A Travellerspoint blog

The Emerald City

I’d never been to Seattle before, so, fresh off the ferry from Friday Harbor, though exhausted and in need of an ice-cold beer, I dutifully and determinedly maneuvered by SUV and camper back on to the mainland and south along the Puget Sound toward Seattle. I wasn’t staying in a campground. As you can imagine, there aren’t many in the downtown Seattle area. I’d decided to use a service called ‘Boondockers Welcome’. It’s a collection of fellow RVers who offer their driveway or other suitable location for others to park their RV and use as a home base to explore the surrounding area. I’d found fellow RVers Tom and Karen offering a spot on their side driveway in the gorgeous neighborhood of Bridle Trails adjacent to Bellevue, a short drive from Seattle. I was tickled when they accepted my request. But, as part of his instructions, Tom had warned that I’d need to back my camper in through a wooden gate to get it properly positioned so that I could detach and use my SUV to do my sightseeing.

So imagine my concern that our ferry was a half hour late getting back to Anacortes and my master plan of arriving at Bridle Trails just before sunset was setting with the sun before my very eyes! Visions of backing my camper up through a wooden gate in the dark were filling my imagination with dread. There was still a chance I could make it before sunset, I thought, as I hit my first wave of Seattle area traffic. Soon it was clear I’d be backing up in the dark through a wooden gate. Ah, well, my RV driving education would continue. I certainly was not the newbie I’d started as more than a month before. I’d messaged Tom earlier to let him know when I’d arrive, first according to my plan, but later with updates as Google Maps reported a later and later arrival time. I arrived in the dark as I’d hoped not to. Fortunately, after greeting me and welcoming me to their home, Tom offered to spot me. What a relief since it was his fence I would have damaged had I gone astray. I knew Tom wouldn’t let me.

I got it pretty close to where Tom directed. I inched it even closer. I figured Tom wanted me to improve it further, but, mercifully, he looked at me and said, “Dave, that’s good enough. We have the car parked outside the garage right now. You left us enough room.” What a good guy. We had a brief discussion about Tom’s RV that was further down the driveway from me. I told him some of the places I’d been already. It’s fun to talk shop and adventures with fellow RVers. Tom had run 30 amp power out to his RV and it was split to a second outlet he offered to me! What a relief. I’d fully depleted my batteries back among the tall trees of Deception Pass State Park and Tom’s were almost as tall here in Bridal Trails! Tom bade me a good night and left me to set up and detach my camper. Soon thereafter I was sawing Zs and dreaming of what I might find in Seattle the next days.

I awoke to see Bridle Trails in daylight and was stunned by the tall forested beauty of this neighborhood. This was like Deception Pass State Park but with a neighborhood of houses interspersed throughout the forest! What was with this area? As you probably guessed from the name, this entire area developed to serve the love of horses. Tom shared with me that many of the houses in the neighborhood maintained horse stables! Sure enough, as I was pulling out of Tom’s driveway for the day, I saw an enormous horse trailer parked out in front of one of Tom and Karen’s neighbors. Later, gazing at the map I noticed we were adjacent to Bridle Trails State Park, and I would read the park was crisscrossed by riding trails, established by and for those with a love of horses and riding. I hoped I’d have enough time to investigate further, but I had a pretty packed agenda!

I was off to downtown Seattle and the almost synonymous Pike Place Market! I’d heard so many things about it. I followed my driving directions out of Bellevue. Crossing Lake Washington, you climb a ridge completely covered in what appears from afar to be houses, but upon closer inspection is a panoply of apartment buildings and very big houses as far as the eye can see. Cresting the ridge you come down, steeply, right into the heart of things in Seattle. Let me tell you, I know San Francisco has a reputation for being very hilly and it’s well-deserved. I know from my own experience. But I’m not sure San Francisco’s hilliness has a thing on Seattle. I was shocked at how steep this city is. Does anyone talk about that? I don’t think so.

I passed by the University of Washington, which does nothing to disrupt from the pine-forested, pine needle-carpeted motif here in the Pacific Northwest. Looks like it would be quite the place to go to school. Suddenly, traffic was dense and I was relieved to be directed to an exit that doesn’t have a snaking, serpentine line of red brake lights in the direction I’m going. A sharp left and I’m heading down some of the steepest streets I’ve driven. Maybe not San Francisco Lombard St. steep, you know the one, but steep enough. Soon I realize I’m not going slow enough and my front fascia scrapes the street. Several pedestrians whip their unapproving gaze in my direction. “Tourist,” I know they’re thinking.

