Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Discovering the Salish Sea: San Juan Island, Pt. 1

Salish Sea: The intricate network of coastal waterways that includes includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound and all their connecting channels and adjoining waters, such as Haro Strait, Rosario Strait, Bellingham Bay, Hood Canal and the waters around and between the San Juan Islands in the U.S. state of Washington and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, Canada.

When I got an e-mail offering a three-day insider's tour of San Juan Island, Whidbey Island and Port Townsend, all part of the region connected by the waters known as the Salish Sea, I couldn't say yes fast enough. First, the deep-green forested islands dotting the waterways are drop-dead gorgeous—Dave and I have explored some of the San Juan Islands in Washington and their counterparts to the north known as the Gulf Islands of British Columbia—and second, this tour, with its marathon itinerary, promised an exhaustive, in-depth look at several aspects of the region, including agriculture, tourism and industry.

The Majestic Inn and Spa in Anacortes.

In order to get an early start in the morning, I made the just-under-five-hour drive to Anacortes, Washington, for a quick overnight stay at the Majestic Inn and Spa (left), a historic structure from the late 1800s that has risen phoenix-like from several near-death experiences. Overlooking both Guemes Channel and Fidalgo Bay and with a 180-degree view of Anacortes's historic district from the rooftop patio, it's also within strolling distance of many of the town's best restaurants and shops.

I love ferries. There. I said it.

Another reason I love this part of our region is not only that it's driving-distance close (yet feels like a world away) and has the aforementioned spectacular setting, but you get to ride ferries to travel from place to place. Big and small, some carrying cars and others only walk-on passengers, ferries are, for me, the exemplar of the romance of slow travel. Chugging at water level among the green hummocks of the small islands and the expansive farmlands of their larger brethren, you get a close-up view of the life of the people who live here. Your fellow passengers carry overstuffed bags of their city purchases back to their island homes. Fishing boats head out to find the day's catch and bring it back to restaurants and processors. Small towns dot the banks along the water's edge, serving tourists and townspeople alike with gift shops and marinas, small manufacturing plants and businesses.

In the belly of the whale museum.

The ferry ride from Anacortes took just over an hour to arrive at the ferry dock in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, and we were whisked off by tourism maven Barbara Marrett for a whirlwind tour of the town's whale museum—where you can learn about the lives of the two types of Orcas, southern resident whales and transients, that inhabit these waters, as well as the humpbacks and grey whales—and its Museum of Art featuring the work of international artists as well as that of the island's well-known local artists.

Historic (and possibly haunted) James King farmhouse.

The San Juan Historical Museum is a large hillside property dotted with historic structures like the white clapboard James King farmhouse—rumored to be haunted—plus the island's original jailhouse and a log cabin, all open for touring. But it's becoming much more than that, with the barn being converted to an interactive Museum of History and Industry detailing the stories of the island’s fishing, farming, logging and lime industries.

San Juan Island potter Paula West.

We stopped for a quick lunch of deli sandwiches, salads and cookies on the outdoor deck at Market Chef—all its menu offerings star locally grown ingredients—and it was off to visit the pottery studio of Paula West. On the way Barbara told us about the work of the San Juan Preservation Trust, a non-profit land trust dedicated to helping people and communities conserve land in San Juan County. Primary funding for the land bank is from a one percent real estate excise tax paid by purchasers of property in the county, with other revenue coming from private donations, grants and interest income. An interesting factoid is that any county in Washington can establish a land bank like the one in their county, but to date none has.

Potter West, along with her husband, Joe Cooper, who does mixed media sculpture, offers tours of her home studio and gallery, and is happy to demonstrate her technique to visitors. They both participate in a yearly Studio Tour over one weekend at the end of spring, which gives a representative sampling of the island's dozens of working artisans in sculpture, jewelry, pottery, printmaking, glass, fiber and fine art.

Pelindaba Lavender Farm gift shop.

While I decamped to do a couple of interviews, the rest of the group toured Pelindaba Lavender Farm—I can personally vouch for the farm's lavender teas—which was established by Stephen Robins, a native South African who settled on the island in the mid-90s. The name, which in Zulu translates as "place of great gatherings," was originally a simple plan to protect a quiet valley property. It has grown into a publicly accessible parkland that grows lavender and sells lavender products, generating income that supports the property.

Innkeeper Farhad Ghatan playing Chopin while Roxie, his beloved mini-Aussie, sleeps.

Our accomodations for the night were at the Friday Harbor Grand, a sprawling home overlooking the town and the harbor in the distance. Now owned and meticulously (yet comfortably) renovated by the ebullient innkeeper,  master gardener and airplane pilot Farhad Ghatan, it was originally named after Judge Bowman, San Juan County’s first judge and one of Friday Harbor’s founders. After our dinner at the Bluff restaurant on the waterfront, we returned to the Grand to find Farhad at his grand piano playing selections from the classical canon, a nightly tradition at the inn.

Exhausted from a full day of touring, I fell into bed with cookies baked by our host and a sip of wine, looking forward to a kayaking trip early the next morning.

Read the other posts in this series: San Juan Island, Pt. 2 and Port Townsend and Fort Worden.


Barbara Marrett, San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau said...

Thanks, Kathleen, for your engaging article about San Juan Island! So many facets to a visit that you capable captured and brought to life. I'm looking forward to Part 2 of your article!

Kathleen Bauer said...

And thank you (again), Barbara, for your hard work making all the arrangements that made it so engaging! You're so lucky to live in such a wonderful place.

Anonymous said...

Love your writing. I live on San Juan Island, but you made me want to visit!