There’s something unique about the San Juan Islands. Perhaps the islands should have been named “Peace and Serenity” as that is the feeling you have as you step onto the island. It’s as though all the stress and problems you arrive with, are immediately whisked away and you are embraced in a cozy blanket of calmness. People drive slower with no impatient drivers honking their horn. There are no traffic jams. The locals, as well as the visitors, have an unspoken law of friendliness with the “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” attitude.
Our first destination on Orcas Island was Mt Constitution, the highest point in all of the San Juan Archipelago. As we drove along the two-lane, meandering, country road, I was struck with the pristine beauty of the land.
Cushy moss cloaked many of the trees and rocks, casting a soft-green aurora that extended into the forest. Fern fronds uncurled in the shade, beneath the canopy of trees, creating their own knee-high forest.
To get to the 2,409-foot high Mt Constitution, you must first enter Moran State Park. This park is over 5,000 acres and has five freshwater lakes. It is a great place to hike with over thirty miles of hiking trails. We wanted to get to the top before dusk, so we drove instead of hiking. Part way up the steep, winding road was a pullout with enough space for about three cars. The view was striking with the splattering of islands across the navy blue sea, the deep forest green of the pines, and the white-capped mountains barely visible in the distance.
The clouds were starting to roll in so even though the view was breathtaking, we wanted to get to the top while we could still see to the horizon.
Looking up toward where we would be driving was a steep, grassy, slope studded with rock outcroppings. There, almost over the ridge, two black-tailed Columbian deer grazed. Although they are the largest land mammal of the islands, they seemed small compared to the white-tailed deer we have in the Midwest. What they lacked in size, they made up in cuteness! They were so captivating, we had to pause and watch them a few minutes before continuing our assent.
Onward and upward! We continued to climb and wind ourselves through the beautiful forest and before we knew it, we were at the top. There was a large parking lot and gift shop (that was unfortunately closed) and another stunning lookout.
We could see the snow-capped Cascade Mountains, Mt Baker and a variety of both Canadian and American cities.
A wide path led us up to a stone observation tower. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1936. Inside is a historical picture display telling the story of the construction of the tower and about Robert Moran. He was a former Seattle mayor and a shipbuilder who donated the land in 1911. From this spot, we had a breathtaking, panoramic view of the surrounding islands.
On the stone-paved ledge looking over precarious cliffs, we could see mountain lakes far below.
The little bit of sun that was left, was quickly starting to fade. We needed to get down the mountain and find our bed & breakfast before nightfall!