Saddlebag Island, San Juans Islands, WA 31 Aug–2 Sept 2019

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by alexsidles, Sep 3, 2019.

  1. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2009
    Messages:
    285
    Location:
    Seattle WA
    Rachel, Maya, and I spent Labor Day weekend on Saddlebag Island, the easternmost of the San Juan Islands campsites. Maya is not quite three years old, which is a little young for long kayak crossings, so I’ve been keeping our family voyages short until she gets older.

    Saddlebag Island made for a perfect toddler-sized trip. The island is less than three miles from the Anacortes marina. Eastern Guemes Channel and Padilla Bay, the two water bodies involved, are well protected from the wind and subject only to mild tidal flow, at least by San Juan standards. This time of year, weather is rarely a factor.

    00 Map.jpg
    00 Route map. Tides here are so gentle, I did not even bother to consult a tide table.

    Maya loved the crossing, both coming and going. She sat in my lap and talked about all the interesting things she was seeing—a friendly seal, a giant sea lion, dense thickets of eelgrass, and various colors of saltwater. (“This water is green, but that water is blue.”) She fell asleep trailing her hand in the cold waters of Padilla Bay and did not awake until we were approaching our landing. On the island, she romped around barefoot and naked in the dirt like a little wild child. Behind her trailed her small army of stuffed dogs, which were soon as thoroughly caked in dust as their owner. (“We need to give these dogs a dirt bath.”) Down on the beach, she and her dogs flipped over rocks, looking for crabs. She was always careful to replace the rocks afterward. (“So the crabs will go back in their home.”)

    01 Alex and Maya.JPG
    01 Maya trails her hand in the water. In the background, an oil tanker unloads at the March Point refineries.

    02 Rachel.jpg
    02 Rachel in Guemes Channel. We had perfect kayaking weather: plenty of sun but a slight overcast to keep temperatures from soaring.

    03 Maya switches to Rachels boat.jpg
    03 Maya helps Rachel paddle. How delightful to share the water with these two.

    All the campsites on Saddlebag Island were full when we arrived—not surprising on a beautiful Labor Day weekend. For our first night ashore, we had to camp out on a grassy point that was not one of the designated campsites.

    On state park land, camping outside a designated campsite is a civil (non-criminal) infraction, punishable by a $73 fine. I am usually careful to avoid violations of the rules that govern use of public lands, but in this case, with my family in tow, I didn’t think we had the range to find another, suitable campsite elsewhere. We tried to be unobtrusive and did not leave any trash. I also left a phone message with State Parks self-reporting our lawless behavior. I offered to pay the same $73 fine we'd've had to pay if they'd caught us. We'll see what the ranger says, if anything.

    04 Dinner on the grassy point.JPG
    04 Chili dinner out at the grassy point. Maya took to Saddlebag Island like it was her native habitat.

    05 March Point refineries.JPG
    05 March Point refineries at night. Even I, a wilderness lover, must acknowledge a certain beauty in these, the ultimate works of man.

    Luckily, another family was vacating their own campsite the next morning, so we were able to take over their spot and legalize ourselves. This campsite, no. 4 on the south side, was the loveliest on the island. It was secluded from the others and had a beautiful view of the water. Best of all, there were a couple of pear trees right in camp. One of the trees produced only small, round, sour little pears, but the other had delicious, fig-shaped pears that had just turned perfectly ripe. I boosted Maya up so she could pick one, but she was so much more interested in the banana pancakes Rachel made that she simply dropped her pear on the ground for me to retrieve.

    06 Maya walking in forest.jpg
    06 Maya and her dog walking in the forest. The central "saddle" part of the island, a sort of isthmus, was easy hiking for a toddler. The headland "bags" on either side, however, were steep enough to require a carry.

    07 Looking for crabs.jpg
    07 Looking for crabs. The eelgrass here was thicker than anywhere else I've seen.

    08 Pear at campsite.JPG
    08 Pear growing at campsite no. 4. If the ranger ever calls back about my illegal camping, I'm going to ask her what kind of pears these were. They had perfect texture and a rich, sweet flavor.

    Saddlebag Island was home to several dozen great blue herons. It was surprising to find so many on such a small island. I suspect they may have been “overflow” from the nearby colony at March Point, the largest in Washington State, if not the entire west coast of North America. It was unclear whether the herons were nesting on Saddlebag Island or only roosting, but there were a lot of them—so many that Maya soon learned to recognize their calls, which she would announce every time she heard.

    09 Paddling home.JPG
    09 Paddling home. The warm sun and gentle, rocking waves almost lulled me to sleep, too.

    Saddlebag Island was a perfect two-night getaway for our little family. In fact, several powerboater families dropped by with toddlers of their own—and real dogs for Maya to pet. Even now, a day later, she is still talking about all the adventures she had.

    Alex
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2019
    Rodnak Kayak, chodups and Astoriadave like this.
  2. designer

    designer Paddler

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2012
    Messages:
    512
    Location:
    Bend OR USA
    Thank you Alex. So many emotions - beautiful outing, but the photos also remind me that Feathercraft is no more. Did you leave your car in the long term (from days to weeks) lot at the Anacortes ferry terminal or did you leave it at the long term parking at Washington County Park?
     
  3. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2009
    Messages:
    285
    Location:
    Seattle WA
    Thanks for the kind words, Paul. I parked at the Cap Sante Marina, just up the road from the launch beach. The marina offers free parking lots for 24 hours and 72 hours. There are no signs explaining which rules apply to which lots, so you have to ask.

    Alex