The San Juan Islands

View from fire tower at Moran State Park

Cool Spot #11: The Fire Tower at Moran State Park

I have been eyeing Moran State Park (on Orcas Island) since I first purchased my National Geographic Book on State Parks. It has been our home now for three days and I have to say it is a pretty special place filled with hiking trails, swimming lakes, and old growth forest.

Check mate!

Check mate!

The land was a gift from former workaholic and governor of Washington Moran who was told by his doctors to either quit his job as governor or die an early death. He took this advice seriously and set off to Orcas Island where he built a kind of min-Hearst castle. Soon after he advocated that everyone spend some time in the country and did what he could to set up Moran State Park. In the 30s the CCC came and built a whole bunch of trails, shelters, and one awesome fire tower meant to recreate a 14th century tower built in Europe. I think it looks like a chess piece (a rook to be exact). Henna sees a tower; kind of like the one a princess might be forced to live in by a dragon. What is without any doubt is the amazing views seen from on top the tower (which at barely 2,500 feet I think is the highest point in all of the San Juan Islands). In one glance you can see dozens of islands, Canada, Mount Baker, and the equally snowy Cascade Mountains. Thank you Governor.


Cool Spot #12: The Washington Ferry System

For just over $70 Corey, Henna, myself, and our car where given a ticket that allows for passage from Anacortes to Orcas Island and then back again to Anacortes. It would be even cheaper if we did as many other passengers did and traded our car for bikes. What makes this ride even cooler is the fact that once on the island you can take it free (there would be a charge for a vehicle) to either Shaw Island or Friday Harbor. A lot of people living on the island take advantage of this. Some do not even bother getting off the boat which proves that there is only so much kayaking, hiking, sailing, and fishing one can do.

View from ferry to Friday Harbor from Orcas Island

We did get off the boat at Friday Harbor and pretty quickly regretted not paying the $20 to bring our car. Instead we took a bus filled only with tourists to Lime Kiln State Park to not see any Orcas. The bus driver treated us to a non-stop narrative of the island where he mostly gossiped about locals (“the lady who lived there used to be married to a pilot but now she is with the postmaster” or “see that house over there, the guy living there is a real curmudgeon”). He also threw in a bit of self-loathing (“recently my wife met a guy and she won’t admit, but she really wishes I was more like him. You know, that I was funnier or better looking”). My favorite though was when he brought out the truly depressing (“I used to see him walking around all the time, then he walked with one cane, then two, then a walker, and then I just stopped seeing him. That’s what happens when you get older, you kind of just fade away.”)


Lime Kiln State Park is supposedly the number one place on land anywhere in the world to see killer whales (they actually are a type of dolphin but don’t tell them that, they are not called killers for nothing). It was a pretty place filled with short but steep trails that led to great big rocks a few feet from shore that were ideal for us not seeing killer whales. Later we saw a lot of them in the gift shop where a DVD pretty much mocked our efforts at seeing them (look, if we saw them they might have jumped in the air then flopped on their side). By the time our bus driver picked us up (the same one from before) I was ready to kick back on my free water taxi back to Orcas Island where the driver of the ship wouldn’t try to entertain me and I might even get to glimpse a whale (didn’t happen). Noel 7/17/13

Hikes #9, 10, and 11: Seattle through Orcas Island

Henna made a friend

Henna made a friend

Hike #9: Downtown Seattle, Washington

Alright. Back to the hikes. I know Noel already talked a bit about our walk through Seattle, so I will make it short. Walking around Seattle reminded me that although I love to get away and be “one” with nature over the summer months, deep down under all this dirt inflicted by camping, I am a city girl. Walking through a city, is so much different than hiking on a trail, but I still love it. There is always an excitement upon turning a corner and not knowing what adventure awaits you. In this case it was glimpses of the space needle. City walking in Seattle also has its up’s and down’s. Literally. Up hill and down hill. So as we factored how far from Pikes Market to the space needle, we had to consider that we would be walking up hill most of the way, which left us tired as if we were hiking in Mt. Rainier. Not only did we have to factor the hard city walking, concrete and maneuvering through crowds of people, we had to consider the mental acuity required to remember where we left our car, how many hours left on our meter before we were hit with a $80 ticket, along with the information we digested along our way. Whew, city hiking is both mentally and physically stimulating. So, in the end I’ve decided I am a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.


Hike # 10: Kayak Trail in Cascade Lake, Moran State Park (on Orcas Island, San Juan Islands)

Cascade Lake

After swimming around in Cascade Lake, Henna was eager to explore it further. I must point out that this was our first family Kayak jaunt that featured each of us in our very own sailing vessel. It felt more than a little weird. Usually family water excursions have lots of yelling and direction dictating to cut through the natural calm of our surroundings. Henna proved a natural at kayaking, and took to moving effortlessly through the water. We had planned for only a one hour tour, but located a small path under a bridge, in which folks were jumping into the water and boys shouted “Hijack the Kayak!” at us. But once safely under the bridge we were treated to calmer water, more beautiful scenery, and water lilies to play in while we simply floated and looked. We were gone for two hours, lost in this place we found. Henna won the family award that night (a tradition formed years ago, when one of us proves to have pushed us into something we all love), for getting us out of our comfortable zone on the beach in order to explore an area that would have been lost to us. Thank you Henna, I will continue to follow you on adventures forever.

Henna kayaking

Hike #11: Cascade Canyon Falls, Moran State Park Trail 5 miles.

So, finally after relaxing (although that kayaking worked on my arms bit), we donned our hiking boots, grabbed an isolated half filled water bottle and set off on a trail once again. Henna was not too happy, and was dragged up for quite a while. We originally had planned to hike only to the falls (less than a mile away). But after talking to a few people, we were persuaded to hike up to Mountain Lake (the source of the water falls). As a rule, we always have to see what’s up the path, even if it means believing folks when they say it’s just a bit more up the road. We’ve learned that most often when people give directions or information, they are wrong. So up the path a bit, became 1.9 miles UP the path. It’s important to mention here, that the hiking was lovely. We were nestled in a virgin forest, filled with hemlock trees that went on forever, with the sun shining through the trees. It was nice. But we were hot and in need of water. We learned that once you don’t have water, you become more and more thirsty. Boy, Henna was not happy. And an unhappy Henna on the trail makes pain for us all. So right at the end of our rope, we came across the lovely mountain lake. Two nice hikers then informed us that drinking water was just another half mile away. So we had a choice. Either continue half mile to replenish (or one whole extra mile) or head back with no water at all. We chose to continue on even after running into a very weird and intoxicated man who stumbled his way in front of us. Later after filling up our water bottle we saw the two nice hikers again and swapped hiking tales. Going back was easy partly due to us being hydrated and also because we knew what was ahead of us. A big note for future hikes, BRING MORE WATER! It all worked in the end though, and the stories it cultivated will last forever. Corey July 17, 2013

Cascade Falls

wild flower