San Juan Island, WA

San Juan Island is an Incredibly cute, quaint, picturesque, idyllic, restful, etc., island whose main industry is tourism. It consists of two ‘down-towns’ at either end of the Island, Friday Harbor, the major town, and the resort of Roche Harbor, and feels a bit like where hippie liberals and artists come to in pursuit of a Mayberry existence.

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I have a long time internet friend from Chicago (we met online before the internet became available to the public at large in a group devoted to Apple computer users) who I’ve known now for almost 20 years. In fact she ended up marrying another member of that same discussion group whose family were multi-generational residents of Friday Harbor. For years now she’s been singing the praises of the place and trying to get me to come see the it. This year she said to me, “you can NOT be in Victoria, B.C., which is all of an hour from here by ferry and not come visit… I’ll never forgive you.” And then, to put sugar in that pot, she told me how her Island had what was considered one of the best small town 4th of July celebrations in the Nation, so I agreed to come for a day or two, and I’m glad I did.

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Housing on the Island is very expensive, with home prices comparable to some of the most affluent neighborhoods of the Chicago land area. This is true in large part because of how many people who don’t live on the island year round have summer homes there. Also while there I overheard about more than a few locals who will live there, but have to commute to the mainland for work.

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Tourism, one of the major economic drivers for the island, with whale watching being an important part of the draw. Based on what I heard, there is one family of whales that lives next to the island and pretty much swims around it almost like clockwork, which makes it easy for the tourists and the tour companies catering to those tourists to see the whales.

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I was very lucky (not knowing any of this in advance) and happened to arrive at the right time and place in order to see the whales making their daily circumference. As I was driving around I came to this ocean side park where there were a lot of cars parked out front of it, so I parked my car and climbed up the hill to the hills above the water.

Up there I saw various couples parked there with blankets, chairs, coolers, etc., just sitting there and waiting. So I asked them what was up and they explained to me about how it was about time for the whales to swim by, and I should just wait a bit.

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The whales are relatively easy to spot in the same way that Hollywood stars are when in LA … look for the paparazzi. While I couldn’t initially see the whales what I did see was practically an armada of boats moving every so slowly, like a pack, along the shoreline — it made you feel sorry for the whales. To be honest I didn’t so much see the whales as I saw evidence of them via disturbances in the water.

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One of the topics I heard bantered about among the locals (and it was present in the parade the next day) was a high level of justifiable concern among the locals that “their” whales might leave the island in search of better feeding grounds as a result of global climate change. If this were to happen it would have a huge impact on the local economy.

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Kayakers coming back to shore after getting up close and personal with the Whales

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Lime Kiln Lighthouse

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Driving around the Island you almost get the feeling that its mandated where in the local ordinances that all local residences have to make an effort to make their properties quaint in order to help promote the tourist appeal of the place.

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And then I drove past a bunch of Alpaca

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The little red cars below can be rented all over the island, run on electric engines
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The Farm had a store that sold VERY expensive things made from the wool of the Alpaca. Talking to the girl who worked there she admitted to me that of all the merchandise, only the socks were actually made from their own wool, the rest of it was stuff they bought from China… I’m guessing her bosses wouldn’t be too pleased that she admits it, it kind of ruins the overall ambiance of the place. But realistically, there was no way the few alapaca they had on the idyllic farm were going to produce enough wool for the stuff they were selling in there.

Right next door to the very expensive resort that makes up the 2nd ‘town’ of the Island I found this place, and of course had to stop.

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And now for the major downside of San Juan Island, EVERYTHING is imported into the island and as such, it’s many things, but it’s not cheap… at the time this photo was taken most gas staitions on the mainland were charging about a dollar less.

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