growers now supply bulbs to gardens around the world, an active commerce year-round. Normally, the flower fields are not open to the public, but for a month the normally staid Skagit Valley goes just a little bit crazy.

The 22nd annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival begins April 1 and runs through the month. If your timing is right, you will be able not only to tiptoe through the tulips but also to tour more than 1,500 blooming acres by car, bike, horse-drawn carriage, even hot-air balloon. You've probably never seen such broad swaths of vivid color.

If you find a few favorites you'd like to grow in your own garden, you can have bulbs shipped home.

As I found out during a too-brief visit there last April, after you have feasted your eyes on the torrent of color, there's a full slate of other activities to occupy your attention.

In the nearby towns of Mount Vernon, where the Tulip Museum is located and the action is centered, in Anacortes, Burlington, Conway and La Conner, dozens of local arts and crafts events are scheduled every day, from quilt festivals and sculpture walks to art shows and flea markets.

Each day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., the Kiwanis Club holds a salmon barbecue at the Hillcrest Lodge in Mount Vernon. There are tulip picnics and workshops, tulip tournaments for basketball and beach volleyball. Over events for the actively inclined include a Tulip Pedal on April 9 (20- and 40-mile bicycle races through the valley) followed by a Tulip Parade. "Tour de Fleur," a five-mile walk past tulip fields. You get the idea.

David Bear
The town of La Conner, Wash., has a population of 775. This photograph was taken from the Rainbow Bridge, which spans the Swinomish Channel.


Planted in September and October, bulbs spring forth in mid-March, depending on weather conditions. The tulips are growing more slowly than usual this year because of temperatures in the mid-20s at night throughout most of February, and bulbs are expected to show a week or two later than usual.

Although the vast tulip displays are the major tourist attraction in the Skagit Valley, the growers are more concerned with the bulbs than the bright petals.

Because petals falling on the ground pose a disease hazard for the bulbs, all those beautiful blooms are generally sheared off just before they reach their peak and sent to market. So right timing is important. The bulbs remain in the ground until the summer, when they are dug up, cleaned, sorted and shipped.

But in the evening, once I'd had my fill of flowers, I was very content to sit and sup in a charming pier-side restaurant in the artsy village of La Conner and watch sailboats bob in and out of the Swinomish Channel. Something of a preserved time capsule, this tiny fishing port (founded in 1869, present population 750) is the oldest settlement in the Skagit Valley, but because commercial development bypassed it for decades, most of the Victorian-era buildings along its several streets were spared the wrecker's ball.

Beginning in the 1930s, the Skagit Valley's pastoral charms and wonderful light also attracted painters, and the area became a haven for many members of the famed Northwest School, with artists such as Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan, Clayton James and Guy Anderson. Their works are on display in La Conner's Museum of Northwest Art (121 S. First St.) and their traditions still flourish in the other small galleries and studios sprinkled around the town. The Skagit County Historical Museum, on Fourth Street, is an eclectic collection of cars, farm tools and fishing equipment.

David Bear
Twenty sculptures are on display outdoors in La Conner, Wash., mostly along South First Street.


Today, the village's old gingerbread facades have been brightly restored and their interiors put to new uses, now occupied by a variety of boutiques and shops, art galleries and museums, ice creameries and cozy cafes.

The Gaches Mansion was built in 1891 by a local merchant who wanted the best home in town. Today it houses the Northwest's only quilt museum.

The most outstanding landmark is the Rainbow Bridge, which arches high above the narrow Swinomish Channel at one end of town. It offers a superb evening panorama of the valley, with stately Mount Baker in the far distance.

If you have a few extra hours, as I did, consider taking the scenery-rich drive to Whidbey Island, about 10 miles as the crow flies but four times as far by road. The bridge across open ocean at Deception Pass is worth the trip by itself. Having a chance to get out and wander through the wide, wind-swept ocean-side cliffs of Deception Pass State Park was icing on the cake.

All in all, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival offers a most delectable and laid-back package for flower fanciers and those who appreciate of all things bright and beautiful.


Coincidences lead to identities of girls in tulip photo

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The two unidentified young girls amid tulips in the photograph that accompanied the above article have been identified. The photo was taken by travel editor David Bear last March in the flower fields of Skagit Valley, Washington. Distributed on the Scripps Howard News Wire, the story and photo were carried in a dozen other papers around the country.

The photo caught the eye of reader, Margaret McDermott of Forest Hills. A writer and writing instructor at the University of Pittsburgh, McDermott recognized the two girls as her niece's children, Meghan and Molly McLaughlin, who live with their parents, McDermott's sister, Eileen, and her husband in Kirkland, Wash.

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