Ibike USA/Canada Program
Rolling the Islands of the Salish Sea

   
 

 

Photo essay: Rolling the Islands of the Salish Sea: Lopez Island and San Juan Island

   

Swinomish to FRIDAY HARBOR (25km, 15mi).  Learn about the revival of traditional culture, and a beautiful ferry ride.
Points of interest: Anacortes, Mt. Baker, Lopez Is, Shaw Is., Orcas Is, Mt Constitution, English Camp (Lummi winter village), Lime Kiln, Whale Watching Point and American Camp.

  Marsh Point oil refinery Marsh Point oil refineryOn the out-skirts of Anacortes is the Marsh Point oil refinery, one of the major oil refineries in Washington State.  Our carbon-free, non-petroleum economy whizzes by the petroleum economy -- well that is a little myopic because it means you are ignoring all of the petroleum economy cars whizzing by us on the other side.  So, I guess you can say our carbon-free economy slides between the petroleum economy.Anacortes, March Point, Tommy Thompson Trail Ironically the oil refinery is encircled by bike routes and an old railroad trestle that runs between Anacortes and March Point has been converted to a non-motorized Tommy Thompson Trail (right).
  Anacortes, histical mural of tandem bicycle Anacortes, McNaught Building Anacortes hardware store and marine suppliesAnacortes has a limited number of grand older building so it is one of those towns that is keeping it history alive by installing murals around the city.  We posed with this inanimate group at the hardware store trying out a bicycle built for two.  Most of the murals depicted scenes of life in the town in the late 1800's or early 1900's.  The hardware store, itself, is a bit of a museum from the era before "hardware" hadAnacortes hardware store and marine supplies any reference to computers.  It is filled with tools and supplies for wood working, metal working, construction, electrical, plumbing, landscaping, forestry, fisheries, hunting, boating, and countless other categories and non-categories.  You need to see it for yourself.
  Anacortes, Causland Park
Causland Park (above), Canegie Library (below)
Anacortes, Carnegie Library
Anacortes, Keystone Hotel / Moyer BldgIt seems that some of today's quaintest towns had boom years in the late 1800's, then quick busts, and then were forgotten for a century. Anacortes had a similar pattern.   One of the cities founder's, Amos Bowman, dream for Anacortes was for it to become the terminus of the transcontinental railroad. This created a year long boom in 1890. Later in the year the Fidalgo City and Anacortes Electric Railway went bankrupt and the town emptied.  The economy reverted toAnacortes, Post Office lumber and fisheries, which kept the town going but was not sufficient to simulate redevelopment of developed property.  As a consequence it was pretty much unchanged for a century when its craftsmanship and historical quality could be appreciated.  There remain a few fine buildings on Commercial Street and a variety of elegant Victorian houses in the surrounding residential district.
  Anacortes, Victorian house Anacortes, Victorian house Anacortes, Victorian house Anacortes, Victorian house
 
Washington Park, Anacortes
A couple of late afternoon scenes from picturesque Washington Park, near the ferry dock west of Anacortes.  The park must have a pretty healthy and self-confident deer population because there were several out grazing during our quick ride through the woods.
 
Sailing through the San Juan Islands
It is hard to capture the beauty, in pictures, of sailing through the San Juan Islands.  It is a 360o experience, in three dimension, but the camera only captures a couple of those degrees and reduces them to two dimensions. I guess this is were we thank Mother Nature for ice ages, glaciers, wind and water erosion, biodiversity and the power and profoundness of nature.  The visual experience is a dynamic collage, primarily in shades of blue, green and white, that continually rotates by.  Islands and "islettes" approach and recede.  Birds glide in and out,Roy Lichtenstein "Maybe" (1963) overhead.  The color and the texture of the water change with the depth, currents and surface breeze.  It probably can never be the same configuration twice, so the show is always new.  The cultured cyclists would note that this visual environment clearly was not the inspiration for Roy Lichtenstein (right) or Andy Warhol paintings.
  Washington State Ferry at Lopez Island dock
Washington State Ferry at Lopez Island terminal.
Washington State Ferry at Lopez Island dockThe ferry comes from the mainland to Lopez Island dock about a half-dozen times a day.  Often only zero to ten vehicle drive off.  The 'mote-effect" and the time and cost of getting a car to island do a nice job on keeping a lid on cancerous motorization of the islands, but still their numbers are growing and the experience keeps getting incrementally less idyllic. Ironically, one of the problems with vehicles can be the large number of empty vans plying the roads for high-carbon foot-print, vehicle- supported, bicycle tours.
 
