Anacortes is called the “Gateway to the San Juan Islands” — that is exactly what it was for my daughter and me. Although we didn’t have a lot of time to explore the town before we had to be in line for our ferry to Orcas Island, we did find some very interesting things and had fantastic views of the islands. I know we will come back to this town on another day with more time to do some extended exploring!
Our first stop was Cap Sante Park, gotten to by climbing a steep winding hill up to the park. The views were spectacular in all directions. To the west, we looked down on the town of Anacortes, the marinas and the San Juans in the distance.
Anacortes has many beautiful Victorian homes and darling, refurbished cottages from the early 1900’s.
To the east was the Cascade Mountains and a little north was Mt Baker. My dog, Heidi was certainly enjoying the little time we had to explore the city.
Gazing more north had us looking at the east end of Guemes Island.
While we were up on this vantage point, we saw several beautiful, intriguing Pacific Madrone trees. It is a broadleaved evergreen, gnarly, branching tree found from San Diego to the eastern Vancouver Island. As it grows, its reddish bark peels back revealing a gorgeous smooth trunk and branches. It has white flowers in the spring and whitish/green berries that turn to red in the fall. If your a fan of trees, you’re going to like this one!
Our next stop, was to investigate an old, merchant ship, scuttled in 1966. This four-masted schooner, named La Merced was originally built in 1917 during WWI.
It was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1988. When it was scuttled, it was turned into a breakwater. It was filled with dirt and over time, a small forest grew from the top.
An old sea captain (albeit wooden) lights the ships way into port.
We stopped at the Chamber of Commerce and left with an armload of literature for the San Juan Islands. This artist’s treasure was hanging on the wall depicting cork-board cutouts of the islands. Isn’t it cool?
The last photography stop before loading the ferry, was when we saw this old abandoned Salina Packing Company salmon cannery. It opened in 1915 and closed in 2006.
Next stop – the ferry terminal! All aboard for Orcas Island of the San Juan Islands!
As instructed, we arrived about an hour ahead of departure time.
Once on board, we abandoned the car and our exhausted, sleeping puppies and headed up on deck to revel in the spectacular panoramic views.
Mt Baker peeked out around many of the turns we took. We were well on our way to the San Juan archipelago. There are actually 172 named islands and reefs in San Juan County. The ferry goes to four of the largest islands. There is San Juan Island with the town of Friday Harbor, a lively, tourist, seaside hot spot. It is the most populated of the islands with 8,000 full-time residents. With deep forests, lighthouses, lavender farms, alpaca ranches, and a pod of orca whales, you will always have something wonderful and exciting to do when visiting San Juan Island. Lopez Island is known for its friendly, smiling, waving locals and a flatter topography that is perfect for biking enthusiasts. This island is a beautiful blend of forests, picturesque farms, and quiet bays. You can even see the snow-topped Mt. Baker. Shaw Island is the smallest island served by the Washington Ferry. It has no restaurants, hotels or stores except for a general store with a deli that I’ve heard has scrumptious ice cream. What Shaw does have is beautiful sandy beaches. It too has a perfect terrain for biking and boasts a shoreline created for hiking.
We were headed to Orcas Island — the largest of the “big four” and nicknamed the “Emerald Isle” and the “Gem of the San Juans.” It is horseshoe-shaped and has the highest point of the San Juan Islands, Mt Constitution. We headed there because of this mountain and the promising far-reaching view. We planned on doing lots of hiking, plus exploring a few towns: Eastsound where we will dock, West Sound, Deer Harbor and Rosario.
Each island had its own inlets and bays usually with kayaks or yachts afloat. The islands are a very lush green and deeply forested. Surprisingly, they get less rain per year than Seattle due to the Olympic Mountains’ rain shadow.
At one time, the San Juan Islands almost became a part of the British Empire instead of the United States. In 1859, an American farmer, Lyman Cutlar, lived on the island and found a big pig rooting in his garden. The pig was owned by an Irishman, Charles Griffin. He ran the sheep ranch for Hudson’s Bay Company but also owned several free-ranging pigs. Cutlar offered Griffin $10 for the pig, but Griffin refused and demanded $100. Supposedly Cutlar said to Griffin, “It was eating my potatoes.” and Griffin replied, “It’s up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig.” After shooting the pig, the British threatened to arrest Cutlar and the Americans called for military protection, thus the Pig War ensued. In the end, the dispute was settled with no shots fired and thankfully, the San Juans became part of the United States territory.
Once the dock was in sight, we headed back to the car to get ready for our adventure!