I slow it down, just a bit, more so I have enough time to spot the cross-street names before I pass them than necessarily avoiding the cross looks of local pedestrians. There it is! Western Avenue. I take a hard right and I see signs for Pike Place Market. A little further and signs for its dedicated parking structure. I know I’m gonna pay through the nose, but at least I’ll know I’m in the right place. It turns out the parking is for both Pike Place Market and the Piers. It’s all color-coded and there are instructions, you just have to pay attention. I did, for the most part. Red lines lead you to Pike Place Market and green to the Piers. Onto a red elevator and up 4 stories I go and I step out into…

They should rename this place the Pike Place Bazaar. Then they could call it the world’s most bizarre Bazaar. An infinite corridor of sensory explosion as far as you can see to the left or to the right. It’s difficult to decide which way to turn your head. Almost any direction is rewarded save, maybe, directly down. Layer after layer of neon signs decorate the ceiling announcing the arrival of another vendor or restaurant as you walk. Booth after booth of any and every craft you can imagine. Fish mongers selling every type of seafood you might eat, and a few I’ve not heard of, and would not eat, and some still moving of their own accord. I finally found the famous flying fish just as they were wrapping up the show. Florists with endless bouquets of the most vivid colors arranged with artistic aplomb. Artisan butchers pushing their plenty, cured or not, with free samples that leave you wanting more and happily parting with your hard-earned cash to do so. Fruit sellers and green grocers with the freshest, juiciest offerings this side of orchard or farm. Creative genius expressed in leather crafting, jewelry, pottery making, and even woodworking. Sellers of knickknacks that defy categorization. And, of course, t-shirt sellers, hocking some of the more creative graphics and slogans I’ve seen on my trip, most I can’t repeat in this blog. And I mean I can’t repeat because they were either too politically incendiary or too much in bad taste. And by too much in bad taste, yes, I mean tickling your funny bone in a sinfully pleasurable, unrepeatable way.

I walked the bazaar, I mean market, once and then again just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Then a third time because, although I’d resisted the temptation to go on a buying spree, I rationalized that not buying anything would have been the bigger shame. I can’t share what I bought because most of what I bought were gifts and the recipients, upon reading of my purchases, will know precisely what they’re getting. Or worse, they won’t get what they expect and, well, that would be much worse. But this is the kind of place where you find gifts very suited to a particular person, maybe even yourself. So, let your imagination run wild before you come here, but do come. Buy yourself a reusable Pike Place Market bag artistically designed and produced by one of the market’s vendors. That’s what I did. Put all the gifts you buy in that reusable bag one by one. And with each, let the smile on your face grow.

It was then that I noticed there were other floors below the main market with other, countless vendors. The lower you go, the more eccentric the ware for sale. What they used to call “various and sundry,” I guess. I spent a little time down there and, if you’re a hardcore shopper, you won’t want to miss it. But my hand-crafted Pike Place Market bag was as full of gifts as I was gonna let it get, so I just enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells before moving on.

I ventured out of Pike Place Market into the surrounding area. I found the gum wall, then wished I hadn’t as I thought of all the DNA samples up there, and how they got there. No buskers out the day I visited. It was a Monday. I can understand but I was still disappointed. There’s nothing like someone performing live music for nothing, just meager tips, in front of strangers. That takes real courage. I was ready to drop some greenbacks in their guitar cases to show my appreciation. Maybe next time.

I wandered in another direction and found a map store, Metzger maps! Now this was my kind of place. Part hard core map store, stacks of geological and topographical maps, and part tourist attraction with a collection of games and globes and 12-year-old and I would envy. I lingered for a while. I enjoyed just being there. The smell was wonderful. I breathed deeply. I spent some money at Metzger’s, I have to admit, but I don’t regret it. Had a nice conversation with the clerk. He asked where I was from and when I said Michigan he couldn’t believe it. I told him about a map store I’d been to in Phoenix. He raised an eyebrow, admitted he hadn’t heard of it, and retreated to, “There aren’t many left.” He wasn’t wrong.

I wandered further and found an espresso shop. This one wasn’t a drive-thru like so many in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve fallen in love with them, those Espresso drive-thrus. They really started in earnest in Montana. Remember those old Fotomat stores they converted to coffee and donut shops back east? Well, out here they build ‘em like that from scratch. And they make the best darn coffee these lips have guided onto these taste buds. I haven’t been to a Starbucks since I’ve been here. There are just too many little, independent, delicious espresso drive-thrus to sample. And the people running them are just a pleasure to talk to in the morning. Some of my best sightseeing advice has come from those who work these drive-thrus. Truly enjoyable conversations as they prepare your Americano, hot, with a splash of cream, usually a triple, but sometimes a quad when I need a real pick-me-up.

