We continued our stay in Birch Harbor, Washington (pop 8,400) which is very close to the Canadian border. In fact the nearby town of Blaine, located on the U.S./Canada border is the busiest border crossing between British Columbia and Washington state.
In Blaine is the Peace Arch Historical State and Province Park with a Peace Arch. It commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, the peace treaty between the U.S. and the United Kingdom that ended the War of 1812.
We could walk freely between the two countries at the Arch with no need to worry about a passport.
On Friday we took the ferry over to San Juan Island. This island is the westernmost island of the San Juan Islands and lies between the mouth of the Puget Sound and the Vancouver Island. it is also the second largest and most populated of the 172 isles of the archipelago (group of islands). We originally planned to just walk on the ferry and ride a bus around the island but decided at the last minute to take the car along if there was space available. We had to drive from our campground in Birch Bay to the ferry landing in Anacortes and arrived about an hour before departure. To our delight there was room for the car. Quite a surprise on a Friday in the middle of summer. The ride took a little over an hour and we certainly enjoyed the view of Mount Baker in the distance.
We arrived at Friday Harbor which is the island’s largest town, ferry landing and a U.S. Port of Entry. It is one of the last remaining 19th century wood-built fishing villages in Puget Sound. One square mile in size, Friday Harbor has about 2,000 year round residents and 15,000 summer residents. Friday Harbor is the touristy section of the island with shops, restaurants, etc. We knew the rest of the island was going to be remote and without restaurants. Because we just decided on the way to the ferry to take the car, we hadn’t packed any food or drinks. No worries. We stopped by a Friday Harbor grocery store and stocked up on snacks and drinks to get us through the day. Off we went!
The island is only 55 square miles of land and it only takes fifteen minutes to travel from east to west. We were surprised at the farmland and woodlands, prairies, as well as small seaside villages with miles of sandy beaches and bluffs. It was typical to see unattended baskets of eggs for sale along the side of the road.
First up was the English Camp part of the San Juan Island National Historical Park, located on the northern part of the island. Near South Beach and the southern end of the island is the American Camp. This English Camp commemorates the British and American struggle for possession of the San Juan Islands.
The dispute resulted in the Pig War of 1859. Ever heard of that war? Neither had we. The war began in 1859 when an Englishman’s pig strayed onto land claimed by an American and started eating his potatoes. The American shot the pig, who was the only casualty of the conflict. Both sides set up camps to lay claim to the land with neither side wanting to go to war, especially Lincoln who had the approaching Civil War to worry over. For 12 years there was a joint U.S./British occupation of the island while the countries argued over who owned the San Juan Islands. Finally in 1872 arbitration gave the San Juan Islands to the United States and set the boundary between the United States and Canada.
We read that this former English camp in a National Historical Park is the only place in the United States today where the British flag is raised each morning. The ranger pointed out that the park has an American flag on higher ground up the hill, therefore the American flag is always higher!
Next up was Lime Kiln State Park, a 41 acre state park named after the former lime kiln operations in the area. It is also called “Whale Watch Park” because it is one of the top places to view orca whales in the world. Unfortunately we did not see any whales even though several had passed by a couple hours earlier. We did enjoy seeing the 1919 picturesque Lime Kiln lighthouse.
We cut our visit a little short and got to the ferry early. Since we didn’t have a reservation for the car, we wanted to be sure we could get on the late afternoon ferry back to Anacortes. What a great day!
Next up: Another ferry trip!