Family Time on Orcas Island

25 07 2015

It was pretty tough to top our amazing time on San Juan Island.  Orcas. Alpacas. Crab Mac & Cheese….

But as we rolled our suitcases up the deck at Friday Harbor Marina, a little wet from the unexpected rain shower we experienced overnight, we were determined to make our experience on Orcas Island every bit as memorable.

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Now that we had checked ‘See Orca Whales’ off of our list, there wasn’t as much pressure to stand outside in the drizzly grey weather.  But I still found a few reasons to stay outside on the deck.  With the marina layer laying low, the trip from Friday Harbor to Orcas Island took on a mystical feel.

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And although we didn’t see any whales during our trip, perhaps we saw an even more unusual sight.  A bald eagle swimming.

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With giant breaststrokes, we watched it swim towards the shore.  I’m not sure why it was in the water, but it didn’t seem to be struggling.  Perhaps it had caught something in its talons that it wasn’t willing to give up, something worth a few wet feathers.

Before we knew it, the 50 minute ride from San Juan Island to Orcas Island was complete and we were approaching Orcas Village, with its crown jewel – The Orcas Hotel
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The Orcas Hotel first opened its doors to guests in 1904 and has kept its Victorian heritage charm.  And this would be our destination for the night…

But first, we had a few adventures to take on:

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East Sound was our first stop.  Jerry was determined to enjoy a few tasty treats at Brown Bear Baking. And who am I to prevent him from his wish!

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We strolled the streets, shopped the shops and got down to the nitty gritty on the beach.

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And then off to Deer Harbor to enjoy an afternoon sail with Captain Ward and his sailboat Aura.

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We may not have been the best sailing companions, since Nathan and I were juggling 2 phones and work calls, but he treated us well and took us out for a beautiful sail where we saw harbor seals and enjoyed our time out on the water.

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From on the water to 2,409 feet above sea level, within an hour of stepping off the boat, we were gazing at the panoramic views at Mt. Constitution, the highest point on the San Juan Islands.

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It was beautiful and we just had to take advantage of the views for a family photo.  We did pack the tripod, so I guess we should at least take it out of its bag once…

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But then we got a little crazy.  The timer was set, there was running involved.  We didn’t always make it, but the end result was everyone was smiling, because we were laughing so hard and also amazed that I made it down the rocks each time without falling on my face!

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Finally, we made it to the stone observation tower, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936.  The tower offered panoramic views of the surrounding islands, the Cascade Mountains and even over to Canada!

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As we made our way back down to sea level, we got a little distracted by these moss covered cement stumps – all that remained from some old guard rails it looked like.

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And of course, we saw just a few deer on our way out – since it was prime dinner time.

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After dinner at Madrona Bar & Grill in East Sound, we eased our way back to The Orcas Hotel.  And there it was, awaiting our arrival.

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A great place to end our day on Orcas Island, and a wonderful way to complete our family vacation in the San Juan Islands!





#1 Favourite Thing

24 07 2015

You may not have realized, but I didn’t mention what my favorite #1 thing that we experienced on San Juan Island was on my last post.  And if Alpacas made #2 on my list (and really, how cute were they – you can’t get much better than that!)…..

You also may not have realized that I never did go back to the topic of whale watching….

Now, before I get to the big reveal, let me set the scene.

During my research for our family trip to the San Juan’s, one thing was clear.  I wanted to see whales.  Ideally more than one.  But definitely Orca whales in the wild, while not on a whale watching tour.

Luckily for me, San Juan Island has Lime Kiln Point State Park, otherwise known as ‘Whale Watch Park‘.  It is a 36 acre day use park set on the west side of San Juan Island and is considered to be one of the best places in the world to view whales from shore.  So, this stop was what the entire trip was built around.

The San Juan Islands are home to 3 resident pods of Orca Whales.  J-Pod, K-Pod and L-Pod.  Individually, each pod has more than 20 members, and as a total more than 80 whales.  Great odds that we would be able to see these whales in the wild.  Especially since they are known to hang out together and intermingle.  The males visit other pods to mate, but they always go back to mama.  Orca whales exist in a matriarchal society.

