Whidbey Island is located in Puget Sound, north of Seattle. Our reason for traveling to Whidbey Island may seem a bit strange. Many, many years ago I saw one of those disaster movies where the President and First Family were flown to Whidbey Island to escape some kind of virus. Ever since I have wanted to see Whidbey Island.
We traveled from the Tacoma area on July 10th and enjoyed an easy drive on a beautiful day. We stayed at the Cliffside RV Park that is part of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. We have stayed at many military campgrounds across the country and Cliffside RV Park is THE BEST park we have seen. The park is on the shore of Puget Sound and the sites are terraced so almost every site has a view of the water. The park was rebuilt in 2012 and Ken, the camp host, gathered flowers from multiple sources and landscaped the entire park with flowers. There are cut flowers in the restrooms and laundry room, and even available to put in your RV.
Whidbey Island is known for its kayaking and we spent an afternoon kayaking in Deception Pass. Deception Pass is a strait separating Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island. A group of sailors led by Joseph Whidbey, part of the Vancouver Expedition, found and mapped Deception Pass in 1792. George Vancouver gave it the name “Deception” because it had misled him into thinking Whidbey Island was a peninsula.
You have to plan your kayaking around the tide as it is a major change in water level between high and low tide. It was exciting to paddle in the open water along the high cliffs and watch a harbor dolphin playing nearby. As we tried to paddle through Deception Pass we discovered just how strong the tide was. As we entered the Pass it was a slack tide (high tide turning into a low tide) we were paddling like mad and merely holding our position against the current. After a few minutes of this we turned around and let the current push us back toward Puget Sound.
The period of time we were on Whidbey Island is known as “Race Week,” a series of sailing races in Penn Cove and the Saratoga Passage. We did some sightseeing in the little village of Coupeville and we able to see the racers in Penn Cove. Coupeville is a bit touristy, but not over the top. It still looks like the small fishing village it was in the 1800s.
Deception Pass State Park has some great hiking trails. One day, instead of our normal exercise walk at NAS Whidbey Island, we hiked the Summit Trail at Deception Pass. The weather was perfect, cool, but clear most of the time. There were excellent views of Deception Pass Bridge and you could see for miles from Goose Peak, the highest point on the hike.
I took a side trip to see Fort Casey and Admiralty Head Lighthouse on the Puget Sound shore. Fort Casey was one of three forts constructed defend the naval base at Bremerton and the industrial base of Seattle/Tacoma. This is the best maintained coastal artillery installation I have ever seen. At most historical sites the fortifications have deteriorated to the degree that they are unsafe to walk on. Not these, they were solid, with fresh paint. The ladders and walkways were intact, safe, and available to visitors. The most impressive part of the fort are two “disappearing cannons,” so named because they would be retracted out of sight after firing. In the early 1940s the U.S. military determined that naval and long-range aircraft had made the forts obsolete and the cannon were removed to be used as scrap metal. The State of Washington was able to procure two “disappearing cannon” that were in the Philippines under Japanese control and not scrapped to install at Fort Casey.
We met some friends that we had made in Tampa, FL that live north of Deception Pass in Anacortes. Larry and Tina gave us a tour of the area and we had dinner in town. Larry and Tina are pretty unique in that they were fulltime cruisers, sailing the oceans before they settled in Anacortes. While we were eating they told us about San Juan Island, the ferry system, and the best way to visit San Juan Island.
The next morning we were up early to take the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. The fare is very reasonable if you are not taking a car, bikes, or kayak, and there is plenty of room for passengers. There are even some jigsaw puzzles scattered around on the tables to use to pass the time. Friday Harbor is quite touristy, but not oppressively so. You feel like you are in a normal community as you walk through the shopping district.
Larry and Tina told us to make sure we visited the Whale Museum and that was great advice. In 1979 the Whale Museum became the first museum dedicated to whales living in the wild. The museum promotes stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education and research. There were the usual displays of whale skeletons and charts of where they travel in the Puget Sound. However, the surprise was that they have been able to identify specific whales and their family trees. Notations are made as the families change with new births, deaths, and sometimes, just disappearance. This identification is not done with beacons or GPS devices, but by physical attributes that are different from whale to whale.
We wanted to put the kayaks in the water one more time before we left, so we drove over to the former seaplane base of the Naval Air Station. This time the tide was rising. We could feel the current but it wasn’t as strong here as it was in Deception Pass. We paddled up a small estuary and around the small harbor. We saw a small harbor seal, but it was being shy with us and we couldn’t get very close to it. We also paddled past several large sailboats and yachts in the harbor, they were all quite impressive, but more than I could or wanted to afford!
Sunday afternoon, we visited the Blooms Winery, that had live entertainment. It’s a small winery in a small group of shops. It was supposed to be a blue grass band, but one of the band members was sick so their violinist teamed up with a friend who played guitar and they improvised a great performance. Sometimes the violinist would start a song, the guitarist would listen for awhile and then join in with a harmony. I wish I could play a fraction as good as this guy! We wandered through the shops for a while, and listened to the group while sharing a bottle of Riesling. All in all, a nice afternoon.
Tuesday morning we got an early start to avoid some of the I-5 traffic near Seattle and headed back to Fort Lewis.