Sunday, July 22, 2018

Orcas Island, Washington

Orcas Island Washington and the San Juan Islands

Our trek up the west coast was not only a sight seeing trip but we had a purpose. Friends of ours from Eureka Springs, Arkansas moved to Washington six years ago. Once we went full time we were invited to visit them on Orcas Island. We finally made that happen.  

We loaded the "Beast" on an Ocean Going Ferry in Anacortes, Washington and set sail for Orcas Island on calm seas.  

The "Beast" was packed onto the car deck like the last sardine in a can

We were guided onto the barge by an eighteen year old that was bent on making my mirror touch the steel wall of the car deck. For those who are wondering what the costs were for our voyage, they are substantial.  You are charged for length. We were 55' 5" long and our costs were $344 (round trip) which includes tax and a per person charge. At least there was no extra charge for the dog!

There is only one campground that an RV our size will fit into on the island West Beach Resort and RV Campground.  If you feel like you want to visit the island with an RV make sure you book well in advance. Moran State Park is a beautiful park on the interior of the island. Be advised, RV's over 25' will not fit in any of the sites. Doe Bay Resort on the east end of the island has campsites for tents or camper vans.  For those without RVs, there are tons of condos and vacation rentals.  We were very fortunate to be able to stay with friends who have an RV Slab on their property (mooch-docking, if you need the technical term for it). 

The trip from Anacourtes to Orcas took about an hour. It was a beautiful sailing. We passed several of the San Juan Islands on the way.

It was a tad windy on the trip over

We kinda freaked out when we stopped at Shaw Island to let some of the cars off the Ferry. After off loading we had two cars load on facing us. I was thinking about how this was going to work? Once we docked at Orcas they let all the other cars off the ferry and then redirected the two that were facing up to the opposite end of the ferry heading the same direction they had parked in front of us so they could off load at Anacortes. Problem solved.

A History Lesson

The Salish tribes hunted, fished and gathered food during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries on Orcas and the San Juan Islands.  Orcas was largely ignored the early European explorers.  Capt. Francisco Eliza's Spanish expedition in 1791 and named the island "Orcasites" but it is unclear whether he named it after the Orcas whales found here or to please the Viceroy of Mexico. 

In 1841 the island was renamed Hull Island by U.S. Captain Charles Wilkes.  Wilkes who was widely ignored by his peers also named Mount Constitution, Point Doughty and Point Lawrence all of which stuck and are called by those names today.

Most of the late nineteenth century and much of the early twentieth the islands economic staples were lime quarries, fishing, dairy and fruit farming, logging and paying tourists who visited the San Juans.
Today the economy remains much the same but vegetable farming has become big business on Orcas. 

The Island's most prominent benefactor was Robert Moran who amassed 5,000 acres including five fresh water lakes, and 2,409 foot Mount Constitution.  In 1921 Moran gave the estate to the state of Washington as a state park.

Whale Watching

Yesterday (the 9th of July) we went "Whale Watching" with Outer Island Excursions. Our friends here at Orcas booked this trip for us and what a trip it was. They only thing that would have made it better was sunshine.  We had multiple Orca whale sitings, harbor seals, and eagles as well as other animals. We departed Orcas about 3:30 pm and returned around 6:30 pm. If you go, be sure to bring warm waterproof clothing to insure your comfort. 

The following photographs were taken on a cold, rainy, grey day. I hope I was able to capture some images that will inspire you to come to Orcas Island.

In less than a half an hour we had our first Orca sighting


Mount Baker

Speiden Island

Mouflon Sheep

Speiden Island is now owned by James Jannard,  founder of and major shareholder of Oakley Sunglasses. The island was discovered between 1838 and 1842 by Charles Wilkes. U.S. Naval Captain while in expedition and discovery. He explored the west coast of North America, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, the Columbia River, San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River, in 1841. He held the first American Independence Day celebration west of the Mississippi River in Dupont, Washington on July 5, 1841. During this expedition he and his crews discovered Funafuti, Nukufetau, and Vaitupu in 1841.  The expedition returned by way of the Philippines, the Sulu Archipelago, Borneo, Singapore, Polynesia and the Cape of Good Hope, reaching New York on June 10, 1842. (Source Wikipedia)

In the 1970's the island was home to exotic species of wild life and birds brought to the island for the purpose of safari style hunting by a group of investors. A combination of its position, in Vancouver Island’s rain shadow and the region’s climate, has given Spieden a northern territory of thick forest and an almost barren south, scarred to bedrock by glacial erosion. Italian mouflon sheep, a relative of bighorn sheep and Asian spotted Deer can be spotted grazing and roaming their island. Many notables such as John Wayne hunted in the preserve.