On it’s own, the park is beautiful and a great place to stop for a picnic lunch.  Too bad we were too impatient, and also had our heart (and stomach’s) set on lunching at Madrona Bar & Grill at Roche Harbor.  So we had to settle for taking in the views while munching on granola bars.

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Just like on the ferry boat, we looked as hard as we could.  We scoured the horizon and I had my camera poised for action.

Nothing.

Then I started watching the other people around us doing the same thing.  Until I finally saw someone pointing.  I whipped my head around and I swear I saw a flash of black and white.  It was an Orca!  I swear….it was an Orca.

The family was a little skeptical, until I started doubting myself as well.

And then we saw a dorsal fin breach.  I was redeemed.

Until I zoomed in and compared what was on the camera with what was on the informational chart.  There’s no way that fin belongs to an Orca.  Instead, it appears that what I saw was a Minke Whale.  The second smallest of the baleen whales, and black/gray/purple in colour on the body and white underneath.  So I guess that’s why I thought I saw a flash of black and white.  Because I did.

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We watched for a while longer.  People started to get bored and wandered off to explore the lighthouse.  Finally, our stomachs started talking, no, demanding – that if this is all we were going to see than there were other things that we need to be moving onto.  Like food.  Like crab mac and cheese and clam chowder, sitting on the deck while watching harbor seals in the marina.  Ok, well maybe my stomach wasn’t demanding to watch harbor seals, but my stomach and my mind were in agreement.  Time to move on.

We made our way back to the parking lot.  Thinking about lunch, but already planning on when we could come back to really whale watch.  Maybe we double back and come back after lunch, or maybe we have to plan a whole other trip back another time.

THEN WAIT.  We ran into a kindhearted stranger who was rushing to her car to grab jackets for her and her husband.  WHALES!  There are reports that K Pod is coming around the point!  WHAT????

I ran.  Screw the crab mac and cheese (that incidentally, did end up being delicious).  I want to see whales.  So we went crashing back down the path, and I got a little excited and kind of went off roading and careened full steam into some bushes before I got redirected to the more civilized and correct path to walk down.

People were lined up on the rocky point by the Lighthouse.  Waiting.  Watching.

My camera was poised, my muscles tense.

Jonathan was manning the binoculars and yells out, ‘They’re coming!! They’re coming! There’s so many of them!’ 

We looked out to the water, and just barely you could see some white waters waves – a little bigger than white caps, coming around the point.  But it could just as easily have been ferry waves that were heading towards the shore.

But then the whale watching boats start to appear and here comes the whales!

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I was so focused on trying to take photos, I felt stressed and excited and nervous and exhilarated, all at the same time.  I heard laughing and cheering.  Ooohs and Aaahhs.  There they are.  Over there.  Now that one.  Look at that!

I was so zoomed in I had to look away and up to make sure that I wasn’t so focused on the macro that I was missing leaps and breaches.

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But these whales were on the move.  They came in fast and furious – porpoising in groups of 2, 3, 4 at a time.

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They came tearing past us for what seemed like forever, but probably was more like 5 minutes.  We saw this resident pod of whales, as we stood on the rocks, closer than we ever would have on a whale watching tour (unless they actually came up to the boat and swam under us like you see on the youtube videos).

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Finally, the last of the pod disappeared around the lighthouse, ready for their next audience at the other end of the park.  It was one of the most exciting moments of my life.  And it would be hard to compete with.

It took a while before I could stop watching for the whales, running back down the trail to see if I could catch up with them (never going to happen).  Throughout the rest of the trip, whenever there was a silent moment, one of us would say, ‘those whales’ and we would all relive the experience.  THE Best experience ever.

Which makes me think that I’ve ruined myself for future whale sightings.  I’m spoiled and unless I see a full breach and backflip, nothing is going to top this experience.

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22 Hours on San Juan Island

23 07 2015

Gray skies greeted us Sunday morning as we boarded the ferry from Anacortes to San Juan Island.

