It was cloudy, cool, and rainy today, the perfect day just to hang out on the island. We did just that. In fact, today was the first day since we’ve been here that I hadn’t left the island at all, whether to run into town or otherwise. Yesterday was quite the opposite, though. It was a gorgeous day. We decided to take advantage of it and travel by ferry over to San Juan Island and Friday Harbor.
The forecast for Thursday was supposed to be great, so Laura and I had planned to take an afternoon ferry over to Friday Harbor. Laura was going to the Island Garden Club meeting in the morning and we were planning our afternoon trip as walk-on passengers. However, our plans changed. Laura woke up with a headache and didn’t feel like going to the meeting. By mid-morning she was feeling much better. We decided to try to catch an earlier ferry and actually drive on with the Mini.
We were a bit worried because we didn’t have reservations for a drive-on. Walking on wouldn’t have been a problem. As we drove over to Anacortes Laura made reservations for the return trip from Friday Harbor so that we would at least have a way back, assuming we could get over there. We needn’t have worried. Since it wasn’t a weekend and the tourist season is about over, we were able to get a spot on the boat.
The weather was ideal. We took our favorite spots at the front of the ferry for the ride over to Friday Harbor. I couldn’t resist taking even more photos of this stretch, which I’ve photographed many times in the past.
The last time we made this trip we saw orcas just off of San Juan Island. This time we had no such luck. We pulled into Friday Harbor a little after an hour on the water. The top went back on the Mini and we headed out to explore.
As many times as we’ve taken the ferry to Friday Harbor, this is the first time we’ve brought a car over so that we can explore further than the town, as far as I can remember. I think we might have brought one over on my very first trip in 1988 with Laura’s parents, but we didn’t explore the island. We stayed right in Friday Harbor. I was looking forward to see more of San Juan Island, but I wasn’t sure what to expect.
It was lunch time, but we didn’t want to get caught up in the crowds of Friday Harbor. Laura found a place for us online up in Roche Harbor. I was ready for new territory, so we set off in that direction. I was surprised (although I shouldn’t have been) at the amount of open agricultural areas on the island. A large part of it look very much like Samish Island.
We pulled into Roche Harbor and found a parking spot right next to where a fawn was getting a sip of water from a puddle. The trees were already sporting fall colors.
The Lime Kiln Cafe was busy, but we were able to place our orders and find a table overlooking the harbor. We watched as the captains of huge yachts maneuvered their boats up to docks for fuel or for parking. It was quite the ritzy ballet.
After lunch we walked out toward the docks. The pilot’s house from an old tug that used to run between Roche Harbor and Seattle now sits at the end of the dock.
We explored the small village. The old Hotel de Haro was on one side of the street, and the Quarryman building was on the other. There was a line of booths where artists apparently set up during tourist season. There were a couple of gift shops open, but not much else. We explored the gift shop at Quarryman.
Next to the Quarryman Hall were the remains of the old Lime Kilns, for which the cafe was named. In front of those were some nice bocce ball courts.
The village had also preserved the old power generators for the kilns.
We got back into the convertible and decided to drive all the way around the island. There is a designated scenic byway that goes around the island, and we were going to follow it, for the most part.
Our next stop along the west side of the island was the English Camp. This was part of a border dispute between Great Britain and the US. Both countries claimed jurisdiction over San Juan Island until an incident known as the “Pig War.” A US citizen on the island accidentally shot a pig belonging to a Canadian and there was a dispute over compensation. The US farmer was arrested by British troops, and US forces were brought in to rescue him. Things escalated to the point where British warships and American forces were brought in. President Buchanan sent General Winfield Scott to calm things down. After negotiations the two nations agreed to leave a token presence on the island. Thus was formed the English Camp at this site and the American Camp further south on the island.
Laura and I decided to explore. The English Camp sits along a very sheltered cove. The army barracks were on the hill overlooking the parade grounds. A few buildings from that time remain, including a stockade and garden.
We spoke with the ranger on site. When he mentioned the age of the buildings, “over 150 years old”, I was a bit confused. I had automatically assumed that since this was a British-American conflict it must have taken place either during the Revolutionary War or War of 1812. It turns out that this was in 1859, just before the US Civil War.
We continued on around the island, stopping at a couple of overlooks and at one potential kayak launch spot.
We finished our circuit with time to stop by the San Juan Vineyard. We had a bottle of their white wine at Chuckanut Manor a couple of weeks ago and really liked it. We purchased two more bottles in Anacortes, one for Glynda and one for us. We decided to stop in for a tasting.
The tasting room and retail shop are in the old Sportsman’s Lake Schoolhouse, built in 1896. Of course, this appealed to me immediately. Next to the school is a small chapel. We learned that this is a modern structure weathered to look the same age as the school.
Parked in the chapel lot was a weird three-wheeled open vehicle. We had seen another one of these around the island. You must be able to rent these somewhere on the island.
We headed on in and started our tasting. We tried two whites made from grapes grown on the island and a red from grapes grown in Eastern Washington. Generally, we like reds better than whites, but this time it seemed that the vineyard did a better job with their own grapes. The whites were much better.
The salesperson at the counter gave us a bit more information about the old school, including a photo of the building before it was restored. An old chalkboard and wood heater adorned the building. I doubt either were original – I can’t imagine them putting the heater right in front of the blackboard and somewhat blocking it.
We still had a good bit of time before boarding the ferry. Laura directed us to the south end of the island and to South Beach next to the American Camp. We found ourselves driving through grassy plains. To our surprise these were covered with huge rabbits.
The road led down a hill and to a parking area along the beach. With the grasslands and cliffs this spot looked more like California than Washington. The beach was littered with driftwood, and the view across the water was of the main San Juan de Fuoco Strait and the Olympic Peninsula beyond.
A guy had just landed his kayak, a Tsunami similar to mine. I chatted with him, and he said these waters could get rough. The sheltered coves and passages between the islands were calmer. Even so, I longed to be heading out. I’m definitely going to have to do that this year.
As we drove back toward Friday Harbor we notice large limestone slabs at the end of driveways. We hadn’t really paid attention to them until we started seeing them set up as pseudo-Stonehenges. I guess these came from the quarries near Roche Harbor.
We made it back to the ferry terminal in plenty of time. We watched the harbor traffic while waiting for our boat. The trip back was set against the setting sun and a rising half-moon.
We had dinner in Anacortes then headed home. It was a great trip, and I’m glad we finally took the time to explore San Juan Island. Here are the rest of the images from that trip.
One thought on “Exploring San Juan Island”
Oh how I envy your ramblings around that beautiful area. My memory of riding the ferries is dominated by our trip with our motor home towing the Jeep behind. We were asked to back up to get in a roomier lane, but we could not back up the rig without unhooking the Jeep. Whoa there, we are on a schedule, the crew remarked. They moved everyone forward and inch and we were able to fit. Other than that escapade, ferries are fun.