Further afar from Pike Place Market I found the best damn cupcake I ever ate at Cupcake Royale. I wasn’t even looking for a cupcake, but with my triple Americano how could I resist? These little babies are a work of art. They have seasonal flavors, too. Get ‘em while they last! They had Apple Crisp in September. Pumkin Pie is around for fall. I went with Red Velvet. How could I not? It was divine. The perfect pairing with my dense, rich, but bitter espresso. If you’re looking for rationalization, did I mention these hills in Seattle? I walked those hills to get to this cupcake.

Next up on my jaunt to downtown Seattle area was a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel! It’s that giant Ferris wheel on the pier that you see so many times in pictures of Seattle. I considered riding to the top of the iconic Seattle needle, but the Wheel was within walking distance. The pier area was nice but they were doing a lot of construction. There’s an aquarium and, I don’t know if they have any Orcas, but I didn’t go in. I didn’t want my Orca quest to be completed that way. I saw Orcas at SeaWorld as a kid. I wanted to see them in the wild, in their natural habitat where they’re the alpha.

I bought my ticket for the wheel and was happy to see there was no line. The sign said every person gets at least three rotations of the wheel. “Only three?” I thought disappointedly. I started counting the rotations for the group that was on the wheel as I waited. Five. “I better get five,” I thought. I got a car or gondola all to myself. The cars are nicely designed. A steel frame and floor gives you a secure sense, but clear Lexan sides leave you a full, direct view some 200 feet down. Some of the cars have a nice table in the middle, but I’m not sure how you could use it since the cars swing substantially every time someone changes their seat, which with me was often, or the operator stops and starts the wheel to let people on or off.

With a whoosh up we went. I admit it was a thrill. Part of it was the beautiful view you get of downtown Seattle below you, concrete, steel, and glass office buildings stacked as if on tiers street by street as the wheel carries you up, up and away from the pier and boardwalk. First, they’re above you where skyscrapers should be, then across from you, then suddenly you’re neck and neck with their lofty heights and looking down at pedestrians who’ve somehow become small as ants. Then look up and down the coast, or across the Puget Sound to the west. You can’t resist changing seats to change your view, then your car is swinging again. Woah, hold on! Wait, we stopped at the top! Is something wrong? Visions of a rescue operation detailed on the nightly news flash through my head for a moment. But, no. The operator was just letting more passengers on down at pier level. I think that’s the scariest part, when you’re at the top and the wheel stops. Yep, that’s the scariest.

As an engineer, I couldn’t help analyzing the structure of the wheel. I didn’t see any rust or leaking or cracks or any other obvious defects. I bet it’s a challenge to maintain right here next to all this salt water. Mr. Ferris would be proud. If you don’t know the story of the invention of the Ferris wheel for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, it’s a great story. You should read about it. I won’t tell it here. And for the record, the Great Wheel operator gave us 6 trips around that wheel! Boy, I was happy.

Before departing the downtown area, I couldn’t help going in search of an Italian sandwich shop my brother, John, told me about. Salumi. And I found it just in time. I got there just before they closed. When it was my turn, I told them I’d come all the way from Michigan for one of their famous sandwiches. This got ‘em laughing heartily. I told the guy who took my order I couldn’t decide, all the sandwiches on the menu looked so good. “Since I walked in here just before you close,” I said, “Why don’t you choose for me.” He didn’t hesitate. They got to work making me an uncured sopressata sandwich with their homemade mozzarella and a relish I’m still contemplating all on a homemade ciabatta roll. As the guy who made my sandwich was wrapping it up for me, I shook my head and told him, “I can’t tell you how good that sandwich looks to me.” He laughed and replied, “Doesn’t it? Ya know, the whole time I was making your sandwich I was thinking the same thing and that I just might need to make myself one of these!” I hope he did. The sandwich was outstanding.

Fully satiated, I got in my car and began the trek back to Bridle Trails and my camper at Tom and Karen’s house. I spent the next day visiting a couple of epic museums in the Seattle area. I’ll save that for another blog post for those who might be interested. After I hooked up my camper and got everything ready to go, I walked over to Tom and Karen’s front door and knocked to say goodbye. They both answered and we had a delightful conversation about my too-short visit to Seattle and my desire to return, especially to see Bridle Trails State Park, which I’d missed. They welcomed me back. I thanked them for being such generous hosts and for the stunning location and scenery their home offers. At the risk of them getting overwhelmed with stay requests, I would highly encourage my fellow RVers to reach out to Tom and Karen through the Harvest Host app and take advantage of this hidden gem for RVing in the Seattle area. Thank you so much, Tom and Karen!