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Jerry and I were determined to see whales.  We were bundled and huddled up outside, scouring the waterscape trying to see as hard as we could some sort of sign of whales.  A water spout, a tail slap, a dorsal fin….Any sign of whales.

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The fog didn’t make it the easiest. And before we knew it, the sixty-five minute ferry ride was over and no whales…

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San Juan Island has a unique history.  In 1859, Great Britain and the United States agreed to a joint occupation of San Juan Island until the water boundary between the two nations could be settled.  So on this little island of 621 square miles, the US and Great Britain settled into camps located on opposite ends of the island.

At the South end of the island we found the American Camp complete with a couple deer sightings and a telescope aimed at an Eagle nest.

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And on the North side of the island, the English camp, with some pretty nice views and a telescope aimed at an Ospray nest.  In terms of views, I think the English camp may have won the battle, but ultimately the United States won the territory dispute and the British left their camp with a view in 1872.

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Although I was happy to see these historical places, it was the wild life that I came to San Juan Island for.

The first time I asked Nathan to stop the car:  Cows.

I believe when I got out of the car, the question was asked, ‘Doesn’t Canada have cows?’ 

 Of course, but laugh all you want, I got some fun photos!

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And the second best part of the day:  The Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm. 

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I never really thought about how many different colours of Alpacas there are, or how different they can all look.  And I admit, I had my favourites.

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It’s a toss up between these last two – I can’t decide which one is my favourite, but they both make me smile!

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One of the most beautiful parts of the island was Roche Harbor.  With blue skies as the backdrop for a picturesque marina, historic Hotel de Haro, remnants of old lime kilns, and a fragrant flowering arbor, it was a picture perfect scene.

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We found ourselves back at Friday Harbor, ready to settle in for the night, around 5PM.  It was definitely a jam-packed day, and although we missed the opportunity to stroll the streets and browse the colourful shops, we didn’t miss out on the chance for enjoying a little marina life.  And for the first time for some of us, we spent the night breathing in the salty sea air and rocking to the lullaby of the harbour.

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Off to the Islands….

22 07 2015

San Juans.  That is.

Much to the surprise of many of our Seattleite-friends, I have never visited the San Juan Islands.  It’s almost the equivalent of telling the locals that you’ve never been to Alaska – what???  You wouldn’t think that not seeing Alaska was out of the ordinary, but it appears that Alaska is a pretty common trip out here.  And that too, is a place I have yet to visit.

For this maiden voyage to the San Juan Islands we decided to make it a family affair.  With the 5 of us stuffed into the FJ we started our journey on a grey, drizzly Saturday – typically common for the Pacific NorthWest but after the summer we’ve been having it was not the type of weather I wanted or was expecting for my little family vacation.  But we eased our way to Anacortes, WA – 1.5 hours north of Seattle and our first stop on our 4 day adventure.

After enjoying lunch at Gere-a-Deli‘s in downtown historic Anacortes, with giant portions of traditional deli sandwiches and fluffy slabs of cheesecake and tasty spiced oat cake, we eased our way to Mount Erie.  Luckily for us there was a road up to the summit because after the lunch that we had, we were in no shape for a hike, or perhaps because of our shape, maybe we should have hiked….

At an elevation of 1300 feet, the summit at Mt. Erie is the highest point of Fidalgo Island and offers views of the San Juan Islands.

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Great opportunity for photos with the best view points near the antennas.  And if the scenic overlook isn’t good enough, you can always climb a tree like Nathan to get your shot.

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Apparently this is a destination spot for rock climbers as well and hikers and view-gawkers are warned not to drop anything over the viewpoints.

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Day 1 of Family Vacation: San Juan Islands edition.  Unexpected Viewpoints.  Check.





All Aboard!

15 07 2015

It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden a train other than Amtrak.  And it’s a whole different feeling to be riding a train for the enjoyment of the ride rather than for where it’s going to take you.  When I’m on an Amtrak train, usually I’m trying to decide how much time I have to fit in a quality nap.  Don’t want to fall asleep before they do their first rounds, but don’t want to leave it too late that I wake up and arrive groggy at my final destination.  Tough decisions I know.

