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San Juan Salute – March 2022

Welcome back and thank you for checking out our second installment of our reinvigorated blog’s monthly recap.  We’ve been brainstorming a creative and fitting name for this piece and have settled on the title of San Juan Salute.  “San Juan,” as this will be a monthly feature for goings-on all around San Juan Island, and “Salute” for the unique ties that Roche Harbor has to the idea behind the word.  Those familiar with the resort and its history know well the Colors Ceremony, a nightly tradition of lowering the flags at the end of the day, capped off by a salute from a miniature cannon.   The BOOM has echoed the harbor throughout summers since 1958 and is sure to catch unsuspecting guests by surprise.  While the Colors Ceremony will once again be resuming for the summer within a month, we’d like to take this time to look back on experiences from March.

Before diving deep, it’s appropriate to share with you that this post is authored by a member of our staff, Jack Riley, and is reflective of his experiences on the island.  In fact, it seems to make sense to write in a first-person narrative here which is how I will be communicating going forward.  I, Jack, have been the photographer, videographer, and go-to person for content creation at Roche Harbor for almost 5 years.  It brings me great pleasure to present this amazing resort and location to the world and without further ado, let’s get into the March Salute.

March has always been a somewhat unpredictable time here on San Juan Island.  Whereas February typically brings a welcome spurt of sunshine, we never really know what to expect come March.  Some years the sun continues and it feels like summer has arrived early, and other years we are inundated with precipitation and wind.  This year was a bit of both, and we’re better off for it. Those who visited Roche Harbor over the winter may have noticed that the gardens, typically lush with foliage, were instead bare and void of grass.  Fear no more, as the hard-working grounds team worked tirelessly in early March to lay down fresh sod and now have the gardens in tip-top shape, ready to show off and be enjoyed this summer for weddings; picknicks; and my personal favorite, children playing hide and seek.

Not only is the grass better than ever before, but there are also a multitude of bright yellow daffodils showing off within the hedges, adding that special touch to the iconic Hotel De Haro shot.  Watching them bloom over the past few weeks has been a delight and we can only look forward to more colorful flowers springing to life soon.

Speaking of new life, this is the time of the year when many migratory birds are in the midst of their travels and we’re lucky to have a wide variety of avian visitors to San Juan Island.  Whether only passing through for a day or two, to nesting and staying until the fall, birds of all shapes and sizes find reasons to come to San Juan Island.  For those with a keen eye and readiness to observe, birdwatching can be a fulfilling and rewarding pastime on the island.

In my free time I partake in the hobby of wildlife photography, as there is always something to see or an encounter to be had here on San Juan Island.  There is an abundance of birds, and also a number of land and marine mammals (some very elusive and rare), as well as insects, and of course the vast biodiversity within the intertidal and subtidal zones of the Salish Sea.  In addition to animals, the plant life of San Juan Island also deserves appreciation. With so many different ecosystems packed into such a “small” area, it’s a never-ending joy to explore the different areas of the island and see what might be found.

If you are visiting the Island and have access to a boat, the opportunities at your feet have just exponentially multiplied, as the “outer-islands” – islands not served by the Washington State Ferry system – are a relatively unknown gem amongst travelers.  Simply being on the water, taking in the variety of scenery from jagged rocks and high cliffs to meadowed islands with nesting eagles and sea lion colonies, the views are hard to beat.  Just be sure to plan ahead and study your charts.  A few islands are state parks and are open with public access but the majority of outer islands in the San Juans are private.

Boating to Roche Harbor is one of the premier nautical experiences in the Pacific Northwest.  The historic chapel and Hotel De Haro shine bright for all to see and act as a guide when the sun falls over the horizon.  The marina team at Roche, led by Harbormaster Kevin Carlton, is second to none and always does an amazing job of welcoming boaters safely and with the highest quality of guest services.

Once in harbor (or in any accommodation on land), I encourage everyone to experience an evening of fine dining at McMillin’s Dining Room, the waterside dinner restaurant at Roche Harbor.  It so happens that Executive Chef Bill Shaw recently released a new menu for the spring and it has some delicious new dishes.  My personal favorites are the thick-cut bacon (who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner?) as well as the scallops and seafood pasta.  Cap it all off with crème brulee and you have yourself a full stomach and an evening of great memories.

Whilst in any part of the resort, you may notice a change that has been welcome to many: no more masks required.  As of early March, facemasks are no longer required to be worn indoors, though we have the utmost respect for those that still wish to don protective coverings of any sort.  Though it’s nothing to be celebrated, this March marks two years since the start of the pandemic and it feels as if we are returning to “normal,” or whatever life used to be back in 2019.  It has been a trying few years and we want to thank all that have supported Roche through the tough times and helped us stay safe and open.  We’re emerging unified and excited for what the coming summer will bring and what we can offer to all that visit.  We are looking forward to welcoming guests both old and new and are ready for an awesome summer season to come.  Though it may only be the beginning of spring, one can already feel the excitement and anticipation of the amazing months to come in the air.  Bring it on!