Posted by TheSilverback 01:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Sealife Revisited

I'm on the move again today, so I'm not sure I'll be able to publish a full blog post. Not to mention, either cell phone companies simply don't cover campgrounds or I really know how to pick 'em!

I'd shared some sealife pictures from my whale-watching cruise but I noticed they needed some tlc, so I cropped.in and adjusted color hear and there to try and produce some better images. Let me know if there aren't better.

Our friend the rare Salish Sea sea Otter swimming on his back holding a clam, trying to break the shell so he can get to his lunch.

Here it appears our friend has hit paydirt and is enjoying raw clam meet for lunch!

One of the Humbacks we encountered was generous with a big blast from her blowhole several times.

Humbacks don't have fingerprints (think about it), but they do have a unique tail pattern that naturalists use to identify the particular whale. This female generously flashed us her tail several times. A later whale, a young male we saw, refused to show the underside of his tail. Shy, I guess.

A cute harbor seal looking right back at us. Hey there, cutie!

Sea lions. By the way, they're noisy and smelly, but I still like 'em. They have character!

Posted by TheSilverback 22:13 Archived in USA Tagged sea seal sound lion whale humpback puget otter salish Comments (0)

In Search of Orcas - Part 2

I had a decision to make. As I shared in a previous post, my otherwise quite enjoyable whale-watching cruise had failed to check the one box that would have ruled them all. No Orcas. The next day the Salish Sea was socked in by fog, so I canceled my planned daytrip by ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Doing so had been especially disappointing because it meant giving up on one more chance to see Orcas. San Juan Island is famous for Orca sightings right from its shores. But with heavy fog, I just didn’t see much hope of an Orca sighting. We’d need to get the Orcas to jump into the boat to see them with fog this heavy. Instead, I’d spent a very enjoyable day walking around Anacortes, enjoying its eclectic collection of shops and restaurants, including a memorable lunch at Dad’s Diner A-Go-Go.

In fact, it was quite sunny that day in the city and I found myself wondering if maybe the fog had cleared! An afternoon jaunt to Friday Harbor? My first Orca sighting a fortuitous package deal, perhaps? It seemed like wishful thinking and, indeed, while hiking to a scenic overlook above Anacortes I was clearly able to see that, though the fog had retreated from land, it was yet blanketing the Salish sea as far as the eye could see. Furthermore, I could see a second, thicker and taller fog bank rolling in to finish the job. Well, that does it, I thought. No Friday Harbor. No Orcas. But wait. Was that an idea I sensed forming in my head? Was there another chance, perhaps?

I was due to depart my picturesque campsite at Deception Pass State Park the next morning and move further south to Seattle. I’d never been to Seattle and was excited to visit. Check-out at the state park was 11AM at the latest. There was no way I could get back from Anacortes to check out in time. And, yet, I had that feeling inside. You know the one. The one where you have a spark of an idea in your mind, inchoate, not fully formed, but somehow you sense a solution emerging. What if…

What if I got up early, like 6AM, broke camp, checked out and departing no later than 7AM. Of course, with me that means it’ll be more like 7:15 or 7:20, but stay with me here. Then I tow my camper to the ferry parking lot. They must have RV parking right? It was just a quick Google search to confirm they did. So I park my camper at the ferry and walk on. I ride the ferry to Friday Harbor and spend 5 ½ hours on the island. Surely, I could find a place to do some whale-watching. I’d bring my long reach binocs and be the envy of those around me as I watched mama Orca and her pod parade by in all their black and white, apex predator glory. I’d be back on the 3:40 ferry to Anacortes, jump in my SUV and tow my camper down to Seattle arriving about 7PM. It’s the perfect plan, or I thought! OK, let me tell you how it really went…

I lost power in my camper that night. I was up until the wee hours trying to diagnose the cause and get it corrected. I won’t go into the details in this narrative but suffice it to say that my late night resulted in my waking up the next morning at 7AM, an hour later than I’d planned. I’d already put my plan in jeopardy. But I was motivated and moving fast, camper hitched and driving away from Deception Pass State Park a few minutes before 8AM.

8:28AM. I pulled into the ferry parking lot just to find that the dedicated RV parking was more than a half mile from the ferry terminal up a 200-foot hill. I couldn’t believe it. There were only six RV parking spaces. Yeah, no kidding! Four of them were available. I maneuvered my rig into one of the generous spots, locked everything up, made sure to engage the parking brake, and inadvertently woke up the couple in the motorhome next to me who had obviously been stealth camping (this means illegally camping in a parking lot that doesn’t allow it). I laughed as they sped away. They couldn’t have just gone back to sleep.

