Mt. Ranier and San Juan Islands
In July, 2019 we flew out to Seattle for a 10 day trip with four very different objectives. Initially we went to visit an old friend and his wife who live on Bainbridge Island. Then we drove to Mt. Ranier National Park for 3 nights of hiking after which we drove to Leavenworth, WA for 4 nights at the triannual CYTYC family reunion. We then drove back to Seattle to spend 4 nights on the San Juan Islands north of the city before flying home.
The ferry ride from downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island is a nice way to see part of the beautiful harbor, especially on a nice summer day. We were lucky to have excellent weather almost every day so Mt. Ranier was easily visible from the ferry. We visited an old high school friend Mark who lives on a small farm on Bainbridge with his wife Susan. They are both avid out-doorsman and have an amazing garden of many different species of trees and vegetables. It is incredible that weeds do not grow on this island! ;) We spent a day driving up to the Port Townsend area where we visited the small but very well-done oceanarium, the Point Wilson lighthouse and had a nice dinner.
Mt. Ranier National Park
We then drove down to Mt. Ranier NP where we had reserved an Airbnb near Ashford, which is just outside the south entrance. We took day hikes, each day exploring a different part of the park. As I mentioned earlier, we had good weather on most days. About 20 years ago we had hiked in the same park with our kids but never saw the peak of Mt. Ranier until we flew back home and saw it peaking out over the clouds. This time we saw if from all different directions. We were also there when the wildflowers were out, perhaps not the peak but pretty good, especially the bear grass.
CYTYC reunion at Leavenworth, WA
The ostensible reason for coming to Seattle was to attend the triannual CYTYC reunion held at the Sleeping Lady Resort. This year was CYTYC X, as the first one was in There were 69 attendees from all over the country
Whidbey Island with Richard and Grace
We drove back to Seattle with my cousin Grace and her husband Richard and spent one night at an Airbnb on Whidbey Island with them. Before boarding the ferry to Whidbey Island we also toured the Boeing aircraft factory and “Future of Flight” tour at Everett, WA. Actually the plant is in the small town of Mukilteo which is also th737 Sunday afternoon so we there wasn’t that much work going on. The tour is very interesting, especially if you are an engineer, and gives you a good sense of the complexity of those aircraft though you are quite a distance from the work itself. Such a tour also gives you a sense of how many things can go wrong, though the tour didn’t emphasize that aspect. There was no mention of the troubles with the 737 Max, which is build at a different facility. It would be interesting to hear what the company line on that controversy is. You are not allowed to take pictures during the factory tour, understandably. You can get an idea of what it’s like at the Boeing on-line link
After lunch at one of the many Ivar’s seafood restaurants, we took the ferry to Whidbey and checked into our very comfortable Airbnb, which was not far from Clinton, the town where the ferry lands. Our dinner experience was unexpected, and good. We got a few recommendations from our host and also I had looked up a few places on-line beforehand. But it was a Sunday night and all of the places were either full or had very long waits. So we drove around a bit hoping to come upon something and there began to be talk about stopping at a pizza joint. Anyway we happened to see a sign for the Freeland cafe and lounge, which had a very unpretentious retro 1950s diner look to it. I don’t think any of us were very optimistic about the place, but we were sort of out of options. Well, it turned out that the mussels and clams were excellent. The waiter said the mussels were from a town nearby and they were excellent. Richard and Grace had just been on an extended tour of Italy with their family and apparently Richard told his kids that the mussels were better than anything they had in Italy.
My original plan was to drive back to Clinton the next morning as Richard and Grace had to catch a flight out of Seattle in the early evening. However, while we were on the ferry, we saw a limo that advertised rides from Whidbey Island to the Seattle airport directly. This seemed like a much better deal since they wouldn’t have to deal with getting a taxi or Uber from the ferry to the train station to catch the light rail to the airport. It also gave us a chance to explore the island a bit before they had to depart. So they made reservations for the limo for a pickup on the northern end of the island, where we had to be to catch our ferry onward to San Juan Island. So we drove slowly north, stopping at the Whidbey lighthouse and a couple other places along the way. The only wrinkle in the plan is that we were not aware that the pickup point they had chosen was on an Army or Navy airbase and we could not drive onto the base. So they hurriedly arranged for another pickup point. This was a good situation for having cell phones. So after they were picked up by the limo, Lil and I headed north to Anacortes to catch the ferry for San Juan Island.
San Juan Island
After dropping off Grace and Richard at the pickup for the shuttle to SEATAC, we continued up the north end of Whidbey Island and over the bridge at Deception Pass State Park on the way to Anacortes since we had a reservation for a ferry ride to San Juan Island. The ferry system of Washington State is well organized and very efficient. Since we arrived at the ferry stop early, we decided to have dinner at a small seafood diner in Anacortes rather than waiting to eat after the 45 minute ferry ride and check in at the Airbnb which was located a bit outside of the main town of Friday Harbor
The next morning we got up bright and early for a guided kayaking tour. Since Lil didn’t want to go on the day-long tour, we did the morning tour, which only explored North Bay on the east side of the island rather than the west side where the chances of seeing Orcas were much higher. But as it turned out there was little hope of seeing an Orca on this tour since this summer has been a terrible one for spotting the resident Southern pod Orcas that usually frequent the Juan de Fuca Strait on the western side of the island. So our kayaking trip was pretty underwhelming though we did see a few sea lions at a great distance.
We had hoped to see some Orcas from San Juan Island since Lime Kiln State Park is reputed to be the best place in the world to see whales from land. There are of course many whale watching boats that operate out of the area but it has become controversial whether the presence of boats is detrimental to the welfare of the whales. In the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the western side of San Juan Island there is a very deep channel just off shore so that Orcas can be seen without going out in a boat. There are three pods of Orcas that make up the so-called Southern resident pods which usually spend their summer months in the area hunting the chinook salmon. However, this year 2019 the Southern resident pods were absent: at the Lime Kiln lighthouse they keep a calendar with all of the whale sightings for each day and almost all of the entries for this year were zeroes. Apparently this is unprecedented.
So while looking for Orcas, we did see a few porpoises and a seal in the water off shore of the lighthouse at Lime Kiln Park. At the Fourth of July beach, there was a great blue heron that I watched catching a fish and then flying away.
On our last night we took the ferry from San Juan Island back to Anacortes and booked a night in a farm stay near Anacortes. The Airbnb had a herd of big horn cattle which were impressive and a nice view from our bedroom.