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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

ROAD TRIP: The San Juan Islands

"We went out to the islands to get berries, fish." Isadore Tom

The San Juan Islands, huddled in the center of the Straight of Juan de Fuca -- named in honor of a 16th century European explorer -- mark the transition from the Northwestern United States into Southwestern Canada.

The San Juans are comprised of eight large and dozens of smaller islands. Without a doubt the "capital" is the town of Friday Harbor, which serves as sort of a regional jumping off point and host to the thousands of tourists who flock to the area every year.

Morning along the passage
The best (and pretty much only ways, save your own boat) to get to Friday Harbor is via the Washington State Ferry system, which has frequent departures from the mainland terminal in Anacortes -- roughly an hour and a half drive north of Seattle. Or from the Canadian side from Sidney, which is a major ferry hub for the Canadian ferries that come in from Vancouver. Either way it's a spectacular ride through some literally stunning scenery. Best tie for both is early in the morning or later in the day when the angles of the sun are at their most dramatic.

Downtown Friday Harbor
As with most seaside towns and areas, the primary activities are sailing, eagle-watching, fishing and watersports, though the latter may be tempered by the knowledge that the San Juan Islands have their own "resident" pods of killer whales -- three of them according to our tour guide. These residents stay in the area year-round, as opposed to migrating pods of whales which move their location dependent upon the time of year. The good news about this is that you can usually see a few of them on the many regularly scheduled Whale Watching tours out of Friday Harbor. (We took the high-speed Western Explorer Zodiac-style boat from Western Prince. Not only more quickly able to adapt to the whales' changing locations, but a thrill-ride on its own. Highly recommended for the adventurous types.)

Inside the massive Washington State ferry
The rising tide
Another fascinating feature of the islands comes twice a day dependent upon the location of the moon: the tidal surge (right). The islands are located ideally for a significant rise or drop of the ocean, which in sections produces a virtual "sea" of eddies and whirlpools. A fascinating sight and certainly a most memorable moment for anybody who has experienced it.

But regardless of your intent: catching fish, seeing whales, birdwatching or just strolling the streets and galleries while stopping for a drink to people watch, the San Juan Islands are an easy-access retreat from the city, and a truly beautiful part of the world.


Sunset in the channel

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