8:35AM. I’m standing at the kiosk to pre-pay my parking, which is required to avoid a ticket. An older, rather academic-looking gentleman in front of me is struggling with what seems to him alien technology. Poor guy. I offer to help because it’s not only extremely painful for me to watch him struggle, it’s becoming clear he may cause me to miss my ferry. An attractive, young couple walks up and are literally hopping from foot to foot waiting for the two us to finish. “I haven’t even paid yet, so you might want to try paying at another kiosk along the path.” They left without comment. Back to my friend who doesn’t know his license plate number and skips away back to his car to get it while I’m standing there with my thumb up my…, well, know what I mean. I help him finish, pay for my own parking and I’m out ahead of him down the long path to the ferry because he forgot something and went back to his car.

8:50AM. I pass the attractive young couple who are also struggling with the parking kiosk. I don’t stop to help. They must know this stuff better than I, I think. A few minutes later they speed walk by me and the young guy asks me, “Do you know where to buy the actual ferry tickets?” “Down at the ferry!” I bark back. I actually have no clue and hadn’t thought about it until this moment, but what else am I gonna say? As we approach the ferry terminal we see a sign, “Walk-on passengers must buy their tickets at the car booths before parking.” My young, now-likely former friend whips around and is just about to implore me with a, “But you said…” when a woman I would learn is the wife of my older, academic-looking friend says to us, “You buy them at a kiosk inside.” Ah, another kiosk, of course.

9:00AM. Tickets in hand and out of breath, we all walk up the steel causeway on to the ferry before the gate closes.

9:05AM The ferry departs Anacortes for Friday Harbor precisely on schedule.

You may be wondering why I keep telling you so much detail about these strangers I encountered that morning. I’ll tell you why. Our journeys that day would continue to be intertwined, our paths crossing inexplicably. It was weird, almost creepy. We’d be laughing about it by the end of the day. Let’s call the older gentleman Paul and the younger man Forrest. We all walked onto the ferry together, expecting to neither see nor hear from each other ever again. We were wrong.

We arrived at Friday Harbor in glorious sun with not a whisp of fog in sight. As you approach Friday Harbor by Ferry it’s like something out of a story book. There are no high rises or modern architecture. It’s quaint with a touch of touristy. Of course, the harbor is littered with sailboats. And though there is reported to be a resident harbor seal, he was apparently still asleep when we arrived that morning. I didn’t linger long in Friday Harbor. I could have. It’s the kind of place that you can easily spend 4 or 5 hours in and not realize where the time went, having enjoyed every minute. Ice cream parlors and espresso joints. Art galleries and t-shirt shops. Corn dogs or gourmet meals with gold medal wines from vines grown right here on San Juan Island.

I’d learned that San Juan Island had a hop-on/hop-off bus that goes around the entire island Have you ever used such a bus to tour a big city? No? Well, next time you have a chance to, you should. I’ve used them in both Florence and Paris, and now Friday Harbor. Not only do they make regular stops at all the top places of interest, they share an amazing narrative about the city and the sites you’re seeing while you ride the bus. It’s like having your very own tour guide! Well, I was tickled to find out that San Juan Island has their own hop-on/hop-off bus they call the Jolly Trolley. Now, with a name like that don’t get any ideas in your head about what we were doing on that bus. There’s no drinking allowed, not even coffee, and no smoking, tobacco or otherwise.

What really had me sold on the Jolly Trolley was stop #10 – Lime Kiln State Park. Huh? I know that seems so random, obscure. That’s what you’re thinking. Admit it. But that’s only because I haven’t yet explained that Lime Kiln State Park is famous for being an Orca viewing hot spot! I was headed there right at this very moment. And it was killing me that I had to wait until stop #10. But because this was the Jolly Trolley I got to hear about other places of interest around San Juan Island including gorgeous and historic Roche Harbor as well as the historic English camp. You see, before the British and the new American upstarts could decide who owned San Juan Island some 200 years ago, each posted a small battalion of soldiers here to keep an eye on the other. An English camp and an American camp. And they almost went to war over a pig! A dead one! It’s a true story. They call it the Pig War. People have written books about it.

I arrived at Lime Kiln State Park flush with optimism. I even bought an Orca sticker at the gift shop. Of course, I did. Behind the gift shop was a refreshment stand called the “Blow-Hole” who’s motto is “Snacks with a Porpoise!”. For real. It was run by another guy named Paul originally from Cleveland. He and I hit it off. I asked for a turkey sandwich and he talked me into roast beef. And I was happy about it. That’s the kind of guy Paul is. I told him I was in search of Orcas and he jumped back in excitement and said, “Hey, Dave! Do you have the app that follows the whale-watching boats? That’s the best way to find them.” I admitted to Paul I’d not heard of it. He frantically pinched and swiped and tapped and swiped and pinched at the screen of his phone and then, looking at me out from under furrowed brow, nodded and said, “There’s a chance. It looks like there’s a big group of boats south of the Island right now. There’s probably Orcas down there.”

