Outdoors

Day Trip

History and nature on Vendovi Island

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

If you love exploring remote San Juan Islands, put Vendovi Island on your list this summer. The once-private isle between Lummi and Guemes has a fascinating history and is a gorgeous place for a day trip.

We headed out on a sunny June weekend with San Juan Cruises, which acquired permission to bring guests out for the first time in May. Before then it was accessible only to folks with their own vessel.

For six decades, Vendovi was owned by the Fluke family, who opted to sell the island in 2010. Luckily for the rest of us, its buyer was the San Juan Preservation Trust, who came up with $6.4 million to preserve this 217-acre gem.

The boat ride to Vendovi takes 45 minutes and the seas were rough the day we boarded. Still, we were highly motivated to visit. Black-tailed deer never made it to this island, which means the flora and fauna are relatively intact. The forests on Vendovi are filled with tall salal, Oregon boxwood, sword ferns and salmonberries.

We hiked trails through the island’s interior, marveling at the quiet beauty. The paths that circle the island are well-worn and relatively flat, making for an easy hike. They lead to Vendovi’s southern slopes, where rocky prairies are adorned with a spectacular display of native wildflowers.

We ate a picnic lunch at Paintbrush Point, a lookout over the San Juan archipelago, with views of Samish, Guemes, and Fidalgo islands. It’s an exquisite setting for a meal and contemplation.

The wildflower prairies are a vanishing habitat in the archipelago, so you’re in for a treat if you get to see them in full bloom. The reason for their disappearance is encroachment by forests. Prior to the 19th century, the Coast Salish would set fires to keep the prairies open. These days, the San Juan Preservation Trust is fighting back the forests by selectively removing Douglas firs.

Historically, Vendovi boasts a 10,000-year-old midden, evidence the Coast Salish spent time harvesting shellfish on its beaches. How it got its present-day name is an interesting story. Charles Wilkes, commander of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, chose the name when he surveyed the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

A few years earlier he’d encountered a Fijian chief under less than ideal circumstances. Vendovi, chief of Rewa, was held responsible for the murder of the crew on a U.S. whaling vessel in 1833. When Wilkes surveyed the Fiji Islands, he arrested Vendovi.

But in the two years they were at sea together, Vendovi became a respected member of the ship’s company. He died a day after the expedition returned to New York, and Wilkes honored his memory by naming the island we know today as Vendovi.

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