It All Began With a Pig ~ San Juan Island, WA

San Juan Island, second largest in the San Juan Island Archipelago, is the most populated of all the islands.  At high tide over 400 islands and rocks dot these waters, 128 of which are named.  San Juan Island is one of four accessible by ferry.

One wouldn’t know it now, but this quiet little island was once on the brink of an international conflict between two world super powers, the British and the U.S.

The Pig War, a confrontation in 1859, spurred by the shooting of a pig, escalated to a boundary dispute between these two countries, both claiming rights to the island. Luckily no blood was shed.  Well, not exactly true…there was the pig.  Today remnants of both the American and British camps are available for touring.

Homesteaders moved in after this conflict, taking to the sea.  Salmon fishing and harvesting clams and oysters was big business until the 20th century when the island vibe shifted to a gentler pace, focusing on nature and wildlife.  Today the island draws those seeking outdoor adventures, kayaking, fishing, whale watching, and boating.

As the ferry docked at Friday Harbor, a vibrant seaport lay before us, filled with boutique shops, cafes, museums, and galleries, many honoring the natives, first inhabitants of the island.  It is a town devoted to art, with festivals scattered throughout the year showcasing the unique talents of the local artists.

We made Demeter Bakery our first stop for great coffee and delicious pastry and when hunger pangs announced lunchtime, we headed to Market Chef for a yummy sandwich and salad.

A few of our favorite stops were the Arctic Raven Gallery, featuring intricate Indian carvings and colorful Arctic and coastal native art, wonderful little Griffin Bay Bookstore, and the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, where we were treated to a rare glimpse of Susan Middleton’s fascinating exhibit, Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life, and a unique installation called Liminal Currents.

As we lie on the floor, looking up at the swaying branches we experienced the dancing underwater world as perceived by an animal such as the orca, who uses sound to understand spatial relationships within its environment.  Orca generated sounds, from the residents pods in the San Juans, have been added to enhance the experience.

I spent a few moments writing an intention, which I tied with ribbon to part of the linear sculpture.  At the wrap-up of the exhibit, the contents, branches, and messages will be gathered and burned, “transforming the scribed energy into light”.

As we moved beyond Friday Harbor, a diverse landscape opened before us – pastoral farmland, driftwood-strewn beaches, and bluffs overlooking island-dotted shimmering water.

The hike up Mt. Finlayson, a lovely walk through Douglas fir and red-barked madrona trees, provided us a birds-eye view of Cattle Point Lighthouse from the top.

Lime Kiln Point, a day use park, is considered one of the première places in the world to view whales from land.  Orcas are often spotted here but on our visit, gulls, terns, and an occasional oystercatcher were the only wildlife.  This is where the little sentinel Lime Kiln Lighthouse stands watch, a navigational aid still today for ships traversing Haro Strait.

We passed on a whale-watching trip while in Port Townsend, joining Laurel and Eric (Raven & Chickadee) instead on a tour booked through Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching, where we grabbed the last remaining seats.  Caption Jim uses a smaller boat for a more intimate experience, sprinkling in some history of the area as well.  We had heard that it was the best tour around, and being two of only seven on the boat, we had to admit it was pretty special.

Captain Jim & some of his crew
Captain Jim & some of his crew

A quick stop to Roche Harbor, a charming marina harboring some of the most beautiful yachts in the world, and we took to sea in search of orca.

Before long a resident pod sighting was confirmed in an area they are seldom found, off the shore of Spencer Spit State Park, right where we are volunteering.  It seems we needed to board a ferry to San Juan, hop on a whale-watching boat, and return back to the very spit we have walked most days since arriving on Lopez, just to see these beautiful creatures. Go figure!

(Not very clear shots but gives a perspective of how close these amazing creatures were to the spit.)

For their safety, we had to stay within 200 yards of the orcas, so my camera could not do these beauties justice.  Captain Jim graciously allowed me to share some of his stunning photos.

The above images are photo courtesy of Captain Jim of Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching.  If you plan a whale-watching trip on San Juan Island, we highly recommend this tour company for a more intimate experience. You won’t be disappointed. 🙂

A visit to the Sculpture Garden near Roche Harbor rounded out our visits to San Juan Island.   We know there is much more to see, giving us reason to return.

We are most grateful to Laurel and Eric, for introducing us to the islands that have become their second home, providing us great recommendations, and including us on the whale-watching adventure.  You two are the best!

Next Up: Orcas Island

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Discovering Unexpected Treasures on Whidbey Island, WA

Crossing the Admiralty Inlet from Port Townsend, we ferried over to our next Washington adventure, Whidbey Island, the longest island in the lower 48 states.  For the next three days we would have our own personal tour guides, Frank and Mary, eager to impart their knowledge of the rich history of the island.  This lovely couple is our winter next-door neighbor and had extended this generous offer before we left So Cal in May, which also included a private “mooch-docking” site in their driveway…sweet!

