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Introducing Shaw Island

The quietest and smallest of the four main San Juan Islands, tranquil Shaw is famous for its restrictive property laws and handsome Benedictine monastery. Here, enveloped in a pristine, tree-carpeted time warp, Catholic nuns tend to llamas, wild deer forage on deserted roadways and idyllic sandy beaches are sprinkled with rather foreboding 'no trespassing' signs.

Aware of rising property prices and the burgeoning resort development of their larger and swankier neighbors, Shaw islanders have steadfastly resisted the lure of the tourist dollar and chosen to remain private. That's not to say that travelers aren't welcome. Plenty of ferries arrive daily on Shaw, but with only one campsite offering just 11 overnight berths, opportunities to linger are limited.

For purists, that is what the island is all about. Shaw is fondly redolent of Orcas 30 years ago (and the rest of America 60 years ago), a close-knit rural community where neighbor still helps out neighbor and kids play happily in the countryside free from the paranoia of modern living. Until the early 2000s, the ferry wharf and the island's only store were managed by three Franciscan nuns who collected tickets and directed traffic in bright-yellow safety vests worn over their dark-brown habits. In 2004 the Franciscans moved on and today only the Benedictine and the Sisters of Mercy orders remain.

For the curious, Shaw is worth a slow spin on a mountain bike or an afternoon of quiet contemplation on a pebbly beach. History buffs can break the reverie at the Shaw Island Historical Museum, while perennial peace-seekers can find lazy solace on quiet South Beach in Shaw Island County Park with overnight room for 11 (note there are no shower facilities).