Whale Waiting

Thar She Blows!

Port Angeles is a premier whale watching destination, so Jeff and I splurge on a whale watching tour with Island Adventures. (I know, even fidgety Jeff commits to spending 4-5 hours on a boat!)

The Strait of Juan de Fuca is home to hundreds of humpback whales who choose these waters as their summer feeding grounds. After facing extinction in the early 1900s, protective measures have helped humpback populations to rebound. Pods of orcas are also known to frequent this area. (Island Adventures brochure)

We arrive early and enjoy the port.

The Island Explorer 4 is our whale watching vessel. It is 85 feet long, 22 feet wide and its cruise speed is 16 knots. Upper and lower viewing decks, flushing toilets, a snack bar serving beer and wine, and indoor heated seating fulfills every passenger’s needs. To ensure a quality experience, the boat is only booked to 2/3 capacity.

Island Adventures is a member of the Pacific Whale Watching Association, a group of nearly 30 whale watching companies throughout Washington and British Columbia that encourage responsible whale watch practices. The PWWA members utilize a combination of hydrophone recordings, shore-based sightings, reports from many types of vessels, an encrypted radio channel, and a private online sightings network to locate whales in the area. (Island Adventures brochure and Wildlife Viewing Guide)

A captain, a galley/deckhand, and a senior deckhand/naturalist work together to provide us with the highest chances of viewing whales in the wild.

As a matter of fact, the Island Adventures Company guarantees whale sightings on every trip. The brochure states (not in fine print)… “If you do not see a whale (orca, minke, gray, or humpback) with us, you can come again for FREE, for life, on any tour until you do.”

We pull away from the dock at Port Angeles at 9:30…

and head into the Salish Sea. Salish Sea? Let me explain.

The Salish Sea is the name for a network of inland coastal waterways in Washington and British Columbia. It begins in the west at the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and includes the waters between the northern end of the Strait of Georgia in Canada and the southern end of Puget Sound.


The term “Salish Sea” was first coined 1989 by marine biologist Bert Webber. His goal was to make it easier to protect the region’s many waterways by giving them a single name. Webber chose the name in honor of the Coast Salish peoples. In 2009 the name was officially adopted by both the Canadian and U. S. governments. In total, the Salish Sea covers nearly 7,000 square miles. (Wildlife Viewing Guide)

We pass the 13th District Coast Guard Air Station.

This Air Station was commissioned on June 1, 1935, becoming the first permanent Coast Guard Air Station on the Pacific Coast. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

Seals and sea lions relax on the banks but it’s too cloudy to see them through my camera lens.

Several fishing boats stay in calmer waters as our vessel makes waves.

Renee, our onboard Naturalist explains that it’s easier to spot a whale on a cloudy day and that whale watching is really “whale waiting.”

We spot salmon jumping in the water. Renee presents us with a “handy” way to remember the 5 kinds of salmon in the Pacific Northwest:


Chum rhymes with thumb. Sockeye… think of the index finger pointing at you. The middle finger is the tallest so think of King as being the biggest. Silver, also called Coho, is for the ring finger. And Pink is self-explanatory with the pinky finger.

Thar she blows! … A hubbub arises and we spot our first humpback whale at 11:01…

We are so close that we can hear the noise from the spout!

The captain explains that humpbacks can stay submerged for up to 15 minutes before resurfacing again. But the average time is 5-7 minutes.

The whale starts the dive…

And there are the flukes!


A smaller raft of whale watchers shares our excitement.

As we wait for our next whale encounter I escape into the clouds. Is it a dragon or a swan? Whatever it is, it is soon gone.

Another humpback visits us.

The picture below shows the whale’s footprint left behind.

And another…

Now’s a good time to explain responsible whale watching practices. By slowing down in the presence of whales and maintaining respectful distances, Island Adventures gives its passengers the opportunity to observe these animals without altering their natural behaviors. Local, state, and federal regulations dictate safe distances and approach speeds.

Island Adventures Wildlife Viewing Guide

I stop taking pics of every whale we see and start enjoying the experience more. I borrow binoculars for spectacular close-ups.

I walk around the boat and schmooze with our fellow whale fans. I meet a group from Kent, Ohio, the namesake university where I studied for my Masters in Library Information Science.

I meet a traveling photographer, a family from England, a science teacher and her family, a girl who got seasick, and a 14-year-old boy who needed to sleep.

I also meet a man from the local NPR station recording a podcast and interviewing passengers.

My favorite new acquaintances are 2 women who work together in Olympia, Washington. The whale tour is a 60th birthday gift from the one to the other.

Oh, and since I am wearing my Cape Blanco Lighthouse windbreaker, a man approaches me and asks about Oregon’s most westerly lighthouse with plans to visit someday.

And then, at 1:06… Orca!

There’s 2…

I like this picture. The lighthouse at Race Rock parallels the orca’s dorsal fin.