But this was a disappointment to me because the Jolly Trolley doesn’t go to the beach at the south end of the island. I needed my own car. Paul immediately recognized my disappointment and said, “But, hey, I said there’s a chance because it’s pretty common for them to head north up the Haro Straight right by this park when they’re done hunting Salmon south of the island.” Paul told me of a good spot from which to view and I was off down the trail, binocs slung over my shoulder, roast beef sandwich and diet coke in hand.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day and I spent more than 3 hours out on that cliff’s edge. At times, there were 12 or 15 of us trying to spot the Orcas. Several times rumors ran through the crowd that they were headed north in our direction. The excitement was tangible. A young woman whale-watcher I met kept pointing and asking me to look in various directions with my long reach binocs, but no Orcas. Finally, she said, “I gotta get me a pair of those.” I hope she does.

I sighted a Great Blue Herron whose shock of feathers atop his head wasn’t blue, but one of the richest shades of violet I could remember seeing. He stood atop “eel” seaweed floating in a lagoon below us and, periodically, casually pierced the water’s surface with his bill emerging with a wiggling fish and then, with a casual flip, down the hatch. He clearly knew his trade. Finally, another rumor of Orcas, but then disappointment again. The number of watchers dwindled and by 3PM, I had to begrudgingly skedaddle for my Jolly Trolley less I risk missing my return ferry.

On the way back up the hill I passed by Paul and thanked him. “No Orcas,” I reported. He gave me a disappointed shake of his head when another young woman walked up. “Hey, Sarah,” Paul entreated, “are the Orcas coming north?” “Doesn’t look like it,” she replied with a shake of her head, “I was on the south beach and they appeared to be headed further out toward Salmon bank.” Saddened, I trudged up the hill to my long ride back to my rig.

On the bus back to Friday Harbor, I bumped into Forrest again and met his brother and his wife. At this pace I was going to meet the whole family! And then we learned we’re both from Michigan! Forrest owns a small restaurant in Traverse City. I promised to stop in and see him some day. I Googled it and it looks like quite the place.

I think the Jolly Trolley is a fantastic way to see San Juan Island. If I'd known I wouldn't see Orcas, here's how I would have spent my day on San Juan Island. Take the 9:05 ferry ro Friday Harbor. Board the first Trolley about 30 minutes after you arrive. Get off at Roche Harbor. Spend the hour you have until the next bus walking around the idyllic town. Have lunch. Take the next Trolley to English Camp. Tour the preserved camp and learn all about the Pig War! Finally take the Trolley to Lime Kiln State Park. Say HI! To Paul. Tell him the Silverback sent you. Walk to the historic lighthouse and take your chances looking out into Haro Straight. You might spot an Orca. Ride the Trolley back to Friday Harbor. Walk the town then grab dinner at one of the many, tasty restaurants. Board an early evening ferry back to Anacortes. Basically, you can do 3 Trolley stops and keep the itinerary I describe above. Maybe you'd rather see a lavender farm and taste their ice cream or visit the Alpaca farm. It's up to you!

Back on the ferry, halfway back to Anacortes, I saw older, academic-looking Paul waving to me, “Dave, did you hear?” “What happened, Paul?” “Well, didn’t you say you were whale-watching out on San Juan Island?” “Yes, I did, but I didn’t see any.” I figured he was going to tell me about the whales spotted off south beach, but, instead, Paul shared excitedly, “Well, our daughter lives in Friday Harbor. We were there visiting her today. Anyway, she just called us a few minutes ago because there was a report that an Orca pod was spotted off Lime Kiln State Park at one of the most famous Orca sighting spots in the San Juan Islands! She and her friend drove out there and are watching the Orcas right now!” “Yeah, that figures, Paul. That’s exactly where I was watching for Orcas all day until just over an hour ago,” I replied, nodding fatefully. The quest continues...

Our car ferry

The HMS Samish (just kidding about the HMS)

Our approach to Friday Harbor.

Friday Harbor has a small dock, so we walk off the car deck onto terra firma.

Here's a map of San Juan Island so you can get the lay of the land

Our Jolly Trolley!

Look ma, no sides!

We passed an Alpaca farm. They're cute but mighty strange looking. Kind of like the poodle of the sheep genus.

Paul's refreshment stand. The Blow-Hole.

Beautiful view from Lime Kiln State Park. Orcas would appear an hour after I left to catch the ferry home.

