Situated in the northwest corner of Washington State, the San Juan Islands are gems that attract visitors, adventurers, salmon and Orcas.Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza visited the islands in 1791 sailing under the authority of the Viceroy of Mexico, Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, second Count of Revillagigedo (quite a mouthful). Eliza named them the San Juan Islands in honor of the viceroy, along with Orcas Island, which is short for ‘horcasitas’, not for the Orca whales that swim by.
We stuck with San Juan Island, the principal island of the four main islands, and the town of Friday Harbor as our base. There is more than enough to keep us occupied on this island. Another trip and more time will have us inter-island hopping to Shaw, Lopez and Orcas and possibly a visit across the border to Victoria in Canada.We explored the cute town filled with galleries, coffee shops and restaurants. There are no chain stores or restaurants anywhere. The delicious ice cream is mostly from the Lopez Creamery just an island away. The fish and shell fish are from local harbors, the meat is also locally sourced. Everything is creative and delicious. The bakery across the street from our lovely accommodations, Bakery Demeter, served up oven fresh ficille made with walnuts and gruyere cheese at 7:00am. Delicious with coffee.The owner of our Nichols Street Suites, Annie Adams, is also an artist whose work is displayed in many locations on the Island.We visited and explored all areas of the island. The southern end has Cattle Point and the American Camp. There are great trails for hiking and wonderful views. The western coast has Lime Kiln Park, also filled with hiking trails along the rocky coast. We watched many sea kayaks launch from Dead Man’s Cove as we walked to the lighthouse and then further to the kilns that had baked the stone into limestone. We made several visits to this area willing the Orca pods to swim by. Unfortunately for us they were not on our schedule. We did listen to a naturalist speak about the resident and transient pods that travel through the Salish Sea and the Haro Strait all year and we saw a short film of the many visits the whales make. Also, we saw an aptly named Egg Yolk Jellyfish. A first of that variety for us.The north end of the island is home to Roche Harbor, the English Camp, a sculpture park and a quirky cemetery.The cemetery is next to a small airport on Cessna Lane. There are small family plots surrounded by white picket fences. There is a mile-long walk past these plots in a dense forest that brings you to the Afterglow Vista Mausoleum. The McMillin family were wealthy Masons/Republicans who owned the Roche Harbor Lime Company (they had a monopoly on all limestone business west of the Mississippi). McMillin boasted that his cement helped rebuild San Francisco after the earthquake and fire of 1906.
The family plot has so much symbolism attached to it. McMillin incorporated symbols from Masonry, his Sigma Chi fraternity and his family in this structure. The winding stairs show that life is not a straight path and no one can see the future. The broken pillar represents how, often, one dies before his work is complete. The dinner table and chairs arranged like the family table are actually crypts for the ashes of each family member. This also represents a reunion after death. This was both creepy and cool.The English Camp has great views of the harbor, several historic buildings and a small formal garden. It is also the trailhead to the highest point on the island, Mount Young (650 feet). We did see some harbor seals (mostly camera shy) and we ate some breaded oysters from Westcott Bay after our strenuous hike!
Somewhere near the middle of the island, we visited the Pelindaba Lavender farm. They grow and distill the lavender and sell everything from essential oil to ice cream.The Island Museum of Art is a contemporary glass building and had a very interesting show on the Gee’s Bend quilters from Alabama and how their work influenced artists around the US and the globe.We saw fox, deer, seals, bird of prey and other wildlife. We learned new history about the Pig War, Orca whales and Schooner travel. All that and total relaxation too. Island time anytime.