4Th of July celebration: Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, WA

According to my friend, a Friday Harbor resident, their 4th of July celebration was recently rated among the best “small town” celebrations of the 4th in the country — (have not found verification of this)

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According to my friend, all those dressed in historical costumes are direct descendants of the original settlers of the Island (Americans in blue, British in red)

Friday Harbor is located in the San Juan Islands off the northwestern border of Washington State. It is an insanely cute place with a very high quotient of artists, and progressive liberals who have things like “sharing sites” set up all over (if you take something you need you’re supposed to leave something of equivalent value that you don’t), etc. These Islands are also prime whale watching territory.

I was had rented two different Airbnbs on Vancouver Island (British Columbia, Canada) for the June (Shawanigan Lake) and July (Victoria), and my friend Christine (who I’ve known for about 20+ years now) had been bugging me for months that I couldn’t go all the way up to B.C., and not visit her Island (a direct ferry ride away). So, since the 4th of July was coming up — and she had promised me that their local celebration of the 4th was among the best in the nation (for small towns), I decided to pop on the Ferry from Vancouver Island (Sydney) to Friday Harbor (it only runs once a day), arriving the 2nd of July and leaving 5th of July… just long enough to get a taste for the place (to see if I might want to book a longer stay next summer) and to see festivities.

(You can Just see Christine’s back in the upper right image below)

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There was a marked aquatic theme to some of the marchers, that was often political. As I said, whale watching is source of tourism to the island, and with global warming and dams that are damaging the wild salmon runs (which the whales feed up), there is a clear terror of the families (pods) of whales that traditional call the Island’s waters home (they even keep semi reliable swimming schedules which all the locals are familiar with), that was evident in some of the parade displays — one of which included a woman dressed like a whale who would collapse from feigned starvation from time to time.

There was also a group from Friday Harbor labs (where students of oceanography, aquaculture and marine ecology do research) all dressed up as various sorts of marine life (which was wonderfully geeky).

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One cute thing was that among the ‘floats’ was a truck laden with little girls all celebrating the birthday part of one of them, called Rose. I had seem the girl in the red checkered gingham dress before the parade started, but in retrospect it was obvious why she was so much more ‘dressed up’ than the average kid lining the roadway to get the treats being passed out by almost every group.

And, as my friend confirmed, apparently the Pirates have a strong contingent living on Friday Island (For those unfamiliar, they are a variant of the SCA crowd who like to dress-up and recreate the medieval period in their spare time, only you’ll usually find pirates in towns like Santa Cruz, with actual harbors, and the most active groups will cooperatively own actual ships of the sort pirates would have used, and do their reenacting on the water, and hold events to that end)

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At one point a guy rode by on a horse who looked like maybe he was supposed to be Teddy Roosevelt, which confused me because I had no recollection of him ever coming to the Island, but just in case anyone didn’t recognize the reference he was followed by a horse dressed up like a buffalo with the word BISON written on it’s back side (Theodore Roosevelt National Park anyone?) … all of which led to a troop of boy-scouts — so now it all made sense.

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One of the things I saw multiple times during my short stay was Suzy’s Mopeds which had one of their rental lots right near my friend’s apartment. Assuming the weather is good, these are a good rental option for folks who come to the Island sans a car — and insanely cute.

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I was happy to see (among the various pro feminist floats — there was even one devoted to men in favor of ending domestic violence) a float about the National Park Service Women’s History Initiative — where they are now focusing on memorializing important American women, some of which I have gone to.

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IMG_2722 After the Parade was over we were all pretty trashed, so we headed back to Christine’s place to crash, before heading out again for the fireworks.

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I particularly like the “flower theme” that seemed to be playing out with the display. I have a feeling that the pyrotechnicians who designed the display intentionally took into account how the reflections on the water would play into it….

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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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The Sydney, B.C., to Friday Harbor WA Ferry

The ferry that runs from Sydney to Friday Harbor only runs once a day, and at odd times (5:45pm  heading to the Island, and 9:45am returning). It’s a small ferry and lacks the facilities of the far more regular (almost every 2 hours) ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island.

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It being the 5th of July, the ferry was fully booked. I arrived at 8:45 am (an hour before sailing) to get into the standby queue, and luckily was the first person in line … which was still no guarantee of sailing. The ferry actually starts in the town of Anacortes in Washington State, US (on the mainland) and pitstops at the island (at Friday Harbor) on it’s way to Vancouver Island, so what I was banking on was someone oversleeping after the 4th of the July festivities. Luckily, that’s exactly what happened. 

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IMG_3243Where the larger Canadian Ferry has a full topside to hang out on, that includes chairs, tables, etc., on this ferry your only viewing option is these two little areas on the top deck for standing, or standing on the lower deck where the cars load on and then egress.

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Basically, I wouldn’t suggest this as a way to get from Vancouver to the mainland, but if you want to get to Friday harbor from Victoria by ferry, this is the only option.