And there are more…

A half an hour later we approach Race Rocks, a 1.2 square mile collection of protected rocks and reefs a few miles southwest of Victoria, British Columbia.

The reserve is a haulout for hundreds of seals and sea lions and is the breeding ground for northern elephant seals.

The Race Rocks Light was lit on December 26, 1860 and was continuously manned by keepers until it was fully automated in 1997. (Wildlife Viewing Guide)

Camouflaged on the steps are northern elephant seals.

It’s been a long, active, and successful morning and afternoon. We head back to Port Angeles with memories, pictures, and new knowledge.

Purple Haze

Lavender Love from Laurel

Sequim is the Lavender Capital of North America. How this came to be is an interesting story.

The city of Sequim, the village of Dungeness, and the valley in between were once a major dairy region. During the 1930s and 1940s, there was a pea industry here. A mini-oil boom took place from 1955-1957. Logging, sawmills, and mining were also important to the local economy.

As the dairy industry eventually declined, Sequim and the Dungeness Valley had to reinvent itself. In early 1995, the Sequim 2000 Committee began meeting to consider ways to boost the economy and encourage tourism.

After researching various options, the group discovered that the soils and microclimate of this area were ideal for growing a purple flowering herb known for its calming scent and wide variety of uses. July 1996 saw the first harvest of lavender, planted in 1995, and the concept of “agritourism” took off.

Today more than 2 dozen lavender farms and lavender-related businesses adorn the Sequim-Dungeness Valley with their subtlety fragrant scent and purple haze. (Olympic Peninsula Summer Visitors Guide 2019)

We visit Purple Haze Lavender Farm, a 12-acre certified organic farm in the Dungeness Valley.

A landscape of gardens, orchards, ponds, wetlands, and buildings are incorporated into the beauty and design of its lavender fields.

Purple Haze grows over 15,000 plants of more than 50 varieties. In July lavender is harvested by hand. (purplehazelavender.com)

Chickens, rabbits, and peacocks live among the rows of lavender. When we arrive I talk to the owner as she pulls a round carrot out of the soil to feed the bunnies.

We walk around these beautiful gardens completely mesmerized by the flowers, plants, and setting.

Please visit the Purple Haze website to find out so much more about lavender and its uses. You won’t be disappointed. I guarantee it!

(My name is Laurel and I love lavender.)

Dungeness Spit

The Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is home to one of the world’s largest natural sand spits.

A spit is a coastal landform composed of beach material that projects out to sea. It has 2 ends. The one connected to the mainland is called the proximal end and the one jutting out into the water is called the distal end. (worldatlas.com)

Waves, breaking at an angle to the shoreline, create a longshore current that moves parallel to the shore. These large angled swells sweep the shoreline with great force and push water and sediment down the length of the beach in one direction. This movement of sediment is called beach drift. (malibumakos.com)

As these crashing waves lose their energy, they can no longer carry a full load of sediment with them as backwash. What they leave behind is deposited in a long bar-like feature called a spit. (worldatlas.com)

A short trail leads through a forest to a bluff overlooking the Dungeness Spit.

Orange “chicken of the woods” shelf fungus brighten our way.

This display along the trail is my very favorite…

Come on world! Wake up! It’s time to be kind to Mother Earth or we will poison her. There’s a 4th R needed here… RE-THINK how we treat her. Change habits for our habitat!

Here’s a bird’s eye view of the spit from the bluff.

The Dungeness Spit is 5.5 miles long and is growing at a rate of about 13 feet per year. At its highest point, the Spit is only 15 feet above sea level.

A steep hill leads down to the Spit trail.

Near the tip of the Spit, a 10.2 mile out and back trek, is the New Dungeness Lighthouse. This was the first lighthouse on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and has operated continuously since its lard oil lamp was lit in December of 1857.


The New Dungeness Lighthouse Keeper Program allows families and friends a rare opportunity to be “lighthouse keepers” for a week. Keepers perform duties such as raising and lowering the flag, watering and mowing when needed, polishing the brass in the tower, and most importantly greeting visitors. (newdungenhsslighthouse.com)

Since we’re not prepared for an 11 mile hike today, we turn back after exploring and experiencing this amazing coastal land formation.

The Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is a place for wildlife and people by both protecting critical habitat and providing viewing opportunities. Some recreational activities are allowed only in selected areas during certain times of the year. (pamphlet from the Refuge)

We Find the End of the Rainbow…

On Top of the Olympic Peninsula

After exploring a temperate rainforest and some Pacific Ocean beaches, we leave Forks and head to Sequim for 4 nights to view Mt. Olympus and enjoy the northern shores of the Olympic Peninsula.

We follow Highway 101 north out of Forks. At Sappho the Highway heads east.

Nestled in the northern foothills of the Olympic Mountains is Crescent Lake. We catch our first glimpse of its brilliant blue waters through the fir trees and below the shadow of the mountains.