Another beautiful view, including the light house.

A replica dorsal fin from a famous San Juan Island Orca. Taller than me!

Posted by TheSilverback 02:16 Comments (0)

Dad's Diner A-Go-Go

It came highly recommended. Some restaurants have a hard time meeting expectations. Others, like this one, thrive on it.

For food, service, and atmosphere, Dad's Diner of Anacortes hit all the marks. It helps that I had Dad himself serve me. At least, thats what I believe. That's what I told myself. He was clearly in charge, having fun, and acting like he was the Dad. At some point I decided not to ask him because I didnt want the narrative I'd spun in my mind to be compromised. Better that way.

There was no host at the door and I saw two open tables along the wall. As I made a move to occupy one, I caught the eye of what appeared to be the only waittress. Pointing at the open table of my intent, I mouthed, "I'll grab this one..." She blocked my progress with a quick shake of her head, "We have a waiting list. Use the QR code on the sandwich sign outside to put your name on it." I departed with my tail between my legs.

Sure enough, there were instructions and a QR code on a sandwich sign right outside the door. For a place that had an old-school vibe through and through, this was something I hadn't expected, but I liked it. I scanned the QR code and within seconds was 5th on the waiting list. "45 minutes," it told me in reward to my obeisance. Ugh. Well, I thought, lets give it a few minutes to see what happens.

I grabbed a spot on a bench and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of Anacortes' main drag, a menagerie of sightseerers, locals, and merchants going about their business seemingly oblivious to those around them. It reminded me of a scene from a movie. Martin Scorcese couldn't have done better with an army of extras trying to earn their actors union cards.

Just then, Dad peaked his head out the door and intoned, "Who all is waiting for a table?" I was the only one who raised my hand. He looked at me, "Come on in!" and seated me at the table of my original intent. Old school, like I thought.

"What do you want to drink?" he got right to the point. "Coffee," I dutifully replied. "And to eat?" he followed up. "Uh oh," I thought, "was I supposed to have scanned another QR code?"

"I haven't seen a menu, yet," I honestly replied. "No problem. It's right on the wall. Or you can use the QR code on the napkin holder," advised Dad, "lemme know when you're ready," and hurriedly walked away. Of course, a QR code.

A few minutes later Dad returned with my coffee and I was ready. "How about the Redneck Benedict?" I questioned. He smiled, "Perfect choice for a first-timer like you. What kind of meat? Ham, bacon, sausage or smoked brisket?" I'm a bit of a connoisseur of eggs benedict and not only had I never had it with brisket, I'd never heard of it with brisket! "Oh, the brisket, of course," I quickly replied. He smiled again, "Great choice. I'm gonna do your eggs over easy. Is that a problem?" "Perfect," I replied. He smiled again and was off with a flourish to put my order in. Dad was one of those people who was always in motion. You have to match their cafence and roll with it. Otherwise, youngum up the works.
I was left to enjoy my coffee, a local roast called Fidalgo's, thats the name of this island, and enjoy the din of conversation that filled the atmosphere of Dad's diner. It was similar to what I'd found out on the street, but even more energetic with a congenial, neighborly tone. Minutes later Dad was back with my benedict.

"You’ll want to use our hot sauce, Badassco. It's at this point in our relationship where I won't bother you unless you ask. Enjoy your meal." And he was off.

Enjoy it I did. The brisket was lean and dripping with smoky flavor. The sawmill gravy had enough sausage and bacon that I was reassured by my decision to opt for the brisket. It was as if Dad put sausage, bacon, and brisket on my benedict. Dad's hot sauce was just the right combination of spicy and savory. I knew I'd added just the right amount when my eyes teared up just a bit. It came with diced potatoes that were perfectly browned, crispy on the outside, and pillowy on the inside. This Dad guy really knew what he was doing.

The toughest task of this breakfast was slowing my pace. But i did. Each bite full was a taste explosion. I now understood why Dad's Diner A-Go-Go had such high ratings. It was that good. I didn't know if Id ever be back, but tipped appropriately to show my sincere appreciation. Then I was off for a stroll down Anacortes' main avenue. I meal like that demands a walk.

If you ever come to Anacortes, and you may, since it's the gateway to Friday Harbor and whale watching in the San Juan Islands, I highly recommend partaking in a meal at Dad's. Tell him the Silverback sent you.