Well, it appears that when I am riding scenic train rides, what I have to worry about is staying inside the car and not dropping anything and losing it halfway into the train ride.  Well, unfortunately for my polarized filter lens, I did not manage to succeed here.  And although it had me still hanging out the window on the way back, searching the train route for my missing lens, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the ride…..or taking photos.

We spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon enjoying the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad tour, a steam train which took us from Elbe, WA to Mineral, WA, through the forest and foothills south of Mt. Rainier.

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Like any seasoned traveler and sightseer, I made sure to make friends with a few people before boarding the train, to ensure that I had the best seat in house.

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Unfortunately THIS seat was taken

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But when the majority of riders were enclosed in A/C-cooled cars with views dulled by glass, I led my family to the front of the train to the open-air car, with plenty of fresh air wafting through the openings and plenty of room to hang out the window.  The only rule – don’t grab onto any tree branches.

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The green landscape set against blue skies were wonderful to look at, but the real gem of the ride was the view of Mt. Rainier as we crossed over the Upper Nisqually River.

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Overall, a great a way to spend a Sunday afternoon, get out of the city and buy some sun-warmed Rainier cherries from the roadside fruit stand.  

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Just a Little Bird Watching

23 06 2015

You just never know when wildlife is going to appear at your window.  Recently there have been videos bouncing around with orca whale sightings in Burrard Inlet – which have made me SUPER jealous.  One day I hope to be in the right place at the right time.

In the meantime, I shall pack the camera on random errands….just in case.

And although I do not have any whale sightings to report, we did manage to have quite the bird watching day recently.

First we enjoyed the sights of a sleepy Saturday morning aboard the Southworth ferry.
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And although we had only planned to run some errands in Port Orchard and have lunch in Poulsbo, we took a little detour to Seabeck to enjoy the views.

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We caught a Sea Gull enjoying some lunch…

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And a Great Blue Heron that looks like she’s curtsying for an unseen audience…

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And then we were WOW’d by a Bald Eagle sitting on a telephone pole, like he was overseeing his pride lands.

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I am still impressed at how big these eagles are.  You can’t really tell when they’re circling up in the sky.  But, when this eagle started getting harassed by the crows and took to the skies for a little bit of size intimidation…well it’s pretty obvious he’s just a little bigger than the crow.

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I’d be pretty intimidated if this was coming at me – talons first.





Non-Manditory Family Time

3 06 2015

I am sure it is the same with other siblings, but it has taken almost 30 years before my younger brother and older sister and I have truly bonded to each other.  No longer are we forced to spend time with each other by living in the same house, or by being squished three kids in the backseat on family vacations or because we just happened to see each other at school.  Now, as my younger brother approaches 30,  the three of us live in three different cities: Vancouver, BC, Seattle, WA and Houston, TX  – we have finally come to the point of leaning into each other.  We share our stories and want to know updates.  We send a flurry of cat photos back and forth to each other, since we have all ended up with a cat(s) of our own – which I secretly feel is a competition we play to see who has the cutest, most personable cat.  We each have a different answer…go figure. We ask for help, we share our successes and we actually look forward to seeing each other.  I’m sure our parents are happy to see that their children have finally, after almost 30 years, figured out how to do more than just tolerate each other because we have to.

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This year is the first year since we lived together in our family home that we have all seen each other more than twice a year.  I guess that’s what happens when you scatter in all directions after high school, and then even further after University, and then when conflicting significant other familial responsibilities come into play, well, we would be lucky if we saw each other at all during the year.

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So we’ve come together and during my trip to Vancouver we bonded over all you can eat sushi, spring rolls and pho, calamari and bellinis, ketchup and salt and vinegar chips.  Perhaps we have realized that our deep bond is through food…and cats.

I left Vancouver, speeding away on an Amtrak train back to Seattle, feeling like we’ve made peace with our little trio, which, as a middle child who’s role is the peacemaker, made me feel pretty good about how we’ve all grown up.

My train ride photos: From Vancouver BC to Seattle, WA

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The “White Rock” of White Rock, BC

 

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