Wildlife in the San Juan Islands

We’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for over 20 years and have never been to the San Juan Islands.  We remedied that over the Fourth of July weekend, when our newest inlaws, the Shellys, invited us to spend a couple of days with them at their cabin on Orcas Island.

As my wife and oldest daughter, Elizabeth Shelly, got ready to leave our home on Bainbridge Island, we were treated to the youngest baby deer we’d ever seen in our backyard sauntering through.

On the early morning drive up to Anacortes, WA, gateway to the San Juans, I was not looking forward to the long wait at the ferry line to get to Orcas Island.  My sister used to live on Guemes Island and one of the memories of visiting her in the summer is the huge long lines of cars waiting to catch the ferry.  I wanted no part of that as we have our own challenges with the Bainbridge Island ferry in the summer with all the tourists clogging things up.

Imagine my surprise when we arrived an hour early at the ferry terminal and it was clear that we were going to make the next boat.  That was easy.  We arrived at the cabin and immediately went for a walk on the beach (see interactive 360 view):

We couldn’t wait to take an extended family outing to Mt Constitution in Moran State Park.  Somehow our weather karma finally gave us some spectacular weather and we were treated to the clearest view of the Puget Sound from Seattle and Mt Rainier in the South to Vancouver in the North (360 view).

The birds were out showering us with their chatter:

While we were exploring the island, we came across this sign at North Beach near the town of East Sound:

During our two days with the extended Shelly family, we’d had the gift of listening to the never ending stories that Suzanne and Robert shared with their two children.  “Imagine. Create. Pretend.  Turn any time into story time.” What special advice for adults to do with children along with remembering to do it for ourselves.

As we continued our island tour, we went by the Rosario Resort.  While Jamie and Elizabeth listened to a mini-organ recital, I walked behind the old mansion to view the inlet.  I couldn’t believe the number of starfish that were making their way over the rocks as the tide came in:

We also couldn’t escape one of those priceless philosophical questions as we passed by a local shellfish farm:

All too soon our time on Orcas Island was over and it was time to head over to Friday Harbor and San Juan Island. Just after we arrived on the island we headed out to Lime Kiln Point State Park to see if we could view some Orca Whales within sight of the shore. Little did we know that we were in for the treat of our short visit to the San Juans.  Just as we arrived at the viewing point, a pod of three whales came within 50 feet of the rocks that we were standing on.  Here are just a few of the hundreds of photos of the whales that we shot at three separate times during the day:

We headed up to Roche Harbor Resort for lunch (a little to East Coast Newport Beach snobby for us) and then came back across the island to visit American Camp National Historic Park. We took the time to hike several miles within the park and visit one of the oldest redoubts left on display.  As we left the park, a huge eagle flew right over our car and landed in a nearby tree.  I quickly moved the car to the side of the road to grab some pictures of an eagle up close:

As I got too close for comfort, the eagle took wing:

What a day.  So we slowly pulled our car back onto the park road, and out popped a fox. I felt like I was at Disney World with an unseen director shouting “cue the fox.”

On such a lucky day for the fauna of San Juan Island, we decided to drive back over to Lime Kiln Point State Park to see if the whales were still around.  We got to watch two more pods come back south close to shore:

As we turned to walk away, one of the other tourist observers pointed to a seal close to the rocks:

What a full day of wild life viewing.  Who knew that the San Juan Island was such a repository of wild life.  After dinner, we meandered our way back to our room at Lakedale Resort Lodge (360 degree view) and darn near drove the car off the road as we looked up and saw a camel in the field.  Come on, a camel in the Pacific Northwest.  We had to stop and get a photo:

We were really excited to get up the next morning for another day of whale watching.  We headed out early to Lime Kiln Point State Park but saw none of the whale watching boats that flooded the area the day before.  We waited around for over an hour but saw no whales.  So we decided to head up to English Camp National Historic Park.  What a beautiful little park nestled away on the west side of the island with massive old cedars and a quaint English garden.

With delight in our hearts from the beautiful weather and the gifts of nature, we headed back to Friday Harbor to catch the ferry to Anacortes.

One of those wonderful surprises happened the following Monday evening after I finished teaching my “Designing for Demand” course at the UW Foster School MBA program.  Karthik, one of my students, came up to me at break with his iPad showing a photo of an Orcas Whale.

I had included one of my Orcas Whale photos at the beginning of my lecture slides. Karthik asked me where I’d taken the photo and we both laughed when I shared that it was off San Juan Island.  Karthik had also ventured up to Friday Harbor and had taken one of the whale watching boat trips.  On Saturday while we were looking for the whales on the west side of San Juan Island, the whales had migrated to the south side of Orcas Island where Karthik captured his photos.  That’s when I realized how lucky we were with our full day of viewing the whales from shore at Lime Kiln Point State Park.

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2 Responses to Wildlife in the San Juan Islands

  1. Priscilla and Paul Adler says:

    What a wonderful time you had! thank you so much for sharing!

  2. swaltersky says:

    Priscilla and Paul.

    Great to hear from you. I look forward to seeing some photos from your journeys to Pond Island.


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