SploOn a brisk October day we took seaplane to explore the outer San Juan Islands.  2.5 miles north of Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington, there is an archipelago of ten islands, the largest is Sucia Island. The name translates to “foul,” so named by Spanish sailors because they considered the shores dangerous due to rocks and hidden reefs. Throughout its rich history, the coves of Sucia Island have had many purposes including, providing seal hunting for the Lummi people, hideouts for smugglers of illegally imported opium and wool, and rum-running during prohibition. Today, it is an 814-acre marine park with 77,000 feet of shoreline perfect for camping and moorage.

The appeal of Sucia, beyond the picturesque landscape, forested trails, and magnificent sunsets, is the privacy it offers. Only accessible by boat or seaplane, this is one park that won’t be full of cars and tourists. Our seaplane departed from Lake Union, and we were rewarded with views of Seattle’s waterfront as we slowly started to climb. The ride was smooth and comfortable, and we spent the time searching for whales below us. From the air, the Skagit Valley spread out like a patchwork quilt of fall farm fields in different shades of orange and yellow. Many of the fields were noticeably white and alive, with thousands of wintering geese and swans. The ride was under an hour but felt less when surrounded by the sort of views of the Cascades not possible from the ground. All too soon, there it was, the crown jewel of the marine park system, Sucia Island.

We landed in an isolated cove with a small sandy beach and surrounded by a lush green forest that came up to the rocky shores. Although I knew the bustling San Juan Islands were just a few miles away, we had this island to ourselves, and it felt like we were in complete solitude. I kept imagining that this was how the Native Americans and early explorers saw these rocky coastlines. I had never had the pleasure of being alone in a park and was eager to walk along the trails.

Michael was very knowledgeable of the local flora and fauna and pointed out interesting plants along the way. I was surprised to learn that a femur bone from a theropod dinosaur was discovered there in 2012 and kept a careful eye on the rocks as we went along. The trail was comfortable and easy to walk.  Fall was in the crisp air, and the dappled sunlight kept us from being too cool. The path would twist, and suddenly we would go from being in the forest to being along the coastline. The untouched coves were alive with waterfowl and bald eagles. As a nature lover, I couldn’t stop marveling at how pristine and untouched it was. One of the most exciting parts of the journey was when I suddenly heard a flock of Black Oystercatchers overhead, and they landed on a rocky outcrop not far from us. These specialized birds were once common along the Washington coast, but loss of habitat means they are mostly confined to the northern islands. We all enjoyed scope views of the flock before continuing.

The end of the trail gave way to another rocky cliff with a beach below. Out beyond it, we could see other points of the horseshoe-shaped island, where birds and seals gathered. More Bald Eagles called overhead as we gingerly climbed down to inspect the tide pools.  Out there on Sucia island away from civilization, surrounded only by wildlife and rocky coast it felt like a world away from Seattle. The whole of Puget Sound stretched out beyond us, and it seemed as if we were at the tip of the world, explorers on an uncharted adventure. I could have stayed there all day. I joked about setting up a shelter and staying forever, but the tide was changing, and we needed to hurry back to our seaplane. I gave the seals one last look before we started the hike back.

Thankfully, we arrived with time to spare and were able to sit down at one of the picnic tables to enjoy an absolutely delicious lunch. A tour with Nature Nuts does not mean sandwiches and bags of chips. We were fed gourmet salmon after our long day of hiking. We ate above the rocky beach with Buffleheads and Harlequin Ducks swimming in the cove below us. It was a perfect view and the most enjoyable picnic I’ve had. After we finished, it was time to load up once again. As I jumped from a rock onto the plane, I glanced back one more time, knowing I had left a piece of my heart on that wild majestic island.

The sun was lower as we started our ride back. All of us were quiet as we again stared out the windows at the stunning views all around.  I think we were all in awe of our day out in nature and taking the time to soak it up and remember it. As the city’s skyline came into view, we were quickly brought back to the 21st century as we sored past Seattle’s landmarks. When the plane made a smooth landing on Lake Union, I sighed with absolute happiness and contentment that is only possible after a truly amazing day. Since then, I have told everyone about the astounding island in the north Puget Sound. I have made it a personal goal to get back there one day (hopefully soon) and once again feel the pulse of life and history found on its rocky coastlines.