Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Kayaking Fidalgo Bay

We are right in the middle of lots of water, so we certainly wanted to put our kayak to good use during our stay. We checked out several of the mountain lakes around us, but finally decided we should go for water on a bigger scale. Below is a picture of our location and all the water around us. There's some glare on the map, but it will give you a bird's eye view of our location. We are in the town of Anacortes, on Fidalgo Island, which is found on the bottom right hand corner of the map below. The map shows most of the bigger islands around us in the Rosario Strait in the Salish Sea in the state of Washington. For a layman's description, we're in the northwest fuzzy part of Washington where it's hard to determine where the U.S. ends and Canada begins because of all the water.

All these places sounded foreign to us not long ago. As a matter of fact, we're not far from foreign territory since the dotted lines in the left hand bottom corner is the Canadian border. But that's the beauty of living in a motor home and being able to explore new territories for weeks at a time. We get to learn about new places that we didn't even know existed. To further explore this new territory, we inflated our trusty kayak and set out on the waters of the Salish Sea that surround us here on Fidalgo Island.

We put the kayak in at the Cap Sante Boat Marina that is just a couple miles from where we are camped. The water was calm as we made our way across the channel entrance where the big boats cross from the marina to enter the sea.

We like to see the blue outlines of the mountains on the other side of the water. We can even see a tall, snow-covered peak that is partially hidden in the clouds. It's a great day for a boat ride!

We feel a little dwarfed by this huge ship that is being loaded on the industrial port across the water. Actually, we seem tiny next to the two smaller tug boats that were pushing it sideways into place at the harbor.

We got some great advice from a professional kayaker that was escorting a group of people finishing up a four-day kayak trip around the San Juan Islands. He took the time to sit down with us and show us a map of the waterway. His best advice was to hug the rocky shore of Fidalgo Island and watch out for the big boats. So that's exactly what we did. Since it was low tide, we also saw anemones and sea stars hanging on to those rocks just below the water.

We made the circle to get the feel of the sea. Denisa was glad to have this brave rudder man when the passing boats made big waves for little kayaks.

After our loop into the open water, we decided to check out the boats moored in the harbor. There are boats of all sizes lined up all the way to the channel.

We pulled our inflatable kayak in between two yachts. We felt a tiny bit small in both size and price tag.

These boats are kept shiny and clean even in this salt water environment. Our images were reflected in the shiny paint of the dark yacht. This is probably as close as we will ever get to yachting.

As pretty as these big boats are, we prefer our little kayak for our water travel. Then we like our "land yacht" for moving around this beautiful country's highways, as we learn about new places that we didn't even know existed before we retired.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Lopez Island

We had planned to explore two different islands in the San Juans, and we had figured it would take two days and two ferry tickets to get that done. But while we were on the west-bound ferry going to our first island, we found out that passengers can stop in at other islands for free on their east-bound ferries towards home. We just got a bonus island visit for free! The fact that we got an hour earlier start to our day now became more important since we're going to get to squeeze a stop to Lopez Island into our day's itinerary. So after exploring San Juan Island (as described in the last blog), we headed back to the ferry. Our plan worked because there was room for our car on an earlier ferry out of San Juan than we had reserved. So we boarded the 4:30 p.m. ferry out of Friday Harbor . . .

and about thirty minutes later found ourselves hiking through the forests on Lopez Island.

We had been given the advice to go to Shark Reef Sanctuary, and we are looking over the bright blue waters for any sea life this afternoon.

It's a beautiful place to be, but none of the orcas or sea lions are playing under the sea cliffs near us today.

But as we looked up, we saw that this is a bald eagle playground. We watched as two mature eagles flew through the air just over our heads. There are over 125 bald eagle breeding pairs in these islands--and one source proclaimed this the largest concentration in the lower 48 states.

Our original plan was to ride our bikes around Lopez Island, and spend one entire day here. Now that we have changed this to a late-afternoon exploration, we are glad to have the car to zip around. Lopez Island is only a few miles wide and 15 miles long. We saw lots of people biking on its narrow and winding roads. But we don't like biking with car traffic (just like we don't like driving a car with bike traffic). So now we are really glad that we are able to do two islands in one day. Far fewer people visit and live on Lopez island, so we saw more wildlife out in the open.

The other advice we got was to visit Spencer Spit State Park. We're still getting good use out of the Washington state park pass we bought several weeks ago. We parked and walked to the water to see this idyllic view right in front of the beach-front camping spots. These few tent sites are well sought after, and were all filled for this evening.

