July 21 – 23
Given how close this group of islands are to each other, the ferry ride to Orcas wasn’t very long. We were scheduled for just two nights there, our original intention to spend three on each island (San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez) got short circuited due to a festival on Orcas that made it difficult to find lodging on one of our planned days, so we shortened our stay there and added it to San Juan.
We arrived at the Orcas Island Ferry Terminal in the early afternoon and drove ten miles to West Beach Resort, a private campground located on the north side, near the middle, of the island. Like on San Juan Island, this one ran us $55 a night, but at least the tent sites were close to the shower room and flush toilets.
They also had a nice pier in the small bay formed by Point Kimple, with a market and bar area that served draft beer, wine and scooped ice cream. They have a campfire each night and we’d return later to enjoy the ambience of the place as the sun finished its descent for the day.
After setting up camp and with a bit of time on our hands, we set out in the car to check out the town of Eastsound, pick up some supplies, and then head over to Moran State Park and the road that would take us to the summit of Mt. Constitution. At 2,400 feet, it is the highest point in the San Juan Islands and the second highest mountain on an ocean island in the contiguous 48 states, only Devils Peak in the Channel Islands of California is higher.
It’s a five-mile drive from the turnoff inside the state park to the summit, long and with some steep inclines and as we ascended, we observed a number of cyclists making the climb. Glad to be in the car and not out on the bikes, we arrived at the top with its spectacular views of Mounts Baker and Rainier, and the islands of Saturna, Lummi, Sinclair, Cypress, Blakely, and Lopez. And, on a really clear day one can also see Vancouver.
A stone observation tower patterned after Russian watchtowers constructed in the Caucasus during the 12th century stands at the summit, designed by architect Ellsworth Storey and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936.
Haze from the many fires burning in the Pacific Northwest took away the crystal-clear skies we would have hoped for (this would be the story of the rest of the trip) but regardless, it’s just plain breathtaking being up there looking around.
We returned to camp and with the supplies we’d picked up at the market, made one of our favorite camp food dinners, a creamy carbonara with ham and broccoli accompanied by a bagged salad. Although we often make the sauce from scratch, this one came out of a jar, not a bad compromise when camping.
Later we walked down to the pier and over a drink and ice cream, watched the sun sink in the sky.
We set out the next morning for what we hoped would be a good bike ride, the result being a much harder day than we could have anticipated, and yet surprisingly rewarding. We retraced our route back towards the ferry terminal, cutting off on the road to Deer Harbor Marina, for what would end up being 30-miles of what seemed like constant up and down for a total of 2,900 feet of climbing.
We stopped at the pier at the harbor for a coffee and one of our Cliff Bars (a staple for activity food at our house) and then rode to the ferry terminal, before heading out Killebrew Lake Road to Dolphin Bay Road which would take us north and back towards camp.
Not long after we made the turn north the road, to our dismay, turned into dirt, some of it very rough, which made for very tough going. We pedaled on with the sinking feeling that we would have many more miles of this unforgiving terrain when to our delight, pavement reappeared and the rest of the ride, while still hard, became much more manageable.
After finishing up we rested in camp, took our showers and then hopped in the car to head over to the outskirts of Eastsound to stop in at Island Hoppin’ Brewery for a beer or two before getting some food. It was quite crowded when we arrived, a busy Sunday afternoon, and we got the last couple of seats at an outside table. The beer was quite good and a nice reward for the effort of earlier in the day.
While enjoying my second of the day, we noticed a family at the next table happily working their way through food in take-out boxes. When asked where they had procured the meal, they responded at the Lower Tavern, a joint not far away inn Eastsound proper. Good reviews in Trip Advisor echoed the family’s recommendation and with hunger building up, we made our way there.
We parked and walked into a spacious and unpretentious bar with plenty of seating. After ordering our drinks (water for Joanna and another beer for me) and perusing the menu, we settled on the Red Hook battered Halibut and Chips for Joanna and the highly recommended cheese burger and a side salad for me.
By this time, we were pretty hungry and had no problem finishing off all of the food, made easier as it was as good as promised. With happy hour pricing on the beer, our total tab with tip came to $39.
Hunger abated, we returned to camp to close out the evening with a walk down to the pier for another lovely sunset, drink in hand munching on the free popcorn they hand out, if you can get some before all of the kids do. Our time on Orcas has been short and yet we’d seen and done quite a lot. With another early afternoon departure for Lopez Island the next day, we could take our time in the morning, a luxury when traveling as some mornings need to be rushed. For now, we’ll just spend another few moments admiring that sunset.
Moran State Park: http://moranstatepark.com/
Mt. Constitution: http://moranstatepark.com/mount-constitution/
Cliff Bars: https://www.clifbar.com/
Island Hoppin’ Brewery: https://www.yelp.com/biz/island-hoppin-brewery-eastsound-2
Lower Tavern: https://www.lowertavern.com/