Nature: May 2004 Archives

Orcas Island & Mt. Constitution

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Yesterday brought 80 degree weather to the northwest so I ventured out with company to Orcas Island--one of the San Juan Islands in the Puget Sound. Getting there required about 80 miles driving north of Seattle on I-5 to Anacortes where you ride an 80 minute auto-ferry across to the islands. Somehow we managed to miss the notorious hordes of people that usually flock there come nice weather. No complaints there.

Upon arrival on land, I scored some delicious fresh red snapper tacos and passed on the opportunity to buy a "Bush-Cheney 1984" sweatshirt. About 4,000 people live on this remote island--highlights were plenty of poseur hippies and a lady in May Day apparel riding a goat-drawn carriage down the street. I asked for some trail advice from a local who described herself as an "avid hiker" and who instead expressed skepticism in my group's hiking abilities. We all set forth to bag Mount Constitution in record time and prove her wrong.

We arrived in Moran State Park and set forward on the trail--about eight miles round trip with a 1,700-foot vertical elevation gain. The first life we bumped into on the trail was a banana slug. That turned out to be the only wildlife we would see--with the exception of one unsubstantiated report of a baby beaver building a dam.

The trail was a constant uphill grade almost the entire way. We marvelled at some seemingly out of shape mountain bikers racing down the hill in amazement that they were able to cycle up the steep and rocky trail. Then almost three-miles into the hike, we heard some rumbling and saw an automobile zip by about 500-feet away. This is obviously an odd thing to see in the presumed backcountry. Turns out there was a road there with another trailhead. Those bikers would have ridden up the paved road and then downhill on the trail. Not nearly as impressive a feat. The trail had been fantastic thus far so there were no regrets about not using this previously unknown shortcut.

Another 1.5-miles later we had our eye on the final destination--an observation deck (and possible Verizon antenna) built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s with promised sweeping views of the Puget Sound. The views didn't disappoint but the photos I took really don't do justice. Here is one and if you squint in this one you can see Mount Baker. We also had pretty clear views of Vancouver Island, Bellingham, and the rest of the San Juans. On a really clear day you supposedly can even see Mount Rainier from a distance.

The kicker about this hike to the observation tower was that there turned out to be a parking lot attached to it....and a paved road. So it turns out we could have just driven up to this point. But again, it was a good hike so that wasn't really discouraging. We worked on our tans up there for a little while before making the much quicker descent back down to our starting point. Upon looking at the ferry schedule we realized our time was short and dreams of eating at a tavern advertising the best burgers on Orcas Island were dashed. Dinner was instead had at a grocery store--I enjoyed my ham wrap while others were less than thrilled with their soggy roast beef sandwiches. We easily caught the ferry with ten minutes to spare.

It was a long day but a fantastic destination. I will probably stay away from there during these summer months as the Bed & Breakfast crowds start to really pour in, however. The evening was capped with finally watching Chris Rock's latest HBO special...good times.