We haven't had any flowers for this blog, so Denisa just had to take a picture of the wild pink roses that seem to be everywhere on the islands. On Lopez, we see miles of wild roses as they are wound around most of the fences along the roads. They are in full bloom right now.

We were headed back to the harbor when we saw a group of birds gathered around something on the side of the road. We were surprised to see two vultures and two bald eagles fly up from the single carcass where the four birds were eating together. This young bald eagle flew up into the tree right beside us.

We were first in line at the ferry terminal. We need to catch the final boat of the evening, and we certainly didn't want to miss it. We had an extra long wait, since it was running 25 minutes behind schedule for some reason. Where this morning's ferry was packed full, the last ferry had less than a dozen cars on board.

The good news about stretching this day to include two islands were two-fold. We made best use of our expensive ferry boat ticket, and made great use of a beautiful weather day. We also got to finish our day on an island cruise, watching the sunset over the San Juan Islands. We have been blessed to wander into another of God's wonders today!

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Cruise to San Juan Island, Washington

The main reason we came to Fidalgo Bay is its proximity to the San Juan Islands. We didn't even know these islands existed a month ago, but recently other Washington travelers have told us good things about visiting them. We found we could get to the islands via the Washington state ferry system, just a few miles from our RV park. We made our reservation for the 9:30 a.m. ferry, and read all the tips that told us to get there early. Like usual, we were there earlier than early. But this time it worked out well for us, because we snagged a space on the 8:30 ferry instead. We just gained an extra hour of sight-seeing, that we started as they motioned us to drive into the bowels of the ferry.

If your car is claustrophobic, we wouldn't recommend riding on this ferry. They pack the vehicles on pretty snug. A few more pounds and Denisa would have had to crawl over the seat to get out the other side of the car.

Out on the open water, we met one of the Washington state ferries going the opposite direction. There is a sizable fleet of these boats plying the waters of the Salish Sea, delivering passengers to the biggest four San Juan islands that are visited most frequently.

We filled our car up with gas before we made the trip, as we expected gasoline to be expensive on the islands. That's because fuel is considered hazardous cargo that can't be squeezed on the big ferry boats. So it has to pay the price for a private ride across the water.

Since Denisa has been hankering to go on a cruise, Mark tried to convince her that this hour-long ferry ride was a cruise. After all, we got beautiful cruise-like scenery of the views of the ice-covered mountains of the Olympic peninsula.

There are over 200 named islands in this area, and we got front row views as we cruised by many of them. We're out on deck, scanning the horizon for the orca whales that live here.

There was comfortable seating inside, and many of the experienced passengers were even bedding down on the long padded seats--just like on a cruise ship. But Denisa pointed out the hotdog from the ferry cafeteria didn't stack up to cruise food. It was also a little chilly on this cruise, as Mark is huddled outside the cafe's kitchen door where the warm exhaust was blowing. 

Our ferry's destination is San Juan Island. That's the most populated of the islands, and it also has the largest town--Friday Harbor. It's a cute little sea-side village, with restaurants and shops. Instead of paying to bring a car, many people buy the lower per-person fare and just walk around Friday Harbor while visiting this island.

But we paid the big money to bring the car, so we would have wheels to explore the entire island. That would take us first to the southern tip, where we explored a national historical site--The American camp. Denisa is standing on South Beach that is part of this national park.

We especially liked the wide-open prairies just above that beach. The volunteers at the visitor's center told us a large group of rabbits have made their home here. But we only spotted one rabbit in the field. That's probably because we saw several foxes out hunting for rabbit in the same field.

We saw both orange- and black-colored foxes in the field, prowling and sniffing into the rabbit holes. Mark did some google research, and discovered that a "red fox" can be several different colors--orange, black, silver, or any combinations thereof.

We were really excited to find this one laying in the middle of a field of wildflowers, very close to the road. The other distinguishing feature among all the red foxes is the bushy tail with a white tip.

A young fox is called a kit, and this guy was limping. He certainly doesn't look like a "red fox," but we could see that bright white tip on his long tail.

It was hard to pull Denisa away from taking fox pictures. But she also liked the views from the top of the hill with the wild poppies in the foreground of another beach picture.

Even better than that, she also got a fox and poppy picture with the sea in the background. Triple bonus points! There are signs all around the park reminding visitors not to feed the animals. But from this guy's behavior, it looks like some of the tourists aren't following the rules. He walked right up to the group of cars at the hill-top viewpoint.