Disembarking ferry
If bicyclists and pedestrians arrive at the ferry early enough to board first, they also get to disembark first -- before they get gassed by the cars. The pleasure lasts as long as it takes the first car, racing off the boat, brushes you off the road, and then you stand there, along the road, getting gassed until the last car has raced past, rushing to their relaxing retreat on paradise island -- yes, there is some irony here.
  Smart Bike sign
"Smart Bike" sign.
What does it mean?
Lopez Island barnInstead of "Bike Routes", on Lopez Island they have signs for "Smart Bike."  May be it is a model they picked up from the transportation department in Lake Woebegone.  Even being familiar with variations in bike route design, and having ridden a good distance following the "Smart Bike" route, I am still not sure what it is trying to convey.  The traffic volume was relatively low but that is true of every road on thebicycling on Fisherman's Bay Rd, Lopez Island island, there were hills so it is not signage for a flat route, there are gaps in the signage so it is not a complete system and it doesn't seem to have any distinctive theme or destinations.  What does it mean?  In any case, it out smarted me.
  Rural bicycling on Lopez Island

 

Rural bicycling on Lopez IslandLopez Island is considered the flattest of the major islands in the San Juan Island group, but don't tell anyone it is flat!  Both the north and east sides of the islands have some contour.  Nothing very long, so nothing very high but there are some short steep sections that will have you reaching for the gear shift.  Mostly Lopez Island is an idyllic mix of forest and farmland.  Most of the traffic we saw was vehicles from the big "Put-your-bike-on-the-van-tour" company.  It is a bit of a mystery why they need to do that much motoring about on a island, the bulk of which is 12 miles by 3 miles.
  Lopez Island, Barn with bicycle art Lopez Island, Barn with bicycle artAbove the door on this Lopez Island barn (left) is a bit of bicycle art (right).  It is amazing how intriguing bicycles look just about wherever they are and whatever covers them.
  San Juan Islands, Washington State Ferry, Mt Baker
Mt Baker in the background
San Juan Islands, Mt BakerSailing through the San Juan Islands, Mt Baker frequently provides a photogenic backdrop.  For mainlanders, Mt Baker is a comforting landmark, visible from many places in the San Juan Islands, the Canadian Gulf Islands and from the southeast Vancouver Island.  It is elegant in itself but perhaps it is also represents reassurance that the main land is still out there and we aren't slipping off the edge of the earth.
  Friday Harbor, San Juan Island
Friday Harbor, San Juan Island
Friday Harbor, San Juan IslandA logical next stop, on an island hopping odyssey, is Friday Harbor, San Juan Island -- an increasingly "boutique village".  It has boutique hotel, boutique bakeries, boutique shops, boutique galleries, boutique restaurants ... you get the pictures.  The arts and crafts in the galleries definitely have the gentle island feel and theme to them -- no Lichtenstein's here!
  San Juan Island, camel A curious camel is certainly not native wildlife, and I like camels, but even in a culture that feels constantly compelled to try and out do the Jones, it is a bit of a mystery why and one would import a camel to watch traffic on San Juan Island.  But sure enough, if you head out Roche Harbor road you are likely to see a camel watching traffic.  Further around the island you will be treated to llamas and alpacas.
  A nice diversion from bicycling, and a chance to workout some other muscle groups, like the upper body, is a sea kayak trip.  They can require a little adjustment for each clients (left), but eventually every is set and pulling out (right).
  Heading out in search of giant sea mammals and other smaller things.  It is possible to get good looks at Orcas, but it is more likely that you will only get a glimpse, or no sightings at all.  The kayaks are at their best for viewing smaller sea mammals (harbor seals) and birds.
  Whale watch road, San Juan Island
View from "Whale Watch Road"
Whale watch road, San Juan IslandWestside Road, San Juan Island, is often referred to as "Whale Watch Road".  Even when the orcas aren't frolicking off shore it is a beautiful ride.  When the whales are in the area it is a real treat.  They rarely move on very fast so you can watch at your leisure.  Unfortunately, the population of whales is decreasing as the quality of their habitat decreases so there are increasing fewer to see.

The interior of the island also offers very rewarding bicycling with generally low traffic volumes and plenty of pastoral and bucolic views.

  San Juan Island, view of lake and marsh San Juan Island, view of farm land and Mt Baker San Juan Island, view of farm land San Juan Island, view of farm land
  After a busy day kayaking, circumnavigating the island and taking in the scene, we relaxed for dinner at a roof top restaurant overlooking Friday Harbor marina and docks (left).  It is also worth check to see if there are any programs at the San Juan Theater.  We happened upon a Beatles revival show that had the audience dancing in the aisles (right) -- "All you need is love, love, love is all you need."
   
 

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