A beautiful Whidbey Island sunset looking out over the lagoon at Frank and Mary's
A beautiful Whidbey Island sunset looking out over the lagoon at Frank and Mary’s

Whidbey Island boasts five state parks and America’s first national historic reserve, Ebey’s Landing.  And the views of the Olympic Mountains and pristine seas are breathtaking.  Let’s go exploring!

Beginning in the town of Coupeville, where Frank and Mary live, we stepped back into the 19th century as we strolled the finely preserved Victorian downtown and wharf overlooking Penn Cove, one of the only remaining original wharfs and wharf building in the Pacific Northwest.  Getting into the local groove, we dined on world-famous Penn Cove mussels at Toby’s and gourmet ice cream bars at Lavender Wind.   This quaint town, the second oldest in Washington, sits within Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Stunning wharf and wharf building
Stunning wharf and wharf building

Here is a glimpse of what our lovely tour guides had on the agenda for our stay:

1/  Fort Ebey State Park

Once a coastal defense fort during World War II, it is now a state park with a cozy campground tucked in the woods.   We took a hike along the bluff with views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, then down into the kettles, with Frank offering a brief history lesson on these Ice Age geologic formations.

2/  Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve

This, the first national historic reserve in our nation, preserves the 1850’s character of its 25 square miles, including farmland, beaches, parks, trails, and nationally registered historic buildings.  A feeling of serenity flowed as we walked the paths and looked out over farmland and shimmering seas.

3/  Fort Casey State Park

World War I gun batteries and bunkers can still be seen in this state park, along with miles of hiking trails, camping and fully restored Admiralty Head Lighthouse.  Fort Casey Underwater Park is nearby for you scuba lovers.

4/  Admiralty Head Lighthouse

Admiralty Head Lighthouse
Admiralty Head Lighthouse

This stately lighthouse, companion to Point Wilson Lighthouse sitting four miles away in Port Townsend, on Admiralty Inlet’s western shore, was deactivated in the early 1920’s. In 2012 a historic reconstruction of the lantern house was installed atop the tower. Student volunteers from three Whidbey Island high schools completed all the work…very impressive.

4/  Lavender Wind Farm

Clouds billowing over a lavender labyrinth
Clouds billowing over a lavender labyrinth

On a much smaller scale than Sequim, Coupeville’s Lavender Festival was still very sweet.  Educational talks, strolls through gently swaying aromatic fields, and walking a lavender labyrinth added to the joy of the day.

5/  Greenbank Farm

Gorgeous Greenbank Farm
Gorgeous Greenbank Farm

Living history Greenbank Farm, a gathering place since its start in 1904, is home to beautiful gardens, café, farm and gift shop, and art galleries. But it is perhaps most known for its Organic Farm School, organic seed project, community gardens, and Naturalist Training Program. This is a place I would love to explore in more depth.

6/  Captain Whidbey Inn

This lovingly restored 1907 historic inn overlooks Penn Cove and the world-famous Penn Cove mussel rafts.  This inn’s rooms are reminiscent of Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone NP.

Our short stay with Frank and Mary was a whirlwind of activity but what will linger most is the deepening friendship forged.  Early evenings spent on their deck over a glass of wine, dinners revisiting the day’s adventures, Mary’s morning T’ai Chi Chih classes on the deck, surrounded by gentle breezes and soothing music, while eagles soared and kingfisher chattered, these are the memories that fed our spirits. Pure gratitude is what I feel when I think of these two generous souls.

We left after three days, content with the knowledge that there would be many more memories made when we see them again this winter.  A brief stop at Deception Pass State Park, with a hike down to the beach and a walk out over the iconic bridge to peer into the turbulent waters, rounded out our sightseeing on this wonderful island.

We spent a couple of nights at Washington Park in Anacortes to round out our time on Whidbey Island and prepare ourselves to catch a ferry to the San Juan Islands.  As luck would have it, our good friends from Colorado, Kevin and Erin, were in town visiting Erin’s mother Sally.  We spent a leisurely evening at Sally’s home enjoying a dinner prepared by Kevin, our wine, coffee, tea, and foodie connoisseur.  We have spent countless engaging hours of conversation over many of Kevin’s culinary treasures and we walked away once again in awe of his talent.   Although I didn’t capture this time with photos, we will never forget the lovely conversation and generous nature of these two.  So glad we were able to meet Erin’s mother as well, a delightful woman.  Thank you for a wonderful ending to our time on Whidbey Island.

Next Up:  San Juan Island