Like droplets of sunshine packed heaven, the San Juan Islands sit tucked in a rain shadow – a unique climate created by the Olympic Mountains to the south. Accessible only by plane or boat, this seemingly undeveloped archipelago sits at the edge of the US/Canadian border. It is here, where the Strait of Juan de Fuca flows into the Pacific Ocean and the old-growth forests tower overhead, that complex eco systems thrive in the sea and active farms produce an abundance of fresh edibles. The rocky shores, hidden inlets, and calm coves beg to be explored. Visiting makes you contemplate changing your address. At least, it does for this gal.
This was especially true after taking a full day tour with EverGreen Escapes. They offer two similar trips to the San Juan Islands: by ferry and by seaplane. While I’m particularly fond of the later, the former has its own charm – one I recently had the pleasure of experiencing.
Beginning bright and early in Seattle, the EverGreen Escapes guide whisked my group away in their plush, 15-passenger Mercedes van. With plenty of legroom, comfy chairs, and tall ceilings these babies are nothing like the stinky “van” rides you might have experienced during your youth.
The ferry ride, a 50-minute jaunt across the water, began with French press coffee, a selection of loose leaf steeped teas and freshly baked pastries. Puny paper cups be damned. This was a large, plastic travel mug affair. With EverGreen Escapes’ zero-waste, sustainable philosophy, there are no one-time use items on this trip.
Landing at Friday Harbor, it was back in the van for a quick trip to Roche Harbor, a small resort community on the opposite side of the island.
Along the way we met Mona, the San Juan Island camel. Despite my various trips to the San Juans, I had yet to see Mona or even know about her. She is quite the sight. My friendly and knowledgeable tour guide, Aaron, was gracious enough to pull over as the van’s tourists, including two French travelers and two Colorado visitors, gawked at the strange sight.
It turns out Mona has been a well-loved island fixture since 2005. She was named after the moaning sound she made when left alone. (See a more in-depth history of Mona’s arrival in the San Juans below.)
Mona’s story is just one example of the eclectic island knowledge Aaron shared throughout the trip. After reaching Roche Harbor, getting the kayak safety rundown and paddling into the calm waters of the Salish Sea – I learned about the kayakers’ power gel – Rockweed. This seaweed develops hollow, mitten shaped pods filled with nutrient rich gel. Kayakers on long excursions can nibble on these bad boys for a quick pick me up.
The 3-hour water excursion included bald eagle and seal sightings, a trip to a bull kelp forest and a stop at Posey Island State Park. It was here, on this tiny dot of land, that Aaron set the table.
Like the coffee cups from earlier in the day, this wasn’t any paper plate, plastic fork affair. It was the real deal with metal forks and linen napkins. There was even a little wine! The meal, crafted out of locally sourced, organic ingredients, featured grilled chicken with a to-die-for chimichurri sauce; lentil salad with veggies and garbanzo beans; grilled Portobello mushrooms topped with grilled zucchini and onion; and a tossed salad packed with sliced nectarines, goat cheese, and freshly made raspberry vinaigrette.
Drooling? Yeah, it was that good.
With full bellies, we shoved off and paddled back to Roche Harbor where we continued exploring the island. We stopped by Lime Kiln State Park, where the historic Lime Kiln Lighthouse sits perched above the sea.
We walked through the Lime Kiln State Park trails, where the old-growth forest loomed overhead. (There was even a tree stump that looked like a face. See my picture below.)
We visited the Pelindaba Lavender Farm where all things lavender are made including lavender ice cream and lavender lemonade!
And, we returned to Friday Harbor with enough time to poke around town and grab a final bite to eat before heading home.
It was a pretty incredible day. That San Juan Island address is looking better every second…
How Mona Came to San Juan Island
At just 6-months, she was purchased from a Spokane, Mossouri breeder by J. Ward Phillips and raised at his Whidbey Island home. At the time, she still needed to be bottle-fed. (It was a very big bottle.) But when Ward moved to Canada and visited only once every two months, Mona began to protest.
Big animals protest in big ways and Mona was no different. She went so far as dismantling her own barn by ripping at the structure with her teeth. And so, in 2005 Ward placed a classified ad in the Little Nickel. Corina and Steven King, having a great affection for these humpbacked creatures, purchased Mona and moved her to their San Juan Island home, where she still lives today.