Discovering Lopez Island

Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I believe that the heartbeat of a community can be found in the values embodied by the locals and how well they nurture their land.  Lopez Island’s heartbeat is strong, pure, vibrant.

There is a distinctive chill to the air, signaling the approach of a new season.  Dusk creeps in early and brings the darkness with it.  Summer is waning, and with it our time on Lopez Island.  I can only imagine how lovely this island looks with her landscape splashed with reds and golds – perhaps another time.

For the past six weeks we’ve been camp hosting at Spencer Spit State Park, and an amazing six weeks it has been, from the moment we drove off the ferry. The staff here has been so welcoming, and we feel blessed to have spent time with each and every one of them.   And the opportunity to co-host with our friends Laurel and Eric made this experience darn near perfect.

Lopez Island is the least hilly of the four main islands comprising the San Juans.  Its high cliffs, beautiful coastline, and rolling farmland make it very popular with both kayakers and cyclists.  We have enjoyed both while here.

Countless farms dot the landscape, a dream for painters and landscape photographers. The wonderful pastured meats and organic fruits and vegetables they produce for the local groceries, restaurants and farmstands on the island are incredible.  There has even been a seed library created to further strengthen the local food system.  These folks know a thing or two about land stewardship.  With all this delicious, healthy food being lovingly raised, it is no wonder Lopez has a wonderful little farmers’ market each week.

Lopez Village, no more than a few blocks square, contains at least four farm-to-table restaurants, a phenomenal bakery, gourmet ice cream produced from their local creamery, bookstore, shops, and galleries.  And this small community sports two grocery stores, both focused on organic fare.

The library, once the old red schoolhouse, carries an amazing variety of books and DVD’s. They have an online learning center and even rent out musical instruments. When being presented with my library card, I was warmly greeted with “consider this your second home”.

Lopez Island is filled with a talented array of musicians and artists, encompassing many genres.  Thanks to an invite by Laurel and Eric, we sat in on a rehearsal for one local group, Super Wide Groove, whose members have become close friends of theirs. These are some seriously talented musicians.  Along with the many musicians on the island, there are an equal number of artists.  We were on Lopez to attend the annual Studio Tour, featuring 28 of these creative souls, and I’m sure there is much more talent out there.  After what we had seen, I was beginning to wonder if anyone is allowed to live here if they are not artistically inclined…unbelievable.

Our last little adventure on Lopez was a visit to the island’s winery, Lopez Island Winery, where we enjoyed a glass of their Madeleine Angevine in a garden overflowing with flowers.  This is also where we met  Dante and Lisa, a lovely couple from Fort Collins, CO who had ferried over from Anacortes, then biked to the winery.

A special thanks to Z and Tom, our newfound friends we met earlier this year, who ferried over from Anacortes to join us for lunch.  We look forward to seeing them again this winter.

We have been enriched by our time on Lopez, thanks to the locals and the beauty we found in nature.  I see return trips in our future. 🙂

Watch the slideshow below for a tour of this magical little island.

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The Emerald Isle ~ Orcas Island, WA

Commonly called the Emerald Isle, with its lush forested hillsides, Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands.   Looking like two saddlebags or some might say a horseshoe, with the most populated village of Eastsound connecting the two, it has the largest mountain in the islands, rugged coastline, and rural countryside.  Old apple orchards and remnants of turn-of-the-century prune-drying barns could be seen as we wound our way around the island.

Biking is said to be a big sport with locals and tourists alike, but its steep hills and winding roads did not call out to us.  We much preferred the rolling hills on Lopez Island for our two-wheeled adventures.

If you were looking to take to the trails, this would be the island for you.  These hikes may not be of the same caliber as those we enjoy in the national parks and other well-known western trails, but a girl can only be without her hiking boots for so long.  We had read that Turtleback Mountain Preserve near Deer Harbor offered some nice trails so we decided to investigate.  The lovely 3-mile Turtleback Mountain south hike didn’t necessarily take our breath away with only an 830’ elevation gain, but the views from the lookout most certainly did.

And of course, after a hike it is important to replenish fluids, right? 😉  How could we turn down the opportunity to taste test a flight of craft beer from the only brewery on the island – Island Hoppin’ Brewery?  It seemed many others felt the same way, as it was rockin’ when we arrived.  Our favorite, no surprise, was the Oatmeal Stout.

The highest point on Orcas, at 2409’, Mt. Constitution, can also be hiked and is where you will find the tower.  Climb to the top and you are looking out over island-studded waters and snow-capped Mt. Baker, provided the stars are aligned and you are blessed with clear views  We had neither a clear day nor anyone manning the Learning Center, but luckily we had seen some beautiful images atop Mt. Constitution already, thanks to Nina of Wheelingit.

We were nearby the historic Rosario Resort, and thanks to a friend’s recommendation, we decided to tour the property. Shipbuilder Robert Moran, who held a deep respect for nature, hand craftsmanship and the arts, constructed this striking resort.  His meticulous eye could be seen throughout as we walked the resort and grounds. A presentation of the history of this unique building, via film and music, rounded out our time there.

Eastsound, one of a few of the little villages dotting the island, was a great place to grab a meal and wander the shops.  We enjoyed a great farm-to-table salmon salad at an Asian café, The Kitchen.

Like other islands in the San Juans, the arts play a big role in the culture of this island as well, with local artists’ work featured in many of the shops and galleries.  If you enjoy pottery, a visit to Orcas Island Pottery should be on your list.  For more than 60 years it has been a destination for those visiting the San Juans, being the oldest pottery studio in the Northwest.  Just a few miles from Eastsound this quaint cottage studio is tucked into a forest of old-growth cedar and Douglas fir, overlooking the President’s Channel.  The cottage, outbuildings, and the yards are filled with colorful, creatively designed pottery in all shapes and sizes.  And a grey whale graced us with an appearance in the channel off the back of the property.

Confined by the ferry schedule, we had to leave exploration of the south end of the island for another visit.  I am confident that will happen. 🙂

Ferry leaving Orcas Island
Ferry leaving Orcas Island