We made the drive to the end of the island to see the sad little lighthouse. It is actually slated to be refurbished, and it did make a good silhouette against the pretty blue sky. We probably should explain the historical significance of this American Camp national historical park. In the mid-1800's, both England and the United States laid claim to San Juan island. When an American farmer shot an Englishman's pig that was rooting in his potato field, the "Pig War" became an international crisis. Both countries agreed to set up military camps on opposite ends of this small island, in order to protect their citizens' interests until the true ownership of the island was determined.

The American camp had less funding because we were fighting a Civil War at the time. But we liked it better because of its natural views and fox population.

Before the day was over, we would drive to the northern end of San Juan Island to visit the more civilized English camp. During the 12 years they occupied this post, the British built 23 buildings. So when it was legally determined that the United States got possession of the island, England sadly left. The "Pig War" was a very civilized crisis, that ended with no blood shed.

While we were in the north part of the island, we also visited Roche Harbor. We were glad to see that the lavender is beginning to bloom here, so Denisa finally got to see her purple plants after all.

Our last stop on San Juan Island was one of the best viewpoints for spotting orcas from the shore. We went to the lighthouse at Lime Kiln Point State Park to look across the waters.

It turned out to be a beautiful day, and we had reports that the resident orcas (killer whales) had been spotted coming this way from Victoria Island. There are 3 different pods of resident whales that make their home here, and we sure wanted to see this group of 38 whales.

But we never did get to see one for ourselves. The best we could do was to take a picture at the state park's visitor center with paintings of the orcas breaching and sky-hopping. Denisa is standing beside a life-size model of a six-foot-tall orca fin. That is what we should see first if a pod of killer whales were in the area.

Before we left Lime Kiln Point State Park, we had to figure out where that name came from. It seems that these hills are made of limestone. If it is cooked down in a large oven, it becomes lime that is used in the production of steel. This is one of those old lime kilns from the 1800's, nestled away on the beach here on San Juan Island.

We had a great day exploring San Juan Island. We had thought about riding our bikes instead of going to the expense of bringing the car on the ferry. But with many hills and some distance between sights, we were glad we opted for the car today. We would have been too tired from pedaling to enjoy the sights once we bicycled to each one. Besides, we found out we could explore two islands for the price of one if we moved pretty fast today. So we are heading back to the ferry dock for some island hopping. But that's the story for another island blog.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Welcome to Fidalgo Bay, Washington

After three days without any hook-ups, we were ready to move to our next campground in Anacortes, Washington. We've traveled another hour north, as we drive into Fidalgo Bay RV. It's nice to have 50-amps of electricity, plus water and sewer hook-ups! It's also nice to be in a very picturesque spot along Fidalgo Bay on a beautiful day. There is a walking/bicycling trail that actually runs through the RV park, so we got out our bikes soon after we arrived.

The path took us over Fidalgo Bay, on a bridge above the water that was built just for riding bicycles or strolling.

There are interesting obstacles on the trail. The resident sea gulls scoop up clams along the waters of the bay. These bird brains have figured out the easiest way to break the clam shell and get to the meat inside. They drop it from high above the hard surface of the bike path, and it cracks right open. Then the gulls scoop up the tasty clam inside and leave the sharp broken clam shells on the trail. Our next door neighbor told us that the trail is swept clean on a regular basis, because those sharp shells will puncture bike tires. We see one of those bird-brain sea gulls to the left of the trail as Denisa rides her new bike by--hoping not to get her brand new tires punctured. 

We turned around at the end of the bridge, then headed in the opposite direction on the trail. With the bay on our right, we have a three mile ride into the harbor town of Anacortes.

We stopped at Cap Sante Park to see how the citizens of this part of Washington spend a beautiful-weather afternoon. 

There were kayakers and sailboats enjoying the weather in the bay. We also saw a whole boat load of whale watchers leaving the marina. They have been guaranteed to see an orca (killer whale) before they return to the harbor.

When we walked to the end of the dock, we saw an entire school of fish. We were mesmerized as we watched them shift back and forth, and change direction as if they were one unit. It was a little like watching a living lava lamp that changes shapes and size.

But that one unit of fishiness was actually made up of thousands of small fish, moving in unison as the group responded to waves and other movements in the water.

We are getting used to finding memorials that list the names of citizens that died at sea near each port. It's sobering to see the length of the list of names. It reminds us that the ocean is a dangerous place. There is also a statue named "Lady of the Sea" to commemorate the families that wait for their fishermen to come home safely.

We had a great moving-day tour of our new home-town here in Anacortes, Washington. We have a long list of things we want to see and do in this area and we like what we have seen already.