Island life suits us, especially life on Lopez, a small isle in the San Juan archipelago just off the coast of Washington State. We love it here. It’s just as laid back as you imagine island life to be, but with the particular twist of being located in the Pacific Northwest, a belt of liberal folks who are serious about protecting the environment, growing and eating local foods, expressing themselves creatively, and nurturing community.
We’re cozily ensconced in our somewhat rustic campsite at Spencer Spit State Park, surrounded by a dense thicket of salal, bracken fern, towering red cedars, and Douglas firs. This is our fourth summer camp hosting here, and our second as Interpretive Hosts. Our job is to run the Jr. Rangers program and any other programs we’re inspired to create. We also serve as a “presence” in the campground—three nights a week, we’re on duty, which primarily means we sell firewood from our campsite and answer questions. We’ve found that camp hosting here is generally just as laid-back as the rest of Lopez Island life.
After four summers here, this has become something of a second home for us. We’ve been accepted into the community—not a difficult task, as the 2,500 Lopezians are notoriously friendly. The “Lopez Wave” is famous—it takes us a few days after arriving to remember to wave at everyone we pass on the bucolic country roads. And then it takes us several weeks to remember to stop waving at people once we leave the island. (Once off island, people think we’re weird if we wave.) The most common wave is simply to raise your index finger, but there are almost as many peace signs flashed on Lopez.
Lopez is a small island—15 miles long and 8 miles wide—with a downtown approximately the size of a giant Wal-Mart. The resemblance ends there. There are no big box stores, no big anything, no chain stores, no fast food restaurants. Oh joy!!! This is our kind of place.
The first time we came to Lopez, we stocked up on food and supplies as though we were headed for an Arctic expedition. Now, I don’t bother stocking up on anything. Lopez boasts a fabulous little natural foods store, abundant local produce (the finest farm stand we’ve ever seen is within biking distance of Spencer Spit and is open 24/7 on the honor system); an organic berry farm; purveyors of island raised grass-fed beef, pastured pork, and lamb; local salmon (including fabulous smoked salmon) and shellfish farms. There’s also a fantastic library, excellent independent bookstore, delicious bakery, two gourmet coffee shops, an artist’s coop, a superb wine shop, and a couple of fabulous cafes. A Saturday farmer’s market rounds out the offerings and is a festive weekly event with local foods, crafts, and music.
Our days have been filled with Jr. Ranger’s programs, biking, hiking, kayaking, visits from family (our daughter and grandson live on nearby San Juan island), visits from Ashland friends, and reconnecting with Lopez friends. We also enjoyed a visit from fellow RV’ers and bloggers Nina and Paul, who were hosting on Orcas Island. For us, this is the quintessential summer vacation. Stay tuned for more Lopez adventures!
A couple of things you should know if you plan to visit the San Juan Islands:
• Getting here involves a voyage on the Washington State Ferries, departing from Anacortes. This is part of the charm of the islands, but it can be expensive (the bigger your rig, the more it costs—our truck and trailer at 40’ is about $180 round trip). Obviously, it makes sense to come for at least a week or longer. (As park volunteer hosts, the state reimburses us for our ferry fee.)
Beginning January 2015, you’ll be able to reserve a spot on the ferry. This will ostensibly cut down on the need to arrive at the ferry landing 1-½ or more hours ahead of sailing to ensure a spot.
• Camping options are limited in the islands and you need to reserve far in advance for the summer months. On Lopez, there’s Spencer Spit State Park, which has beautiful, private spacious campsites—but with a couple of significant drawbacks: No electric or water hookups, and no shower facility in the park. (That’s how we ended up camp hosting here—we wanted to stay longer, and the host sites are the only two with electric and water.) Also, it’s a small park (50 campsites) and only a few sites can accommodate bigger RV’s (the official cut-off is 32’) so choose carefully. The only other option if you’re RV’ing is The Islander Resort—the term “resort” is stretching it as far as the RV sites go—but they have eight sites with electric and water, can accommodate big rigs, and the price is a reasonable $35 per night.