Crescent Lake was formed during the last Ice Age when glaciers carved out deep valleys. Approximately 8,000 years ago, a giant landslide from one of the Olympic Mountains damned a creek and filled this valley with water. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

The lake’s brilliance and clarity is due to the lack of nitrogen in the water which inhibits the growth of algae. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

Port Angeles is the largest city on the Olympic Peninsula and is located on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

And finally we arrive at Rainbow’s End in Sequim, our home for the next 4 nights.

Located in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains in the Dungeness Valley, Sequim is one of the driest cities in western Washington and boasts 300 days of sunshine annually. (Olympic Peninsula Summer Visitors Guide 2019)

A rain shadow is the dry area on the downwind (leeward) side of a mountain. As wind and moist air are drawn upward by the prevailing winds, the air condenses and precipitates as it moves across the top of the windward side. The air then advances over the mountain without much moisture left and creates a drier side called a rain shadow. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

The Far West

Cape Flattery

I used to think that Cape Blanco on the southern coast of Oregon was the most westerly point of the contiguous United States. But when I started doing tours for the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, I discovered that Cape Flattery in Washington actually deserves this distinction. To verify this fact I went to lat-long.com and compared the longitudinal degrees of both capes. Cape Blanco measures 124.564 degrees west and Cape Flattery measures 124.714 degrees west… just a few feet difference.

Today we set out on a scenic road trip that will take us to the most northwestern point in the contiguous United States. And it just happens to be on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, not far from where we are staying.

Our first stop is Clallam Bay, the farthest north we can travel before heading west. On a clear day you can see Vancouver Island across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

No such luck today…

The Clallam River empties into the Bay where it then makes it way into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

On the western end of the Bay sits another seafront town, Sekiu. A plaque at the overlook explains the importance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca as both a shipping lane and a passageway for marine animals. Orcas swim through and some gray whales take a detour through the Strait as they migrate along the coast. A small resident population of humpback whales remain near shore year round. At any rate, both the fishing population and the whale population enjoy the abundance of chinook salmon during spawning season. (plaque at overlook)

In it’s past, Sekiu has been the site of a salmon cannery, a factory that extracted leather tanning solution from hemlock tree bark, a commercial fishing port, a residential center for timber workers, and a port for shipping timber to regional mills.

In the 1930s fishing regulations restricted commercial fishing to areas that were more than 3 miles away from the mouth of rivers. Seiku’s commercial fishery eventually was replaced with recreational fishing. (plaque at overlook)

The next stop on our way to Cape Flattery is Neah Bay, a census designated area of 2.4 square miles on the Makah Reservation. The name “Neah” refers to the Makah Chief Dee-ah, pronounced Neah in a now extinct language once spoken by the Klallam peoples. Archaeological research suggests that Makah people have inhabited Neah Bay for more than 3,800 years.(en.m.wikipedia.org)

According to makah.com, the name Makah was attributed to the Tribe by neighboring tribes. It means “people generous with food” in the Salish language.

The indigenous Makah held a vast territory of inland and coastal territory bordered by the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. Until historic times, 5 permanent villages existed along the shore of the most northwesterly point of what is now the Olympic Peninsula. The villages were composed of large cedar plank longhouses where many members of an extended family lived. Cultural practices, called tupat, varied from family to family. Thus, even today, Makah families, and not the tribe as a whole, “own” their varied songs, dances, stories, land/ocean resources, and cultural information. (makah.com)

In 1970 tidal erosion exposed a group of 500-year-old homes in Ozette, 15 miles south of Neah Bay, that had been perfectly preserved in an ancient mudslide. Over 55,000 artifacts were discovered. The Makah share this rich legacy at a museum at the Makah Cultural and Research Center. (museum brochures)

Since Cape Flattery is on the Tribal Reservation, a $10 annual recreational permit issued by the Makah is required.  

The 3/4 mile trail (one way) leads through a lush forest.

Three observation decks offer views of the Pacific Ocean, The Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Vancouver Island (on a clear day).

I spy with my little eye mussels, barnacles, a sea star, and purple flowers growing out of the right side of the cavern rock.

The trail ends at the third observation deck which has to be accessed by climbing several steep rungs on a wooden ladder.

We are now standing on a 60- foot high cliff at the farthest northwesterly point in the lower 48 states. Tattoosh Island and Lighthouse are just across from us.

The lighthouse marks the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a deep and wide passage from the open Pacific Ocean to Puget Sound at Point Wilson. Tatoosh Island is an important center for intertidal studies, including climate change and ocean acidification research. (Olympic Peninsula Visitors Guide, Summer 2019)  (We all know how that’s going these days… Don’t get me started!)

I walk under the observation deck to take this next picture. It’s a sheer drop into the ocean. Just one misstep is all it would take.

It’s time to head back. And time for a few more pics.

What a wonderful day! The only regret I have is that we did not spend time at the Makah Museum.