Posted by TheSilverback 01:17 Archived in USA Tagged restaurant anacortes Comments (0)

Sailing the Salish Sea in Search of Orcas

To say I was eager the morning of my whale-watching cruise out of Anacortes would be a massive understatement. I arrived an hour before we shoved off and no one was there. I spotted what I was pretty sure was our boat, about a 75-foot-long catamaran that I would later find could cruise at 25 knots without a concern. I called the tour office and told them who I was and my concern that I was in the wrong place. The nice woman described where I should be and, sure enough, I was in the right place. “You’re a little bit early but be patient. We’ll be boarding in about 40 minutes.” OK.

Relieved, I sat dockside and engaged in conversation a couple of older ladies who looked like they’d done this before. “I really want to see Orcas.” There, I laid my cards on the table. “What would you say my chances are, 50/50?” “Oh no!” One of the ladies exclaimed. “I’ve been on this tour about 25 times and I’d say 9 times out of 10 we see killer whales,” she admonished. 25 times? She explained that her son had taken a job in Anacortes years ago and she goes on this whale-watching cruise every time she comes to visit him. Well, she sounded like she knew what she was talking about. I leaned back in confidence and day-dreamed of all the Orcas I was going to see today.

About 75 of us boarded 20 minutes before shove off. I went to the front of ship and staked out a spot in the stadium seating at the bow. I wanted to be the first to see the Orcas. When I noticed there weren’t too many following my lead, I asked one of the crew members why not? He laughed and reminded me, “Sir, this boat will do 25 knots to get us out into the Salish Sea. It’s gonna be mighty cold up here on the bow!” What does he know about cold, I thought. I’m from Michigan. Well, he was right. It wasn’t long before tush and torso were freezing from the wind and my face burning from the sun, sunblock or no. I slipped on my waterproof Columbia wind breaker and pulled the hood over my head. Way over by head onto my sunglasses. That’ll have to do, I thought. I’m not giving up this spot.

The Salish Sea was glass smooth that day. Unlike my whale-watching cruise from Boston Harbor, which turned into the vomit cruise from hell, they neither recommended nor offered Dramamine to us on this one. I was surprised and concerned at this, but the Salish Sea really was smooth. At one point we got within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean, according to the captain, and you could start to feel the ocean swells. Uh oh, here we go, I thought. Vomit away, kids! But ole cap he didn’t dilly dally and made haste scooting us back to the stable, swell-free safety of the Salish Sea.

We saw an incredible amount of sea life that day and I’ll describe and share pictures below. Humpbacks, Minke whales, Stellar Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, even a rare Sea Otter, and so many species of sea birds I couldn’t keep track of them. The captain was awesome and had quite the eye for Humpbacks. Even our naturalist, Sam, was impressed at his ability to spot them. The crew did a fantastic job, too. They were really nice and always had a smile on their face. I couldn’t do that for 4 hours. But we didn’t see any Orcas. That’s right, no killer whales. We didn’t see any porpoises, either. Apparently, they were on the list, cousins to my killer whales, but I wasn’t so disappointed by their absence. Who knows, maybe the whole genus took the day off.
I was left with a strange feeling as we cruised back to Cap Sante Harbor in Anacortes. And I don’t mean because of my frozen torso and sunburnt face. I was grateful to have seen so much sea life, including the rare but I couldn’t get over my disappointment at not seeing any killer whales. I mean, that’s why you come to the San Juan Islands. Not for Humpbacks. Not for Sea Lions. You come for killers. What happened to 90%? I resisted the temptation to track down that nice old lady I’d met before the cruise and confront her. Just kidding. I wouldn’t have done that, but I did honestly wonder if her son wasn’t the captain.

Enjoy the pictures below. The captain did a remarkable job getting us as close as possible to the wildlife. I know they have laws about distances they have to keep. He also did a wonderful job getting as much of the boat a view of each creature we encountered as he could. Just no Orcas.

The first highlight of the day were these Stellar Sea Lions. They were big and loud! They have a fierce growl! Different from their California cousins, these sea lions were more relaxed and laid back, don't charge exhorbitant prices for a gallon of gas, and have a strictly enforced border.

I think these are Harbor Seals, but don't quote me. For sure, they're damn cute!

These little birds, Murres, were all over the place. Apparently, they live their entire lives on the water. I don't know where they lay their eggs. Maybe they float. Excellent swimmers, they've been documented diving over 500 feet deep!

This little guy, a Sea Otter, was the hit of the day. We rolled up on him as he was diving for clams. He resurfaced, rolled onto his back, and spent time trying to crack that clamshell to strike paydirt. While common in California, only three residents have been documented in this area.

Finally, we spotted a couple of Humpbacks. They're always great to see. In a way, their plight change human attitudes to stewardship of the sea and our pale blue dot in general.

Posted by TheSilverback 19:29 Archived in USA Tagged sea wildlife life sound lion whale puget otter Comments (0)

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