9-27-2014 A Day on Lopez Island

Current Location: Rocky Point Oregon Clear and 37 F at 8AM

boat launch at MacKay Bay I was so excited when I went to sleep after our beautiful evening sunset, knowing that the skies were clearing and we had a sunny day ahead for our trip to Lopez Island.  What I forgot about being around all that water, was the clear skies often bring fog.  We woke early Saturday morning to thick fog blanketing our campground with all views completely obscured.

Lopez Island (1 of 51) Ah well, it should lift eventually, right?  The weather people were predicting a gorgeous sunny day in the San Juan Islands.  Hoping for as much time as possible on the island, we left camp around 7 and arrived at the ferry terminal in Anacortes before 8.  What I didn’t understand properly was how to interpret the ferry schedules, and after we paid $44 for our round trip fare, the cashier told us to get in line in lane 1 for the first ferry to Lopez that would leave at 10:30 AM.  Hmmm.

Lopez Island (3 of 51) I knew we were supposed to be in line an hour early, but two and an half hours wasn’t exactly on our agenda.  Especially in the fog.  There was a small coffee shop near the lines that advertised fresh hot coffee, but when I reached the cashier, they were out of coffee.  Just down the road, however, in the terminal building was another coffee shop and I didn’t mind the wait in line.  Not much difference between waiting in the car or in the terminal.  I picked up a couple of coffees and gathered a big stack of brochures for the islands.  It was the smartest move of the day, since there is very little phone service on Lopez, and my most useful find was an excellent fold out map of Lopez Island.  Our day would have been much more difficult without that map.

Lopez Island tour The fog refused to lift or lighten, and by the time we were actually on the ferry traveling west, the skies and the views were still completely obscured.  The fog was so dense that they had a person spotting at the front of the ferry to give notice to the bridge of any hidden obstacles.Lopez Island (5 of 51)

Arriving at the tiny ferry terminal at the northern end of the island, I was impressed with the number of bikers in their northwest gear that lined up to get off on Lopez.  With a more level landscape than the other major islands, Lopez is very popular with bicyclists.  Driving up that first hill off the ferry and as we continued south along the two lane roads toward “town”, it did not look level to me!  I was glad to be in a car.

Lopez Island (7 of 51) In the fog shrouded landscape, a visit to Holly B’s Bakery  was a perfect way to begin our tour of the island.  Kayaking in the chilly fog wasn’t big on the agenda.  Holly B’s was busy on this Saturday morning, and I must say that the cinnamon roll I purchased was perfect.  Dense and not too sweet filled with nutty goodness, it was my favorite kind of pastry.  Next to the bakery is the local bookstore, with both new and used books.  A “real” bookstore, and we spent some time perusing the shelves and enjoying the ambiance of the place with lots of other folks who were visiting Lopez on this foggy Saturday morning.

Lopez Island (6 of 51) I knew there was a Saturday Farmer’s Market but it ended in mid September.  A nice surprise was finding two small booths filled with fresh produce from the local farmers.  I bought some heirloom tomatoes, one called “the mortgage lifter” because the variety paid off someone’s mortgage.  Yum!  I also bought some kind of giant purple carrot that we sliced for carrot chips and some greens, some fingerling potatoes, and a couple of ears of tiny corn.  I should have taken out the camera a bit more, but the fog was dampening my photo spirits and I didn’t bother.

Lopez Island (38 of 51)Best part of the farmer booths was the young man running one of them who told me, “Just head south!.  The southern end of the island is in full sunshine right now.  I had to leave it to drive into the fog to come to market”.  Yayay!  It was already after noon, and in Lopez Village the fog was thick.

Following our trusty little map, we traveled south over the narrow and picturesque roads right into the sunlight shining across the beautiful pastoral landscape.  The forests are dark, but where the land has been cleared the light is gorgeous and the farms are lovely.

Lopez Island (9 of 51) Our destination was Mackaye Harbor, suggested by Laurel, who volunteered on Lopez for a couple of months, as a good place to kayak.  The skies were clear and the sun was gorgeous as we arrived at the boat launch, and the winds were almost non existent across the bay.  Perfect.  As warned, however, that water was cold!  I have heard since forever that kayaking in the San Juan’s requires good skills and either a wet or dry suit because of the cold water.  We had neither, but with the sunshine and light winds it seemed perfectly fine.