Cidery, Winery, Brewery, Oh My!

Orcas Island did not disappoint us in our quest to try local brews and wines.  We first stopped by the Boathouse CiderWorks in Orcas.  Right next to the ferry line, they did a brisk business with people waiting to board the ferry.  They had some interesting flavors, including ginger and rose petal ciders.  And there was a pretty good view, too.  If not for the noisy children, it would have been a lovely place to while away the afternoon.

Our second local producer we visited was the Orcas Island Winery.   Tucked back in behind some trees, the winery wasn't easy to find (we had to turn around and go back, which in itself was a challenge on the narrow winding roads).  It was worth the effort, though.  A wine tasting was $10 that gave you 6 samples of the locally-produced wine.  If you bought a bottle, the tasting fee was waived.  We liked most of the wines, but just loved their Syrah -- we brought a bottle home with us!

Our third and final stop was at the Island Hoppin' Brewery in Eastsound.  

For $15, we got to try seven of the locally brewed beers.  They ranged from light to dark, and bitter to sweet with a few "hoppy" ones as well.  Martha decided that the Oatmeal Stout is her favorite.  Sweet and smooth....not at all bitter!  Charlie preferred the lighter ales.

Food?  Of course there's food!

We love eating out, and Eastsound caters to people like us.  Much of their food is locally sourced, and it is fresh and delicious.  Even better, many of the places come with a view.  They all have plenty of beverages including local beers and ciders.  Like nearly everything else on the island, it costs about 20-30% more to eat out here than it does on the mainland.

The Lower Tavern - billing themselves as the "best burger in town," the Lower Tavern has a pub/sports bar vibe.  The menu is primarily burgers and sandwiches, but they do a mean fish and chips and also have some (home made) soup and salads.  And yes, they have good burgers.  Skip the fries and the coleslaw, though. Try the Ginger Cider!


Mijitas - A Mexican restaurant with local, fresh ingredients.  Highly recommend the carne asada -- and the margaritas!  Reservations are also highly recommended to avoid a long wait.

Pizzeria Portofino - Once in a while we get the need for some real, old-fashioned pizza.  Pizzeria Portofino delivered!  They have a huge selection of specialty pizzas as well as a make-your-own option.  Again with the local beers to quench our thirst while we waited for our pizza - Martha tried a blueberry beer, which was surprisingly good.  We greedily ate the whole pizza with no regrets whatsoever.  Oh, they are on the second floor (no elevator) and it's worth the effort to have the view of the bay from the deck.

Madronas - named for the ubiquitous trees on the island, the Madronas Bar and Grill has the most important thing for an island restaurant - a fabulous view of the bay!  Crab cakes made with local crabs were pretty good, but the remoulade sauce was a garnish, not enough to even taste.  Mediocre fish sandwich, great chowder, bad coleslaw.  But, did I mention the view?  Yep, that's what you're paying for.

Madronas tree

White Horse Pub -   another restaurant with a great view and pretty decent (but not amazing) food.  They at least knew how to do fries - hand cut and cooked just right!  Chuck was craving fried chicken - the closest they came was chicken strips, which were adequate.  Martha got their avocado chicken sandwich without the bread -- which was pretty decent.  

Raw Oysters?  Yeah, disgusting, right?  Some crazy people (Charlie) like them.  At Buck Bay Shellfish Farm you can pick and shuck your own oysters.  

Shucking lessons


Sunsets are Great at West Beach

No better way to end the day than watching the sun set and having a coffee or adult beverage at the West Beach Resort.

Our most recent blog

"Stick Em Up" - Old Tucson Studio and Theme Park

High Chapparral Ranch Set Admittedly I'm old. How old? Let's just say I hold the patent on dirt. I grew up in the 50's whe...