San Juan Island
for whale watching
By Jon Bauer,
Were it not for cooler
heads and Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany you might be plunking down
Canada's colorful currency for that "I (heart) Friday Harbor"
A long-standing border
dispute between Her Majesty and her formerly loyal subjects in the
States very nearly came to blows in 1859 over the ownership of the
San Juan Islands. Fortunately, the only casualty was a Hudson's
Bay pig who rooted up the wrong potato patch.
Juan Island, the site of the aborted war, offers visitors something
for every interest. Shoppers, bicyclists, hikers, sport fishers, beachcombers,
history buffs, whale watchers, boaters, photographers and others cross
paths on the archipelago's second largest island.
The ferry lands you
in Friday Harbor, the island's only incorporated town and San Juan
County's seat of government. Friday Harbor plies its visitors with
many tourist shops, galleries and restaurants. Other attractions
in town include the Whale Museum and the San Juan Island Historical
Museum, a two-story home a half-mile from the ferry landing on Price
Street. The Whale Museum features displays and short films on cetaceans,
life-sized models and whale skeletons. And opening this year is
a special exhibit based on the richly illustrated children's book,
"The Storm Boy." The museum is three blocks from the ferry
landing at 62 First Street.
Friday Harbor and the
San Juans gained some fame as the backdrop for the Free Willy movies,
which have since spawned movements to free other captive whales,
including Keiko, who played Willy before being replaced by mechnical
whale-bots for the sequel.
Those who would rather
watch truly free whales can take a bus, drive their cars or ride
their bikes to Lime Kiln Point State Park on the island's west side,
otherwise known as Whale Watching Park.
like barnacles to Lime Kiln's rocky shoreline waiting for a glimpse
of orcas, Minke whales, Dall's porpoises (which often are mistaken
for orcas), harbor porpoises and seals. The orcas normally pass
through Haro Straight during the summer months, but biologists have
found no definite pattern to when the orcas pass through the straight
on their way to feed on salmon and seals. Be patient and try to
make more than one trip to the park, and you may be rewarded.
are no guarantees that the whales will appear, but on a nice day
with a warming sun and the sound of pounding surf, one can hardly
Those who do grow weary
of the wait can take a short walk along the shore to the Lime Kiln
Lighthouse, built in 1919 and now listed on the National Register
of Historic Places.
Heading south along West Side Road offers a view to rival Highway
101. Across Haro Straight you can see the Olympics to the south
and Victoria, British Columbia and the Saanich Peninsula and Victoria
to the west.
Continue south and follow
the signs to the American Camp of the San Juan Island National Historical
Park. The American Camp and it's northern neighbor, the British
Camp, are what remains of "The Pig War," a military build-up
that had more to do with a clerical error than the shooting of a
pig. Park brochures and displays reveal what almost brought U.S.
and English troops to hurling lead at each other.
A few original buildings
still remain at both camps. And the American camp offers an interpretive
center with the Pig War story and a short walk through the camp
site with plaques offering glimpses into what was there. A recently
built white picket fence now shows the extent of the camp. In one
corner, an officers' duplex, the laundress' quarters and a flagpole
are all that remains of the camp.
A self-guided tour leads
visitors around the grounds of the former encampment, and displays
provide some interesting facts.
For more information,