Lopez Island (13 of 51) For a long time it was perfectly fine.  The water was clear and the rocky shoreline on the north side of the bay provided interest.  Our plan was to head north along the shoreline, hopefully rounding the point toward Davis Bay.  The closer we got to the narrows, however, the rougher the water became and the swells although not bad,  I had no idea how bad they could get.  After all, it was Puget Sound, it was cold, the wind was coming up, and we had no wetsuits.  I have to say I got a bit wussy, and suggested to Mo that maybe we should head across the bay toward the southern shoreline rather than going farther out into the straits between Lopez and San Juan.

Lopez Island (27 of 51) Even though our time on the water wasn’t as long as expected, it was good that we turned around, because by the time we got back to the launch, the winds were rising considerably and I could see little fog fingers coming across the hills toward the south. Our kayaks are wonderful on lakes, even in the wind they track well, and we have managed mild currents in rivers and high waves on windy lakes.  Still, something about these waters gave me an inner chill and I didn’t want to push my luck.  Especially with Abby in Mo’s boat and that cold water. 

Lopez Island (30 of 51) Laugh if you will, but kayaking dark clear rivers in Florida with alligators on the shoreline didn’t create the bit of apprehension that I felt in the cold water of the San Juan’s.  I know I would like to go back again, maybe when the weather is a bit more predictable, if it ever is, and explore the many other bays and shorelines of the islands.  I might like to actually pay for a guided tour in a sea kayak with someone who understands how these waters work and then it wouldn’t be such an unknown.  Still, I am so glad that we managed to at least get on the water and that the fog cleared up enough in the afternoon for us to do it.

Lopez Island (31 of 51) The timing was all good, and we loaded up the boats and followed a different route back north to the ferry landing.  The ferry was scheduled to leave at 5 and we were in line by 4.  However, because of the fog, the ferry was delayed and we didn’t board until 5:30.  So again, our lovely tiny bit of afternoon on Lopez was bracketed by several hours of ferry time. 

The ferry  trip back to Anacortes, however, was clear and beautiful, with no fog to mar the view.  I again went outside to try for some photos, but that cold wind drove me back indoors.  I wasn’t dressed in fleece and windbreakers the way locals know how to dress.  We arrived home at Cliffside RV Park on Whidbey Island just at dark.

Lopez Island (45 of 51)Our day on Lopez was wonderful in spite of the fog and the delays, and I am so glad that we managed the trip.  I re-read Nina’s post about visiting the San Juan’s again recently, and can only say that she is so right about her suggestions.  It is incredibly spendy to travel on the ferries with a motorhome, and there are delays and weather to consider.  We will go back for sure, possibly to Orcas, possibly to San Juan, and will pay the big bucks to get the MoHo to a spendy campground on one of those islands and actually stay for a few days. 

Lopez Island (41 of 51)The islands are beautiful, the water is everywhere, I would love to have more time to go slowly and see more.  I am not sure when the weather would be best, I think that part may be a crapshoot, with summer fog a possibility and winter cold rains a complete deterrent. 

Lopez Island (48 of 51)We planned our exit from Puget Sound perfectly, leaving Whidbey Island early on Sunday morning and traveling the dreaded route north to Mt Vernon and I-5, skipping the ferries.  We passed right through downtown Seattle around 8 am, without any traffic to speak of, and were in Portland in mid afternoon as the traffic started picking up.  In the future, when we go back to the islands, our choice might be to stay at Fort Lewis on a Saturday night and drive north to Whidbey Island via I-5 early on a Sunday morning.  It could work, and then our only big ferry expenses would be getting the rig onto the islands.

Deschutes River (1 of 14) Spending the night in Beavercreek near Portland with Mo’s brother Dan and wife Chere was delightful.  Hookups on the driveway and a great Mexican dinner topped off our visit.  On Monday morning we decided that rather than taking boring I-5 and Highway 58 back home, the longer route over Mt Hood on Highway 26 would be beautiful.  Sunny skies and a nice rest stop along the Deschutes River mid morning gave Abby a chance to test the waters and us a chance to warm up a bit. 

Deschutes River (8 of 14) No big trips for the MoHo are on the agenda in the next few weeks, but I am heading east to Vermont in a couple of days for Jeanne’s wedding.  It will be my first time in Vermont, and from what I hear the leaves are waiting for me to get there before they fall.  Mo will be holding down the fort here in Rocky Point this time while I go off adventuring on my own. 

Lopez Island (25 of 51) Abby is still with us, still eating and doing OK for now.  She does sleep a lot, and now she pants loudly and snores even more loudly.  The vet said that is a common side effect of the prednisone.  But she is still here, she still is smiling, and still enjoying pets and hugs and Mo and I are appreciating the time we have with her beyond what the vet predicted. 

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

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