The preparations have begun! We've decided to start exploring the San Juan Islands, a little groundwork for an upcoming summer multi-day paddle (a.k.a. ETC paddles the San Juan Islands!). We started by visiting the most populous and second largest of the islands - San Juan Island. It's the offseason - a perfect for time for exploration. We dined, stayed at a nice little hotel in Friday Harbor (review here), shopped, and crisscrossed the island looking for kayak put-ins and other interesting sites. While driving around to the west side of the island we stumbled upon Lime Kiln Point State Park.
Before we get into all that, a little about the islands. The San Juans are an archipelago in the NW corner of our state of Washington. They're kinda like cold water Virgin Islands - hilly, some close to each other, some far, some big, some small, some inhabited, some not, a great place for sailing and anchoring in protective coves.
They're boxed in by a bunch of straits - Juan de Fuca to the south, Haro to the west, Rosario to the east, and Boundary Pass (and eventually the Strait of Georgia) to the north. If you live in Seattle and have a boat (like us), the Shilshole to San Juan trip in the summer is the thing to do.
Since we were visiting by land this time we took the car from Seattle north to Anacortes and ferried over to San Juan Island. We highly recommend checking the ferry schedule before you go, that is the trickiest part to getting here. I'm sure the summer ferries are packed…heck, we even left on a Monday afternoon and still almost missed the boat because it was crowded. Also, on your return, if your boat is coming from Canada and picking you up in Friday Harbor you'll have to go through a border crossing once you get to Anacortes (even though you didn't even leave the ol' USA).
We arrived at the town of Friday Harbor after about an hour boat ride. We drove right through and set out to explore the island. We saw signs for Lime Kiln Point State Park and decided to park and check the place out.
We were glad we stopped! It was Veterans Day weekend so admission was free (otherwise you'd have to have a Discover Pass to park). We set off down the shoreline trail & explored the Lime Kiln Point lighthouse - a favorite destination for tourists & whale watchers (check the board up front for listings of the most recent whale sightings). It overlooks the Haro Strait and that's Canada in the distance!
Then it gets interesting. Leave it to this guy to set out exploring Lime Kiln Point State Park without really knowing what a lime kiln is in the first place. I do, however, follow directions pretty well and noticed the signs leading to the kiln. A loop trail connects the shoreline trail (lighthouse) to the upland trail (kiln).
Holy lime kiln batman! Long story short - limestone is a rock & is partly formed of marine skeletons…yep, that's right…skeletons. Limestone can be baked down to pure lime.
When you clearcut the forests of San Juan island, as they did back in the day, and stoke a super hot fire in a stone kiln (the tall stone thing in all of these pictures), you can heat limestone up to a point where it separates (from impurities and the other stuff it's made of).
The separated pure lime from here was, in the early 1900s, some of the purest lime in the world…why did that matter? Well steel, among other things like plaster, cement, & paper are made using lime. Steel made from NW lime was actually used to rebuild buildings in San Francisco after their great earthquake/fire of 1906!
So basically it was - mine the lime, transfer down to the top of the kiln with cable cars (sounds like a great Indiana Jones cable-car scene here), cut down almost every tree on the island, stoke the fire, bake & separate the lime, toss lime that didn't properly separate over your shoulder, move the lime into barrels onto boats & move onto nearby ships in Friday Harbor, then ship the product to warehouses in Seattle/Vancouver/Portland. Eventually some of this lime was then shipped south, made into steel, & used to rebuild San Fran…crazy NW fun-facts!
That's not bird poo. No seriously, I thought it was bird poo. We have some giant birds and bird migrations in Washington and I thought they may have all congregated on this one rock.
Turns out that those historical workers we were talking about only liked to use a certain size of limestone. They broke it up, blew it up, and discarded the little sizes they couldn't use. Remember that unseparated limestone they tossed over their shoulders? To this day - lime leftovers are all over the place near the kiln (like the giant white rock pictured above).
As you can see - Lime Kiln Point State Park is definitely worth the time. Downside? Well, if you came to San Juan Island as a passenger (to avoid the crowded summer car ferries) it would be quite a trek across the island to get to the park.
Upsides? The shoreline and upland trails are pretty short and easy (although there is a little staircase of doom by the kiln), the sights are historic and amazing, there's a lighthouse, & you have a great chance to see some the orca pods cruising just off the point. Cool stuff.
~Paul & Amber ETC
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