Unlike Sucia Island, where the Spanish pronunciation is not commonly used, Matia is pronounced Mah-tee-ah more often than not. You will find some who say May-sha, but not many.

Most of this 145 acre Island is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a National Wildlife Refuge. There is a small State Park at one end that offers picnicking and limited camping, but no water. Pets are not allowed on the Island at all and walking is limited to a single loop trail.

Another closed dock.
The ranger chased off a guy who had decided to tie up for the night.
Mary Anne contemplates the cove that was once home to The Hermit of Matia Island.

For almost 30 years a man, Elvin H. Smith, lived in a cabin on a bay in the island’s southeast corner (opposite Rolfe Cove where we anchored). Smith was born in Wisconsin circa 1835. He fought in the American Civil War during the 1860s, rising from private to brevet captain in the Union Army. Embittered because Army bureaucrats never recognized his battlefield commission and disappointed by an unhappy love affair, he left home for good and headed west. After a stint as a newspaperman, he worked for years as a traveling passenger agent for the Northern Pacific Railroad until he gave up railroad business in 1890 and came to Bellingham, Washington.

Once in Bellingham, Smith joined forces with a lawyer to make some money on land speculation. There were rumors that the federal government was going to open Matia Island for homesteading. The lawyer fronted money to buy out a pair who had acquired squatters’ rights on Matia. Smith moved to the island in April 1892 to perfect a claim the partners could sell at a profit. He was later dubbed “The Hermit of Matia Island”, and remained there until his supply-laden rowboat vanished on in a storm on February 23, 1921 en route from nearby Orcas Island.

Remember my post The Nineth Wonder of the World? People were tough in days gone by. Few today would row the exposed waters between Matia and Orcas in a storm.

We walked quickly beneath this pair of dead trees that seemed to be holding each other up – for a while, anyway.
One of several small coves, unnamed so far as I know. This would be a great day anchorage for a picnic and a walk.
At first glance, this looks like an Aztec carving.
I named this Doghead Cove because the rock structure to the right of the entrance looks like a vigilant pooch.

Evening brought a beautiful sunset as we bobbed happily on a buoy in Rolfe Cove drinking wine and listening to the birds.

The next day, we reluctantly set out for home, having found a new San Juan faviorite: Matia Island.


  1. Your pictures are just stunning. The cedar tree with Mary Anne sent me looking for a cedar out my window, but all I see are Dougs. Takes me right away from here. And it makes me wistfully long for YPL too. I love the San Juans and that whole strait area. Thanks, you two.

    1. Thanks, Diane. It’s impressive what one can do with an iPhone camera, isn’t it? The best of the photos are Mary Anne’s. She has a better eye for composition than I do. I usually pinch a few of her shots.

      I’m hoping for the border to open and to see everyone at YPL in June. Perhaps I’m dreaming.

  2. What wunderful photos. Is it the island you have been with us in 2017? It seems you have Summer.
    Here in Brandenburg we have a very dry and sunny springtime. We wish you all to stay coronafree.

    1. Thanks, Siegi. We wish the same for you! No, this Island is farther north and a little west. You can find it if you look at the “Impromptu” page on the blog. Look for the link at the top of the page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.