Bellingham and Whatcom County

My friend Julian has a very unusual hobby. He flies pets from kill shelters in California to rescue organizations in other parts of the western US where dogs are in higher demand. These operations are done under the banner of his non-profit: Pet Rescue Pilots.

In late June, Julian was organizing a trip to Bellingham, Washington and invited me to come along. The catch was that he had no room in his plane on the way up. So, that meant that I would fly commercial up and then fly Air Julian back.

June 27, 2020: Bellingham, the Border, and Blaine.

It turns out that Allegiant Airlines flies a nonstop between Los Angeles and Bellingham. The flight took an easy 2.5 hours and I arrived at Bellingham International Airport (BLI) at around 1 PM. Julian wasn’t scheduled to arrive until about 5pm, so I had some free time to explore! After renting my car, I drove into town for lunch at a drive-in called Boomers for a burger and strawberry shake.

After realizing that all the museums in town were closed due to COVID, I headed north on Interstate 5 until I reached the Canadian border at a town called Blaine. The border was closed except for essential traffic (eg trucks carrying produce or healthcare workers). Nevertheless, the Peace Arch State Park was still open.

I parked in the lot and stared across a grassy field filled with people picnicking and kiting. On the far end of the field was a street and some houses. In most places, this would not be anything special, but in Blaine, Washington, this grassy field represents an international border. The street and the houses are in Canada.

Canada is right there!

The border appears open- there is no fence or boundary of any kind separating the countries. That said, the border is not actually unguarded: there were 3 US border agents roaming the park to ensure that humans didn’t cross into/from Canada. This could not be more different than the US/Mexico border which in many parts looks militarized with multiples walls and dozens of officers.

I approached two guards and asked them if the Peace Arch monument was open. They said yes, but “don’t walk into Canada”. With their blessing I walked over to the no man’s land where Interstate 5 enters Canada. There in the extra wide median between the two directions of traffic is the famed Peace Arch, a 40-ish-foot tall monument dedicated to the cooperation and (ironic) open borders between Canada and the US. “May These Gates Never Close” says the inscription.

The Peace Arch is a unique political anomaly. People from both the US and Canada are allowed to enter the park without a passport. For people who cannot travel across the border, this is the only way to meet people on the other side. During COVID, the park became exceedingly popular for couples or families living on both sides of the border, as this was their only legal way to meet in person. The park got too popular for its own good and just a few days before I arrived, Canada closed their side due to the risk of bringing COVID across the border. It was estimated that before the closure, 1200 people were visiting the Peace Arch per day.

At the Peace Arch

Despite the Canadian side’s closure, couples and groups were finding creative ways to meet up along other sections of the border. I saw a couple stretch a picnic blanket over the border. In one spot couples set up lawn chairs on the border and were cheers-ing beers across the invisible line.

The town of Blaine isn’t just the Peace Arch park. The “downtown” has a cute stretch of shops. The most famous is an ice creamery called Edaleen Dairy. There are also many gas stations because petrol is considerably cheaper in the US than in Canada.

Back in Bellingham, I went on a beautiful 2.5 mile hike in Whatcom Falls Park, Bellingham’s main city park. Whatcom Falls Park has a river gorge running through a thick forest and, yes, a waterfall! The falls are about 30 feet high. The park- like most wild areas of the Pacific Northwest- was absolutely stunning and I would highly recommend a visit if in the area.

Whatcom Falls

After a quick stop for a local kombucha at Kombucha Town, it was time to meet Julian at the airport. Instead of the commercial terminal, I headed over to the FBO (fixed base operator- a private company authorized to refuel and care for private planes). There I saw a small crowd of 10 mostly older ladies with dog crates. They worked for rescue organizations and were waiting to pick up their dogs.

Julian unloading dog crates with some of the volunteers.

We unloaded the dogs from the plane and headed to our hotel. Julian was understandably tired from the flight and didn’t want to go out. So we ordered takeout. On the way I got a flight of beer from the Aslan Brewing Company, the region’s most famous micro-brewery.

My flight from the Aslan Brewing Company

The night was spent chatting in our hotel room until about 9:30 when the sun set.

 

June 28, 2020: Chuckanut Drive and a Private Flight Back

The next morning, I insisted to Julian that we do something sightseeing-related so that he got to have a memory of Bellingham. We decided on the strangely-named Chuckanut Drive. This gorgeous drive weaves through forested cliffs above the Haro Strait. Orcas Island in the San Juans is easily visible.

Orcas Island visible from Chuckanut Drive

Historical plaques noted that this was the first road to reach Bellingham- built only 100 years ago. Before that, people had to hike or take a ship.

On Chuckanut Drive

From the south end of the road, we headed onto Interstate 5 and back to the airport.

After 30 minutes of loading bags and pre-flight checkups, we were off!

Julian’s plane
Captain Julian in action

The flight back took 4.5 hours and included spectacular flyovers of Lake Tahoe

Tahoe

and Yosemite Valley

Half Dome clearly visible from the plane

before landing through the clouds at Hawthorne in Los Angeles.

Bellingham is a really charming town and the surrounding areas are beautiful. The town is small- a day is more than enough, but it has enough good restaurants and is well-located enough to be a good base for exploring the region. With more time, I would have headed up to Mount Baker and North Cascades National Park.

Bellingham International Airport (BLI) is a hub for Allegiant with cheap nonstops all over the western US. As of June 2020 the only non-Allegiant flight is an Alaska Airlines flight from SeaTac.

%d bloggers like this: