Dale was in Seattle on business last week and fortunately I was able to accompany him. As most of these work trips go for Dale, he works while I play. However, we arranged to stay for an extra day so that we could do a little exploring. With the help of Google maps, we spotted The San Juan Islands archipelago, made up of 172 islands, some of them no more than rocks, in the northwest corner of Washington state. To get there, we caught the 5:45 am Airporter out of downtown Seattle and travelled two and one-half hours by bus to arrive at Anacortes. From there we had just a few minutes to purchase tickets and board the the Washington state ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Our adventure unfolds . . .
Views from the ferry.
Early morning odyssey from Anacortes to Friday Harbor.
Sailboats floated lazily in the early morning light as we approached Friday Harbor.
In Friday Harbor, Dale and I, and the other eight members of our group, rendezvoused with our guide for the day, Orin from Outdoor Odysseys. From the harbor we travelled another 25 minutes to the west shore to launch our kayaks at San Juan County Park on the Haro Strait. This area is known to be visited by Orcas following the trail of chinook salmon. The period of time from late June through August is optimal for siting whales due to the high concentration of salmon. There are three resident pods in the San Juan Community, consisting of about 82 whales. These local orcas live on salmon, not mammals, eating about 200 pounds per day.
Here we are grouping our kayaks over a kelp bed, which is what you do when you see Orcas, to give the impression of one obstacle as multiple may be stressful. This was a trial run should they come upon us unexpectedly.
I like the idea of happening upon the Orcas naturally, but it was disturbing to see so many powerful motor boats loaded with people, roaring through the Haro Strait in hot pursuit tracking them with sonar. I felt more than a little sorry for the Orcas, but I suppose even this is better than being captured and living out their lives in aquariums.
Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse.
Once in the water, we paddled close to the shore, in the intertidal area, where the water was relatively shallow, and crystal clear. Our guide was adept at locating marine life for us to experience. We saw many sea urchins on the ocean floor beneath us, a Sunflower Seastar, the largest seastar in the world with a massive armspan of up to 3.3 feet, and a beautiful Lion's Mane Jellyfish, as well as blue and orange starfish clinging to the rocks above the tide line We paddled through lush beds of bull kelp that we learned could be 100 feet deep and 100 feet wide. It was so dense in some areas that we got ourselves tangled in it briefly. In the water the kelp was sinuous and fluid and plant-like, but washed up on the beach it had a disturbing sea monster quality to it. As we paddled on, we came upon bespeckled harbor seal pups sunning themselves on rocks along the shore, as well as blissfully swimming and munching in the kelp beds.
And, I finally had the opportunity to see the mythical Pacific Northwest Madrone trees that my friend Linn had told me so much about. They have striking red bark making them immediately identifiable as they twist and writhe along the shore to catch the sun's rays.
View across Haro Strait, we are but 9 miles from Victoria, B.C.
After paddling for a couple hours we landed on the beach in Dead Man's Bay and while Orin prepared our picnic, we had time for some on-shore explorations.
I was eager to explore shelling on the island and found these rocks covered with live specimens. Both the water tempature and the rocky shoreline made shelling more of a challenge than we are accustomed to but we came home with a few shells and rocks for our collections.
The water temperature was around 45 degrees, a bit cooler than we are accustomed to but it actually felt good.
There were hundreds of snail inhabited shells, large and small. I thought I was going to take one of these pretty white univalves home with me, but later discovered a little crab had taken up residence. I did manage to find a couple small shells that were uninhabited though.
One of many the tidal pools that were brimming with small fish, crabs, live shells, and a tiny black eel. I loved the kayaking and being out on the water, but having the opportunity to explore this unique landscape and the tidal pools was my favorite part of the day.
This shoreline was covered with large scale driftwood that had been collected and arranged over a period of time. The wood was in varying sizes, shapes, colors and textures developed by exposure to sea and sun, and was beautiful. Orin laid out our picnic for us among the driftwood.
The name of our one-day kayaking tour was Orcas and Eagles because there is a large number of Bald Eagles residing in the San Juan islands, and we were visited by these majestic creatures throughout our day as they flew from the trees along the shore and glided over the ocean on their fishing expeditions.
On our way back to the launch, Orin took a few photos for us. As you can see it was crystal clear, the perfect day to be out on the water. Our brief whale siting came unexpectedly late (when we were more than a little tired), with the camera stowed in the dry bag, but it was no less exciting. It just means we have to come back again (soon I hope)!
After a full day of kayaking, we had a delicious dinner at the Cask and Schooner and were back at The Bird Rock Hotel and in bed by 9:30 pm so we could catch the 5:45 am ferry back to Anacortes. We had timed this trip down to the minutes and as luck would have it the ferry, which everyone says is never late, was delayed by a work barge blocking entry into the dock in Anacortes. Yes, we missed our airport shuttle. The next one was an hour later and would put us at the airport a mere 20 minutes prior to departure. We somehow managed to get through security and boarded on time. That was a close call, but we knew a lot of things had to fall into place for this adventure to happen and it was worth every minute.
As we flew out of the Sea-Tac airport, Dale managed to get a great shot of Mt. Ranier with his phone camera. The perfect note to end a spectacular adventure in the Pacific Northwest.