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Geography, History, Island, Planets, Rivers, World

Juan de Fuca Plate

Rosario Strait, San Juan Islands, Washington, ...

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The San Juan Islands are an archipelago in the northwest corner of the contiguous United States between the US mainland and Vancouver Island,British ColumbiaCanada. The San Juan Islands are part of the U.S. state of Washington.

In the archipelago, six islands are accessible by passenger ferry operated by the Washington State Ferries system.

Archaeologists use the term “Gulf of Georgia Culture Area” to refer to the San Juan and Gulf Islands, the whole of which shows many archaeological commonalities.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) defines the San Juan Islands as the archipelago north of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, west of Rosario Strait, east of Haro Strait, and south of Boundary Pass. To the north lie the open waters of the Strait of Georgia. The USGS definition coincides withSan Juan County. Islands not in San Juan County are not part of the San Juan Islands, according to the USGS.

The San Juan Islands were part of the traditional area of various peoples of the Coast Salish ethnolinguistic group. Linguistically, Coast Salish groups in the area consist of the NooksackNorthern Straits (which includes the LummiKlallamSaanich, and Songhees dialects. Exploration and settlement by Europeans brought smallpox to the area by the 1770s. In 1843, the Hudson’s Bay Companyestablished Fort Camosun at nearby Vancouver Island.

The name “San Juan” was given to the islands by the Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza, who charted the islands in 1791, naming themIsla y Archiepelago de San Juan. 

The expedition sailed under the authority of the Viceroy of Mexico, Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo and Eliza named several places for him, including the San Juan Islands and Orcas Island(short for “Horcasitas”).

San Juan Island itself was first discovered (by a European) by one of the officers under Eliza’s command, Gonzalo López de Haro (for whom Haro Strait is named). The Spanish had found the islands a year earlier during the exploring voyage of Manuel Quimper on the Princesa Real, but it was not clear that they were islands.

Today, the San Juan Islands are an important tourist destination, with sea kayaking and orcawhale-watching by boat or air tours, two of the primary attractions.

Politically, the San Juan Islands comprise, by definition, San Juan County, Washington.

There are 172 islands in the archipelago, some little more than rocks, and over 300 miles (480 km) of shoreline. The majority of the San Juan Islands are quite hilly with some flat areas and valleys, often quite fertile, in between. The tallest peak is Mount Constitution, on Orcas Island, at almost exactly a half-mile (800 m) elevation.

The coastlines are a mix of sandy and rocky beaches, shallow and deep harbors, placid and reef-studded bays. Gnarled, ochre-colored madrona trees (Arbutus) grace much of the shorelines while evergreen fir and pine forests cover large inland areas.

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